These are what I believe to be the top 10 most important things (not necessarily in order) that you need on your pages and in your domain, in order to get your website found in the search engines.
There are many other factors as well, but if you follow these guidelines, you’ll stand a much better chance, and you’ll be off to a good start.
1. Title Tag
The title tag is what displays in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) as your “headline, and it is also what displays across the top blue band in your web browser on someones screen.
Each page should ALWAYS have a unique title tag. Sharing a single title tag throughout many web pages is bad. Of course, since it’s the first thing people see in the SERPs, your spelling and grammar are critical. Typos in the title tag may prevent people from even clicking on your search result, in many cases.
The title tag of your website should not only be easy to read, but should also be written to bring in traffic. By that, I mean that a main keyword phrase for each specific page should be used, and the title should be informative, and not just stuffed with keywords.
While it’s true that there are websites being found that do not use the phrase in the title tag, the vast (I would estimate 80%) majority still do as of this writing.
I still recommend NOT putting your company name first, unless you are already a household name, like Nascar or HBO. People are more than likely searching for what you have to offer, not your name. As of 2011 though, Google is placing more emphasis on branding too, so this is a personal decision to make.
Your title tag should be written with a capital letter starting the tag, and followed by all lowercase letters, unless you’re using proper nouns. Some people (myself included) prefer to capitalize every word, so for me, a proper title tag looks like this:
<title> Important Search Term | City & State | Company name (if desired) </title>
Related: Title Tag Tips
2. Description Meta Tag
The description tag is the paragraph that people will see when your page comes up in the search results, so spelling and grammar are important there too.
Your description tag should be captivating and designed to attract business. It sound natural when read aloud, and ideally will compel the reader to “act right now” and follow your link.
Without a description tag, search engines will frequently display whatever text on your page surrounds the query word, so that can leave you with nonsense in the SERP’s.
A description tag is a description of the page, and not of the entire website. Only on the index page of your site would using an “all encompassing” description tag be appropriate.
Just like your title, every page in your site needs a unique description tag in order for the search engines to be fully appreciative of what you have to offer.
A proper description tag looks like this:
<meta content=”This is what people will see below your title. You should make proper use of punctuation, and with readability, use your subject and geographical references.
Related: Description Tag Tips
3. Keyword Meta Tag
The importance of Meta keyword tags used to fluctuate from month to month among different search engines. There used to be a debate in the SEO community as to whether or not they help at all on certain search engines, and over ten years ago, they lost importance altogether. Google was no longer counting them as a ranking factor.
However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know what they are and understand them. You’ll NEVER be penalized on any search engines for using a small number of relevant targeted keywords in moderation, and for local site searches they can only help you and your visitors.
Avoid “stuffing” your keyword meta tags with too many keywords. Just use relevant tags that apply directly to the content of that particular page, and limit yourself to eight or so phrases per page.
A proper keyword tag looks like this:
<meta content=”Keywords here, separated by commas,”>
4. Alt Tags
The small yellow box that comes up when your mouse cursor is placed over an image is called the ALT tag. Every relevant image should have an alt tag with your key words or phrases mentioned in the tag. For example, the ALT description might be “Oregon Widget company logo” instead of “companynamelogo.jpg”.
A proper ALT tag goes after the file name, and before the Align indicator like this:
<IMG src=”images/name.jpeg”ALT=”alt text phrase here” ALIGN=right HEIGHT=”x”
WIDTH=”x”BORDER=”0″ HSPACE=”x” VSPACE=”x”>
As of early 2006, most experts claim that the ALT tag is no longer being considered for ranking criteria by some search engines. I believe that since the ALT tags still do get indexed and show up when searched for, there’s no reason not to have them, and they still do help.
Undeniably, they cannot HURT you, and they will still help you with some engines. My recommendation is to continue to use them, but be sure to avoid “keyword stuffing”. Besides, who knows when the pendulum will swing back the other way?
Related: Alt Tag Tips
5. Header Tags
The text of each page is given more weight by the search engines if you make use of header tags and then use descriptive body text below those headers.
No more than one header tag per page is acceptable these days, and any additional headlines should be bolded so they can still look the way you like.
Bullet points on the page and other bolded headlines for secondary phrases work well too.
It is not enough to merely BOLD or enlarge your primary page text headline.
A proper header tag looks like this:
<h1>”Primary Page Search Phrase” </h1>
Related: Header Tag Tips
6. Link Text (Anchor Text)
Search engine spiders cannot follow image links and assign relevance the way they do for textual links. Alt text helps, but in addition to having image links or buttons on your web pages, you should have text links at the bottom or elsewhere. The text that the user sees when looking at the link is called the “link text” or “anchor text”.
A link that displays “products” does not carry as much weight to the search engines as a link that says “Oregon widgets”. Link text is very important, and is actually one of the most frequently overlooked aspects of web design that I’ve seen.
A good use of this concept is to have your “home” text link (usually in the footer of your website) say “Keyword Phrase Home” instead. This can be a powerful improvement that’s easy to do.
Additionally, you want to have OUTBOUND links too on your website, and those links too should include relevant text.
Related: Outbound Link Tips
7. Site Map
Using a site map not only makes it easy for your users to see the entire structure of your website, but it also makes it easier for the search engines to “spider” your site. When the search engine spiders come to visit, they will follow all of the text links from your main index page.
If one of those links is to a site map, then the spiders will go right to the sitemap, and consequently visit every page you have text linked to from that site map. On the site map page, try to have a sentence or two describing each page, and not just a page of links.
There are two different kinds of sitemaps, and the kind of which I am speaking here is a static site map that is visible to your site users, and not an XML sitemap (although that’s well worth having too.
8. Relevant Inbound Links
By relevant, I mean similar industry or subject related sites. Right now, no single strategy can get your site ranked higher faster than being linked to by dozens of other relevant websites.
It used to be that the quantity of incoming links mattered most, but since November 2004, it’s much better to have three highly relevant links to you from other popular related websites than 30 links from unrelated low ranked sites.
If there are other directly relevant businesses in your industry that you can trade inks with, which may actually benefit your users, then by all means, link to them, and have them link to you. It’s proven and it works.
To see who’s already linking to you…
In Google type the following… “link: yourdomain.com”, without the quotes.
In Yahoo and MSN, the numbers will show as much higher, and the queries are different. Yahoo is “linkdomain:domain.com” and MSN is “link:yourdomain.com” just like Google.
Related: Link bulding tips
9. Your Content
Not to be forgotten of course, is the actual content of your webpage. It must be relevant helpful information that people want to read. These days, each webpage should be laser focused on one specific product or subject, in order to rank highly for that search phrase. The days of writing one webpage to appeal to dozens of search terms are long gone.
Ideally, each page should have between 400 to 650 words on it. Too few, and the search engines won’t consider it to be relevant enough. Too many words and the search engine spiders may have a hard time determining the actual subject or focus of the page.
Use your keywords or phrases often, and use them at the beginning of your paragraphs wherever possible. Don’t overuse them and make the page sound phony, but don’t write a page about a certain subject, and not mention that subject repeatedly either. Reading it out loud to yourself is a great way to judge how natural your text sounds.
Concentrate on writing quality pages that actually appeal to the human reader. Write pages that provide the reader with exactly what they are looking for; that is, information about the exact search phrase they’ve entered.
If you are writing content for the search engines, you will not be as successful as if you are writing content for the reader about a specific subject.
Related: Adding Relevant Content
10. Avoid Cheating
With all of these tidbits of information, it’s tempting to think that you can stuff 100 keywords into your title, or create a page with the phrase “oregon widget company” being used 100 times in headers, text links, ALT tags, bullet points etc. but that cannot help you. In fact, it can penalize you, and get your website banned from certain search engines.
*Note: In case you want to see how things have changed, you might read A proper website foundation back in 2004.