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.


Author: Bill Slawski

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