Writing for SEO: The Major On-page SEO Scoring Factors
Writing with SEO in mind isn’t natural for a lot of us, but once you get the “formula” down and understand where you can influence SEO with keywords on the page, it should be standard practice for anyone working within pages of a site. It’s all about emphasizing relevance for the theme of the page, and the keywords you’re targeting.
Before you begin writing a blog post, article, or content for any page of a website, consider some of the key terms that relate to the topic you wish to write about. Put yourself in the shoes of someone searching for information on this topic. What would they search for? Then, incorporate your keyword strategy into the following key SEO elements on your page:
- Page titles
- Meta data
- Page Headings
- Internal and External Linking
- Bullets and Numbering
- URLs (optional)
Below we outline a few details about each major on-page scoring factor. There are plenty of details above and beyond these basics, but this is a good place to start. Accessibility factors, semantic markup, page load speed, internal and external link weight of pages — these are all important criteria that go beyond the scope of this post. Look for more on that in an upcoming article.
Spiders crawl pages and use page titles on individual pages to discern the relevance of the content for each page. Unique targeted page titles assist spiders in the ability to properly ascertain relevance.
Page titles themselves can be responsible for up to 40% of the scoring of a page (all other factors also considered).
Meta description tags are very useful for optimizing the snippet text in search engine result placements (SERPs), but do not have a scoring factor. However, they are important for crawling purposes, and a unique meta description tag should be filled out for each page. The limit of this field is 155 characters. The meta keyword tag is deprecated and can be left blank. (Interesting side note: Yahoo!, as of October 14, was still indexing meta keyword content.)
Header tags help structure a page semantically and are useful for targeting the key terms of the page. The h1 tag should echo the page title – with variation – and should serve as the general overview of the page; the h2 and subsequent tags can then narrow the focus. Use only one (1) h1 tag; however repeated h2 and lower tags are acceptable. There usually isn’t a need to go beyond h3 or even h2 on most blog posts.
Incorporate a selection of targeted keywords within the content (using your keyword research). It is standard practice to focus on 3-5 primary keywords (which normally belong to a ‘parent’ phrase). Write for users, not for search engines, but be aware of the terms you’re targeting and include them naturally into the flow.
When there are opportunities to link within a site, do so and keep in mind the anchor text (or link text) that is being used. Smart use of internal links can provide a SEO advantage by flattening the site architecture, and also by relating pages with similar content. It can also pass anchor text to the target page, thereby increasing the rankings for targeted terms. As always, this technique should be used conservatively, and while there’s no hard rule, a maximum of three to four (3-4) internal links within a post is a good rule of thumb. For external links, try to link to authoritative, high-quality and non-commercial sites whenever possible. Linking to college sites (with .edu domain names), the Wikipedia, WSJ and major news sources, and influential blogs can represent an opportunity for SEO. In general, link out to the neighborhood(s) you want to be a part of. Link out generously and often.
To call out specific terms for SEO purposes, use emphasis such as bolding and italics. This will give weight to the terms being highlighted. Used selectively, this technique can provide content with better scoring if the terms are highly relevant to the page and are themed throughout the document (as a well-optimized page will be) in places such as the title tag, headings, and even the URL.
In concert with header tags, bulleting and ordering lists helps to structure a page semantically. This aids the search engines as they crawl through content, trying to understand the theme, and as that content is added to the indexes. It also aids the reader, as content that is separated becomes easier to read.
We recommend optimized image file names and alt attributions for all images. Image optimizations are included in SEO best practices and aid in determining relevancy as spiders crawl the site. Name the images with dash-separated keywords (relevant to the image), and fill out the alt attribute with a short descriptive phrase about the image.
Whenever possible, URLs should have dash-separated terms as well. For SEO, it is ideal to have the targeted terms that are implemented in page titles and headings, also included within the URL path (and always separated with a dash). It’s easy to go too far with this one – and keywords in folders are far less valuable thatn keywords in domains. This isn’t a silver bullet, but may be an important step – it totally depends on the case.