“And that’s why you always leave
a note a meta-description.” –J. Walter Weatherman, Arrested Development.
Whenever a content marketer creates a blog post or page, they have the opportunity to include certain tags and metadata to greatly increase a content piece’s likelihood of being found by an organic search. (And forgive the forced Arrested Development joke/reference above, but I promise it serves a purpose later on in this search engine optimization “how-to” post.)
A few of these topics will seem elementary to some, but this is an important read for those who are new to creating online content, as well as for those who are already aware of these notions but who may overly rely on SEO plugins as a crutch.
The difference between showings up on page 1 vs. page 10 of a search engine results page (SERP) for a given term can be hundreds of thousands of visitors for the most competitive keywords. Search engines weight a URL’s positioning by how popular a site is on the web (by measuring how often others link to your site, and to a smaller extent, how much it is shared on social media), as well as by the content that appears on that site.
Link building (getting others to link to your site) is an art that I won’t go into here. This search engine optimization “how-to” post will instead focus on the SEO considerations that you as a content author have control of, including numerous tags and metadata items.
Level 1: Meta-Description and Title Tags
This is an obvious one, but always worth the mention: the meta-description and title tags are must-haves for every page on your website. They determine how your page looks like in the search engine results page (SERP), and other sites and plugins rely on these fields as well. The output of the title tag and meta-description of this site can be seen in the search result below:
Most CMSs will pull the title of your page from whatever you title the article, blog post, or page. This works fine, though you should be sure to put important keywords you want to show up in search results for in your title. The closer they are to the beginning of the title, the better. Meta-descriptions are frequently automatically populated, but this can be a bad thing!
Often, your CMS or favorite SEO plugin just takes the first sentence or two of your page and turns it into the meta-description. You wouldn’t use the first few sentences of a novel as its dust jacket summary, so why would you summarize your website like that?
At best, you are losing a chance to include a keyword rich, concise summary of the entire page. At worst, you may be completely misrepresenting your site, and showing up only in searches for non-relevant terms. If I let my CMS take the first few sentences of this post as the meta-description, what might it look like…
Oh. My article’s auto-generated description would have been more about Arrested Development than it was SEO, and told potential visitors nothing about this post. Had I not defined this field manually, I’d lose a lot of my traffic to people mistakenly coming here for Arrested Development content. Always set your own meta-description!
One important note: be careful not to have multiple pages with the same title or meta-description, as this can be worse than having none at all! Having duplicate descriptions can commonly happen without you knowing in CMSs like WordPress when paginated search, tag, author, or category pages get indexed in Google.
You can confirm your site has meta-description and title fields by looking for the tags similar to the below in the <head> section of your website. You should also make sure your title tag doesn’t exceed 60 characters, and that your description is <=155 characters.
If you use WordPress, you can download Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin to make defining your meta-description easier. Remember to fill in the meta-description box below your post/page though, otherwise it’ll default to the first words of your post!
Level 2: Canonical URLs and 301 Redirects
Sometimes you have duplicate or near duplicate content that is viewable by the web at any given time. A common example is if you run a store that is selling pens. Say you have essentially identical pages for buying pens in different amounts, or in different colors.
This is problematic when Google or another search engine goes to index the pages, as it will see a bunch of duplicate pages. Rather than having one strong, relevant page that pushes to the top of the search results, you might see your pages all get indexed lower.
Something similar might happen if someone writes a guest blog on one site, then reposts it on their own site. Which copy should Google index highly?
Canonical URLs are a way for users to let search engines know which copy of a page to focus on, and for an author to make sure the “right” copy of their content is weighted more heavily in the SERP than another. To create a canonical URL, place a link similar to the below on all copies of a page that you want Google to ignore in favor of another URL.
<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.yourdomain.com/preferred-URL” />
You authored an amazing piece of content. The pingbacks and links are piling up. But wait, you notice an embarrassing typo in your URL. Luckily, you can change it very easily using your CMS.
This and other scenarios (e.g., domain change, a new CMS) where you have to change your URLs might have a drastic effect on your SEO, unless you make sure to tell Search Engines that crawl to the old, now invalid URL where it should look to find the page.
This is called a 301 redirect, and is a crucial step to take whenever you change a page’s URL. Not doing so will lose you all the links you earned with your old URL, and will leave users clicking old links landing on an unprofessional, unhelpful 404 page.
An advanced user can enable a 301 redirect for a given URL by editing his or her .htaccess file as detailed here. If you use WordPress and want an easier way to enable 301 redirects, check out one of the many plugins available, such as Simple 301 Redirects or WP SEO Redirect 301.
Level 3: Adding and Verifying Other Structure Data and Schemas
I covered some of the more important meta-tags you should include on your website in a previous post, but there are plenty more that might be worthwhile for your site and its content pages.
If you’re a local business, you can include meta-tags to let Google and other sites know when your store is open. Have a cooking blog? There are meta-tags specific to recipes that will make your dish stand out on the Google results page. Google details some of the structured data types it recognizes here, including reviews, music, products, people, and events.
It’s pretty easy to add meta-tags, but it’s also easy to do so incorrectly. Again, Google comes to the rescue with its Structured Data Testing Tool. Simply input your URL into the tester and it’ll tell you what metadata it sees, and what errors or missing tags you have. (If your website has a lot of errors, don’t worry, it’s not uncommon. Many premium, well-rated WordPress themes will actually lead to your site having a lot of “missing” meta-data. There are a lot of people with structured data errors, but luckily, also a lot of people who post fixes.)
Level 4: “SameAs” URL linking to your FreeBase Entry
This is more advanced step, takes some time if your site doesn’t have an associated FreeBase topic, and has no guarantee of working. Nevertheless, this is a very cool and very powerful way to make your website stand out on the search engine results page:
Getting your brand or company (or yourself) included in Google’s Knowledge Graph will make it appear in a featured panel above the search results, helping you stand out on the search results page and establish both your legitimacy and importance. As Andrew Isidoro showed in his Moz Post, there are steps you can take to increase the likelihood of being included in Knowledge Graph.
I suggest reading the linked post to get the full details, but one easy step is linking your page to a FreeBase entry. This can be done with just one line of HTML, a link indicating your page is the “same as” a given entity defined in a FreeBase topic. Here’s ours! (Just change the freebase URL to one corresponding to your site if you want to drop it into your site.) If you don’t have a FreeBase topic for your company or brand, you can make one by following these directions.
<link itemprop=”sameAs” href=”http://www.freebase.com/m/0125dc_m”>
These are just a few of the seemingly endless steps you can take to help your site move up the rankings on search engine results pages. These steps can be a pain to repeat if you or your company frequently make microsites. One way to get around this is to invest in a platform that makes creating microsites easy, and that has many SEO considerations built-in. Triblio is among them; check out the automatic SEO options we have for our content hubs by requesting a demo!