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SEO stands for Search Engine Optimizations. It is a term used to reference a website’s HTML source code and related metadata and url for search engine rankings. I recently was involved with interviewing and working with a number of SEO firms here in New York City and picked up a number of quick tips that anyone fimilar with html and css can knock out.
I prefix this post that my own weblog can’t follow these rules 100% because of limitations with CommunityServer and how it bakes-in a number of HTML rendering elements that I have no control over – without editing the source code and deploying new assemblies – more than I care to do at this time. But, I have gotten it almost there. This is why I love ASP.NET MVC - full control over all markup even if it requires more UI work.
These have the most impact on your blog’s ranking (at this time). The words you chose to insert into these, their repetition throughout the site (and what H* they fall into), and their correlation to your metadata on the page, and their position on your site all weigh heavily for ranking your site.
Several of these tips below center around the H1 and other H* tags and how to optimize them.
1. The first rule about SEO Club is you talk about SEO Club, with H1 being first.
Here’s a quick test. Open an article or weblog post on your site and go to File –> Print Preview (or just print it). What is the first “text” you see at the very top? Is it the title of your post? If not, you fall down the list of rankings. Now, do the same here on my blog. Go to File –> Print Preview and see what it looks like. You will notice it is the title of this page (8 steps to SEO Quickly), and then content after that. Nice and neat. Now, did you notice the header and navbar links are the very bottom?
This “print view” is pretty much what the search engine sees when it is trying to determine what text to index. If you have a large and complicated header, well your content – and H1 – get pushed way down the page.
To accomplish this takes a bit of CSS magic. First, wrap your header html in a div.
The next step is to wrap your content in another dedicated div.
Now, move the entire header div down below your content div. The final step is to use CSS to render a large “space” for your content div, allowing room for the header to be “positioned” to the top of the page. It should look something like this (using inline style definitions for easier reading).
<title>My SEO post</title>
<h1>My SEO post</h1>
<p>Search engines should love me now!</p>
<a href=”/”>Home</a> <a href=”/about”>About</a>
Notice how the content html comes before the header html? And did you notice that the CSS styles will “push down” the content 100px, while absolute positioning the header above the content? This is the magic that is needed to “make the H1 the first text the search engine sees.”
2. The second rule about SEO Club is you talk about SEO Club, with H1 being first.
It basically boils down to, refactor your code to push the H1 as the first text. If you cannot, your fall down in rankings. Something so trivial, I know. But every SEO provider we looked into was hard pressed about this priority. So, I am stressing it here with you.
3. Use all H1 through H6, on every page.
Search engines love these “header” tags. They are perfect for pointing them to your relevant content. So, you should encapsulate as much text as possible with H tags. Just one sticky point, generally you should use all tags, but do not use the H1 tag more than once. Google will even give you errors for pages that use the same H1 title – it must be unique for each page of your entire site.
This is a bit difficult for me to follow in designing blogs. But, it can be done. Let me point you to a few ways you can use all H1 tags on your blog:
- H1 for the Title of your blog post
- H2 for post headers/highlights. Like I am doing in this post, in bold.
- H3 for each Tag for your blog post
- H4 for sub-titles or sub-topics
- H5 for related posts
- H6 for each navbar element (i.e., mine are additional tags or group tags)
Yeah, a lot to break down for each post. But, every time you do will score higher with search engines.
4. Concentrate on what content goes into those H tags.
Now this is when you concentrate on what “term” you want to brand for your website. You really get only one shot at this, per search engine crawl. You can change it for the next time, but it will change your rankings.
Now is the time to pause and go use some of these SEO tools to find what phrase you can target. Look for something with a ranking that you can break into. Obviously, “Top Blog” is going to be out of touch for your small site, with 10,000+ links to some of the worlds top blogs. Instead, focus on something more tangible. Like, “Atlanta Bakery” or “NYC Wireless Cafe”.
The H1 on your homepage is the most important text on your entire site. Higher than metadata, higher than its content, and so on. This is your chance to focus on a word or phrase you want your users to search, and find you! So, insert your phrase you want to focus on for your site here in the H1, without variation, as is. You can also use little tricks with CSS to pull over something more meaningful to your users, while getting the H1 hit.
<h1 class=”nolinebreak”>NYC Wireless Cafe</h1><span class=”h1-like”>s in NoHo</span>
Let’s take my blog for example. I want to focus on “Eric Duncan” and I want people to search on that, and find me. Right now, I am battling an AAA baseball player for rankings on my name. Since Google ranks pages higher on links and ESPN and 100s of sites link to this baseball player, I am down to like 6 or 7. But on Bing, that looks at the actual content, I am number 2. Woot!
Now, technically you are to pick that one phrase, and implement it throughout your site with other H tags. For example, if I was hardcore I would want to update my tags to be H3 and worded something like:
- Personal Duncan
- Duncan’s Automotive
- Eric on Geek Stuff
Or, going back to the wireless cafe above:
- Cafe Drinks
- NYC Favorites
- Wireless Hours
Notice how I am working in parts of the target H1 in each tag? This is what gets ranked very very well. Before, the cafe would have had “Drinks – Favorites – Hours” as tags or navbar elements. But, by adding in parts of the target phrase for the H1 on the homepage, and making each navbar element an H tag, you now have much more ranking power.
Say if you have “Best” in your homepage H1, such as “Best NYC Cafe”, you would want to use “Best” in just about every H2 on your site going forward. “Best Dinners”, “Best Drinks”, “Best Menu”, etc.
5. H1 –> Title –> Metadata –> H2-H6 –> url text
That is the secret formula, that about 3/5ths of seo firms agreed on. Several of them gave variations. But more or less, that is what they say.
So, by those rankings, you should now focus on your <title> tag in the header. The rule is, the H1 should exactly match your Title. So, on your blog post page, your <h1> is the title of your post. Well, your <title> should exactly match that as well. It should NOT be prefixed with your site name. This is the mistake people tend to miss. “I want the site name in every <title>, so when it is bookmarked…” Well, that is the problem. If the H1 is different than your Title, then it isn’t a match.
Now some said you can suffix the title with your site’s short-name (just a little text). But there was debates to rather even this was acceptable. I would change my site here for it, but CS is limited in that regard.
Next is the Metadata. Yep, that thing that we were all taught back in the 90s was the “key” to searching. Well, it still is to a point. It can’t contain more than 10 keywords (or might get ignored completely).
6. Friendly Urls or SEO Urls
This is what a lot of people think gets ranked high. “Converting my post.aspx?PostID=523 to /archive/2009/09/20/my-cool-post/ is the best thing you can do!” Well, no. That is why it is #6. It is of a lower priority than the rest above, because as mentioned in #5, it goes H1 –> Title –> Metadata –> H2-H6. And THEN it gets to Url.
And for those that don’t know, “SEO Friendly Urls” does not mean removing the querystring. Search engines are smart enough to analyze the querystrings and follow them. Google even found the ?p= and logged it as a “Page Index” variable on my site.
No, SEO Friend Urls mean removing the integer from the PostID= and making it something legible, and indexable. Like, the post title.
This works well for Wordpress blogs that want an SEO url, but does not have access to mod_rewrite. Just change the url to be http://domain.com/?p=%postname% and you should be SEO friendly going forward, without mod_rewrite.
7. XHTML Compliancy
It may seem frivolous, but search engines really are just computer programs with 100s of rules to follow when reading your page. One of those is it attempt to select these H* tags from your page and process them. If you have some funky text, broken html tags, and just general messy html, several of their rules will fail – and you fail to rank higher.
Go hit-up a validator to see how your site does: http://validator.w3.org/
8. Off-page SEO
Everything else above covers what we call “on-page” SEO, which is the SEO you can control from your site’s markup. Off-page SEO is what Google’s entire ranking system is based on – how many websites link to your website. So, commission a dozen college students to go out and talk about your site on a few hundred websites to get those “off-page seo” links. Yeah, this is shady and is what causes those, “Oh man, cool post! Check out similar similar here at…” comments and forum posts you see. This is generating off-page SEO for those websites with spam comments. But, it’s what they do – and Google rewards them for it.
To sum things up, SEO is more than just a pretty url. It is about changing your markup and thinking before you do things.
Also, this is what the rules are as of 2009. In 1999, it was all about metadata. Who knows what it will be in 2019. Maybe it will be what images are being shown and how often you should images in each post (I get an image in each one for me).