by Alan LaFrance ( @Texas_Marketing on Twitter – Follow Me )
When it comes to optimizing on-page items and explaining the benefits and usage of those items to clients I often refer to literature. Web pages are simply interactive pages of a book, and how you utilize individual elements has similar implications in the digital and written world. Here is how I outline the elements of the page.
Meta Title – The title of a webpage is just like the title of a book. It sets expectations of what is going to be found within. Simply putting “Bob Schneider” as your title is great if you are a guru of epic proportions, but for the rest of us mere mortals it’s best to explain the contents of our site. “Bob Schneider | Self Help Guru and Rodeo Clown” is a much more descriptive title and gives reasonable expectations to the searcher. It also helps to highlight your product, in this case Bob is not only a guru, but a rodeo clown. Bob lives an interesting life.
Meta Description – The description is the the short text you find on the inside of the cover or on the back of the book (blurb). It is a short segment of time that allows you to entice the searcher to click on your SERP. Here’s three examples, think about which one you’d be most enchanted by:
#1 – “About Us | Rodeos | Pictures | Contact Us” (The “I forgot to put in a description” description)
#2 – “Bob Schneider | Self Help Guru and Rodeo Clown” (The “I let my CMS decide which description to use” description)
#3 – “Bob Schneider is a world renown self-help guru and moonlights as No Bull Bob, a rodeo clown in the Houston, TX area.” (Mucho bettero)
H1 Headings (and Heading in General) – H1 headings are essentially your chapter and sub-chapter titles. They give hierarchical structure to your content and make it easy for the searcher to locate specific information. It’s often a mistake to “overoptimize” an H1 and mislead the user with zealous SEO usage. Here’s an example: “Rodeo Clown Houston, TX & Self-Help Houston, TX” … it’s completely misleading, destroys trust, and ruins the user experience, but hey! I’ll rank 6th instead of 7th right? SEO is about getting rankings, yes, but it’s more about aligning your content assets to the correct user. The headings should first be written to the page and with the user experience in mind. If you can wrangle in a keyword then great, but it’s better to optimize for the 1000 people that are reaching your site now than to mislead another 100 – 200 visitors you might gain.
Backlinks – These are like favorable book reviews. If you are surfing Amazon and come across four books, all of which seem equally viable for learning to become a rodeo clown, then which would you choose?
Book #1 has 1 favorable rating (5 stars)
Book #2 has 120 favorable ratings, but none of them seem to be written in proper English (4.8 stars)
Book #3 has 1000 favorable ratings (4.2 stars)
Book #4 has 700 favorable ratings but 4200 negative or neutral ratings (2.9 stars)
Google essentially is a tool that has a complete index of books and seeks to choose for you the best match for you. This is the goal of their algorithm and this is why backlinks are so vital to an SEO campaign. Google looks at the quantity and quality of backlinks much in the same manner as you did in choosing a book out of the list. A high number of favorable reviews with a high rating is a great sign that you’ll be satisfied with your purchase. Conversely, negative or neutral reviews, low numbers of total reviews, spam, and other signs often work to reduce your trust in the product being able to satiate your requirements.
Body Copy – This is rather obvious, but body copy is like the content of a book. Just like a book, people want to read fascinating, informative, and unique content. It needs to be sufficient in depth and length to completely cover those requirements. There’s no hard rule here, only that you must be able to complete your goals and continue to enchant the reader / searcher along the way so that they continue to read along.
Canonicalization & Robots – For most websites this is done via .htaccess and/or robots.txt. These rules act to limit the content that gets seen and how it’s interpreted much in the same way that an editor will omit or include notes in a literary work. Having irrelevant or extremely low value pages in your book distracts from your messaging much in the same way as having a ton of low value pages in your sitemap index reduces the emphasis Google places on your high value pages. Furthermore, including duplicate pages is not worthwhile either and canonicalization seeks to fix this, at least from Google’s eyes.
Sitemaps – The sitemap is the same as the index. In fact, home pages used to commonly be referred to as index.html … an homage of sorts to the past. An author does no benefit by listing irrelevant pages in the index, instead the author will list the pages of the book in a well organized and structured list so that readers can quickly find the high value information. Bear in mind the value and relevancy of your pages when you are creating your sitemap. Ensure you are properly attributing value and refresh cycle data to the pages as well.
Ergo, modern SEO practices are really a digital extension of literary practices extending thousands of years into the past. We’re essentially librarians … just with a cooler office and a better title.