Introduction to Basic Search Engine Optimization Markup

Introduction to Basic SEO Markup

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Before I get into the topic of today’s post, let me first explain what is meant by the term “Search Engine Optimization” (or “SEO,” which is the acronym used to describe it).

According to search engine resource site, Search Engine Land, SEO is the “process of getting traffic from the ‘free,’ ‘organic,’ ‘editorial’ or ‘natural’ listings on search engines.” Think of it as listings you don’t pay for. Those are referred to a pay-per-click or “PPC.”

This short video provides greater detail:

With that out of the way, I want to introduce SEO markup, which consists of “tags” that appear in the HTML of your site that search engines reference during the indexing process. You can optimize these tags to increase the chances of your content being indexed by search engines and rank higher in returns.

When you conduct a search, you will see two pieces of information for each return: Page title and page description. Here’s an example based on the search term “Bizzuka internet marketing.”

Title and meta description tag example

This information is pulled directly from the site’s web page using two critical HTML tags: title and meta description.

HTML Title Tag

“HTML titles have always been and remain the most important HTML signal that search engines use to understand what a page is about,” says Search Engine Land.

It is essential that you write titles that appeal both to humans and search engines. That means they must make sense to the searcher and, at the same time, include keywords that describe the page content.

Also, it’s helpful to place keywords toward the front of the title, which is a technique known as front-loading. The main criteria, however, is that it makes sense to the person reading it. Google will figure it out.

Title tags look like this to search engines:

<title>Page title</title>(italics added)

Title tags should contain no more than 55 characters so as not to be truncated.

Meta Description Tag

The meta description tag is not a ranking factor that helps your page rank higher so much as it is a “blurb” that informs searchers what the page is about. That piece of information may tip the scale in terms of encouraging them to click to your page, as opposed to another return.

As with the title tag, when writing meta descriptions keep both humans and search engines in mind. It must make sense to the searcher and contain keywords, which search engines will highlight just as you see in the above example.

Here’s an example of how the meta description tag appears to search engines:

<meta name=”description” content=”Page description information” />

Optimally, meta description tags should contain 150-160 characters.

These are not the only HTML tags Google looks for when indexing a page. Two others include: header tags and alt tags.

Header Tags

Header tags provide search engines with an outline of the page content and are broken down into H1, H2, H3 respectively. Use of these tags helps search engines understand the topic of the page, a factor used in determining how well a page ranks.

H1 – This is the most important of all the header tags and should be associated with the title that appears on the page. Again, keep both humans and search engines in mind when creating a title – readability and keywords.

It looks like this:

<h1>Page title</h1>

H2, H3, etc. – These should be associated with headings and sub-heading that you insert in the page copy. Use them in the order prescribed, with H2 first, then H3, and on. Rarely will you move beyond H3, but it’s possible depending on the nature of your content.

Alt Tags

You should associate alt tag (or “alt attribute” as it is sometimes referred) with every image on your page. The term, which stands for “alternate text,” is rendered when the image cannot be. It also supplies the text needed by screen readers used by people with visual impairments.

Make the alt tag as descriptive as possible in order to give search engines sufficient information and, yes, that means including keywords. Don’t stuff the alt tag with keywords, however. Google doesn’t like that.

Here are some examples of good and not so good alt tags courtesy of Google Webmaster Tools:

Not so good:

<img src=”puppy.jpg” alt=””/>

Better:

<img src=”puppy.jpg” alt=”puppy”/>

Best:

<img src=”puppy.jpg” alt=”Dalmatian puppy playing fetch”>

To be avoided:

<img src=”puppy.jpg” alt=”puppy dog baby

dog pup pups puppies doggies pups litter puppies dog retriever

labrador wolfhound setter pointer puppy jack russell terrier

puppies dog food cheap dogfood puppy food”/>

There are other HTML tags we could discuss, but these are the most significant. How much access you get to each of these tags is determined by the content management system you use. Some offer greater latitude than others.

As essential as it is to use good SEO markup, of greater importance is that you provide high quality content that’s worth the searcher taking time to read. It’s also vital that you produce fresh content on a routine basis in order to give search engines a reason to return to your site. The use of a blog is an excellent way to facilitate both, and I heartily encourage you to incorporate blogging into your online marketing mix.

Check out some of Bizzuka’s SEO success stories we’ve achieved for our clients.

Image source: Flickr Creative Commons