If you want to learn more about site structure and the other elements in the breakdown of this URL you can do so in this article on site structure.
Some popular CMS such as Wordpress use a numerical default for URLs, meaning that when a page is created it is assigned a numerical code which forms the URL. For SEO this isn’t great, you want it to be human-readable. Luckily enough this is pretty easy to change. Just use the permalinks option within your install, which will change the URLs to words, instead of numbers.
Try and keep your page URL short, don’t use too many words. 3 to 4 is a good number but a healthy dose of common sense should steer you in the right direction. Obviously you can use more shorter words or fewer longer words. Just make sure it’s clear, uses your main keywords for the page and it actually looks good on page.
Categories and site structure
The placement of the page on the site has an impact on how relevant Google deems its content. This is done through the site structure, with content placed in categories which are also relevant to the search term ranking better. Naming your categories and sub-catagories utilising keywords will not only benfit those pages but also the pages listed within them.
Should I use an underscore or hyphen in my URL?
The debate rages on - which is better for SEO, underscores or hyphens? Luckily enough there is a definitive answer from Matt Cutts. He’s the head of Webspam for Google, so he’s well worth listening too. So here’s a video from Matt:
The likelihood is this has a pretty minimal impact whether you do actually use hyphens for separating words and underscores for a single phrase. Best practice is great when creating new pages but I would advise against going back to old pages and changing the hyphens and underscores. Changing the URL means implementing a redirect, which will lose you more value than this change would gain.
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Optimizing page titles
Next down from the URL it’s time to take a look at the page title - probably the most abused and one of the longest serving core on-page SEO factors. Your page title is the element on the page where it is most important to strike a balance between readability and SEO.
Let’s start off by taking a look at how Google is displaying your page title. Simply search for the page in Google so it shows up in the results. Using the 'info' command in Google, then putting in the page URL, will show the result without any personalisation:
What page title length will Google display?
You can see how the final part of the title is truncated, so cut off and followed by a couple of dots. This is because there is a maximum character limit to what Google can display in the results. This varies on the result type and the actual characters you use. This is because it’s actually a pixel limit, so the space Google has to play with is determined in pixels (512 if you’re interested). Use wider letters and you’ll fit fewer characters.
Unless you're a web designer you’re unlikely think in pixels and it’s much easier to think in characters. I always use an nominal limit of 69. You should be able to fit 69 of all but the fattest characters into your 512 pixels.
How to use keywords in the page title
Making your page title look good in the search results
This is the other part of why a page title is so important. It forms part of the advert for your site which appears in the search results. Whether or not someone clicks on the result for your site isn’t just determined by the position it’s ranked in, it's also how attractive the result looks to them.
People search to find a page which contains the content they need. It might be a specific product or information about a product or anything else. The important thing is that they are looking to fulfil that requirement. Within the page title you must clearly demonstrate that the content of the page fulfils that requirement. In simple terms, they are going to find what they need on your page.
Without the SEO consideration the title for this page might be more like:
‘An awesome guide to optimizing a webpage for SEO from contact to SEO of the 1fora.com
We would then be answering the question that was being asked. However we are more likely to rank for our question-based keywords by including that within the title. This is the balance between the two factors.
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Ideally you would have at least 500 words of focused content on a page, but the reality is that this is not always possible, especially when you have design or CRO considerations. A single page has to serve many purposes, and ranking in the search engines is just one of the things you need to consider. Think about what purpose the page serves and how important it is that it ranks for non-brand terms or long tail searches.
The more important it is that the page ranks for a broader spread of terms, then the more you’re going to want to place increased focus on the content. If it’s a homepage this is probably less important as you’re likely focused on your absolute most important generic keywords. If it’s an informational page like this one, then the content becomes much more important.
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How to optimize page descriptions for a better Click Through Rate
I feel confident in saying that there are few out there who still think that page descriptions affect rankings. It’s been known for many years that they don’t. What’s still a bit more contentious is whether there is a secondary effect via the influence of Click Through Rates. As of last year, that’s not a factor either (or at least not one Google wants to admit to).
It’s likely that having Click Through Rate as a ranking factor created too big a headache for Google, with proxies and offshore dev teams providing cheap and accessible ways of generating false clicks. If you think that Google is smart enough to automatically detect all of these and filter them out you should read this article.
So CTR doesn’t influence rankings. However, it does have a big influence on how much traffic comes through to the page. So you want to make sure your ad in the search results is as optimized as possible to gain the biggest share of those clicks it can.
The FAB principle is a good one to follow here. This is a classic sales copy technique where you state:
Feature : What it is
Advantage : Specifically what it can do
Benefit : Why that’s a good thing
Here's the example I usually think of when structuring FAB content:
Feature: This canoe is made out of hardened fibreglass
Benefit: So it won't ever leak or break
Advantage : Meaning you can take on more extreme rapids than ever before
Then after this, include a Call To Action, or CTA. Here’s the description I created for this page:
I’ve highlighted the different FAB aspects plus the CTA in different colours.
You might recognise this as the introduction as well. This is because our CMS uses one piece of content to generate both the excerpt and description. This means I have to consider how it will look on-page as well as within the search results.
Length is once again restricted, much like page titles. Here we have a little more room with around 156 characters to play with. Once again this isn’t a hard limit but I’ve found that this is a good number to work to.
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The way Google assesses keywords is down not only to where they appear but also how they relate to each other. It was previously the case that how often a keyword was repeated mattered. This made for not the best content and ultimately a poor experience for the reader. Google has since moved away from this and got a bit cleverer. Now it breaks the content down and looks at the relationship between the words that are used rather than just the number of times they are repeated. So it looks at how those words fit into the overall content of the information on-page.
By keeping your content on topic and focused around a single topic per page you should find that you naturally create content where the keywords have a strong relationship. This gives a strong indication to Google what the page is about and therefore what it should rank for.
Optimizing page headings for SEO
Page headings are used as both a styling element and as an SEO element. They are still relevant and an active ranking factor. However just how important they are has diminished. Once again it’s an element that I wouldn’t recommend going to great lengths to change, but if you’re creating content from scratch then it’s definitely worth looking at.
The heading tag is an element that can be added in the page code that denotes the text as a heading within the content. Styling is then automatically applied according to the heading type, so these are often a larger font than the normal body copy.
The code used is a heading tag. This is a piece of html that wraps around the content. You open a heading tag like this
and close it like this . You can have as many different heading types as you want, although 3 - 6 is most common. A secondary heading or h2 would be displayed with the
for h3 etc etc.
Google knows that headings are used to denote a summary of the following section, like mini titles for each section within the content. So it makes sense that Google would place extra weight on the words used within those headings. Headings carry more meaning than words used elsewhere on the page and have been thought about more carefully.
As they aren’t displayed in the results, headings don’t carry any restrictions so it’s up to you how you use them. I use them as they are intended, as clear concise titles for each of the sections within the page. Higher numbered headings denote the main sections and the lower numbered headings are for subsections within these.
The readability of the content on page will have a much bigger impact than any SEO benefit derived from headings, so make sure they read well. However, you can still create them thinking about the search terms that you want the page to rank for. Check out the headings I’ve used in this article. For example, this section is Optimizing page headings for SEO’. I’m thinking about what someone might be searching for and making sure my keywords are in there.
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How to optimize your content to rank better
The biggest, most influential, on-page factor by far is the content. This isn’t just about using the right keywords but also writing content that's high quality, in other words, stuff that people will want to read, share and link to. Crack this and you’re most of the way there.
We’ve written a lot about how to create killer content so I won’t rehash that here. Instead let’s focus on what you should be doing from an SEO perspective.
Keywords within content
Keywords are important. They are how search engines link what people are searching for to the content ranked for those searches. It’s the bridge between the intent of the searcher and the information shown on-page. You need to make sure that the keywords you want to rank for are included in the first 100 words of content.
Make sure that the primary and secondary keywords are within your body copy and feature prominently. However, don't fall into the trap of sacraficing the quality of the copy to include your keywords. Additionally if you're finding you're having to try and shoehorn your keywords into the page, you probably have the wrong keywords for the copy. As covered in my next point, Google looks at the overall meaning of the page. Including keywords which don't really fit isn't going to do much for you.
If you want to know more about using keywords then check out my article on how search engines use keywords.