SEO has evolved tremendously, and that's a big deal for digital marketers everywhere. Just recently, I read an article by HubSpot that discussed the possibility of keywords as we know them being dead. Regardless, SEO is changing, but the fight to get to the top of Google will not be over anytime soon. One of the most important facets of SEO, which will consequently be sticking around, is the practice of on-site search engine optimization.
What is on-site SEO? It's all of the practices to ensure that visitors find and enjoy your site and that search engines regularly crawl and index your pages. Several considerations can roll up into the on-site arena, and we're going to explore the most basic and critical ones today.
Before we get too far into our detailing of SEO practices, let's take a breather and recall the key concepts that contribute to a great site that's primed for search engines and users:
- Transparency: If the title of your page says "Homemade Blanket Tutorial," the page content better not be filled with plugs for weight loss supplements.
- Quality Content: That article or how-to you're writing on making a quilt at home needs to be engaging and relevant to the visitor, not just a few bodies of so-so text with the word "blanket" stuffed in a few times.
- Keywords: Speaking of stuffing, a well-researched and carefully implemented keyword strategy remains pivotal to SEO success. No surprise there, but keywords are definitely evolving, which we'll talk about a little more later on.
Feeling refreshed? Good, because it's time to get down to the real work.
When we think about on-site SEO, a lot of different facets must be considered. We'll stick to your tags and descriptions today, because they are by far the most important way to call a search engine's attention and earn viewer eyeballs.
Honestly and strategically labeling and describing your pages is the most important priority for on-site SEO practice.
How To Optimize Title Tags
Title tags are what your page visitor sees in their browser tab, and also what a search engine sees when it crawls your site.
For example, here's what a visitor sees when they visit the Square 2 Marketing blog page:
Here's what a search engine sees when it visits the same page:
(Tip: This page info is accessible to all and can be viewed by right clicking the page and selecting "View Page Source.")
So, how do those page titles get there? Easily.
You simply need to establish a naming convention for your site, and stick to it as you label each page in your content management system. Title tags can include the page subject (or header), the category of the page and your company. A vertical line ("|") separates each of these sections.
Your convention should look like this: Item | Category | Business
If your pages are more general, you can stick to the basic two-part convention. Your home page would only have the one-part convention. If you have products, offerings or content that roll up into a category on your site, you should use the three-part system.
Let's imagine you're running an online fruit retailer that specializes in both baskets and bouquets. Within bouquets and baskets, you have a vast catalog of unique products. To title your pages, baskets and bouquets would each be a category, and each specific product would be an item.
Your respective tags for each one might read: Gala Apple Bucket | Baskets | Fruity Fruits Unlimited and Heirloom Pear Arrangement | Bouquets | Fruity Fruits Unlimited.
A few notes:
- Keep your titles honest and relevant to what's on the page. Remember, using a buzzword might earn you a temporary spike in traffic, but it won't take search engines long to catch on to your shenanigans and drop your rank. And it's a hard fall from the top.
- Keep your keywords visible. Including keywords in your title tags is a great way to signify to users and engines that they can find related content on your page. Keep in mind that keywords are more than just "flowers" and "fruits." We're currently seeing a big shift toward semantic keywords, which will really challenge you to think outside the box.
- Keep your titles concise. This is sometimes the trickiest part. Your title needs to be less than 70 characters.
Got it? Good. Let's take a look at descriptions.
How To Optimize Meta Descriptions
A meta description is what shows up below your page title in search engines. Recently, page descriptions are starting to have less to do with search engine optimization and more to do with actually persuading searchers to visit your site.
Here, we see Domino's using an enticing description:
Descriptions should tell audiences what they can expect to find on your page, and should work to persuade those users to click through. In a way, meta descriptions are like mini calls-to-action (CTAs).
They should definitely include your keywords (in an organic way!), because Google will automatically bold any of the user's search terms that show up in your description. You can see this exemplified in the Domino's image above.
This seems simple enough, but it becomes difficult when you have 300 pages on your site and need to write a unique description for each. And don't you even think about using the same generic one for your whole site.
A great strategy to handle a heavy description workload is to create eight short phrases in which you can substitute page names (or products) and create different combinations of each.
For example, here's a list I created for a pizza site (can you tell I'm hungry today?):
With those eight brief phrases, I have a plethora of different combination potentials that I can customize with different pizzas or offerings.
I'm a big fan of working smarter, not harder. Rather than creating my descriptions, going back and counting the characters, and then editing them down, I count my characters in Excel as I go. This is super easy to do with an Excel LEN formula, which you can see executed in the screenshot below:
Title, Description, Go!
And just like that, you're ready to take on the heart of on-site SEO. These two portions of your on-site optimization are the absolute most important for getting your pages to rank in search engines and getting users interested in clicking on those pages. Including separate keyword tags used to be a thing, but it's no longer important or considered relevant. So focus on titles and descriptions, and you'll be on your way to a higher ranking.
When was the last time you took a look at your titles and descriptions? To read a little more about the process, download our free guide, Writing Action-Inspiring Meta Titles And Descriptions That Actually Get Clicked. Happy tagging!