Getting Started with Search Engine Optimization
Help Search Engines (and users) understand your content
Succeeding in organic search today requires optimizing for a combination of factors that search engines consider important, including on page, off page and technical considerations.
While off page and technical search engine optimization (SEO) is important, the reality is that without good on page search optimization, these elements are not going to be as effective.
Therefore, this guide focuses on on page search optimization, as this is one area that content editors have full control of and it’s relatively easy to do with quick results. Best of all, one can prioritize as much, or as little on page SEO as they have time for.
What is On Page SEO?
On page SEO is the practice of optimizing individual web pages in order to improve search engine ranking and visibility to increase user traffic. It involves aligning page specific elements including title tags, headings, meta descriptions, content, and internal links with keywords you wish to rank for.
The Golden Rule of On page Optimization
One thing to keep in mind when optimizing your page for SEO is not to overdo it. You might be tempted to stuff a pile of keywords onto each page, or onto every single heading, but too much can actually detract from your website. In fact, Google has unleashed an over-optimization penalty that targets websites that have too many keywords stuffed onto one page. So when it comes to keyword optimization, keep it simple – think of up to three keywords or keyword phrases for each page on your website and optimize for those.
If you’re not sure what keywords to use, try entering existing webpage URLs or some preliminary ideas in Ubersuggest to get suggestions.
Three Key Ways to Optimize Your Drupal Webpage
The bare minimum on page optimization elements you should put on your website’s main pages include Title Tag, Meta Description Tag and Heading tags.
Below we've broken out each element to define how it helps with search results. We also list best practices when crafting your own tags and include links to articles with examples and additional resources.
The title tag of the page tells search engines what the page is about. The title should accurately reflect the page topic and ideally include the page’s primary keyword. It should be 65 characters or fewer, and that includes the site name. Carnegie Dartlet, a marketing firm that specializes in SEO for higher education suggests that we include the university name on every page, so the Title pattern will ideally be
"Title of page | Western Washington University" or "Title of page | Department |Western Washington University"
We know there there are limitations in optimizing the Title tag, as program names can often be longer than the allowed 65 characters all on their own, especially considering that almost half of those characters are taken up by the full university name. Keep in mind that as the default, the title tag is the same as the page title. We mention the title tag because it can be customized to display a different title than the title of the page.
Title Tag Resources
Meta Description Tag
The meta description tag gives search engines a short snippet of text that displays to users in the search results. This description allows a reader to discern between similarly titled webpages to determine which page will be most likely to help them find the content they need. Meta descriptions also help Google and other search engines categorize your content.
Meta descriptions should be 155 - 160 characters or fewer and include your main keyword for the page. An enticing, quality description can positively impact the number of people who click through your site. If space allows, consider including a call to action within the description to give users the next step in interacting with your website.
Meta Description Resources
Heading Tag <H1> and Subheadings
While there are six different levels of HTML headline tags, we typically only use H1 - H4 on Western’s websites. Subheading tags help break the page content into sections, as well as let search engines know more about what each section of page’s content is about.
The <H1></H1> tag surrounds the page’s main headline – The H1 is the Title of the page. There should only be one H1 tag per page. The H1 should summarize what the content of the page is about. It's helpful to include the page’s primary keyword within the Title of the page.
The <H2></H2> through <H4></H4> tags surround subheadings on the page. There can be multiple instances of each of these types of headings. Think of the headline tags as the outline of a formal essay. They help both readers and search engines break up your content into easy to read sections.
Heading Tag Resources
Additional On page SEO Elements
While the page title tag, meta description and H1 are the most important SEO elements, they are not the only ones. Consider incorporating the following into your website’s page content for further search optimization:
Image Title or File name and Alt Text
If you use images on your website, you should think of good keywords for both the image title and the alt text. This helps reinforce the page’s keywords and helps search engines categorize your images for image search results.
- Carnegie's Image Best Practice Guide
Aside from just making sure each image is accompanied by a title and an alt text that utilizes keywords, there are other things you can do to optimize images on your website. The first thing is to reduce your image size. This makes the web page open faster and a creates a better experience for users. If you don't have photoshop to reduce image size, there are free, online programs available, like Tinypng. If you’re using a larger image size and just displaying it at a smaller pixel size, your webpage is still going to take the same amount of time it would if it were displaying the bigger size. Physically reducing the image size to the same size that you’re displaying it at BEFORE uploading into the Media Library is best. The larger the photo size the longer it takes a computer to process and open, which is detrimental to both SEO and the user experience. Best practices include reducing to 5-70k per image.
Link building isn’t just reserved for external sites linking to your website. You can help search engines learn more about your website by internally linking to other pages on your website within your content. Link to related content on the website to keep visitors engaged, signal to search engines the relative importance of that page, and to allow search engines to determine relationships between content, establishing hierarchy throughout your website. Carnegie Dartlet recommends that pages should have two to three on-page text links on average and that the content linked from them provides supplementary or in-depth information. The appropriate number of links can vary drastically based on a page’s length and purpose. Use your best judgement, and remember that it’s never a good idea to link for linking’s sake, as this practice visually clutters the page and may appear forced to the search engines. One last thing to note is that Western's best practices include ensuring that links open in the same window.
- Carnegie's Links and Redirects Best Practice Guide
- Yoast's Internal linking for SEO: Why and how?