It has been nearly 3 years since I wrote my original 3 part series on “How to Optimize for Google”. Since writing that article some things have certainly changed, while others have remained exactly the same.
Here is a redux adjusted to follow some more recent changes over at Google. Note that this is by no means a full-out comprehensive list, That would take a book, not an article.
I Part 1, I will discuss the basic SEO & on-site elements. Parts 2 and 3 will talk about links, major algorithmic updates, and the impact of social media.
Basic SEO elements that have not really changed.
I don’t want to go into any significant depth in many of the basic areas of SEO. Most of these have not changed anyways. Here is a summary of items from my original “How to Optimize for Google Part 1 of 3” that still apply today.
- The Right Keywords: As long as search is keyword driven, this will always be important. The focus has switched slightly in many cases avoiding difficult general phrases and targeting long tail and geographic specific ones, but the right keywords are still needed.
- Title Tags: Try to keep them to less than 70 characters.
- Keyword Placement in Body Text: Keep it natural; include your targets throughout wherever it makes sense.
- Synonyms. You don’t hear many people talking about this anymore, but sprinkle in some synonyms just for fun as I believe it can help in some cases
- Keywords In Domain: It does look like the value here has dropped, but not off the charts, so it can still help. Just be sure to keep it clean.
- Keywords in Filenames: There is some value here, so don’t ignore it, but don’t abuse it either.
- Keywords in Heading Tags: Still important if natural.
- Inline Links: Still good, get them if you can as they can often appear more natural.
- URL Structure: Messy URL’s can be indexed, but your rankings and your users will thank you if you keep it clean. You may need the canonical tag to help you here, more on that later.
Basic SEO elements that have changed
- The Meta Description Tag
This one is really up in the air. It depends on who you ask, but many claim that this tag no longer impacts your position in the organic rankings. That said, often it will still appear as the description used by Google within the SERP’s. So if you think it helps with positioning or not, there is no debating that it can still be very important. Keep it unique on all pages, less than 160 characters and try to get a couple keywords in there too, just in case it is still a ranking signal – it can’t hurt.
- Keyword Density
Yikes, this has become a swear word. I hope I don’t get censored. In a nutshell don’t worry about it. Write good content that uses your targets in a natural way and you’ll be fine. No need counting and dividing and calculating. Want some proof on this? Check the density for the top 10 ranking sites for just about any phrase – you likely won’t see much correlation.
- Link Anchor Text
This is a funny one. When links first took off as a major signal, having your target phrase as part of the link anchor text was key. Today, while that is still useful, you definitely do not want to go overboard. Text such as “click here” which was once taboo in terms of SEO, now can help add to a natural looking link profile. Bloggers and website owners who are not thinking about SEO will often just use “click here” or use the sites domain as anchor text, hardly what most would consider “SEO Friendly” but very natural.
If you are in the midst of a link building campaign, variety is good, so don’t rule out a link just because the anchor text is not exactly what you had hoped.
Newer On-Site SEO Factors
Over the past few years, there have been many changes. Here are a couple onsite items that were not a consideration when the original How To Optimize For Google article was published.
In early 2009 Google announced the implementation of the Canonical Tag. This is hardly new news today, but it is new since the last version of this article.
In a nutshell this new(ish) tag allows you to basically tell Google to ignore a URL and specify where the identical URL that they should pay attention to resides. This is particular useful for dynamic websites that contain a lot of duplicate content, or utilize tracking URL’s or parameters.
To use, simply post this tag on any page that should be recognized under a different, more permanent URL.
<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.example.com/product”>
Now when Google sees this URL http://www.example.com/product?trackingid=1234 they will ignore the extra parameters and instead treat is as simply /product.
Site Load Speed
I for one always speculated that site load speeds played a role in the ranking algorithm for some time. Almost exactly one year ago (April 9, 2010) Google announced that they were incorporating site speed into search rankings.
Either I had been right all along and Google just took this time to officially announce it, or I had been wrong and my suspicions had come true – either way it didn’t change the fact that it was officially made one of the factors to consider.
At the time site speed entered into the algorithm, it impacted fewer than 1% of search queries. I suspect the number is similar today. Regardless, a faster site means happy customers which means more sales – and in this case, it can help get higher rankings, which means even more customers. Do yourself a favor, make your site as fast as it can be.
Well, thats part 1! Stay tuned, same time next week for Part 2 on How to Optimize for Google where I will discuss how things have changed in regards to inbound links, and also talk about a few more significant Google algorithmic updates.