In a tug-of-war, you're much better off if your team pulls in the same direction. Success in SEO (define) is very much the same.
There's no one single thing that can make your Web page show up in the top of the search results. But there are several little things that can. Taking the time to consider small Web site structure details and ensuring that all these details are working in tandem will reap benefits for years to come. Pay attention to the key components of SEO and synergize your optimization efforts, and you'll find it much easier to succeed.
Disclaimer: I'm openly admitting to not having researched the proper keywords. What I'm sharing is an example only. So, if you own a sporting goods store, don't assume that you've just received free keyword research. There could easily be better ways to refer to these products.
Key Components of SEO
Let's begin by breaking down some of the key elements to SEO: the title tag, URL, header tag, content, internal links, and external links.
The bar at the top of your browser -- which many "typical" users of the Web don't even know exists -- happens to be the single most important component to SEO. Most sites that you come across will say "Company Name -- Home" in this area. That's terrific if you're very well branded and only want to be found for your company's name. In that instance, visitors searching for your company would find your site anyway.
Instead, put your most important keywords in this area, within reason. Try to keep the total character length to less than 68 characters, including spaces. For the purpose of this article, let's make up a page. Let's say this is a Web site that sells sporting goods, and we're going to focus specifically on the soccer jersey page.
An optimized title tag for this page would be "Soccer Jersey | Team Uniforms | Soccer Jerseys." The total character length is 46. That's pretty short, but it's concise, and it's all the keywords I want to focus on for this page.
Google is beginning to pay a little more attention to keywords in the URL. Keep in mind that too many keywords in a URL will appear spammy to a user. If you don't already have rankings, if your site is new, or if you're redesigning your site and will be creating new URLs anyway, consider adding some keywords here. Using our example, the best choice is www.yoursite.com/soccer-jersey/.
The H1 tag is another key element that must be in synergy with the rest. This appears to most Web visitors as the "title" of the page, usually set apart in a heading above the body copy. This header is usually bold and describes exactly what is on the page. Some Web sites don't have a headline or title above the copy at all, but having an H1 tag is another key element to proper SEO. Using our example, the H1 of this page would be "Soccer Jersey."
Are you starting to see a pattern? Synergy, remember?
Obvious to most of us, but missing completely on many Web sites, is content. Write 250 words or so of copy that is relevant to that page. Make sure that you're using the same wording as the title tag, URL, and H1. It's a good idea to use the words "soccer jersey" here, too.
If you're going to link from www.yoursite.com to the "soccer jersey" page, be sure that you use the words "soccer jersey" in the anchor text on that link.
Be really careful here. Don't get "all spammy" on me. If you can find relevant Web sites that would link to product/services pages that are relevant for inclusion, that's terrific.
Don't -- I repeat, don't -- get too focused on one keyword. Get some links to your internal pages from external sites that have "soccer jersey" in the anchor text and have these sites link to your /soccer-jersey/ page. Then, go get some other links for the /soccer-ball/ page that have the "soccer ball" anchor text. For more information on linking, be sure to read the Search Engine Watch Experts columns on link building and social media.
The Devil Is in the Details
It's not especially difficult, but taking a little extra time to create synergy with your title tag, content, headers, and linking is the "secret sauce" to successful SEO. As they say, "the devil is in the details."
Certainly, this isn't everything you need to know to be successful in SEO. There are probably around 250 criteria that a search engine might consider to determine which Web site to rank for a given search phrase.
As always, if you're unsure of a major change that you're about to make, please consult with a SEO professional. Reckless changes to a Web site can have major effects on rankings and your bottom line.
Mark Jackson is off this week. Today's column ran earlier on Search Engine Watch.