The 5 Best SEO Tips You Keep Ignoring

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Primed by years of search engine optimization tips, many of them outdated, companies still often spend the bulk of their time fussing with meta keywords and descriptions, despite the fact they are essentially ignored by search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:

<style>
.sidebar{
width:48px;
height:15px;
font-size:16px; 
font-weight:bold;
background: #fa2342 url("images/background.png") no-repeat;
}
</style>

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?

David Gould
davidg@verticalmeasures.com

David is the Director of Strategy at Vertical Measures, working with brands to develop successful online marketing programs that pull together business goals with customer needs. His 15 years experience in writing, design and web development have provided a perfect complement of skills for effective content marketing and strategy. +David Gould