In terms of getting the best search rankings, you can broadly break your SEO efforts into two areas: site-wide optimisation and optimising individual pages. Today we’re going to focus on the second of these two subjects, looking at how to maximise the search ranking of every page you publish.
By following the steps in this guide, the individual pages on your site will earn more exposure, generate a higher volume of leads and contribute to better rankings across the rest of your site.
The challenge of creating ‘quality’ content
The phrase “quality content” is used so much these days that it’s lost all meaning. So, to be clear, for your content to be considered quality by search engines and people it must be two things: valuable and discoverable.
Valuable content provides information people actually need and discoverable content is easily accessible when people need it most. Hitting this sweet spot of providing the right information at the crucial moment is a real challenge but one we need to overcome in the age of micro-moment marketing.
Source: Think with Google
The key is to understand the consumer journey of your target audiences and the role each of your pages plays along the way. This tells you the kind of information users need from each page and the kind of conversion goal you should be targeting.
10 steps to follow
Your next big challenge is creating unique content on every page you publish, which can be particularly difficult for services pages. When you have five, ten or any number of services to promote, how do you make every page unique and valuable?
Follow these SEO best practices steps to get you started:
- Introduce the service
- Differentiate from similar services (eg: SEO vs PPC)
- Make the unique benefits and selling points of each service clear
- Identify questions users will have and provide answers
- Explain which kind of clients use this service and what you’ve done for them
- Consider testimonials, case studies and social proof specific to this service
- Use visual content to reinforce your message
- Have a prominent, compelling call-to-action
- Provide access to further information for users who aren’t ready to commit yet
- Direct users to another service page if this isn’t the one that meets their needs
Try to be as specific as possible with each of your service pages, otherwise you’ll find they all end up being very similar. You need to make it perfectly clear why this is the service your visitors need and, if it isn’t, make it obvious where they should go next.
Multimedia ranking factors
It’s widely accepted that Google and other search engines take multimedia content into consideration when ranking pages. Humans are visually stimulated creatures and search engines know images, video and other visuals are the perfect way to spice up a page full of text.
Strong visual content is also more engaging than text, which can reduce indirect ranking factors like bounce rate, time on page, number of pages visited, etc.
Source: Content Marketing Institute
So visuals are important to people and search engines alike, but the same old issue of quality/value comes into play. A bunch of naff stock images aren’t going to engage people and reduce those indirect ranking factors.
Aside from this you also need to optimise your visual content so search engines can recognise them and also reduce the negative impact on performance. This starts by using the right format for images so make sure you understand the difference between JPEG, PNG and other images file types.
Hopefully, you’re well aware by now that Flash is a no-no and HTML5 video is the way to go. Here are some other things to consider:
- Relevance is still important for videos
- Engagement metrics like views, comments, shares, etc. have an impact
- Metadata tells search engines what your video is about
- Keywords are believed to also have an impact
With video content there’s always the question of hosting the video on your site or embedding via YouTube. While embedding YouTube videos can by boost engagement metrics (views, shares, etc.) you could be taking ranking points away from your page by hosting your video elsewhere. So, in the case of service pages, it’s probably best to create highly specific videos and host them on that service page only. This way all the SEO points go to that page and nowhere else.
In term of performance, speed is your biggest enemy with visual content. Optimise your images and videos to reduce file sizes as much as you can without hurting quality too much. Also think about content delivery networks (CDNs), web caching and optimise your code for the best possible speed.
Also, don’t underestimate the importance of your hosting provider/package when it comes to speed and performance.
Make your visual content discoverable
As mentioned earlier, even the best content is useless until search engines and people are able to find it at the key moment. This is more challenging with visual content because search engines can’t watch videos or see infographics, which means you need to give them a helping hand.
- Avoid loading content with AJAX (Google still has trouble crawling this)
- Create descriptive descriptions with relevant keywords
- Optimise your titles and meta descriptions where possible (not every image can have a title, of course)
- Consider transcriptions for your video content
- Use descriptive captions
- Avoid infographics with no written content (similar to transcriptions)
The key is to provide context with your visuals so search engines can understand the purpose they serve to users.
Write for users, optimise for search engines
We’ve already spoken about creating content that meets user needs, answers their questions and provides value. This is your priority for every page you publish. Write for users first and then optimise for search engines – once again, to make your pages discoverable and prove their relevance.
Here are the SEO essentials for on-page optimisation:
- Descriptive titles in H1 tags, including your target keyword
- Descriptive page URL with keyword included
- Correct formatting with subheadings (in H2, H3 tags, etc.) including keywords if they’re relevant/useful
- Meta data, Schema and rich snippets where relevant
- Inbound and outbound links to/from other relevant pages on your site (internal linking)
- Optimised visuals for performance and discoverability
- Mobile optimisation
- Fast loading times
There are a few things on that list that we haven’t covered in-depth yet so let’s go into some more detail about meta data, URLs and the remaining on-page essentials.
Writing effective meta data
Meta data is a subject that causes a lot of confusion because it has little-to-no impact on how search engines rank your pages. However, users still see much of this information on results pages, meaning it has a direct impact on how many people click-through to your site.
Optimising your title tags
The title tags determine what users see as the blue headline text of your search results. Here’s an example of what this looks like on a listing for Search Engine Watch:
For this page the HTML title will look like this:
<title>Title Tags Guide | Good & Bad Examples | Search Engine Watch</title>
This is a common formula for optimising title tags: Keyword #1 | Keyword #2 | Brand name. However, this approach is outdated now because it doesn’t provide the most descriptive title for users trying to find the most relevant result to their query.
Here are some best practices to keep in mind:
- Be descriptive: Your priority with title tags is to accurately describe the content users will see on the other side. You want the highest number of clicks vs the lowest possible bounce rate – and this means compelling but accurate title tags.
- Aim for queries, not keywords: Placing keywords in your title tags won’t help you rank higher but matching a user’s search query will tell them your page has what they’re looking for.
- Include your brand name: Users are more likely to click results from brands they recognise so it’s still good practice to include your brand name in title tags.
- Be mindful of length: Search engines tend to give you 50-60 characters (or 512 pixels more specifically) and everything after this will be cut off. Ideally, you want your full title to be visible but don’t obsess over this. Be mindful of length but focus on creating titles that will generate the most clicks.
Once again, meta descriptions have no impact on where you rank but they give users vital information about what your page contains. Much like your page titles, these only appear in search results, not your actual pages. Their role is simply to give users more information about what they can expect to gain from clicking on your listing.
In the listing above, Search Engine Watch aims to get people clicking by matching the questions they have in mind within their meta description. It may not be the most readable of descriptions but it provides a lot of information about what users can expect to find on the page. They’ve also squeezed a number of potential queries into that description, which will show up in bold when users search for them.
This approach won’t be ideal for all meta descriptions but it’s a good example of the things you need to consider when creating your own:
- Be descriptive
- Include search queries
- Make it readable
- Get users excited about clicking through
- Focus on the value your page has to offer
- Aim for a maximum of 150-160 characters
Think of meta descriptions as a mini sales pitch about why people should click through to your site. Every page you create should have a clear, concise goal and this where you get to put this message across to searchers in a short sentence or two.
Create amazing URLs
The final key element in our trio of meta data essentials is your page URLs. The reason URLs were created in the first place was to provide users with a descriptive version of web addresses – otherwise we’d be typing in a bunch of IP addresses to access everything online.
This is important because it basically tells you everything you need to know about URLs. Like the rest of your meta data, they should be descriptive for users – and this is something many brands have forgotten over the years.
Generally speaking, the shorter and more descriptive your URLs are, the better experience they provide for users. Here are some things to consider:
- Cut out unnecessary words: Stay true to your page titles and/or headings with URLs but feel free to cut out unnecessary words.
- Forget punctuation: There’s no place for question marks, commas or any other punctuation in URLs.
- Stop words can be ok: Stop words (the, and, or, when, how, etc.) are generally considered unnecessary but it’s fine to use them if you think they make your URL more meaningful.
- Use hyphens: Separate words in your URLs with hyphens (“-”) as these are considered more readable. Avoid underscores (“_”), spaces and any other special characters to separate words.
- Target search queries: This one keeps coming up with every piece of meta data we look at – and for good reason.
- Avoid dynamic parameters: These make URLs incredibly long and unreadable.
That last point is a tricky one, because many brands want to use dynamic parameters to track user journeys across their websites. The problem is they make a real mess of URLs and it’s not only search engine results pages where this can cause problems. Users are also left with a mess when they try to bookmark your page or if they try to remember the URL of your site/specific page.
Bringing it all together
A few years ago, the idea that content marketing was the new SEO became popular in the industry. This was largely due to Google’s Hummingbird update that put less emphasis on keywords and more on matching context between search queries and content. And, while it’s true content is the most important part of your SEO strategy, ignoring the more technical side of optimising your pages is a mistake – especially with loading times and other performance factors becoming increasingly influential in search rankings.
As businesses invest more time and money into creating content it would be a shame if your efforts fall short because your pages aren’t as discoverable as they could be. So pay attention to the smaller aspects of on-page optimisation best practices and give your content the best opportunity to make things happen.