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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:

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.

Page Titles and Meta Data

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.

Thumbnail view of the basic on-page SEO factors - click for bigger version

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.)

Headings

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.

Page Content

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.

Internal and External Linking

One of the best pieces of advice we give our ecommerce clients is to write custom product text, and to make it warm, personal, hip, funny, or whatever fits with the brand. Make it stand out.

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.

Emphasis

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.

Bulleting and Ordered Listing

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.

Image Optimizations

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.

URLs

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.

Comments
10 Responses to “Writing for SEO: The Major On-page SEO Scoring Factors”
  1. Morten says:

    Hi
    Thanks for this nice info.

    You said: “Use only one (1) h1 tag” – can you explain why?

    Morten from Denmark :-)

  2. Meg Thompson says:

    Hi Morten,

    Good question.

    Since an h1 tag is meant to support the overall “theme” or topic for a specific page, it’s best to be kept to only one relevant, targeted topic in order to ascertain relevancy for that page. Much like an outline, heading tags should be in a logical hierarchy with h1 tags providing the overall theme and subsequent heading tags supporting the h1 tag and the relevancy on the page.

    Thanks for commenting!

    Meg

  3. Howard says:

    Does bold and italic still work?

    Seems to be many comments suggesting otherwise.

  4. Adam Audette says:

    @Howard, rather than think in terms of bolding or italicizing “still working” for SEO, I find it more useful to think about how you can display terms with emphasis on a page, and make that page focused on those terms. Is it bolding? Sometimes, but other times it may be an image with a relevant alt attribute, or the markup of page with headings, or just frequent use of keyword themes throughout a page. My .02.

  5. joelchrist says:

    Really great content folk, it would be useful to know about importance of on page optimization and site content to the newbies. Thanks.

  6. Donna says:

    Meg, can you comment on the importance of breadcrumbs ?

  7. Hi
    Brilliant info and really useful for an SEO learner like myself. I have one question though relating to this ” For external links, try to link to authoritative, high-quality and non-commercial sites whenever possible.”

    Why is it important to link out to external sites as I thought it was more important to get high authoritative links into your site. Surely you are sending link juice to these sites for little return or is it that the SE see that you have relevant content to your link and you know what you are talking about?
    Many thanks

  8. Adam Audette says:

    Wii Accessories,

    Linking to relevant sites does a number of good things for SEO and marketing. Among them is the fact that (as shared by Matt Cutts) they contribute to the scoring of a page by Google’s algo.

  9. Eric says:

    good article and very detailed.

    as for my part, i always keep an SEO sheet by my side and check every page that i have.

    and onething i want to add is that link position is also important for internal links, which will give a vote to other pages in site.

  10. Yeah all factors mentioned by you are very important in SEO. Some more points which you can consider are- avoid flash content and table tag as it is not crawled by bots. Instead use images and div tag.