Part I On-Page Optimization: SERPs
Updated: Aug 28, 2020
What is the first thing we do when we are curious about any person, place, or thing? We look it up online, of course!
We have reached the point where search engines understand conversational language quite well, and with each passing day their ability to interpret intent behind a query grows in accuracy. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of implementing techniques, both on and off of a website, that bridge webpage content with search engines. By optimizing our content so it’s conducive to the way that search engines function, our pages become more visible – resulting in higher quantities of qualified website traffic!
To keep up with technological advancements, SEO is constantly evolving. Oftentimes the basics can get overlooked when employing popular new techniques, but a solid grasp of basic principles is necessary for any method to yield results. This foundational mini-series aims to be an introductory learning resource for curious novices, as well as marketers who could use a refresher. Today we’ll delve into some on-page elements of search marketing, particularly those that are packaged together to represent a webpage on search engine result pages (SERPs).
Have you ever noticed a string of words at the top of the browser bar when looking at a webpage? Those are title tags. They’re also displayed alongside links on SERPs and those shared on social media. This HTML element gives names to pages, but the information included in title tags also influences page ranking on SERPs.
Title tags briefly summarize the contents of webpages by giving each one unique descriptors. It is recommended to order the keywords by level of importance; like all other SEO elements, human readability is key! The following title tag formula is a good place to start:
Primary Keyword – Secondary Keyword(s) | Brand Name
<title>Men’s Boxers & Briefs | Dude’s Underoos Company</title>
If the brand name is part of the keywords, adjust the order accordingly:
<title>BUND-AID Brand Adhesive Bandages & First Aid Supplies</title>
What makes a great title tag:
Keywords – Use keywords in order of importance, starting with target keywords first.
Brand name – Company name should be at the end of title tags, unless it contains primary keywords.
Length – Including spaces, keep tags roughly between 50-60 characters.
Individuality – Each webpage has different content, so be sure to use variation in keywords used for pages across a website.
Relevance – Use accurate descriptions; nobody likes clickbait!
Every page of a website needs to have its own unique URL to be indexed by search engines. The information contained in a URL ties into a page’s SERP rankings, and has an impact on click-through rates regardless of where the link is found online. URLs can be effectual for SEO and readable to humans with careful consideration of a few factors.
Thoughtfully crafted URLs can stand on their own. Providing an accurate picture of what a particular webpage is about helps both search engines and searchers determine its relevance to the query. Imagine you’re thinking about purchasing a goose statue to jazz up your yard. Which of the following links gives a better impression it will meet your needs?
Webpage URLs across a site should follow a protocol similar to header tags – more on that in the next post – using a system of categorical folders arranged in descending order of specificity. This system uses forward slashes (/) to separate folders, and hyphens (-) to replace any spaces.
Consider the following example:
The URL is improperly organized, which makes its contents unclear. Humans might deduce the page contains job openings and general information about working for a company known as Professional Dancewear Supply, but search engines will have a harder time interpreting it. For the sake of clarity and organization, /career opportunities/ would make more sense nested in a folder containing pages of company information:
Length + Keywords
Studies have shown that searchers prefer shorter URLs, so we want to be concise. Use the minimum amount of words possible to accurately organize and describe the content.
Do we really need that many subfolders? Nope:
Optimizing each folder with its own keywords will avoid redundancies in the URL. When in doubt, ask yourself, “if each page on this website were a piece of paper, how many folders would I realistically need to organize them?”
Dates – URLs that include dates are best left to news websites or any pages containing time-sensitive content. For everything else, future searchers may interpret a dated URL as being irrelevant, resulting in fewer clicks.
Location – If a webpage has location specific content, consider including a geographic modifier somewhere in the URL. Regional descriptors can increase click-through rates by emphasizing the areas served and/or origin of your products. This can be especially beneficial for small businesses!
When looking at SERPs for a particular query, you’ll see snippets of information included for each webpage on the list. We present to you: meta descriptions. Although not used in a search engine’s ranking algorithm, providing a short sample of the information on a webpage lends to better click-through rates! Think about when you conduct web searches; those little previews of information have a huge influence on your decision making process regarding which link you decide to click on.
Your main goal when creating a meta description is adding value to the other information it will be displayed with on the SERPs, so try to use terms and phrases different from those in the title tags and URL. Remember that this snippet is meant for humans to understand, so any keywords used in the meta description should be relevant and strategically placed. Search engines will bold any keywords in a meta description that were part of the user’s search query.
Meta descriptions should be long enough to adequately summarize the content in a readable manner. Depending on the situation, it can be recommended to create meta descriptions ranging between 50-300 characters including spaces. Search engines generally shorten longer snippets to around 155 characters, so that’s a good place to start.
<meta name=”description” content= “EWGG examined every best-rated beach and sport sunscreen in this year’s guide marketed for use on babies and kids. We chose products that have an overall score of 1 and a green rating for ingredient hazards and UV protection and that, based on EWGG’s modeling of the products, would pass the 2019 FDA-proposed UVA standards.”/>
The above example is 322 characters total; when not displayed directly below a featured snippet on a SERP (which will be the case for most pages), the meta description is shortened to the following 152 characters:
“EWGG examined every best-rated beach and sport sunscreen in this year's guide marketed for use on babies and kids. We chose products that have an overall …”
The information is relevant, the length is on point, and the ellipses (…) may lend to more clicks!
Congratulations, you made it! In summary, the best practice for getting search engines to recognize and properly rank webpages is to be precise with title tags, URLs, and meta descriptions. Search engines bundle all three of these elements together to represent a webpage on the SERPs; as such, each must be able to describe a page’s content on its own, but add value to other two when packaged as a trio. With adequate implementation, qualified searchers will be presented with your page and click through rates will rise!
Next up in the series: webpage organization à la header tags and webpage copy (basically, how to get searchers to stay on your page long enough to explore your content).