At the core, on page SEO best practices haven’t changed very much even though the Google search algorithm has had such a major overhaul over the past few years.
Here are a few things you should make sure you are doing right:
1. Title Tag – the title tag is a very important on page ranking factor. The title should be 70 characters or less, and keyword rich. Include your brand name in the title tag if you need to – you do want your website to rank for your brand. The title tag should also be readable. This is the title that is displayed along with your url in the search results. Sometimes Google will make up it’s own title, scraped from the page content based on the user’s keyword search. Don’t be surprised if you see this – there’s probably nothing wrong with your code (although you should check it anyway).
*Should you use piping or dashes to separate your keywords? In the past, most people used piping. Now dashes are more popular. In reality, it doesn’t affect your ranking to use one or the other. Dashes are slightly more readable. In coding the pipes are used to indicate that one phrase has the same meaning as the other, so technically speaking the pipes make more sense.
2. Meta Description – this isn’t a ranking factor, but it is important to improving your click through rate (CTR). The meta description should be 150-160 characters, and keyword rich. This is the description that shows up along with your website in the search results. It’s your call to action to get people to click on your link, so make it a good one. It should reflect the content of the pages that follow it. Sometimes the search engines will create a unique meta description for the web page, especially if you haven’t designated a meta description. This can be good, so use this tactic when it is relevant.
3. Keyword Tag – the keyword tag is actually deprecated. There’s no reason to use it. Please stop. Bing might use it as a ranking signal, but Google definitely doesn’t. It can even be a spam signal to Google if you’re not using it properly. So, if you must use it stick to 1 or 2 keywords. The meta description is the sentence that shows up to describe your url in the search results.
4. H1 tag – this is the “title” of your page that the visitors see. This should also be keyword rich. I’ve read conflicting reports that it may or may not affect the on page SEO results, but in my experience it is a ranking factor. It should be no more than 70 characters as well.
5. Keyword rich content – this is the most important part (and the hardest to make sound natural)! The content should be at least 400-600 words, and for every 100 words you can have about 2 keyword links. Each link should go to a different page on your website. Bold or underlined phrases are also good ranking signals for search engines.
6. Alt Tags on Images – make sure to put alt tags on your images! These should also be keyword rich. While this is a weaker ranking signal, it can help bring in traffic from Google Image Search – which has different ranking criteria than the regular Google search traffic. In my experience it has been really easy to get images to rank.
7. URL String – it’s really important to have keyword rich url strings. You can separate the words with dashes. If you have to redo the urls on your website, make sure to set up 301 permanent redirects for the old urls in the .htaccess file (this is really easy). If your site is in dynamic code, make sure to fix the permalinks if you can. A lot of CMS out there like WordPress are great at offering options to fix the permalinks, but beware of funky plugins that break your links (My site is a great example of this). Right now Google search places more emphasis on exact match keyword url rather than broad, but in the past it was a different story.
How do you find the right keywords for your website? That’s another post.