In the first installment in this series on SEO writing, we talked two things: why you need to be conscious of the keywords implicit in the topic of your article, and why you need to target that topic’s main keyword in your title tag. In the second installment, we talked about the meta description tag (not what most people refer to as the “meta tag”, which usually describes the tag for meta keywords). This time around, we’ll go over some on-page SEO factors that are too minor to discuss individually, but are collectively important to implement. We’ll also go over their relationship to off-page factors.
It bears repeating that the real leverage in SEO entails keyword anchored backlinks—off-page SEO. By “keyword anchored backlinks”, I mean links from other sites whose highlighted text contains the keywords that tell Google and other search engines what the linked page is about.
But on-page SEO still matters for a couple of reasons. The unique keywords on your page tell Google’s spiders where the page fits in the search engine’s taxonomy of topic categories, which you can see in the All Categories sidebar of the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. So if a subheading on your page contained the keyword, “power of attorney forms”, then once the page was crawled, it would get indexed under “Law & Government Products » Power of Attorney Forms”, assuming it gets indexed. Being crawled and being indexed don’t go hand-in-hand. Getting indexed requires links from pages that have been indexed.
On-page factors also influence what people choose for anchor text when creating a link. One of the reasons the title tag is a powerful on-page element is that bloggers and webmasters will link to an article using the entire title for the anchor text, and if the title is or has the keyword, it creates a keyword anchored backlink. If an article’s title is “How to Get Out of Debt”, and it’s linked to from another site in the sentence, “Jane Johnson discusses the ins and outs of credit scoring in her post, ‘How to Get Out of Debt‘”, it’s a much more relevant link than if the linking article had chosen “discusses” as the anchor text.
On-Page SEO Factors
No two SEOs agree on which on-page SEO factors are the lynchpins. One keyword research and competitive analysis tool I’m fond of using, Market Samurai, only shows four on-page factors: the title tag, the URL, the meta description and the header tags. If I were the author of this tool, I would expand the list.
There are certainly more than the six on-page factors I mention below, and some even have more weight, but the Critical Six are the elements that are always under your control each time you write a post.
The Exact Match Domain Vogue
An example of an element that has more weight but less flexibility is your domain name. In the last two years, the so-called exact match domain (EMD) has become all the rage. An EMD is a .com, .net or .org domain name that matches the keyword in its exact order, with no characters before, after or in between, such as purpleferretsweaters.com for the keyword “purple ferret sweaters”. With an EMD, it’s possible in many cases to outrank competing pages with vastly more links, but the effect diminishes in more competitive niches, where authority sites still carry more weight.
While people obsess over EMDs, you may find that, despite your keyword research, the keyword you’ve dominated doesn’t convert as well in practice as keyword tools would lead you to believe. You also can’t get an EMD for most of the keywords you want, since the pool of untapped EMDs is diminishing every day. I personally think it’s a mistake in most cases to build you’re entire platform around an exact match domain name, unless the keyword has proven that it actually gets traffic that converts.
The Critical Six
So what on-page SEO factors are consistently under your control?
The title tag. I’ve discussed this plenty, so I’ll let the first part in this series speak for itself.
The meta description tag. Discussed in the second part, so no need to cover it again here.
The URL. Ideally, your keyword is in the domain name; otherwise it should be in the permalink—the URL with a custom file name at end. In WordPress, the permalink editor is located under the title field in the Edit Post panel. While you can’t edit the domain name or category, you can edit the file name (i.e. the name of the page).
The best practice is to remove any autopopulated words in the permalink that aren’t keywords, which minimizes keyword dilution. So if the post title is “6 Ways to Get Out of Debt”, and the keyword is “get out of debt”, than the default permalink, “http://yourdomain.com/debt/6-ways-to-get-out-of-debt“, should be trimmed to “http://yourdomain.com/debt/get-out-of-debt“.
Header tags. These are the <h1> (post title), <h2> (section heading) and <h3> (subheading) elements on the page. Having your keyword in a header tag isn’t as critical as the elements listed above, but it does help Googlebot determine the relevance of the page if it’s there. Whether or not it makes a big difference, keyword relevant header tags are low-hanging fruit that are too easy to not exploit.
Post tags. I used to think that Google ignored post tags, and preferred Categories, until I saw how many of my tag pages outranked my post pages. Make no mistake: Google likes tags, so use them liberally. Instead of treating tags like categories, where you’re trying to create the most appropriate organizational slots for a post, just add 3-10 of the most related keywords to your post. Use the Google Keyword Tool, sorting by Relevance, and use the topmost keywords for your tags.
Occasionally you’ll see keywords in tool that don’t flow grammatically, like “mesothelioma asbestos lung cancer”, since searchers know they’re querying a computer, not a human. While it would be awkward to put these keywords in the article text, they can still appear on the page if you add them as tags.
Article text. Make sure your keyword appears in the article at least once. Use the keyword whenever it fits naturally, but as long as it’s there once, that’s enough. If you outsource your article writing, instruct the writers to use the keyword once, since most outsourcers who write keyword articles are usually encouraged to repeat a keyword throughout the article, which is not only unnecessary, but excessive keyword density for short articles (500 words and under). For extra credit, see if you can work the keywords from your post tags into the article, but only do this if you find it easy to do.
Backlinking to Your Keywords
How you get backlinks is a heady topic I’ll leave for another time, except for briefly mentioning the two main methods:
- Writing content that’s good enough for others to want to link to
- Submitting content on other sites with backlinks to your page
WorkAwesome is popular enough that we don’t have to worry about posting content on other sites to get links. We just have to be focused on choosing the right keywords, which is a skill that doesn’t occur naturally to most contributing writers.
Submitting content to other sites generally means one of two things: writing guest posts, or article marketing. Article marketing involves publishing content on article directories like EzineArticles, GoArticles and Buzzle. This content gets syndicated, meaning that others sites are allowed to copy and post your articles, which contain your links. In exchage for the free content they get, you get one or two backlinks per article, multiplied by however many sites post the article.
If you’re not a rockstar blogger, and you have to get links in this labor intensive fashion, you’ll need to be as tactical about the keywords in your links as you are about the keywords on the page you’re linking to. A simple guideline is that any keywords you’re targeting on the page should have at least one backlink from your guest posts or directory articles. If all of your keywords are in the post tags, as they should be, you’ll have a list of what to use as anchor text.
Assuming you get two links per article (whether it’s for an article directory or a blog), one keyword anchored backlink should go to the post you’re trying to promote. 20-50% of your post-directed links should use your primary keyword for the anchor text, and the rest should be the other keywords you want the post to rank for. The other link can either go to your site’s home page, to build its PageRank and keyword authority, or to another relevant post that you’re trying to promote; and it should use the same ratio of anchor text.
Should you link to the home page?
Unless there’s content on the home page that needs the links, you’re probably better off pointing your extra links to another post. Home pages are important to humans for navigational purposes, but, contrary to popular belief, they have no inherent significance to Google, other than the fact that they get more organic links than most other pages on a site.
PageRank applies to pages, not sites, which is why you’ll usually see (using a tool like the Google Toolbar) a higher PageRank on a site’s home page than any other page on the site. So while WorkAwesome has a PR6 home page, it’s not a “PageRank 6 site”, which is a misnomer. There are no “PageRank 6 sites”, but people use a home page as a congealed representation of a site’s authority.
So much for not talking about backlinking! To make a long story short, make sure that any keywords you care about are not only on the page, but also appear as the anchor text in your backlinks.
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