Google, Bing, and Yahoo are always changing the necessary criteria to get to the top of the SERPs, aka Search Engine Results Pages. In any case, on-page or technical SEO is a must if you want to be competitive. This is just a general guide to follow and assumes you’ve already done your relevant keyword research. There are some links to help you get started at the end of this post.
One thing will always remain at the top of any SEO checklist, and that’s content!
Good content will always trump any other criteria because people will visit your page often and probably link to it. Below is a current list that should be addressed on every page throughout your website. All of these items below have been well documented and proven to work. Everything is listed in the order of largest impact to your website.
Here we go!
- Keywords in URL – Using target keywords in the URL of a page can improve the page’s ranking with search engines. Your URL should contain one or two of your most important target keywords, without exceeding 160 characters.
- Title Tag – Search engines use the title tag to assess a page’s relevance and to display the description of the page in search results. Including target keywords in the title tag can help increase your page’s relevance in searches. The wording of the sentence or phrase in the heading should appear natural and grammatical. Also, each page on your website should contain a unique title tag that briefly describes the content of that page, and the title tags of multiple pages on your site should not be identical. The title tag on each page should be shorter than 65 characters.
- WWW vs. Non-WWW – Multiple version of a homepage can be a problem if they are all being indexed by the search engines because they create duplicate content. Your site should contain a single version of your homepage, with a single path to that page. Use either a 301 redirect or a canonical rel=”http://www.domain.com/about-us” attribute between the head tags to eliminate duplicate homepages being indexed.
- Heading Tags – H1 – The presence of target keywords in an H1 tag gives search engines an easy way to assess the relevance of a web page, and can quickly help improve the page’s rankings. The wording of the sentence or phrase in the heading should appear natural and grammatical. Using a couple H2 tags can show secondary priority, but beyond that simply becomes page formatting in your design and to the search engines.
- Outbound Links – Too many outbound links from a page tend to dilute the page’s ranking in search engine results. In general, if more than 5 links to an external domain are present, the links should contain the “rel=nofollow” attribute in the anchor tag to the links that are less important. This attribute causes search engines to pass no Page Rank value to the external link. Click noindex and nofollow for more details.
- Robots File – The robots.txt file is used to prevent search engines from indexing certain pages or sections of your site. Search engines look for this file and if they do not find it, its absence might affect your site’s rankings. Your site should contain a single, properly-formatted robots.txt file that is accessible to search engines at the root of your website structure.
- Lead Conversion Form – Effective websites use forms to gather critical contact data from visitors for follow-up and conversion to leads. You website should provide such a form in an easily accessible, user-friendly presentation.
- META Description Tag – The META description tag is often displayed in search results as a summary of your site. The text within the tag should be a clear and precise description of the actual content of each page, be unique, and shorter than 156 characters.
Adding both Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools are also highly recommended to measure progress. In Google Analytics, you can track visitors and the criteria used to reach your site over any date range. In Webmaster Tools, you can..and should submit your XML Sitemap described above. Webmaster Tools will also track the number of inbound links, whether your site has any crawl errors, and how it generally looks across the web. There are a lot more advance features and techniques, not part of this scope.
The next step is Off-Page SEO. This includes link building, social media, article submissions, local listings, and blog/forum posts. All of this effort should be to get “quality” inbound links from sites relevant to your target audience and content.