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18 Jul 2011

The 5 Best SEO Tips You Keep Ignoring

5 Best SEO Tips

Imagine you are stranded on a desert island. Desperate to be found, you decide to spell out a help message with rocks on the beach for passing planes to see. Should you write”S.O.S.”? Or “Please Help, Stranded”? Or maybe “Top 11 Mistakes of Lost Fan Reenactors”? You spend hours spelling out a clear, effective message in the sand to best get noticed. This is what they do in the movies, right?

Now imagine a Google cruise ship, loaded with passengers, sailing along the waters in the distance. Your carefully worded message goes unnoticed. Why? Because you’ve spent your time on a message that they can’t see, however carefully phrased. You’ve crafted a plea that will only be seen by an uncaring sky, while a boatload of people sail right past you.

This is your site’s metadata.

Sure, a nicely crafted meta description is important — it may be part of the snippet that users see when they peruse search results. But that’s like the message in rocks on the beach: a boat may be awfully impressed if they land right on your shores and see it, but if they otherwise sail by and never even notice you, it doesn’t matter how great your message is.

Primed by years of search engine optimization tips, many of them outdated, companies still often spend the bulk of their time fussing with meta keywords and descriptions, despite the fact they are essentially ignored by search engines for ranking. While certainly still important in a best-practices kind of way, these items become the focus of companies at the expense of simple, actionable items with tangible SEO results.

I did a cruise through a network of sites, and here are some optimization opportunities I found that were commonly ignored in favor of moot improvements:

Image Alt Tags and Title Tags

Technically “alt” and “title” are HTML attributes, not tags; but whatever their naming convention these easily supported elements are still often ignored during page creation. A recent scan of blogs in my network found a surprising number of images with such engaging image attributes such “wx_031230985_stock”, or… nothing. This most basic optimization step is still one that is routinely ignored, so be sure to include descriptive, keyword-relevant attributes for all images.

Duplicate Content

If you go to http://www.yoursite.com/page/ and http://yoursite.com/page/ and at least one does not automatically forward to the other, search engines may be seeing the dreaded duplicate content on your site. Likewise if http://www.yoursite.com/page/ and http://www.yoursite.com/page/index.php both resolve. While the net effect is the same to users, search engines see a mirage and assume you are trying to game the system with multiple pages of the same content.

Here are some common duplicate content issues and how to resolve them.

Externalize JavaScript and CSS Files

As a web designer, I see CSS as a wonder of modern web standards. It has revolutionized both the potential and consistency of website layouts. Likewise, JavaScript has extended the features of the web immensely with robust functionality. The problem is that, in developing a site, it’s very easy to find oneself with an overabundance of code to support all the bells and whistles. From CSS resets and browser-specific styling to jQuery functions and CMS plugin scripts — it’s very easy to overload on the code.

Imagine CSS styling for a sidebar that you reference on every page of your site. You could write out the CSS code on each page of your site: every time a browser loaded a page it would read the code from start to finish, not knowing until it’s done that the code is identical to the code on the last page. Or you could just link to a sidebar.css file. That way, after its first load, your user’s browser would remember “I already know that file” and save load time by referring to a cached version for future pages. When page load speed is a ranking factor, why force the browser to load the same data over and over and over?

So instead of having code like this in the head of every page:

background: #fa2342 url("images/background.png") no-repeat;

Be sure to link to an external, cacheable file containing the same info:

<link rel="stylesheet" href="css/sidebar.css" />

Minify CSS and Javascript

Similar to the previous tip, it’s faster to parse two sections of code in one file than to read one section of code in each of two files. If you’ve got two functions you call on every page, why slow down your site by calling two separate files to load those two functions?

Too often, multiple plugins and JavaScript functions and CSS declarations mean a narrow set of programming is spread out over several files. And often you’re loading a large file — the jQuery library for example — when all you use on your site is a small fraction of the functions therein. Each time a browser has to load a new http:// address, it means your site loads that much slower. Rather than load several separate .css and .js files, you can combine those into a single file of each type containing the relevant data you need. If you don’t have the skill set to streamline that yourself, don’t worry, there are resources out there to cut down your overhead. Check out programs like Minify to cut down your redundant page loads and pare away dead weight.

Optimize Images

WordPress is great for a lot of things, but image optimization isn’t one of them. When you’re looking to beautify your post with a nice image, and you upload that 1MB stock photo you just got, you can use WordPress’s handy image formatter to shrink its size in your post. The problem is that it usually doesn’t shrink the source file, just the display properties. So when you reduce your huge stock photo to a little post photo, it may still be loading the original huge photo and slowing down your page.

So if you’ve found the perfect visual metaphor for your post, but it’s 2000 pixels by 3000 pixels, remember that an unoptimized image will slow down your site. Consider a free image editor like GIMP or Splashup or Picnik to turn your heavyweight image into a light, properly-sized image for your content. Generally, keep images as small as is possible without degrading quality, using PNGs for simpler images with few colors and JPGs for photos.

Tackling just the handful of items above will give you a leg up on many sites out there who are routinely ignoring these easy-to-apply best practices.

Those are some of the most commonly overlooked SEO tips. What are some other simple ways you’ve found to optimize web content?


  • Miguel @ ProfessionalSEOConsultant.com Jul 18, 2011

    David, great post. Upon opening the link I thought to myself, as I often do, this will be a useless post. But I have to agree with you regarding these often missed on page elements. I see them botched all the time!

    That last tip regarding WP image optimization was something that I was not aware of. So that was a very nice thing to learn. Its rare that I learn something new in SEO so when I do I am very grateful.

  • David Gould Jul 18, 2011

    Thanks Miguel! The image resizing issue is one I see slow down a surprising number of pages.

  • Mario | andrea zapatos Jul 18, 2011

    Good post David. Many webmaster fail to recognize the importance of alt altributes for images and meta-descriptions. It is hard work to implement all those thing your mention, but I think it is worth it.

  • Suresh Khanal Jul 19, 2011

    Worthy post David. The post turned to be much more useful than what I expected while clicking the link on BlogEngage.

    I am doing good on other aspects but this minify sort of thing is something new and I’m going to digg more of it. Thanks for the post.

  • Paul Salmon Jul 19, 2011

    Whenever I add an image I ensure that it is as optimized as possible while not be too low a quality that it takes away from my blog.

    I have tried to implement all of the tips that you mentioned above. Most of them will not only contribute to SEO, but also to a good overall visitor experience since your site will load quicker.

  • Nishadha Jul 19, 2011

    That is an excellent last tip, I thought selecting small in the image adding window actually shrinks the image.

  • Eric Jul 19, 2011

    Excellent recommendations from you David! And I must admit, I really ignore some of them (JavaScript and CSS stuff). Thanks!

  • Matt Storms Jul 19, 2011

    Images are one of the most overlooked aspects of a website. Forget the whole SEO part of it and think of the blind, that is why we have these. Now just think that the spiders are blind too and cannot read words in pictures that well. We do know they analyze it for color and can see people.

    If you are not cleaning up your images and making the Alt Attributes for them then you are wasting a chance to rank.

  • David Gould Jul 19, 2011

    Nishadha – to clarify, in more recent editions of WordPress if you use a preset size like “Small” or “Medium” it will actually create a separate image file at those specific dimensions, which is better, although not always as compressed as it could be. Unfortunately, to get images looking “just right,” I’ve seen a lot of blog users insert the “Large” or “Full Size” image and then use the sliding size scale (90%,80%, etc.) to resize it, which creates the problem I described.

    Thanks everybody for the positive feedback!

  • Ivin Jul 20, 2011

    Hello David. I have redirected http://www.mysite.com to mysite.com and that was a very important move I wouldn’t have done if someone wasn’t nice enough to share that little known fact with me. Good on you for sharing that! Also,l I LOVED your parable at the beginning trying to explain the need for this principle.

  • donnie Jul 21, 2011

    David, not only is your SEO advice sound, but you write really well and engaging. I would offer that while meta isn’t that important for SERPs, I would still be mindful of how the meta description is crafted for two reasons: 1) the description can be a “call to action” in the SERPs and 2) pages with unique descriptions tend to perform better in SERPs.

  • David Gould Jul 21, 2011

    Thanks Donnie! I definitely agree on the meta data. Well-formed keywords and descriptions should still be a part of any website for the reasons you note, but hopefully people learn not fixate on them to the exclusion of other SEO improvements.

  • Stephanie Jul 22, 2011

    Pardon my ignorance, but doesn’t wordpress asks you for your canonical address during install so you avoid the duplicate penalty, and it automatically redirects. As for images, I make it a point to shrink them down to size using a no-fuss image program like irfanview.

  • Martin - SEO Graz Jul 22, 2011

    Hi David,

    Setting up a new blog about three month ago, i focused on SEO for images. I did everything you wrote about ALT and TITLE tags , and some mor with the text before and after the images.

    now about 20 – 25% of my traffic is from google images search. most of these people also read other articles on the blog.

    image seo is worth it!

    Martin – SEO Graz