SEO Series: On-Page Search Engine Factors

James Shakespeare
By James Shakespeare
29 Mar 2012

On-Page factors are elements of a web page that you can control the content of, hence the term on-page. These factors act as pointers to any search engine crawlers that may be passing across your site, enabling them to more accurately classify the content of your page. By taking some time to make sure these elements are correctly optimised you can often benefit from some quick search engine gains.

On-Page factors can be divided in to two categories, non-visible and visible elements. Non-visible elements include the page title, the meta description, meta keywords, image alt tags and title attributes. The visible page elements include the proper use of HTML header tags, as well as strong and emphasis tags along with the use of ordered and unordered lists.
 

Non-Visible Elements

In the EvoCMS admin panels you can change the non-visible elements of a page from the Search Engine Fields tab, available from within most modules.

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Page Title (Title Tag)

The page title is the single most important element of any web page. The title should be about 70 characters long and use words that are extremely relevant to your page content, avoiding unnecessary words. It is important that the title makes sense as it will be read by potential visitors to your site so don't be tempted to stuff it with keywords.

Meta Description

The meta description acts as an abstract  of what the web page is about. The description should be around 160 characters long, the same length as a mobile phone text message. Provide a keyword rich overview of the page content, but again make sure it is readable as the description is shown in the search engine results pages. The description should not include phrases that do not accurately describe the page content.

Meta Keywords

Meta keywords are the subject of many search optimisation debates. Many years ago search engines relied on the meta keywords to classify your pages. Over time the trend was to add as many keywords as possible  in the hope of ranking for all those phrases. These days few people agree that keywords add value and many SEO gurus argue that keywords are now completely ignored by the search engines. If you do decide to use them, a good guide is to pick 5-6 key phrases and enter them in order of importance separated by commas. The  keywords you enter must appear in your page content so once again don't be tempted to stuff words that are not relevant to the page.

Image Alt Tags

Alt tags were originally developed for when connection speeds to the Internet  was slow, allowing visitors to browse pages with images turned off, enabling precious bandwidth to be saved  so pages could load faster. Although not as relevant today alt tags are used extensively to provide "alternative descriptions" to images, a particularly useful feature for visually impaired visitors. Alt tags are important;  it is a required element for all images under the W3C accessibility guidelines. From a search optimisation viewpoint adding alt tags to an image allows you to tell the spiders what a particular image contains, as spiders cannot "see" what the image looks like.
 

Visible Elements

Header Tags

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Header tags are the web pages equivalent to chapter titles in a book. They are often shown on the page in larger text, which can be in a bold typeface or even a completely different font to the main body content. There are six header elements available in HTML starting at

right down to

, however most pages will only use

to 

.

 

Using header tags help break your pages into logical sections as you would when writing a book. It is common practice to use just one

header per page which often mimics the non-visible page title, but does not have to. The use of header tags should follow a logical progression and the use of multiple

and

tags is common. Using headers in this way will enable search engine crawlers to distinguish breaks between content and many will use the header tags to help categorise the content of the page, so make sure the headers are relevant to the section they precede.

 

Strong and Emphasis

The and tags have been introduced to replace the bold and italic tags. These tags should be used where appropriate to highlight important words or phrases in your text. Many SEO discussions argue the case for and against text in strong and emphasis tags helping search engine rankings. In any case it is good practice to use these tags as they provide semantic value to your pages and give your readers an understanding of the importance you place on certain words.

Ordered and Unordered Lists

Ordered and unordered lists are another area that may or may not help your search engine potential but again it is an important factor for your readers. A list is an easy way to display information such as a numbered sequence of steps or grouping common elements such as ingredients for a recipe. Using a list also acts as a visual cue for any visitors that might be scan-reading your content as lists are commonly used to summarise or highlight key facts.
 

Next steps

Today we have looked at factors that you have direct influence over. By weaving your keyphrases into the different parts of each page you are not only providing pointers for the search engines, but also adding semantic value to your pages, making them easier for real people to use. You should definitely review these search engine factors before you try any of the more advanced topics we will be sharing with you. In the same way defining your keywords gives you a base to build on-page factors, the on-page factors will become the foundations of the next stage, off-page optimisation.

The third article in our series will cover off site optimisation, looking at factors beyond those that sit within your control but have a bearing on your search engine rankings. This will include topics such as the role of online directories, linking between similar websites and back links.