When working on search engine optimization (SEO) for your website, it's important to understand how search engines not only look at the content on your pages, but also consider off-page links and mentions. Content and metadata - such as title tags and page descriptions - on your website are what are known as "on-page SEO." Links coming to your website from other places, as well as mentions of your website, are part of what is known as "off-page SEO." And, in fact, off-page SEO counts for far more towards your search engine ranking than what is actually on your pages.
There are many examples of sites that don't necessarily have the best optimized content in the world that rank well in search results simply because they have lots of well-optimized back-links on other websites. Many people think that off-page SEO is out of their control and that on-page SEO is all you can really do. However, there are cases where you can easily do something about it. Off-page optimization is quite a broad topic. So for now, let’s look at some quick and easy ways to optimize both your on-page and off-page SEO.
First and foremost, your page titles should be concise as possible. Keyword stuffing is a big no-no, yet people still do it. It's harder today to get away with it and rank well in search. Of course, Google and Bing in particular are constantly working on fighting keyword stuffing.
In any case, you want the keywords most relevant to what you have to offer in the first two or three words of the title. Oftentimes, you don't even really need your blog, company, or organization name upfront. You'll likely rank highly for your site’s name anyhow on account of your domain name, plus the fact that your name should certainly be included on every page of your site.
Let’s say you’re working on the website of a Used Car Dealer in Walla Walla, Washington. You’d want your home page title to be something like "Used Car Dealer in Walla Walla, Washington, Bob's Autos" or something to that effect. Especially in the case of local search, using a location if you happen to be dealing with a particular geographical area is huge for showing up in the top few results of a given search.
Firstly, the worst possible thing for any website – and it happens far too often - is to have “Home” or “Home Page” then your site name as your page titles. That doesn't help the search engines at all, so that’s the first thing you want to avoid. That title needs to have what you do, and what you need to be found for, right up front for search to work for you. It’s a simple change that can work wonders, especially if no one has optimized well for those particular keyword phrases.
Second of all, you want to make sure that you have your keywords mentioned a few times on your home page. However, you do not want them so blatantly featured that it's downright obvious that you're just trying to rank for it. There doesn't seem to be a "magic number" of times that you need to mention your keywords. But mentioning your most important keyword phrases in at least a few instances on your home page is a good idea. You want to have a couple of paragraphs to introduce the site to both visitors and search engines, but nothing too lengthy. Remember, you always need to write for your visitors first and the search engines second. Your website copy needs to read naturally, and search engine algorithms are continuously getting better at understanding when keywords are being unnaturally used.
Thirdly, make sure, and this is important, to not use "Click Here" when linking to an internal page. Say that you have a lot of used Dodge mini-vans. You want that link to say "Find great deals on Dodge Mini-Vans here!” That way, you let search engine spiders that crawl your website to know that the page is relevant for "Dodge" and "mini-vans." Ideally, you'd only want the text link to say "Dodge Mini-Van Deals" but having a call-to-action on the link makes visitors far more likely to actually follow it. Also, it's important to limit the number of internal links you use on any given page outside of your navigation. Only link to the most relevant pages, and make sure you let the search engines know what those links are about.
Having hyperlink text tell search engines what the page is about, is doubly - if not more so - important in off-page SEO. If you use a tool like Google Webmaster Tools or other free tools out there that tell you about the domains that link to your site, take a look at a few of your off-site links and see how they link to your website. Many of them will either just have your homepage URL or say "Website". This is absolutely awful. Yes, the link is nice to have, but for search engine optimization purposes it's mostly useless. While technically, these are good links to have if you're getting a lot of click-throughs from them, those links are not doing as much work as they could be.
Say you're helping out a lumber company – we’ll call it "Dad's Building Supply." Many current links to Dad’s website probably use the text of the company name, instead of simply the site URL. At least search engines will recognize that this site is relevant for the words "building" and "supply," which are perfectly good keywords. Unfortunately, many of those links could well simply say "WEBSITE" or "CLICK HERE." These links won’t help you one bit as far as keyword strategies are concerned. In many cases, it can be difficult to get websites to change how they link to things. However, there are plenty of ways to gain new link “juice” with minimal effort.
Say that “Dad’s Building Supply” has some key customers that link to your website from their website. Make sure that they at least put your company name in any hyperlink text, at the very least. You want to make sure they don’t only use your logo to link to you – as many have tended to do in the past when mentioning partners. Better yet, it can't hurt to ask if you could have them say something like "Building materials supplied by Dad's Building Supply in Boise, Idaho" on their Suppliers page. That helps you most for "building materials" while also having "Boise, Idaho" in there, which is fantastic for local search optimization. It's very possible to take links you already have and make them actually work for you. Also, believe it or not, even if no one ever clicks on that link, the search engines will still find it relevant and give you credit for it.
The most important thing to consider, however, is to not just stick hyperlinks wherever you can put them. You want to make sure that you seek out links on sites similar to yours or in related industries. It's OK if someone outside of your industry is offering to link to you out of the goodness of their heart, but you should be sure about the quality of those links before you bother accepting them. You want to build links naturally. Sometimes some SEO people will ask you to hunt down every possible link you can get, and this is not always the soundest strategy. Most search engines, especially Google, frown on building lots of irrelevant links and can penalize your site quite harshly depending on the severity of the offense.
Keeping such penalties in mind, it’s extremely important to find out who links to you. If there is someone to contact at those websites, it can't hurt to politely ask them to alter the hyperlink text slightly. Or if they're highly irrelevant, ask for the link to be removed. It's a relatively simple way to increase your SEO without much work on your part. You won’t always get responses, but even if just a few make the changes, those newly optimized links can go a long way. While SEO is not always quality over quantity when it comes to links, having 1,000 links with "Website" and 100 links with "your keywords here" is quite different. You most certainly want to have more of the latter.
“No-Follow” VS “Follow” Tagged Links
Does this mean that it’s not worth seeking out links in directories? Believe it or not, it's perfectly fine to use directories. The one thing to find out is if the hyperlinks that point to you are direct links without "nofollow" tags. While links with "nofollow" tags still count as links to your site, they don’t give you the same SEO boost. That being said, if the hyperlinks can give you the ability to gain keyword traction, even for your business name, and not a generic “Website” or some such, the relevancy still helps your efforts.
There's a great free tool to check if a page has nofollow tags on their links: No-Follow Finder from Get Rank (Disclaimer: I’m not an evangelist for said SEO software firm, but I’m sure they're good guys). This can help you determine whether it's worth pursuing somewhere you don't already have a link. If they do, and they categorize their listings well enough, a free listing, even with less than perfect hyperlink text, is OK to get. But ideally, you want websites that let you use hyperlink text in your company description without "nofollow" tags being attached.
There are some online directories charge you to have their links changed to “follow” links. Some even will allow you to put your own optimized hyperlinks in your profile. It's up to you whether you decide to pay them or not. My personal advice is to go just with what's free first. However, if you're also convinced that said listing will get you a lot of click-through traffic that sticks around and converts, and it does so, a tiny investment may be worth it in the long term.
In any case, on-page SEO is important, but unless you have the outside links that tell the search engines to give you authority on given keywords, it’s likely you won't get found enough for search to work for you. Your off-page and on-page content optimization efforts must be in sync. Even if you can rank with on-page SEO alone, which is possible, having the links helps authority with the search engines and makes you more trusted. The more good valuable links that you have out on the web, the more likely it is you’ll get far more quality traffic than just focusing on a strategy to rank for high traffic keywords with on-page content alone. While the latter can work, the former is a smarter route and long-term should be the way to go.