4 September 2008 11:00

SEO Tips

Basic SEO Principles

This is a quick review of some basic principles that should guide your SEO initiatives. The first is a reality check. For some highly competitive keyword phrases, your Web pages simply won't make it to the first page of search-engine results For example, if your company provides financial advice, you'd be hard-pressed to get on Google's page-one result for a generic keyword like "financial services."

Long Tail Keyword Phrases

But a long-tail keyword like "early retirement planning consultant" might give you a much better shot.

That's why it's important to optimize your site for a number of coveted keywords by featuring keyword-rich content on inside pages of your site, not just your home page. Target a variety of landing, product and about us pages with unique keyword-rich content that highlights individual products, services and other key offerings.

With that as your foundation, you've given yourself a fighting chance to rank high in organic search results for a wide variety of phrases.

Search Engine Results

Now you need to make sure that what actually appears in the search-engine-results pages entices qualified visitors to click through. Three page elements go a long way toward making your search result stands out in the crowd:

  • Page title

  • Page description

  • URL link

The page title, description and URL link appear in organic search results, enticing users to click through.Page Title: Should Summarize What Each Page Contains

Organic Search Results

In organic search results, search engines treat your page title as the headline in your organic listing.

Basic SEO wisdom says that using the most crucial search keywords as early as possible in your page title pays off in higher search-engine rankings. That's still true - and necessary. But for the visitor, the title should also reflect what they're looking for.

For our fictional financial-services website, a generic title such as "Wide-ranging financial services for your retirement," might be fine for optimizing the home page.

But unfortunately, many organizations make the mistake of re-using the same title copy on many or even all of their pages. With this approach, all of your different pages begin competing against each other for the same phrase, ultimately undermining your SEO efforts.

For greater success and more targeted results, incorporate keywords that better describe the specific subtopics that are covered on each particular page. For example, inside pages might be more aptly named "Estate planning for seniors" or "Estate planning for the self-employed."

Make sure that page titles (found in the "head" section of each page's HTML source code):

Contain keywords that explain what the page covers, based on what users search on or might expect to find. It goes without saying that you should focus on the keywords that are most critical to your business or that traditionally work well for you.
Stick to 65 characters or less, the cutoff point for most search engines. It's ok to be well under this allotment, unless you feel that a longer, more detailed keyword phrase is more appropriate for a specific page.
Grab the reader's attention. These attention-getting headlines are the number-one thing that readers will see as they skim organic listings.
Description: Give Readers a Reason to Click Through
A well-thought-out description details what users will find on the Web page and how it will solve their problems. In organic results, it is the paragraph that appears between the page title headline and the URL link.

Again, it's more important than ever to customize the content for each page instead of re-using the same description as your home page. When you repurpose the same information over and over throughout your site, it's likely that your home page will end up as the highest-ranking organic result for each keyword phrase. And it's equally likely that your home page won't contain the detailed information most users actually want.

So take the time to craft detailed, page-specific descriptions, such as "Good tax planning for seniors saves you money on both state and local taxes. Our experts help you take advantage of recent changes to the tax code."

To write great descriptions:
Stay within the 160-character limit allotted by most search engines and use complete sentences. If you don't, your description may simply end in mid-sentence on the results page.
Don't sweat the keywords. When possible, weave descriptive keywords into these sentences to help search rankings, but keep in mind that descriptions that don't accurately reflect page content do a disservice to visitors. It's more important to provide a compelling summary of what's on each page.
Avoid logistical information about the company, such as your mailing address or the names of company officers.
Your description tag is located in the "head" section of each page's HTML source code. It is part of the meta tag and looks something like this:

URL Link: Use Plain-English Links to Reinforce Your Message

The final, and most overlooked piece, is the actual URL link that users click on from organic search results. Users scrutinize the link for clues about who you are and how relevant your site is.

Many Web content management systems spit out number-based URLs that don't provide much information, such as:

http://www.domain.com/financialplanning5602894.html or


Plain-English URLs do a better job of encouraging users to click through by building on what users have already seen in your title and description, such as:


Most search engines only show the first 46 characters of your URL link, so try to reinforce your page message within the allotted space.

Standout SEO That Gives Users a Reason to Click
By optimizing page titles, descriptions and URLs for each Web page, you make the listings that appear in organic search results work harder for you, so that a higher number of qualified visitors actually click through. And isn't that the whole point?

Related articles:

  • Sitemaps - the Good, the bad and the Crawled

  • Improve Site SEO With Four Quick Wins

  • 5 SEO Myths and Misnomers

Some of the above background notes information was contributed by author Jeff Jones who is a Web-optimization specialist based in the USA and helps companies improve their Web sites, SEO results and PPC-campaign performance.

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