We often get asked how to optimise a web page for SEO (search engine optimisation). If they are clients then we do this for them or we can train staff to do it themselves (see our 1-2-1 training course on SEO).
It’s easy to talk in general terms about optimising a web page. It’s also easy to get too bogged down by fine details of SEO theory. We think the main objective in optimising a web page can be summarised as follows:
Produce a page that is useful to the user, but also signals the content of the page clearly to search engines.
The search engines use search bots which are automatic programs that are dispatched by the main search engines (Google and Bing in the UK) to crawl websites to gather relevant information about websites. They help search engines work what a website is about, its content and potential audience in search results.
Ranking factors that influence search engine results position
Where this page ranks depends on many external, off-site factors such as backlinks pointing to your domain and page, domain authority, page authority etc. There are also many onsite factors such as website quality, page speed, keywords etc that influence where a website may appear in search engine results.
Optimising a single web page for SEO
We cover more general site wide issues SEO in other pages of this website, future and past blog posts (Ranking factors for SEO). That includes broader issues like brand recognition and promotion as well as keyword research, technical site issues like speed, code quality, broken links etc. It also covers big decisions like technology and whether (or when) to use SSL pages.
This blog post focuses on what to do with a single page and how to optimise the contents and layout for SEO.
Your content must solve a problem or be useful
Unless you’re JK Rowling, what you write for the web will usually be written for a specific purpose. In general you are solving a problem, answering a question or providing information.
That means sticking to the basics of who, what, why, where and when. Your carefully honed text may not win the next Nobel prize for literature but if people leave your page having had a good experience they are more likely link to your page, visit other pages on your website or simply spend a reasonable time on your page.
These are factors that Google can measure easily and are taken into account when ranking pages.
Therefore you need to ensure that your information is accurate and matches what your users might be searching for, or answer common queries.
Set high content quality standards
The Google Panda algorithm was introduced in 2011 with the intention of boosting websites with good quality content.
They have built into the algorithm the following set of question that they use to assess ‘quality’. We’re reproducing them verbatim here:
- Would you trust the information presented in this article?
- Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
- Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
- Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
- Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
- Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
- Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
- Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
- How much quality control is done on content?
- Does the article describe both sides of a story?
- Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
- Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
- Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
- For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
- Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
- Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
- Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
- Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
- Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
- Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopaedia or book?
- Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
- Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
- Would users complain when they see pages from this site?
Make the page engage attention
While the search bots extract information about keywords and technical data, people will make a decision to stay on a page based on the contents.
The web is a visual, screen based medium so it’s important that your page is not just solid blocks of single spaced text. Use the following to help break up the text and make it engage attention:
- Use relevant images to break up the text.
- Use video or animation if relevant and adds to the message.
- Use bullet points, numbered lists, short paragraphs and headings.
- Use icons to display list information.
- Use tables and micro-interactions to engage people further.
- Add a call-to-action.
- Provide relevant evidence, internal links and quality external links to relevant, helpful sites.
I must admit to being a recent convert to giving this area more attention. We recently redesigned the layout of individual client pages with more emphasis on better layouts with micro-interactions and we did notice a big improvement in rankings and traffic.
This includes page features such as pricing tables, time lines animations etc – see this article for examples – Best practices for micro-interactions
Use keywords in meta tags, alt tags and body copy but make the text readable
You should have already done your keyword research so you know the keywords that you should be using.
There are various theories on keyword density which we won’t go into here; however you should try to use target keywords in the opening body copy and in the headings of the page.
Your images should have alt tags and try to include your target keywords in the alt tags when it’s appropriate.
Finally, your copy should be grammatically correct with no misspellings and properly spaced out. It should also read well and deliver what was promised by the main heading.
There are various checks you can run that give a readability score. The classic is the Gunning Fog index which is a weighted average of the number of words per sentence, and the number of long words per word.
Plug your text into the form on this page – Gunning Fog index and get an estimate of the years of formal education a person needs to understand the text on the first reading.
For example the preceding text had a Fog Index of 11, which means that you have to be about 17 or 18 to understand the text properly on first reading. Don’t get too bogged down by these tests but it is a useful reality check.
Don’t neglect the technical SEO
When you are focusing on the content quality you should also pay attention to the technical SEO.
- Where you have images, these should be optimised for the minimum file size.
- Code producing micro-interactions and animations should be minified and loaded only on-demand.
- Check for any ads or widgets that may slow the page down
- Internal and external links should be valid.
As long you put your users first and ensure your page communicates effectively you are most of the way there. However there are several technical SEO issues you need to address such as meta tags etc that help Google and other search engines figure out what your page is about.