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The main goal of a search engine is to guide people to content that is relevant to a certain keyword or phrase that they searched for. We can fine-tune the relevance of your page for a certain topic through the process of on-page optimization. The Explore California website has a page focused on backpacking tours in California, and let's imagine that through our keyword research we decided that we wanted to optimize this page for the phrase "backpacking tours in California." Let's walk through how we might optimize the different elements on this page for that particular search term.
The first element we're going to optimize is the URL. The URL is the location of the page we're looking at, and you can find it up there in the address bar. You can think of it almost like a file on your computer, and much like the path to any file on your computer, we can follow some simple guidelines that allow us to create a good URL that can be found and understood quickly. The URL length should be as concise as reasonably possible, but at the same time it needs to contain some usable information about the page itself.
You might find that your website structure uses a system of subfolders, and this can be goo, in that it helps with site structure. Perhaps most importantly, you'll want to make sure that the keyword phrase we're targeting is found in the URL. Here, we can pick out the individual words of California, tours, and backpack, which is certainly helpful. But if we're targeting this page for "backpacking tours in California," we can probably tighten that up a bit. Let's go ahead and change this page name to backpacking-tours-in-california.html.
Of course, you'd have to actually update this file name on your server and update the navigation that points to it, but this is short, it's very descriptive of the page, and it matches the keyword phrase that we're targeting. Also notice how we use hyphens instead of spaces or underscores in the URL. This is important, and it helps the search engines to break up words properly. The next element we'll look at is the meta title tag, and here we're going to go into the source code of this page. If you're a programmer, you'll be right at home here, and if you're not, it's still a good idea to keep watching, so you'll be able to talk the talk when it comes time to implement these items on your own website.
This page's title tag is pretty generic, and it doesn't really give a search engine any indication that this page is about our target keyword phrase. Let's go ahead and change it to Backpacking Tours in California - Explore California. We're keeping it fairly short, very descriptive, and very targeted to the phrase we want to rank for. Notice that we didn't simply use our target phrase by itself or just repeat it over and over. Here we included the "- Explore California" at the end.
One reason for this is that the meta title tag is also the title that's used for the page's search engine result listing. Not only are we trying to optimize a title so that search engines identify the theme of our page, we're also trying to entice users to click on it when they see it in the search results. In this example, we believe that mentioning the website name might reinforce the context of where this page lives and help convince people to click our results over the others. But don't make the title too long or detract too much from your target keyword phrase.
A good rule of thumb is to try to stay under 65 characters. Another meta tag that we can configure is the meta description. Although optimizing this tag won't improve your search engine rankings and is largely ignored by all the major search engines in their ranking algorithms, it can improve your search engine result's click-through rate. This is because this tag is often used as the text that shows up under the title of a listing in the search results. You'll want to spend some time writing compelling text that will lead people to click onto your site, and using keywords in your description will help reassure users that this is exactly what they're looking for.
Next, let's take a look at the h1 header tag. This is typically the markup used for the main visible headline of your page, and search engines know this. The purpose of using it is to give the reader a clear idea of what the content below is about, much like a newspaper headline does. The current header tag, Backpack Ca,l is not very descriptive or specific to our target keyword phrase. You'd have to read through the text to realize that this is actually the name of an organization, but most people won't stick around long enough to do that.
And think about how confusing that must be to a search engine. While that might be important information to include later in the content, it's probably a waste of a header, so let's try to improve this element. "Backpacking Tours in California, provided by Backpack Cal" not only clarifies the message, it also works in our target keyword phrase. There are no defined character limits to headlines, but much like the news world, it's more effective to be concise. Now at this point, if you were a search engine, you've seen a URL, a title, and a headline that are all talking explicitly about backpacking tours in California, and you're starting to get a pretty good idea of what this page is all about.
And now we have the content itself. The most important thing about your content is that it needs to be optimized for people first and search engines second. Make sure that your content is written so that it communicates to your target audience in a way that's really engaging. As far as the search engines go, there's no magic formula for the perfect page. But what you want to remember is that search engines are trying to emulate a human being reading something and then figuring out what it's all about. Search engines are looking not only for your target keyword, but also for variations of that keyword.
It just makes sense that in a piece of content about backpacking tours in California, words like backpack, trip, outdoors, and vacation will popup here and there. Different word orders are also likely to be part of the narrative. And if you were a search engine, you probably wouldn't be surprised if words like tent and map show up in there as well. Search engines can get very sophisticated trying to map the semantic and thematic relationships between words on a page, which is exactly what we as humans do. So ultimately, writing the way that you would write for a human is the best way to optimize for these algorithms.
And while there are no hard and fast rules, you might use a general rule of thumb of including your target phrase one to three times in the text, depending upon the length of your content. Don't over think it, and don't overdo it. One last element to optimize on this page are the images. Let's take a look at this first image. As human beings, we can look at this and quickly figure out that those are some footprints next to the words Backpack Cal. But when a search engine looks at it, all it sees is a bunch of dots in different colors.
It can't tell that they're aligned and colored in such a way to spell out words or pictures, so they rely on a few other signals to understand what those images really are. Let's take a look at the code behind this Backpack Cal logo. Inside this image tag, you can see a few attributes. The first one is the source. This tells the browser where to find the image so that it can be loaded. The alt text is reserved for a description of the image for those people or browsers that cannot see the image itself. Both of these elements can be optimized to accurately describe what the image is about, and also help support the keyword phrase that we're trying to optimize for.
Just like we changed the filename of the page in the URL, we can change the filename of the image, and of course rename the image file appropriately, to use the keyword phrase we're targeting on this page, something like backpacking-tours-in-california.gif. We can then update the alt text to something like Backpacking Tours in California by Backpack Cal, to be more descriptive to both the humans that need this description, and the search engines that are trying to figure out what the image is all about. While there are many more items on a page that can be optimized, focusing on your URL, title, description, headers, body text, and images will take care of a very big chunk of your on-page optimization.
Of course, doing this from the beginning is the ideal situation. But take a look at the existing pages of your site after you've done your keyword research and mapped your pages to your target phrases. You might be surprised that just how much optimization there is to do.
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