Use of On-Page Text for SEO

June 29, 2007

Topics: Search Marketing.

This is one of the basics among basics in SEO: use text on your site, and search engines will happily find it, index it, and send visitors to your site using the terms in that text. It’s a very straightforward concept, in it’s most basic realization — but the failure to complete understand it nevertheless encompasses a huge variety of errors. This is, to some degree, a bit of a rant on the topic.

At the top of the list is the failure to actually use basic descriptive language in the text. You may think that it’s bloody obvious that your website sells socks, since the site is plastered with pictures of socks of all sizes and colors. (Normally, that statement would be “of all shapes and sizes,” but I’m electing to assume they’re all generally foot-shaped.) You need to realize, however, that Google is blind. You can help it, by providing appropriate alternate texts to the images, but why not just describe the socks? A simple description is what people are likely to search for. Unless you’re very lucky, searchers don’t know your brand name, they don’t get your inside jokes, and they won’t find you unless you’re using their vocabulary.

Even web sites which have been designed perfectly to be search engine friendly can fall down hard in this respect. Except in rare circumstances, it’s just not the designer’s job to write your content for you. Somebody who really knows their job and is invested in your success will absolutely advise you on word selection and these kinds of concepts, but they can’t make it happen without your help. You know your product better than anybody else.

One horrible example of this kind of problem can happen with sites where (I’m speaking hypothetically, of course) the consultant has been hired to build a search-engine optimized site which can then be maintained and edited by the business owner.
However much time you spend documenting what needs to be done, where the client can write unique page titles and meta descriptions, and what kinds of concepts need to be incorporated into text, it doesn’t mean that it’ll happen.

Yes, it’s frustrating.

The technical issues which can cause search engine marketing problems are many, but in the end your content is what needs to be present. You can remove every possible barrier to indexing and design the information to be perfectly navigable, but if the content is empty of your key words and phrases (or at least, empty of your key words spelled correctly) and you neglect to author any kind of usable title or meta description, you’ve lost the battle.

It’s not that you need to “write for the search engines.” You need to write for the people using the search engines, and be aware that if you aren’t using the terms those people are entering in the search engine, they won’t find you.

The concept of a long tail of keywords is hugely important. It is, however, still based on the idea that the phrase permutations people use to search include certain base keywords. In the above example, if you haven’t used the word “sock,” you have thoroughly emasculated your keyword tail in both the long form and the short.

Just a simple piece of advice: read your content. Read it in isolation, without any reference to your website or any contextual images. Does it make sense? Does it name and describe the product? If the answer is “no,” get rewriting. Now!

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