Following on from the common questions I get asked by clients theme, I thought it would be useful to look at listing some on-site optimisation and SEO copywriting tips.
Image credit: Flickr
Many companies will have their own copywriters, but writing online is clearly very different to writing offline material – so it’s always useful if you can provide copywriters with a list of guidelines which can help them to optimise copy for the search engines and an online audience.
These tips are aimed at copywriters and beginners who are looking to get started when optimising their site and should be taken as a guideline only. Everyone has slightly different ideas about what works best and a lot of search engine optimisation is about trial and error. You also need to try and find the right balance between optimising a webpage for targeted keywords and ensuring this is maximised from a user and conversion optimisation perspective. There’s little point in attracting tons of search engine traffic if the page doesn’t convert, and vice versa.
So here are my quick tips and checks to make sure your website is well setup to be found in the search engines:
Although this isn’t visible on the page, it is the single most important on-site optimisation factor (see SEOmoz’s search engine ranking factors report) so it definitely shouldn’t be overlooked.
1) Aim for 65 characters, this is the cut-off point in Google when listed with search results and it also helps to keep your title tags concisely targeted towards the most important keywords.
2) Include keywords towards the start of the title tag, again see the SEOmoz SEO factors.
3) Include consistent branding in the title tag. This comes down to preference, but the branding value of having your company name seen several times when listed in search results can be very valuable. I normally opt for a consisitent style of “Keywords | Brand” but this really is down to personal preference, if you have a long brand name it may be worth abbreviating or cutting this down in some way.
Meta description tag
Again, this doesn’t appear directly on a webpage – but a meta description tag is often listed as the result snippet when a site is listed in the search engines.
4) Try to include the keywords you are targeting in the meta description tags, these are highlighted in bold when searched for so they can help to increase a search listings clickthrough rate.
5) Write to entice the user into clicking your listing when it appears in the search results. Think of this as a Google AdWords ad where you can try to influence the clickthrough and conversion rate of an ad by making this sound interesting, clearly describing the landing page and adding a call-to-action so that users know what they should be doing once landing on your site.
6) Use one H1 heading per page to emphasise the most important keywords on that page to the search engines.
7) Synchronise headings with title tags, to ensure primary terms are targeted as effectively as possible.
8 ) Use H2-H5 Headings to optimise for secondary terms – making sure these are used as sub-headings.
9) All content should have unique title tags and headings, this is to target different variations of keywords – as opposed to competing with itself for the same search terms.
10) Internal links should be used to cross-link related content – this builds the strength of webpages within the search engines.
11) Internal links should be added to when talking about a topic where there is further information available on another webpage from the site.
12) Don’t overuse internal links within copy, just link to a small selection of relevant pages. But when doing this, make sure your links contain keywords where possible. Using “Keyword phrase” instead of “click here”, for example.
Keyword usage on-page/body content
13) Copy should be written specifically for web users. Considering online call-to-action.
14) Aim to use primary keywords in first paragraph of text. In addition to title and heading tags.
15) Use keywords and variations of keywords/secondary terms within main body of text. Aiming for 3-5 instances as a general rule, when in-context.
16) Use keywords within internal links to webpage, cross-linking to related pages using keyword-rich anchor text.
17) Use bold and italics to highlight important keywords. This isn’t a major search engine ranking factor but can help to emphasise certain keywords within a page – but make sure this isn’t overused.
18) Use keyword descriptive ALT tags, ideally optimised towards the same set of targeted on-page keywords.
Seeing that keyword density is often discussed I thought it would be a good idea to explain this. This is one of those overused terms which used to have significance in the search engines, but really isn’t worth losing any sleep over these days. It’s 2009, Google has recently celebrated its eleventh birthday and they are far cleverer than to be tricked by a webpage which has keywords stuffed onto a page a certain amount of times – so this really isn’t the best use of your time!
19) If your keyword density is 0% then yes – you’ve got a keyword density problem, similarly if your webpage isn’t readable because it contains too many keywords and doesn’t make sense, this is likely to be picked up by Google as a page which has clearly been over-optimised. I heard someone recommend recently that the ideal keyword density should be the same as the alcohol strength of your favourite beer, I quite like that idea – providing you’re not Belgian (that stuff must be stronger than Vodka!) – but modern SEO really is more about how keywords are formatted/presented on the page. If you have the perfect keyword density, say 5.5% (Carlsberg), but all of these terms are listed within the footer and navigation – with no mention in the page copy, title tags headings etc – then the page is unlikely to be performing at an optimum level.
20) If you upload images to a webpage try and name these using keywords. For example “/images/keyword-phrase.jpg” – using a hyphen to separate keywords so that these are read by the search engines as spaces.
21) Make use of the alt attribute, optimising relevant images for targeted keywords. As well as helping to optimise your page for the search engines this may help to attract searches via Google Images too.
So these are my tips, I’d also recommend reading some great SEO copywriting tips from Copyblogger and please feel free to leave your own top tips in the comments.