The web is an attractive scene for local and global businesses alike. It offers something that couldn’t be found in the pre-Internet era – instant exposure on a global scale. Many know that SEO is the key to success. However, only a few realize that on page SEO is that thin line, that makes the difference between a thriving business and a total failure.
SEO Meta Tags
HTML meta tags are bits of code that aren’t visible on your site but which help with on page SEO by describing the pages of your site to search engines. The use of meta tags is one of the basic elements of on page SEO.
To understand why meta tags are important, we need to understand how search engines work. They use automated programs called crawlers that visit websites, scan the content and then categorize it. If there are no meta tags, the search engines will decide what your page is all about based on the content. However, if you use meta tags, such as meta title, meta keywords and meta description, you will tell the search engine crawlers what your website is about in a way they can understand. So obviously, meta tags do help when dealing with crawlers, because you tell the search engines what the page is about directly rather than forcing them to guess that from your content. This improves on page SEO tremendously.
Let’s now look at an example of how to use these meta tags and the effect they have. There are some free to use websites that will generate meta tags, so you can boost your on page SEO without having to write any html meta tags code by yourself.
The website title is what search engines like Google will show on their results page. If you fail to provide one, a search engine will show your page as Untitled on the results page. Needless to say, this is far from appealing to potential visitors and customers. A good title is catchy and encourages visitors to click through to your website.
Wikipedia is an excellent example of a website that ranks high on Google for the keyword phrase “search engine optimization”. Outlined in red is the meta title and outlined in blue is the meta description. As you can see, proper on page SEO has helped the search engine rankings for that page.
We can see the meta tags of a website easily. To do this, go to the website, click View and select the Source option as shown below:
This will open up the html code of the page of the website you are on. The information stored in the source page allows you to view the meta titles and other meta tags of your competition for ideas.
To add meta titles to your own website, you need to open the page in a text editor (such as Notepad or Adobe Dreamweaver) and add the code like the following to the file:
<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN"> <html> <head> <title>Search engine optimization - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia</title> </head> <body> .... </body> </html>
There are a few other things to bear in mind when creating meta titles for your website. Firstly, create unique meta titles – remember that not all your pages are the same! Secondly, the homepage meta title should include your main target keywords, even if these keywords don’t appear on all the pages (such as About Us or Contact). Thirdly, the title doesn’t need to feature your domain name or your brand – keep it about the content to improve rankings.
In our example above, having a title that matches the content and what the potential visitors searched for helped the site rank higher than it would have if the title was simply the domain name or brand name.
Make sure to check these Do’s and Don’ts on your website to ensure that you’ve nailed the SEO basics for meta titles.
Meta Title DOs:
- Make titles that accurately reflect the page’s content
- Make the title unique for each page
- Use brief but descriptive titles
Meta Title DONTs:
- Use a title that has no relation to the page content
- Use a default title – or worse – none at all
- Add unnecessary keywords to the title
- Use an overly long title – search engines will only show part of long meta titles
If this sounds like a lot of work, consider buying ready made templates – these will have excellent on page SEO and the html meta tags will be automatically generated to fit the content of your website.
In our above example, you can see the meta description. Much like the meta title, the meta tag for the description should match the content of the page for maximum on page SEO benefit. The meta description can be longer than the meta title and use more keywords. The meta description – if present – is the snippet used by search engines on their results page. If there is no meta description, search engines will generate a snippet from the text on the page or other sources. Since you can control this snippet, you most certainly should, as it allows you to make a very snappy pitch to potential visitors to click through from the search engine results to your website.
Let’s look at the meta tags html code from our example:
<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN"> <html> <head> <title>Search engine optimization - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia</title> <meta name="description" content="Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of a website or a web page in search engines via the natural or un-paid organic..."/> </head> <body> .... </body> </html>
The meta description is relatively long here, but it could be a short paragraph if necessary. The keyword phrases are highlighted in red intentionally. These keywords “search engine optimization”, “SEO” and “search engines” are all related and are different ways of wording the same idea. It helps with search engine optimization by reinforcing to search engines what the content of the page is about. The repetition of keyword phrases increases the relevancy of your site for those keywords and contributes to the on page SEO.
However, be careful not to use too many keywords in meta tags. For instance, a meta description that is solely made up of keywords (known as keyword stuffing) wouldn’t have a normal word frequency and wouldn’t look like natural language. Therefore, it wouldn’t help with on page SEO. Rather it would have a negative effect on your SEO campaign. Make sure to use natural language phrases in your meta descriptions.
Again we have some Do’s and Don’ts to check for meta descriptions.
Meta Description DOs:
- Use different description meta tags for each page
- Make your meta description tags unique
- Make descriptions brief, no more than a few sentences long
- Use keywords and derivatives, but within natural language and normal word frequency
- Remember this is a way of controlling how your website appears on search engine results
Meta Description DONTs:
- Write descriptions that have no relation or relevancy to page content
- Use a default meta description like “This is a web page” or “Page about baseball”
- Omit the meta description – otherwise search engines will just use some text from your site on the results page
- Use descriptions that are solely made up of keywords
- Copy and paste the entire content of the page into the description meta tag
Another basic SEO element is the meta keywords tag. This tag tells search engines what your page is about, and lets you specify your main keywords. The meta keywords tag should match your content, otherwise it will have a negative effect on your on page SEO. As with meta descriptions, resist the urge to put too many meta keywords into the meta tag. Doing so will reduce the effectiveness of your on page SEO. An example meta keywords tag is shown below:
<meta name="keywords" content="SEO, on page SEO, meta tags"/>
Improve URL Structure
Another aspect of on page SEO is the URL structure and the associated website structure. With some forethought, you can improve your website’s ranking for certain keywords just by using properly built URLs. For example, www.example.com/page1.htm could have excellent meta tags which help with the content of the page, but the URL also counts towards on page SEO, and in this case, it doesn’t describe the page. Much better is a URL like www.example.com/on-page-seo.htm as it contains keywords.
If you have a large website with pages organised into directories, make sure that the directory names are relevant. For example, www.example.com/directory1/on-page-seo.htm and www.example.com/directory2/java.htm are less descriptive than www.example.com/search-engine-optimization/on-page-seo.htm and www.example.com/coffee/java.htm. By using directory names that are built from keywords, the website structure itself can become a form of search engine optimization.
Another way of improving on page SEO is to use sub-domains. If we apply website structure optimization to our examples, they could become seo-basics.example.com/on-page-seo.htm and coffee.example.com/java.htm instead. This makes for a neat way of segmenting different types of content whilst making for a simpler website structure and this can also improve our on page SEO. Don’t duplicate content at different URLs – it must be unique to improve the search engine optimization of your website.
As with meta tags however, care must be taken. Stuffing unnecessary or unrelated keywords into URLs will have a negative effect on you on-page SEO. Your website content must always reflect the keywords in the URLs for maximal search engine optimization.
Check your website against this list of Do’s and Don’ts.
URL Structure DOs:
- Use descriptive file names for the pages of your website
- Use as many keywords as possible
- Use keywords for directory names to improve your on page SEO
- Use relevant directory names
URL Structure DONTs:
- Use overly long URLs
- Use unnecessary parameters in URLs
- Use generic page names like “page1.htm”
- Stuff keywords into page names such as “seo-tips-search-engine-optimization-on-page-seo.htm”
- Use deep nesting of directories such as www.example.com/search-engine-optimization/seo-tips/seo-basics/on-page-seo.htm
- Point more than one URL to the same content, such as seo-basics.example.com/seo-tips.htm and www.example.com/seo-tips.htm
Improve Website Navigation
To improve the website structure for both visitors and search engine crawlers, URLs should be modifiable without generating error pages. For example, if a user types an incomplete adress (like www.example.com/seo-tips/ instead of www.example.com/seo-tips/seo-basics.htm) , he would still land on some other page of your website rather than getting an error page. This helps users to navigate and prevents you from losing visitors. This also makes for a good way of organising content, with each subdirectory being more specific than the parent directories.
Website Navigation DOs:
- Allow users to drop off part of the URL to find more general content
- Prepare two sitemaps, one for users and one for dealing with crawlers
- Create a natural hierarchy for the content of your site
- Try using text for navigation to boost on page SEO
Website Navigation DONTs:
- Allow 404 error pages (Page Not Found errors) when users remove parts of the URL
- Create overly complex webs of links by linking every page directly to every other page on your website
- Allow search engines to index 404 error pages
We mentioned sitemaps briefly above. These come in two flavours, HTML sitemaps which are viewable by users and which are essentially a page that shows links to every other page on your website whilst showing the website structure. The other flavour – the XML sitemap – is readable by search engines and is useful when dealing with crawlers.
One very useful benefit of having an XML sitemap, aside from improving on page SEO, is that it makes it clear to search engines what the true website structure is and helps reduce duplicate content issues. Often a website will load both example.com and www.example.com, but these are considered different websites by search engines. The canonical URL is the one considered to be the true URL and we can include this information in the XML sitemap to make it clear for search engines.
XML sitemap generator tools are available to buy, but a sample of the XML code is included to show you what the file might look like.
<?xml version="2.0" encoding="UTF-8"?> <urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9"> <url> <loc>http://www.yoursite.com/</loc> <changefreq>daily</changefreq> <priority>0.8</priority> </url> <url> <loc>http://www.example.com/on-page-seo/meta-title</loc> </url> <loc>http://www.example.com/on-page-seo/meta-description</loc> </url> <url> <loc> http://www.example.com/off-page-seo</loc> </url> <url> <loc> http://www.example.com/faq/</loc> </url> <url> <loc> http://www.example.com/about</loc> </url> </urlset>
This may not mean much to a human, but it shows a search engine crawler what to index and how often.
High Quality Content
Whilst your website may have good structure and excellent on page SEO and all the proper meta tags, it should still have quality content. With poor quality content, users will quickly leave your site. This increases your bounce rate, which is the percentage of single-page visits when the user leaves your website just after clicking through to it. A high bounce rate is a bad thing and will decrease your search engine rankings. Interesting content will encourage users to share it on their blogs, social networks pages such as Facebook, web forums or email.
- Keep your writing style flowing and easy to read
- Ensure that the content is relevant to your niche
- Refresh or add to content at least once a week
- Write for users primarily and make search engine optimization a secondary thought
- Use clear anchor text so that users and search engines will know what the page content is about beforehand, e.g., <a href=”www.example.com/articles/search-engine-news.htm”>Search Engine News</a>
- Use descriptive and concise text for links
- Write with spelling and grammar mistakes
- Place large blocks of text without paragraphs, headings or other forms of separation
- Duplicate existing content from the web – it has no value for users and will decrease your search engine rankings
- Duplicate your own content on multiple pages – this will decrease your search engine rankings
- Hide text from users and display it only to search engines – this will decrease your search engine rankings as well
- Use generic anchor text on links like “page” “article” or “click here”
- Use the URL as the anchor text for a link
- Use sentences or paragraphs as anchor text
- Create dummy links which make site navigation difficult to try and improve rankings
Dealing With Crawlers
Sometimes it is advisable to stop search engine crawlers from indexing parts of your website. You may not want the images folder to be indexed for example. This can be accomplished by using a robots.txt file. This file tells search engines what pages they should and shouldn’t index. However, as it will be publicly viewable, do not use it as a security measure!
Google Webmaster Tools is a free tool that will allow you to auto generate a robots.txt file which is useful for dealing with crawlers. On sites with sub-domains, you will have to create a robots.txt file for each sub-domain as well as the root domain.
An example of a robots.txt file that blocks access to the images and the search directories is shown below for you to modify and use on your own website.
User-agent: * Disallow: /images/ Disallow: /search/
Whilst a robots.txt file is very simple, it will help improve your on page SEO and therefore is well worth having.
If you are a beginner and are not familiar with the techniques mentioned in this article, we strongly recommend that you create your first website with the help of SEO professionals. In SEO as in everything else, God is in the little details, and a small mistake in on-page optimization will cost you money when it comes to off page SEO.
You can purchase a ready made, turnkey website that will attract high traffic from search engines. These websites will have a proper website structure and meta tags. We recommend the AffiloJetpacks from Afilorama as these pre-built templates are cheap, have excellent on page SEO and are known to make high ranking websites.