Bill’s Most Excellent Top 10 SEO Rules

Somehow, in a Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure crossed with Michael Pollan’s Food Rules moment, I found myself typing out the following. No patents or whitepapers were involved in the creation of this post.

One URL per Page

In an ideal world, your site architecture should be set up so that search engine crawlers are only able to visit each page of your site at one web address, and no more. You may be laughing, but when Google sends you the “I give up, your site has too many URLs” message in Google Webmaster Tools, you won’t be then. Seriously.

Keep Colors and Sizes Together

If you create multiple product pages where the only thing different is offering the product in red or green or blue, or small or medium or large, you are creating too many pages. True when you decide to let “email a friend” pages get indexed, and “Add to my wishlist,” and “Compare Products” and other pages that Google doesn’t want in its index either.

Meta Describe the Page

The purpose of a meta description is to provide “user agents” like search engine crawlers and social sharing sites with a single description for each page that tells people what that specific page is about, and persuades them to visit the page when they see it somewhere other than on the site itself. Cause if you don’t include a useful, well written, and approximately 150 character long meta description that includes the keywords you’re aiming for, search engines might decide to use whatever they want as a snippet. Sometimes it’s something you can’t un-see.

To Be or Not to Be a Title

Every page on a site should have a unique title (<title>) that describes the page, and uses unique language that people interested in what the page offers might search with and expect to see on the page. Would you buy books that don’t have titles on their covers? (That would be a fun library.)

Do Headless Horsemen Haunt You?

Your website doesn’t have to use main headings (<h1>) that tell visitors what a page is about, but if it does, use them to tell people what the pages are really about. A main heading can act as if it’s the on-page title for that page, and it can use keywords within it that people searching for the page might use to search for it. And that heading may help the page rank higher for those words.

Alt Means Alternative

If someone can’t see your meaningful picture that adds value to your page, describe it for them with alt text, so that they can get an idea. Use alt=”” for decorative pictures and bullet points, because those things really don’t need to be described to anyone, including search engines. (It’s really no fun to rank in the top ten for “blue arrow” because your bullet points are blue arrows, and your alt text for the bullets calls them that – true story.)

Underscores Underwhelm

When you create file and directory names for web pages and pictures, you can provide a hint of what the page or directory or picture is about when you use words in a name that describes it. You can let the words run all together, but sometimes the result of doing so can be unfortunate in that search engines might segment that text differently than you expect, and sometimes embarrassingly so. You can separate the words with a number of different symbols, but hyphens are known to be separators that search engines understand as separators, and underscores are separators that search engines are known to not acknowledge as separators. Google understands “page-title” as “Page Title”. Google understands “page_title” only as “page_title”.

Madlibs is a Kid’s Game, Not a Content Strategy

The game that allowed people to take turns filling in words (a noun, a verb, and adjective, etc.) in text resulted in pretty funny tales sometimes, as a sort of parlor game. Having multiple pages on a site where the text is substantially the same except for different keywords being inserted on different pages isn’t among the best ways of producing content for a site, and has been criticized in the past by people like the head of Google’s Webspam team, Matt Cutts.

To a Picture, Everything’s Meta Data

Search engines are working on identifying objects and people in images, and having an idea of what they are about, but it’s still a work in progress. (They just figured out cats last summer, so you might be safe with pictures of those.) Search Engines use data outside of pictures to identify what those images are about, such as a file name, alt text, a caption (within the same HTML container as the picture), and surrounding text on a page the picture appears upon. Use your chance to meta data pictures wisely.

Lack of Speed Kills

The speed at which pages are delivered to visitors, and the time that takes those pages to load and render may be so slow that they abandon your pages, or click another result at Google because your page isn’t showing up. Having pages render quickly is a good user experience, and having them render slowly can cause visitors to leave.

What are your Top 10 SEO Rules?

Note: these might not necessarily be my “top Ten,” but they’re the first ten that I thought of short rules for.

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118 thoughts on “Bill’s Most Excellent Top 10 SEO Rules”

  1. Here’s my top 3

    1. Even little kids love maps. Be sure to take the time to build an accurate .XMl sitemap
    2. Context is important. Be sure that you’re not just sticking in images of sunsets on your page, choose relevant images which makes your images meta info align with the rest of the content of the page.
    3. Write like someone is reading. Don’t just mash out content, show it to someone else and get it edited if possible.

  2. Thanks, Jeremy

    That’s a really good top three tips. If most people followed those rules, we’d boost the quality of pages and sites across the Web tremendously.

    Can’t tell you how many lists of XML sitemaps I’ve crawled that included URLs that 404, 301, 302, have meta robots noindex elements, or point to different URLs in canonical link elements.

    With pictures, I sometimes like to start with one or more pictures before I even write a single word, if it captures what I’m going to be writing about well.

    I don’t always have someone edit posts or pages for me, but I do usually envision someone who might read what I’m writing and think about how they might feel about it.

  3. I love the bit about Mad Libs. Too many websites use these “technique” for local service area pages “Best Roofer in [city name] for 50 years!” This is such an overlooked no no.

  4. Hi William,

    Thanks – I’ve seen more than a couple of sites using this approach as well, exactly in the context you’ve pointed out of local service pages.

    It’s such a cookie cutter approach that creating new content for those pages, while involving what could be considerably more work, could also lead to considerably more visits.

    And when I see madlibs pages, I can’t help but think that they are an endangered species that are going to disappear in rankings with a simple Google update.

  5. My main rule for on-page is consistency. If your title says Cats, your Description says Dogs, your h1 says Pets and your alt tags say “horse doing the limbo” and “undercover mice” guess what? You probably aren’t going to rank for any of them. Title: Cats, Description: Crap about Cats. H1 – Something about Cats. Alt tags “cats doing X” and “Cats doing Y.” NOW you actually stand a chance of placing somewhere above page 85 for cats. Yes, you gave up the ability to rank this particular page for dogs, horses and mice but instead of ranking on page 400 for all of them, maybe you can rank decently for one and then repeat the process on another page with the other terms. Consistency. Important. :)

  6. Hi Matt,

    I remember when AltaVista first came out, and they had an FAQ that said that you could put up to 1,024 characters of material in your Meta Keywords tag, and I tried to write that much. It turned into a dictionary really fast. I ended up deciding it was a lot better to just focus upon the page, upon making it as easy as possible for visitors to understand the page, and then working twice as hard to make it possible for search engines to do the same. Another SEO rule I could have added was, “when you emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing.” Replace the word emphasize with “focus upon”, and I’m in complete agreement.

  7. Hi Michael,

    When you go into Google Webmaster Tools, and look at the queries that pages are being found for, and sometimes pages get lots of impressions and not so many clicks. I do like to perform the query and see what might show up as a snippet. Sometimes there’s a reason why lots of queries and few clicks happen that is related to the meta description/snippet. Sometimes that happens because the query is one that triggers navigational results or entity associations or localized organic results. But sometimes it’s because the snippet that appears isn’t one that people would want to click upon. For some sites, you’re better off letting a search engine decide, but not always.

  8. I agree! Good list, Bill, thanks for putting this together. Since the title included a numerical value, I actually started skimming the list before I went back and read the intro; I thought it reminded me of Food Rules, too.

  9. Hi Michael

    You’re right, but I still sometimes have concerns, especially when I have the time to be. Creating on-page content, where keywords are presented on the page in a context that can be made into a great snippet, I still get concerned about how well Google’s algorithms might handle that document representation. There is a point you can reach where you’re being penny-wise and pound-foolish, and I guess the trick is knowing when you might be straddling that line.

  10. Thanks, Ryan

    I have yet to read all of “Food Rules,” but I loved things like “Shop Around the Outside” because it does remind you of the dangers of eating too many processed foods that might not make your diet as healthy as it could be. Good to hear my post reminded you of one of its influences.

  11. Bill, thanks for the tips.
    I am very new to this stuff, but I feel that I have done at least 8 out the 10 wrong at some point. I called it “chasing keywords.” “Best gutter guard in Warrenton” type stuff. Once I started to just get solid content and blog on my site, things started to move a little better.

  12. Nice SEO rules write up.. Might be thinking to use some of the rules right now to be used at my site.. Thanks for highlight all this..

  13. google reads lowercase as lowercase and not a space? are you sure about that? I’ve always been using slash for readability, not using the lowercase, pure for aesthetic reasons, thinking I was making a bit of a sacrifice, but you say now that’s in fact seo-wise also the better thing to do … interesting. I hope so :)

    and about the 150 characters for meta tags, last time I checked (inserting something like ‘ijhewgfiuy’ at the end and see if it shows up); google still indexes up to 355 characters; I do on an average 250 …

  14. Good list Bill, thanks! Nice to be reminded by these basic rules from time to time.

    btw, in this part

    ” Use alt=”” for decorative pictures and bullet points, because those things really don’t need to be described to anyone, including search engines. (It’s really no fun to rank in the top ten for “blue arrow” because your bullet points are blue arrows, and your alt text for the bullets calls them that – true story.)”

    I think you mean “Don’t use alt=””…”, yes?

  15. Hi Glenn,

    I see the basics being done wrong on a lot of sites, unfortunately. I’m not criticizing, but rather trying to come up with some short and hopefully memorable rules that might help turn that around a little. Now these are often sites by people who either did it themselves, or turned the sites over to developers or designers who might not have spent a lot of time learning about how search engines might respond to some of the things they’ve been doing. If this post helps someone remember something that can help that they haven’t been doing, then the post has served its purpose. :)

    I do think it’s better to use empty quotes as a value for alt text when images are not meaningful – when they are just bullet points for a list, or decorations on a page. Alt text associated with an image is something that browsers look for, but empty alt text will suffice when an image just really doesn’t have any meaning that does add to a page. When an image is meaningful, adding text that someone with limited or no vision will appreciate is very important, and having relevant text in there can also help an image rank in image search, and a page rank better because of the image and it’s relevant related data (or meta data)./

  16. I have been trying to implement SEO for my wife’s photography website for a long time and I can’t seem to get anywhere. This is a helpful list, especially about alt text and metadata. One thing that I have been haunted by is the speed of my page loads. I even have tried switching providers to speed up my wordpress install, but to no avail. I think I must have a bloated database or something because switching from a shared provider to a dedicated didn’t really speed things up.

  17. Hi Michiel,

    It’s not a question of lower case, but rather of using an underscore to try to separate words instead of hyphens.

    Google’s Matt Cutts has been asked about this a number of times, and the last time responded with the reason why Google started out treating underscores differently, and why they may not change this.

    When programmers come up with names for programs, and for things within programs, they usually come up with names for these things that use underscores. For example, a function that might load a certain type of data into a program might be referred to as load_user_data (with underscores). Because underscores aren’t treated as word separators, they become searchable. If I search for “load_user_data” on Google, Google would search for “load_user_data” instead of “load user data” (without the quotation marks).

    Regarding the meta description, it really doesn’t matter how much of it the search engine might “index”, but rather how much of it the search engine might display in search results. While Google might sometimes show extended snippets for some search results, it usually doesn’t display more than around 150 characters worth.

  18. Hi Dan,

    I always preferred to learn from other peoples mistakes, but sometimes they sink in better when you make them yourself. :) Really good to hear that things are going better for you.

  19. Hi Jason,

    Happy to hear that my post is helpful. I’d definitely recommend checking out Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter’s Guide if you haven’t read it yet:

    http://static.googleusercontent.com/external_content/untrusted_dlcp/www.google.com/en/us/webmasters/docs/search-engine-optimization-starter-guide.pdf

    If covers a lot of the basics, so it might include some other things that you might have been missing.

    Google also has an online application that can point out some of the speed related issues that you might be having with the site. You can find it at:

    https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights

    It provides a lot of information about the things it reports upon, but you may find yourself needing some help from a developer for some of the issues it might point out.

    Since it’s a photography site, one issue that comes to mind quickly is if the images that you are using have been optimized in terms of file size and scaled down to the dimensions that you’re displaying images at. I’ve seen people use some really huge images scaled down to 100 pixel by 100 pixel profile pictures. Definitely check out the PageSpeed site though.

    Added: If you don’t know how to optimize your WordPress database, that is something you should look into. It’s not that hard to do. I’d check the PageSpeed issues first though.

  20. Found your information about photographs especially helpful. I’m not very techy, but I did manage to add a meta description and keywords to my blog. I agree about the speed. So many sites have so much going on, I think now we are becoming accustomed to waiting a bit for a page to load :-) I just deleted a slideshow and a loyalty rewards program so my blog would load faster. I’ll see how it goes. My blog is rather new and so I’ll see once I build traffic whether the loyalty program is worth it or not.

  21. Great read, thanks for posting Bill. In addition to optimization, I feel a large part of SEO is the user experience. I’d keep the following in my top ten: Build sites and pages for the visitor and focus on the user experience. Break out large blocks of text with pictures, bullet points, videos. Keep you copy focused on value which includes your USP and a compelling call to action. Measure the engagement, keep a close eye on the funnel, exit rates and rinse and repeat!

  22. Orgnization, artwork, great visuals are key to a great page and great SEO opportunities. Evenly spaced keywords and keyword placement is important.

  23. Bill this is great information, thank you so much! Site speed was my big issue for almost a year (talk about a lot of missed traffic and conversions). I recently upgraded to a VPS just to save myself the trouble, and things are amazing (and I noticed the google spider is crawling pages much faster…I can assume that it makes the spider happier since it can move around my site quicker!).

  24. Great list. Should be required for every new SEO.

    +1 from me on meta descriptions for CTR on the SERPs. As you pointed out, Bill, all other things being equal, a well done meta description as your snippet can win the click.

    Teaching content producers how to write great meta descriptions is a differentiator in my book. Sure they can be tweaked or might not be used, but the time cost to build (and test!) good ones is not difficult vs. the return.

  25. The first things I usually look at are:

    canonical urls
    unique descriptive titles
    descriptive alt attribute on images
    if possible pages should contain 250+ words of textual content
    important pages should no more than clicks 2 away from homepage
    minimise global links to only those necessary

    Also install Google Webmaster Tools as it will tell you if something is broken :)

  26. 1. Broken Links are bad
    2. Don’t Stuff Meta Keywords ( People still do it ;) )
    3. Don’t Buy Links
    4. Quality of the links matters, Quantity doesn’t ( Relevancy Matters)
    5. Internal Links are healthy
    7. Localization – if needed (domain extensions, Server location .. etc etc.)
    8. Duplicate Content hurts a lot.

    These are few of my rules, which i would love to follow, few of them you have mentioned … ;)

  27. Here’s another one for you:

    Be excellent to each other and…party on dudes!

    But seriously, we shouldn’t do stuff for SEO at the user’s expense.

  28. Great starter list. Here are a few of my recommendations.
    1. Start with KPIs. You need to decide what you want to accomplish before launching SEO efforts. Do we want people to sign up for a newsletter, sign up for a conference, request a consult?
    2. Work backwards in how you’re going to accomplish this.
    3. Write content for readers not robots.
    4. Author tag EVERY SINGLE BLOG POST (links through Google +) and it will help generate more CTs.
    5. A/B test early and often. It is the most ignored…yet arguably most important aspect in e-commerce.
    6. Build an online community. It takes years, and tons of sweat. But, if you can build a successful online community with loyal blog followers, guest posters, and backlinks…well then, my friend, you have won the game.

  29. How would I go about author tagging my blog posts? I already have Google Authorship set up, so does that mean that author tagging is done automatically?

  30. Hi chaps…I agree the basics need to be in place but… its great to have the ranking however this often comes at the expense of conversions. I have been knocking out site for years with tons of content great links the full seo 101 etc.. by do they sell when the customer lands on it. With my new site I’m going to throw most of what I have learned out of the window. I have realised I’m never going to beat the system so its time to start playing the game :). Single page minimum content that hopefully gets the point across in under 30 seconds.

  31. Yes, most excellent top 10 tips plus more with the comments.

    My addition: Answer the question “what’s in it for me” with body content using terms the reader would use to search to find their want/need. Answering this question tends to be a “natural” for SEO optimization while also putting the target audience first.

  32. Hi Jacqueline,

    The PageSpeed program I recommended to Jason above is definitely worth a try in your circumstance. There may be a limit to what you can do if the site you’re referring to is hosted on a third party site like Blogspot. I’d recommend spending some time looking and considering at a self-hosted WordPress blog. There are some WordPress plugins that can help as well, such a caching programs. Good luck with your new blog.

  33. Hi Brian,

    Thank you for addressing usability and user experience issues. Those are definitely something that every site owner concerned about their audience should keep in mind (which should be most site owners). My personal “SEO Rule” when it comes to user experience is that “You Don’t Own Your Site, Your Visitors Do.” Of course, you really do own your site, and are the person who ultimately makes the decisions about how it works, but its success is in the hands of the people who view it and use it. Thanks for the tips!

  34. Hi Chris,

    My friends who are web designers thank you! I don’t think that you can separate design from effective communication, and the look and feel of a site can ultimately make a difference. What I tell a lot of people starting out blogging though is that they don’t necessarily have to create perfection as their first starting out – they can work their way towards it. :)

  35. Hi Bob,

    Thank you. Sometimes the best thing a site owner can do for themselves is to move to new hosting. I’ve been seeing “address server responses” issues showing up in Google’s PageSpeed that I referred to above, which the program tells people when the robustness of a server might be an issue. A lot of people are on shared hosting, and sometimes other people may be using up the resources of a server instead of you. Great to hear that the move has made a difference for you. One of the side effects that SEO can bring is more traffic to your site, which can be both a blessing in terms of reaching out to more people, and a problem in terms of your site being able to handle that traffic.

  36. Thank you, George.

    I’m not sure that this is the “ultimate” guide to solving all SEO problems, but the things that came to mind when I was writing this are things that I do see pretty often.

    Tools like Google’s Webmaster Tools do give you the chance to take advantage of what Google sees going on with your site, and being able to tell when there are a lot of search impressions and very few clicks associated with that can be very helpful to know. Sometimes changing a meta description can be the right choice, and sometimes that news can tell you that it might be time to create other pages that focus on different keywords and different topics, or try improving other pages.

    The amount of time to test changes to things like meta descriptions or page titles is worth doing some testing.

  37. Hi Stephen,

    Thanks. I do sometimes see some very image heavy sites where the meta data associated with images is pretty sparse, if it exists at all. It’s definitely worth working towards making sure that the search engines have a better idea of what your pictures are actually showing. I have seen Google start showing images on page 1 in Web search (rather than just image search) for some queries where the page those appeared on were further back in search results, and the images started bringing a lot of traffic to the page (and site).

  38. Thanks, Bryn.

    I stopped by your site and listened to some music from you. Very nice. SEO (and design overall) can be like the way you choose to put different sounds in different places to create melody and harmony.

  39. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for the nice additional suggestions/tips.

    Installing Google Webmaster Tools is a really good step in that it gives you a second perspective of your site, from Google itself, and can provide some really good information such as who is linking to you, what queries your being found for, what errors your server might be sending, if Google detects malware on your site, and a lot more.

    Likewise, a program like Google Analytics can provide some really good information. I remember asking people for log files from their sites back in 2005 or so, and them looking surprised that we wanted to know more about their traffic, where people where coming from, what was attracting them to the site, and more, but those are good things to know.

    I do thing canonical link elements can be useful, but I do see people making mistakes when setting them up. Google came out with the following post on their Webmaster Central blog about common mistakes that happen with canonicals, and they are things I do see:

    5 common mistakes with rel=canonical
    http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2013/04/5-common-mistakes-with-relcanonical.html

  40. Hi Shivabharathy,

    Nice rules! Thanks for sharing them. I’d much rather get one really good link than hundreds of not so good ones. Its worth the time and effort to acquire or attract those (and I prefer to try to attract links any day).

  41. Hi Andy,

    It can be tempting to fill a site with as many bells and whistles as possible, too. That can come at a cost though, and sometimes that cost is speed. Is that big background picture worth the cost to speed that it brings? It might be. Is adding a Facebook widget or a Twitter Widget worth adding? Maybe. Once you start adding all of those up, your site might be slower than you want it to be. Using tools like PageSpeed can help mitigate some of that. Those choices can be hard though.

  42. Hi Geoff,

    lol. The SEO stuff we do should be things that improve the quality of a site, improve the experience of visitors, and make it easier for people to find what they are looking for as well. That’s providing value to both site owners and the people who use their sites.

  43. Hi Robert

    Thanks for the suggestions – some really good ones in there.

    When I’m doing an audit on a site, or even just visiting, one of the things I do ask myself is who the site is for, and what does it give that audience or those audience members to do on it. You do have to define both a site’s objectives and who it’s created for while you’re coming up with those key performance indicators (KPIs). That can be one of the toughest steps, deciding what things on a site are indications of how well it’s doing, but it’s worth the time and effort.

  44. Hi David,

    Doing the basics means more conversions from people who are actually interested in what your site offers. If you don’t think that’s part of what SEO does, you may have been learning the basics in the wrong places.

  45. Thank you, Dana

    There have been a lot of great ideas and suggestions in the comments.

    It’s funny how putting yourself in the shoes of someone else, and asking yourself WIIFM can make a big difference. A lot of projects I’ve been involved with, even outside of SEO, have really benefited from doing that, including bringing new technology into an organization and managing the change that came with it.

  46. I’ve been considering image file name format for a while now.
    I’ve previously named my image files in ‘big-red-widget.jpg’ format; with the advent of the more pernicious of Google’s Polar animals I’m wondering about naming them ‘bigredwidget.jpg’ in future.
    It seems to me that the less of the old school ‘classic SEO formula’ on-page optimization the better, ie the less a page has been obviously SEOd the less likely an axe will fall. With that in mind, why name an image big-red-widget.jpg?, obviously for the search engines, no other reason. It is of no benefit to your website visitor what your image file name is because they never see it, I can see the reason for a web page to be called big-red-widget but not an image file name.
    With SEs ability to parse multiple words out of a string (as can be seen in URL names) would ‘bigredwidgets.jpg’ be a better file naming convention to follow?

  47. Hi Nick,

    Naming your images in a way that makes it easy to understand what it is an image of is really shouldn’t cause you any problems unless you seriously overdo it, and it sounds like your present approach is fine. Don’t have any expectation that using the same words, but removing separators is something that search engines want to see.

    Intelligent and thoughtful SEO is fine, keyword spamming the search engines isn’t.

    Why name an image “big-red-widget.jpg”? Or to name a web page “big-red-widget.htm”?

    One of the primary reasons is to make it lot easier to do maintenance on your site. If you want to compress your images better, replace an image, find which image is a broken image for some reason, using names for images makes it incredibly more easy than having images with names such as 1345.jpg, and going to a directory filled with images that are all like that.

    A good name can help search engines index images.

    If you start using image names such as: “big-widget-red-widget-cheap-widgets-for-sale.jpg” you might have some problems.

  48. Hey Bill,

    In point one you mention about having to many urls being indexed that really don’t need to be and how that can cause google to not bother indexing important pages.

    You also mention a lot about images. I am working on a site atm with about 4300 products
    we have been adding the products via a csv file an a wordpress plugin (too many to upload by hand. So while we were testing the plugin we ended up with way to many (duplicate) products in the store. They are now gone but google is showing 17000 pages in there index (using site:domain ). Will this problem “fix it’self” over time now that we have submitted a sitemap (with only the actual products and a few extra pages that we want indexed)?

    And also about images using yoast’s wordpress SEO plugin (in the sitemaps section) I have clicked the checkbox to no index media thinking that that would stop the product image attachments being indexed? But I am not sure if that is the case? Not sure if you can help me on that one?

    Thanks for another awesome post Bill I love your site!!

    Duncan Gillespie

  49. Hi Duncan,

    I’m going to have to get back to you with answers on those tonight. Are the URLs that were removed now showing 404 or 410 responses?

    Thanks for your kind words about my site.

    Bill

  50. Thanks for a great intro and for everyone who has commented. I have a question. When filling in the alt text, do you use “something going somewhere” with the quotes in the alt text? Do you use something-going-somewhere with the dashes? I have been just filling the alt text with something going somewhere without quotes or dashes. Thanks.

  51. Besides the image title and caption, Word Press gives the option of providing ‘alternative text’ as well as ‘description’ – I’ve always wondered what particular info should go in each. If the post is about diaper reviews and the image is a baby in diapers… scenario please.
    Enjoyed the post, thanks for the info

  52. A lot of these tips seem like common sense, but when you forget one or two of them as you are writing your site content, it adds up quickly. I think this would work great as a sort of checklist to go through when publishing new pages or content to save yourself a lot of work later on.

  53. As commentary for meta descriptions (and to counter a comment above), I worked with one of the few east coast usability agencies with an eye tracking lab. In a study of SERPs, routinely the most viewed component of any listing was the snippet – ala, meta description. Since it does get read, it’s a valuable opportunity to convince/convert click-thrus.

    I pay A LOT of attention to meta descriptions.

  54. … Save time by looking at the kind of search results Google is already ranking (for your keywords). If Google has video in the SERPS then you should make a video. If the results are local then target local citations, if the results are how-to then you should produce how-to content. Google will tell you what they want if you know how to listen ;)

  55. Thanks Bill, and to all those who shared their insights. As usual, every time I visit your website with a cuppa tea on one hand and the mouse on the other, I tend to learn something new. And you done it again, the ten points above should be named the “10 commandments of SEO” and all the replies are the cream on the cake.

    And points to share are:
    Meta description matters: Having keywords at the start seems to be better, and although Google determines the snippets algorithmically, keeping it within 150 chars seems to make Google show it up in it’s search results set. And of course, it must describe the page content

    When we save images: we use Photoshop to add all that we can to the image using (Adobe Photoshop > File > File Info…)and although Google programmers experimenting to identity image content (by using AI (quite interesting) (in your example CAT) I think we are still far away from seeing it being used online (perhaps I may be wrong with that assumption)

    Underscores OR Hyphens: We like to make Google work a little example: seo_specialist.html results in Did You Mean: seo specialist +and+yes, that’s exactly what we meant lol we prefer underscores when using certain file names

    And the most important for me is: outLinking to other related websites from our particular URL, this way we avoid dead end pages

    Redirection: we are extremely careful about redirection 301 and we make sure that if the landing page didn’t result in the initial outcome, we are happy to just chuck a soft 404 errors instead of quick redirection (Unless the content matches the keywords of the deleted pages)

    YouTube videos: within the description we place a naked URL both to our own website and also to other websites which compliment the video itself

    Thank you Bill, my cuppa is getting cold :-)

  56. Hey Bill,

    They were returning 404’s but overnight those 1700 results have dropped out of the index and now a site: search is returning only 178 results. What I can’t understand now is that the results are showing the old title tags I had from a few days ago before I changed some settings in Yoast’s plugin.
    Maybe I just need to give it some time and watch what happens over the next few days. I have just found a really helpful webinar over at SEOmoz on wordpress SEO which I would link to here but I think it’s only available to pro members.
    I have a feeling my comments may be starting to get a bit off topic here. But I guess I am really just trying to get the basics right :)
    Maybe I should contact you for a quick site (paid) audit?

  57. My main tip is content written naturally. A website with good content including a natural amount of keywords, that read well will position well. Thank you for this article.

  58. Excellent reminder Bill !

    On my french SEO blog, their’s one SEO advice that i like to share and this is a pretty simple and fast test that helps you to make sure that your copy is great. I call it the copy meaningful test.

    Once you wrote your content around a specific Keyword, just leave from the copy every type of keyword occurrence, and regain again your content (or better, make someone else reading it. And try to figure out if we still understand what the page is talking about. This is also a good test to avoid keyword stuffing.

    I believe that a good SEO Copywrited web page must be very meaningful, and meaningful isn’t about keywords but about all the other terms that induce our main keyword. If your copy is meaningful you must be able to understand it also if you leave the main keyword from the copy.

    Sure the web page must contain our main keywords but one of the best seo copy exercise is to try from the beginning to write about a keyword without using it.

    So my most important SEO Rule : Write a meaningful Copy

  59. Hi Ann,

    You want actual text without hyphens within alt text, and you don’t want spaces in file names for pages or images. The alt text is a value for the alt attribute, and you should put it in quotations, like this:

    alt=”this is alt text”

  60. Hi Carol,

    Here’s a page from the W3C on alt text:

    http://www.w3.org/QA/Tips/altAttribute

    I don’t ever fill in the description field, but it appears to be text that will appear on an image attachment page when you create a “Link URL” instead of an image URL for a picture. I don’t believe creating a separate page for just an image from a post is a good idea 99% of the time, and don’t use those, or the description field.

  61. Hi Julia,

    I remember recommending the usability book “Don’t Make Me Think” (by Stephen Krug) to a friend. He read it, and his response was that it was all common sense. I asked him how often he had seen so much common sense all in one place, and he smiled and said, “Not often enough.”

    I tried putting these out as short statements (with some explanation behind them) to work as a sort of quick mental checklist of things to remember when I’m working on a page, like the saying, when you emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing,” to keep me from using italics or bold too much while I’m writing something. A checklist would be great – maybe I’ll come up with another 10-20 and put a checklist together.

  62. Hi Bill,

    Thanks. I think it does help to pay attention to how titles, snippets, and URLs get presented out of context of the pages that they come from, not only in search results, but also when they are pulled into social settings when they are shared. If they can have the impact of getting people to click through and visit, then they are definitely worth the effort of spending time with. For very large sites, where there might be a lot of pages and a lot of meta descriptions, it’s still worth the time of improving meta descriptions for the most important pages on a site, including main categories and sub-categories.

  63. Hi Bryant,

    Very good point, and something that I try to do when doing keyword research. There are tools that will give you a “number” regarding “keyword difficulty” but honestly there’s no substitution for actually performing the search yourself and seeing what kinds of things show up within search results.

    I also like to change Google’s location settings for my search results to see if Google is inserting localized organic results in a set of search results as well, for sites that might offer a shop or office in a particular location or have narrowed their areas of service to particular locations.

  64. Hi Tolga,

    Thanks for your kind words. I may owe you a warm cup of coffee one of these days.

    Following some of the preferences that Google exhibits for meta descriptions can make it more possible that your chosen meta description could show up in search results. If the page ranks for terms other than your chosen keywords, it doesn’t hurt to make sure that the content where it appears on the page might also be written in a way that would make it a good snippet as well.

    For images, I wasn’t necessarily writing about the EXIF data that gets embedded in an image, but rather the text that we use on a page that helps support the image and makes it very clear to a search engines regarding what the image is about. If you make that easy for a search engine by using a well chosen file name, alt text, caption, and text related to an image, it’s more likely that a search engine will better understand what the image is about.

    Again, with underscores versus hyphens, I prefer hyphens because I want to take as much guesswork as possible out of the equation on the search engine’s parts. Remember that this is a machine that’s trying to guess what human beings are thinking, and that’s not really a recipe for success. The more you demand of a search engine to get things right, the more you’re going to be disappointed when they fail. Same with linking out to “related” pages, or thinking that soft 404s provide some value. I don’t think that either really helps in any way.

  65. Hi Duncan,

    I was hoping to hear that Google had removed those URLs from its index, and it’s good to hear. That doesn’t always happen, or it doesn’t always happen very quickly.

    It’s quite possible that Google will change those title elements sometime in the near future as well – sometimes SEO requires some patience.

    I would also definitely recommend the WordPress SEO Tutorial on the Yoast site as well: http://yoast.com/articles/wordpress-seo/ which is definitely one of the better guides on the subject.

    Getting the basics covered is always worth doing. :)

    I do offer SEO services through Webimax these days, so if your interested the contact information is in the sidebar on my site.

  66. Hi Walid (Light on SEO),

    I agree completely that the context of the copy of a page is extremely important. My version of your rule is, “Make a Page actually about something.” I believe Google refers to this with their statement about “things, not strings” in which they emphasize that search is more than just inserting keywords onto a page, but making the page actually about what is referred to with your keywords.

  67. These are all useful tips. I’ve been having a dog of a time trying to get Google to understand what my home page is about, and I just discovered the importance of the image titles and alt text. I had known they were important but thought that general references to my site’s topics were sufficient. I didn’t understand that if you want your home page to be found using a specific keyword phrase, then that’s the keyword phrase to put in the alt text. Verbatim.

    Unfortunately, I want my home page to be found using combined keywords like “RV blog” or “Sailing blog” (RVers and sailors do those searches to find the blogs of people out RVing and sailing). But using those terms in my page title and in the text on my home is Very Awkward.

    I sure wish Google would just let you fill out a form that says “I want my page to be found using these search terms.” Period. It would be SO MUCH easier than this crazy guessing game. As it is, I feel like I have to write my blog as much for the Google Bot as for my loyal readers who have eyes and emotions and speak English.

  68. Hey Bill,

    I really don’t have any top 10 rules or something but I do have some ideas regarding on your post. For example, the loading pages, my idea is simple, “just be simple” with your site. Kick out those things that will slow the loading of your pages. I guess its more appropriate if everyone would focus on contents rather than putting those unnecessary slides, videos, ads and stuff that slows down the loading of their sites pages.

  69. Hi,

    I agree with you , such a nice list but my point is how useful will it be if each page of the website is given different meta tags?

    Any way my tops 3 are

    1)
    2) alt in the image urls
    3) content in the body :) nice post though enjoyed reading

  70. Alt image text is one of the most underrated items in audits, especially image links.

    I would add do not forget to link out to your previous resources. Know your site. Many sites I have worked on could have enhanced their own rankings by calling out previously published resources.

    Thanks Bill!

  71. Hi Bill,

    Great post – really summarizes about quality vs quantity. I would just add to take the Mad Libs idea a little further. You have 1 URL per page, use it well. Create a good, clean easy to navigate hierarchy and have your URL clearly state what the page is about. Same for the page title. They’ll help your SEO, but mostly because they’ll help your UX too!

  72. Great article Bill. Thank you. The part about alt text being best used for alternative descriptive text was an appropriate reminder :) thx

  73. oh it’s a pain trying to explain all these to a client that “wants” to understand a part of what we do. I usually just let them “trust” me but sometimes, when it comes to doing these things, they usually think it’s worthless and that they just need links and their main anchor text. When they saw the little things I changed and got them ranking by just tweaking their site, well, they usually just shut up.

    Anyway, I would also look at broken urls, internally and externally, along with duplicate meta details from webmaster tools. Speed and UI and probably make sure there’s enough content on each page compared to the amount of html they have. The cleaner the html, the better. Good top 10 Bill. Sharing on G+ now. :)

  74. Hi Bill..!!

    Thanks for making an excellent post and reminding the bloggers about the Do’s and Dont’s in SEO.

    I would like to share some of my stratergies :-

    > Do not buy traffic ever
    > Get quality and Original Content
    > Use alt tag for alternative descriptions, (this actually is a very powerful secret tool in SEO)

    Great post man.>!!

  75. Hi Emily,

    If optimization was so easy that you could fill out a form for your keywords, and everyone entered the same keywords, then you really wouldn’t be getting anywhere against the people competing against you. Likewise with trying to optimize for multiple similar terms. If you focus upon make a page “about” a particular phrase instead of just using a bunch of words on your page that you’re trying to rank for, optimization becomes a lot harder. Is your page about RVs or is it about sailing. You should write for people and not Google, but if it’s possible that your page is going to confuse your human visitors, it will definitely confuse search engines.

  76. Hi Farrell,

    Good point. Sometimes you do have to let go of some of the bells and whistles on your pages if they start making visitors experiences not as good as you would like them to be. If you add extra ads, and that slows your pages to the point where people are leaving, no one will see those ads. :(

  77. Hi Ricky,

    Each page should have unique meta tags if you can help it – at least when it comes to titles and meta descriptions. If all the titles and all of the meta descriptions are the same from page to page, you’re going to miss out on opportunities those pages present to you.

  78. Hi Brent,

    I agree on alt text – it’s a little like the icing on the cake – the thing that might just add enough, when all other ranking signals might be very close to equal, that might take you over the top.

    Agree completely on making sure that you’re using links to other pages on the site when they are very relevant and will provide value to the people visiting your pages, and happy that you provided those and that they did visit.

  79. Hi Caroline,

    Exactly – being able to focus a page clearly upon a word or phrase or concept, while making that page unique helps both your visitors and the search engines. When your page is really about something, and isn’t just a nearly duplicate page that has location-based keywords inserted within it, your site becomes a lot more interesting in total. Imagine including unique case studies in different areas that cover the unique challenges of those locations. For instance, a contractor’s website that covers an area of service that goes from the shore to the mountains. There might be plumbing issues on the shore, such as having to use PVC pipes, that might not be necessary in the mountain area, but in addressing problems that are unique to a specific area, you’re showing potential customers that you’re aware of these differences, and making it easy for them to put themselves in the shoes of the people described in those case studies.

  80. Hi Tyler,

    Thank you. I’m seeing less people stuffing keywords into alt text than I used to, but I’m also seeing less people using alt text at all. I think there’s still value in using it.

  81. Hi Dennis,

    Thanks – we’re on the same page, I think. A lot of SEO (or at least the parts that address site architectural and could be called foundational) is addressing a good number of small issues, that don’t have the magic and allure of magic bullets that might “tranform” everything. Those tweaks do add up though. Definitely fix all the things that you can on your site, because they’re right there and they aren’t changing themselves for the better in most cases. :)

  82. Hi Sai,

    Thank you. It wasn’t my intention to list all the Do’s and Don’ts in SEO, otherwise I might still be writing the post. (ok, maybe not, but there are a lot of them). :)

    Good tips – thank you for sharing them.

  83. Hi Bill, I think is quite important what you mentioned about the focus on one page/post per keyword. Many of us sometimes think that using the same focus keyword in several pages is going to be good for SEO, but on the contrary this can be negative.

    I see you mentioned in other comment about the impressions/clicks, it took me a while to understand this! to get the click we must optimize the snipped to make it more clickable, otherwise we can have a lot of impressions (good SEO) but no clicks!
    good point

    regards
    Pedro

  84. Bill
    Nice write up about SEO. What are your thoughts about having a page for each city you serve with the services you offer to that city? Would that be considered to many pages? Is there really a message from Google that says you have to many pages?

  85. Great List. Here are a couple of mine:

    If you’re local, don’t get caught NAP’ing: Micro Data markup of important search result data like Name, Address, Phone is beyond “beta”, and should be utilized on EVERY website that resolves to a location.

    It’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know: don’t be afraid to link out to relevant and authoritative websites on your pages (product pages included).

  86. I See lot of site owners want to create url for every keyword and they also try to target too many keywords with simple variations. simple site with less urls so that you can write content and keyword targeting should be focused and which suits your business/target group should be the fundamental rule.

  87. One benchmark I like to use is speed. Just like you said, if the page doesn’t load quickly enough, it might not be viewed at all. Thanks!

  88. Hi Pedro,

    Having that kind of focus for a page can be really helpful – the idea is to make it as easy as possible for a search engine to choose the right page for a keywords. Exactly, with the impressions and clicks. It’s not good if your page ranks well, but no one clicks upon it. If you try and you can’t seem to get more clicks, it might just be time to focus that page on another term, too.

    Thanks!

  89. Hi Bryce,

    Thank you. I guess the answer as to whether or not that’s too many pages might depend upon how many areas of service a business might cover. And if you can create unique content for each of those locations that people from those areas might find interesting and useful.

    I was asked earlier today if there’s a list anywhere that includes all of the different types of messages that Google sends out through Webmaster Tool, and I had to reply that to the best of my knowledge, there isn’t one. But there definitely is a “too many URLs” message from Google, and they’re right – when I’ve seen it, there have been too many URLs.

  90. Hi Jeremy

    Nice going with presenting those in memorable ways. Agree completely upon using the Name, Address, Phone number format by default these days, if location matters to your business.

    It’s hard to say completely how much of an impact where you link to has, but I’ve been including links to sites that I’ve thought would provide lots of benefit and value to people who visit pages I work upon, when I have a say in it. It helps make your pages richer, and provides value to the people who come to your site.

  91. Hi sreecharan,

    I do see people so preoccupied with rankings that they lose track of why they have a site to begin with. That may be on trying to create as many variations of a keyword phrase as possible, or focusing upon highly competitive terms that don’t actually deliver the conversions that the keyword phrase seems to promise. Write content and use keywords that target your business objectives – great point. Thank you.

  92. hi Bill,

    thanks for the answer; that makes perfect sense; hyphens it is

    sure; 150 characters for the searchers, but another 100-150 characters to drop a few of the smaller 3th keywords or a variation/synonym etc; the ‘room’ for it is there; I use it

    cheers :)

  93. I thoroughly agree with what Meg said previously. Whenever, I add content to a site I always read it aloud back to myself. On many occasions I’ll even do it a second time from the actual page too.

    Great tips here, thanks

    George

  94. Thanks for the advice Bill. I just started learning how to attack SEO for my company and reading this helps out a lot. CHEERS!

  95. Great read, thanks for share Bill. In addition i would like to highlight some of following points

    1.The most important is sitemap, it should be accurate and make sure to avoid link break.

    2. I want to replace “Meta Description” word with “Quality Meta Description” only quality description is profitable otherwise it is just a west of time

    3. In img tag ‘alternative text’ ‘name’ ‘description’ all these three plays important role, so make sure to use all three with proper detail.

  96. My 4 tips are more of a process but I’d say:
    1. Get the right search terms, use Google Adwords to find out what people are really looking for
    2. Read more stuff. They’re discontinuing Google Reader which is a shame but there are other tools that allow you to read lots of RSS feeds in one place. The more you know, the better you’ll write. It’s not about filling the site with keywords but genuinely interesting content
    3. Track your improvements. Use something like Analytics or Moz to review your work
    4. Look beyond the searches and clicks. Find out how long people spend on your site, what they do after that first page. If you can improve the experience of your website and let people spend longer, it will help your Google ranking and more importantly make more people to do whatever it is you wanted them to do when you started optimising your website.

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  98. Hi Bill,
    Yes, totally agree with your all points and the best one is the “lack of speed kills”. lack of speed is something about very bad user experience.

  99. Great post. Its good to see what other people think are the best top 10 seo rules mine would be 1 Content is King, 2 Meta tags are a must, 3 write for people not search engines, 4 Social media is a must, 5 Video Marketing

  100. Great post Will ! While I would say a compact SEO guide because you put all major SEO tactics in such a compact form of your post. Use of h1 tags is a good trick but better to make the title more surprising so that it looks attractive to the viewer and encourage visitors to read the complete article. By following your mentioned tips and trick the readers can perform on page optimization on their website but also can achieve high ranking.

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