20 Jan 2009

Don’t Build Links To Your Web Pages

On-Site SEOThere is no point in building links to your web pages unless you have already done your on site SEO first. In a very popular previous post we did we discussed the difference between an SEO personality and a Link Builder’s personality. An SEO typically focuses on optimizing the content ON the web site. (aka On Site SEO). That is what we are going to talk about today; best practices for On Site SEO.

Google describes SEO this way: Search engine optimization is often about making small modifications to parts of your web site. When viewed individually, these changes might seem like incremental improvements, but when combined with other optimizations, they could have a noticeable impact on your site’s user experience and performance in organic search results.

You are most likely familiar with many of the topics below, but they are essential ingredients for any web page. However, you may not be making the most out of them and we recommend a refresher from time to anyway to keep you on track. When optimizing your site you have to walk the fine line between what’s best for the humans visiting your site and what’s best for the search engine spiders because they both see the site very different. Lets jump in to it and get going!

Best Practices For On Site SEO

Create unique, accurate page meta titles: This may seem pretty straightforward but ask yourself seriously… Did you or your webmaster come up with a “standard” title tag containing a few specific keywords and just copy paste that on every page of the site? That’s very common.You should try to use specific titles that are unique to the content and that contain the keywords for THAT PAGE ONLY. Also remember, with most search engines the title tag is what will show in the search results.
The description meta tag: should be a sentence or two describing the content on the page and like the title tag should be unique. Depending on the size of your site you may need to think this through a bit. You may want to start a spreadsheet (like Excel or Google Docs) List each page of your site, then a title column, description column, and keywords column and PLAN your SEO. Be sure it’s all unique. If your site has hundreds or even thousands of pages you may have to generate the tags dynamically but it’s still doable.
Use SEO friendly URL’s: You may be thinking the URL is what it is.  No way… like most parts of the site the URL structure can be controlled as well and needs to be optimized. Which do you think is better for your visitors; this URL: http://www.mysite.com/?cat=18&item=15 or this URL: http://www.mysite.com/very-popular-widget/red-widget Get it? If someone Googles popular red widget which will be found faster? Avoid long URL’s where possible and always try to use keywords in URL’s. Establish a naming convention and stick with it. You may want to add the page names to your spreadsheet I mentioned above as well to keep them straight and unique.
Create a simple and descriptive directory structure: this pretty much ties in with what I said above.  http://www.mysite.com/widgets/red-widgets/red-widget-1.html works much nicer than http://www.mysite.com/w/rw/1.html.  This stuff isn’t rocket science!
Keyword Tags: When you write a meta keywords list, start by scanning your page. Make a list of the most important terms you see on the page. Then read through the list. Pick the 5 to 10  terms that most accurately describe the content of the page. Keep your list of keywords or keyword phrases down to 5- 10 unique words or phrases, separate the words or phrases using a comma, do not repeat words or phrases and put your most important word or phrases at the beginning of your list.
Site Navigation: You need to make it as easy as possible for your visitors to navigate your site but also for the search engines to do the same. The fewer clicks the better. I heard a good analogy recently regarding this topic. When you go to the mall do you walk in the door at the far end of the mall and navigate though different stores and departments finally ending up where you want to be or do you walk in the door closest to the store or product you are after and take the most direct route there?  Set up your web site the same way. The faster your visitor can find what they want the better and the easier it is for search engines to index your content.  When possible try to use text links and stay away from Javascript, Flash and Images based navigation. Use breadcrumb navigation where possible (row of links at the top or bottom of the page showing the link hierarchy.)
Put an HTML and XML site map on your site: The HTML site map is for your visitors and the XML site map is for the search engines.  Here is a great tool to help you generate a site map for your site.
Have a useful 404 (page not found) page on your site: Don’t be afraid to customize this page. You want your visitors to find what they were looking for right? So make it easy for them. Your 404 page should be written in friendly non technical language and should give your visitor several options to help them find what they need including additional links, the site map and possibly a search box.
Write good quality content: In today’s competitive SEO environment CONTENT plays a huge role in your SEO. Avoid text in images, visitors can’t copy and paste it and search engines don’t see it. Constantly work to add fresh unique content to your web site. One well written unique piece of content can get you more traffic then you ever dreamed. Put some time in to it!
Understand the importance of Anchor text.: Anchor text is the words you choose to turn in to a link. This is the anchor text Anchor text describes where the link is going and should always be as keyword rich as possible. If you sell red widgets you want links that refer to red widgets both onsite and offsite pointing to the red widget content. Above all try to stay away from crazy link formatting. If it’s a link, make sure it looks like a link!
Use Heading Tags: Best practices for page optimization call for the title of the page (not the META title) but the actual visible title of the page to be an <h1>Title Of The Page</h1> tag. Use H2 tags to refer to sub content but use them sparingly! Use CSS to style the H1 and H2 tags if you don’t like the color or size they default to.
Optimize your web site images: Write alt text that describes the image. Don’t put the same keywords on every image and keep the alt text short. If it’s too long it can be considered spammy.
Be aware of and use the “rel=nofollow” attribute for links: This tells the search engines not to follow that link. Insert this where you do not want to pass link juice or your sites authority value. A good general rule of thumb is if you are not sure of the quality or reputation of where the link is going to “no follow” it.
If you follow these best practices your web site will be ready to build links to it so get to work and be sure to read all the great link building blog posts we have written in the past.
If you are considering hiring an SEO link building company here are some questions you should ask them to help narrow your decision on which company to hire:
  • Can you show me examples of your previous work and share some success stories?
  • Do you follow the Google Webmaster Guidelines?
  • Do you offer any online marketing services or advice to complement your organic search business?
  • What kind of results do you expect to see, and in what timeframe? How do you measure your success?
  • What’s your experience in my industry?
  • What’s your experience in my country/city?
  • What’s your experience developing international sites?
  • What are your most important SEO techniques?
  • How long have you been in business?
  • How can I expect to communicate with you? Will you share with me all the changes you make to my site, and provide detailed information about your recommendations and the reasoning behind them?
I hope you found this information useful and we would appreciate any comments or feedback below!


  • busby Jan 23, 2009

    Honestly, this thing of creating unique, accurate page meta titles takes the cake ! I know it’s also all about point of view. Anyway, I don’t see great future in loosing time with page meta titles. I’m not sure it’s something greatly appreciated by Google.

  • arniek Jan 23, 2009

    @busby – I assure you that Google appreciates proper use of title tags on each and every page of your website.

  • Andy @ DoFollow 001 Jan 24, 2009

    I take your points in this article but meta descriptions and keyword tags are really pretty useless in 2009…

    Creating good quality content is everything these days – and, increasingly, having some $$$ to spend as there are thousands of new blogs started every day (probably every hour too!)

  • Jack Jan 24, 2009

    I agree with Andy, no need to worry about meta keywords. In fact, if you get them wrong they’re more likely to hurt your site.

    And… while content is the most important thing, as long as your URLs won’t change, link build to your deep pages immediately even if some other on-site optimization isn’t done.

    The links will age as you work out the niceties of on-site SEO.

  • Rose | Charlotte SEO Jan 25, 2009

    This may be a cliche but the ‘content is king’ rule still applies. A good post is always easy to push upwards and stay up.

  • Mike Jan 26, 2009

    Isn’t disguising h1 or h2 titles with CSS meant to be a trigger to Google that there may be something suspect with a web page?

  • Chris von Nieda Jan 26, 2009

    Hi Mike,

    Excellent question but I have not seen anything to indicate that using CSS on heading tags will affect rank. It’s a common practice among WordPress Theme developers for example.

    What will affect rank is misusing the H tags. For example using too many or duplicating. There should only be 1 H1 tag on a page and proper use of H2 and H3 tags.

    Google is reasonable and I’m sure they understand that wanting to control the look and feel of your site should not qualify as a penalty in their eyes.

  • Chris von Nieda Jan 26, 2009


    The combination of proper on site SEO and creative unique content is always a winning combination! Thanks for the comment

    – Chris

  • Chris von Nieda Jan 26, 2009

    @Jack & @Andy, I can appreciate why you feel the way you do but using a good title, description and keywords is the oldest and simplest place to start your SEO effort IN ADDITION to good content.

    You’ll notice I did include a section about content above. I think the combination of both is the best choice, not just one or the other.

    – Chris

  • Mike Jan 26, 2009

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for the reply. I had some SEO done on a site of mine and the guy recommended making whole paragraphs containing multiple sentences into h2 tags. It’s this kind of practice that makes me a bit nervous but in your post you are recommending a very sensible use of h2, h3 for their intended purposes as actual headings and not as a form of heading spam.

    Nice site with lots of great info by the way!


  • KDL-46XBR8 TV Store Jan 28, 2009

    I have to agree with Andy. Having good content and also with being able to navigate easily through the site is important. Some site have so much going on that it is hard to find anything.

    I see in your guidelines about hiring a SEO that you should ask them how long have they been in business but what if they are a new company. What questions or things should be look for if I wanted to give a startup a chance?

  • Swarovski Crystals Feb 01, 2009

    I really found the list of questions you have suggested to asked SEO companies before hiring them really helpful. Especially now that SEO has become a multimillion dollar industry, it will be good for website owners to at least have some background knowledge on what to asked so as not to be duped by fuax SEO companies claiming to be experts.

  • Chris von Nieda Feb 18, 2009

    KDL-46XBR8 TV Store: personally I wouldn't suggest hiring a new company since there are so many established reputables ones out there. The stakes are too high. Using an experienced SEO company could result in penalties from Google and other search engines. it's just not worth it. Setbacks can last months…

  • seo Feb 23, 2009

    Content is king, make the quality content and build quality back links with relevant.It is helps to achieving good results.

  • PaulMycroft Apr 04, 2009

    Meta Descriptions and Meta Keywords tags may be "really pretty useless in 2009…" but the Description is still displayed in the search engine snippet when the searched term does not exist in the body copy. And the Keywords tag is still taken into account by some smaller engines.

    So maybe not so "useless"?

    By the way, I don't believe the title tag is a Meta tag.