A Look Behind the Page

First, we looked at how to prepare a list of relevant keywords and keyword phrases to help increase natural search traffic to a Web site. Next, we discussed how to weave targeted keywords and keyword phrases throughout a Web site. Today, we’ll review a few more behind-the-page SEO (define) techniques to encourage more search-referred traffic to your site.

When you strategically build an optimized Web page, the content appeals to visitors and search engine spiders alike. All too frequently, several key behind-the-page elements are overlooked.

To get the most from every page element, consider optimizing several essential tags and attributes wherever it makes sense to do so. If you clearly understand where, when, and why to use them, optimizing alternative attributes, title tags, and meta tags can help increase your site’s usability and search-referred traffic potential.

Read the Tags

HTML tags compose part of the language that allows Web pages to deliver instructions to a Web browser to display page information in more than just plain text.

Images are defined with the image tag in HTML. The image tag is considered an empty tag, in that it contains only attributes and has no closing tag. To display an image on a page, you need to source the attribute with a value, which is the URL of the image you want to display on the page. The complete syntax for defining an image such as the ClickZ logo, for example, is ClickZ Network : Solutions for Marketers.

The alternative attribute, , is author-defined text that tells the reader what the image is all about. It’s also the text that appears in a small box when you hover your cursor over the image. Alternative attributes should contain relevant keywords that convey pertinent information about the image the user wouldn’t receive if image loading is disabled or when using a text-only browser. In this case, the alternative attribute has duly informed users they’re in the “ClickZ Network” site, and they should expect to find “Solutions for Marketers.”

Keyword-rich alternative text attributions for navigational graphics and product images are very useful when developing keyword relevancy behind the page, but they shouldn’t be abused. In the past, alternative text attributions have suffered from rampant keyword stuffing. This actually works toward inhibiting usability and diluting keyword relevance. Some people went so far as to abuse spacer images as well as one-pixel GIFs, cramming them full of irrelevant keywords. Neither spam tactic helps bring targeted search traffic to your site. Both will likely result in someone reporting your site as spam to the major search engines.

Tag, You’re It?

Image file names, URL sources, and alternative text can help affirm what any particular Web page is all about, but the title tag is usually one of the easiest elements you can optimize on every page within a Web site.

The title tag is the text that appears at the top left corner of the browser window, above the toolbar and menus, on a Web page. The first and easiest thing you can do to get a good start on SEO is to create unique title tags for Web pages. These should contain relevant keywords and keyword phrases.

For each title tag, space is at a premium. Consequently, the title tag for each page of a Web site indexed by a search engine often appears abridged in search results. If you keep your title tags short, 60 to 80 characters, including spaces, you’ll optimize your site’s title tags to the lowest common denominator for all search engines.

Because title tag space is at such a premium, it’s also important to place the most relevant keywords for each page toward the beginning. If you’re going to put your company name in the title, it’s recommended you put it near the end of the title tag, unless it’s relevant to keyword search results, as is the case with ClickZ’s title tag, which is ClickZ Internet Marketing Solutions for Marketers.

You can also create meta tags to add to your pages. Meta tags are HTML code that provides additional information about a Web page. Unlike normal HTML, meta tags don’t affect how the page is displayed. Instead, meta tags provide information such as who created the page, how often it’s updated, what the page is about, and which keywords are representative of the page’s content. Many search engines use this information when building their indices.

There are two key meta tags you should consider optimizing on each Web page: keywords and description. When selecting 20 to 40 keywords, the most basic rule, as with title tags, is to choose phrases your targeted Web audience enters into a search engine. These keywords must also appear on the page in the body of the text if relevance is to be maintained.

The description tag remains a very useful place to sum up what a particular Web page is about. Several major search engines still use the information contained in the description tag in their indexed results. Once again, space is at a premium, so try to keep your descriptions to 250 characters or less (with spaces) and highly relevant to the content on the page.

If you don’t provide the search engines with a description, they’ll create one for you. Sometimes, navigational elements from the Web page are used as the description. A hodge-podge collection of words, which typically don’t improve the likelihood of searchers clicking on your site, appear in search results as a consequence. Sometimes, directory listings are used as the description, other times the description tag is pulled from the first visible text on the page.

Look at titles and description tags this way: most people don’t like to have words put in their mouths. Why would you allow a search engine to do the same to your company’s Web site?

A Word of Caution

In the past, each of these particular tags and attributes were highly abused by people trying to artificially increase their search engine visibility (OK, some abuse them to this day). Remember, the tags and attributes discussed here essentially work to affirm the keywords and keyword phrases that are already on the page.

Cramming irrelevant keywords and keyword phrases into any or all of these behind-the-page areas simply illustrates what words aren’t on the page. This is like waving a red flag to Google and requesting some time in the sandbox, particularly for a recently registered domain. Don’t bother wasting your time and budget on attempts to fool the search engines. A focus on usability and relevance garners far greater returns in the long run.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies in New York City, February 27-March 2.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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