SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, is something every web site needs. It’s one of the most talked about subjects in web development, and yet it’s something most people view as difficult to understand. This article will offer some starting points on how to make sure your page titles, page headings, and links within the content are optimised for search engines, while keeping your site easy to use.

Search engines want to be people

Many people think that optimising a site means placing “keywords” in their “meta tags”. While this may sound technical enough to be worth trying, it’s a waste of time. Search engines may have used these bits of information in the past, but it is no longer the case. Most modern search engines try to view sites from the perspective of real people, in order to find and present good information in a way people will find useful. When planning the content of your titles, headings and links, it’s important that your site keep this in mind.

One caveat to the above is the “description” meta tag. While this does not have significant impact on your search engine results, it is sometimes used beneath the title on search results.

Title is important

First thing to check is your page title. Page titles are the text people click on in search results. They should be easy to scan and informative. Some people attempt to put as many “key” words in here as possible, but this can make the text off-putting to users. And if the text isn’t aimed at users, it isn’t what search engines want.

Secondly, make sure each of your pages has an appropriate title. Repeating one title for every page in the site doesn’t help. Even if the title is appropriate for the site generally, you will miss out on specific searches for which the page in question may be appropriate. For example, if your site is about Holidays, and you have a page about Camping, a “camping” oriented title will help the page rank for related searches.

Headings summarise the page

Second to the page title, the page heading (H1 tag) is important. Again, it’s important to write headings for people first. Headings should be specific and summarise the purpose of the page, for example “Car Dealers in Wellington”, and not be vague, such as “Welcome to the site”. This means that the title is helpful both for people, as it describes well the page, and for search engines, as it contains key words that help the search engine decide what the page is about.

Subheadings (h2, h3) should be used to break up longer pages. The text should be organised into discrete sections, and good subheadings will help visitors scan pages, and allow search engines to more easily determine what the content is about.

Link it well

Links are a very important part of a site. In this case, the way you link to pages within your site can help your search engine ranking. Most sites have a menu that links to their main pages, but this can be augmented by making sure to link to pages within your content also.

The reason for doing this, is that search engines will take into account the words used in the links themselves, and the page being linked to will have a better chance of ranking for the words used in the link. For example, of your home page talks about your “home heating services”, make those words a link to your services page. This will be of far greater value than the commonly used “click here”.

Not only will links that use descriptions as the link text be more useful to search engines, they are also helpful for your visitors. The link stands out to people scanning the page, and it is quite evident from the link text where the link is pointing.

In summary, the advice for making good titles, headings and links is to write them primarily for the users of your site. Well thought out text in all three of these areas will have a double-edged benefit, making your site easier to use and navigate, while helping it rank well in search engine searches.

Some points to bear in mind:

  • Don’t stuff keywords, e.g. “Foo Inc – Foo products, consulting, sales, manufacturing, kitchen sinks, cat food, free mp3s, download, crazy ringtones”
  • Make titles descriptive and easy to read, e.g. “Foo Inc. – We make foo for you”
  • Ensure each page title is appropriate to the page content
  • Keep headings concise and descriptive, and relevant to the page in question
  • Use subheadings to break up content and summarise each section
  • Link your pages within your content, not just the menu
  • Ensure each link is descriptive, not “click here”