In our last episode, we went over how to improve your on-page SEO through content elements and techniques. This time around, we’re focusing on HTML elements.
HTML elements are the elements in your site’s source code that communicate directly to search engines, and they are crucial to the delivery of your page’s information.
Think of those scenes with only R2-D2 and C-3PO speaking to each other. It’s pretty clear that R2-D2 is the droid that’s moving the story along, but without C-3PO’s overall narration of the situation, we in the audience wouldn’t really know what was going on.
HTML uses a specific language to translate page information to search engines the way C-3PO uses English to inform the audience of what R2-D2 is saying or planning.
Is this an attempt to show our favorite golden gearhead some love? Absolutely. But more importantly, it’s an opportunity to explore how a few adjustments to your page’s HTML can vastly improve your on-page SEO.
In Episode I, we discussed the power of writing more organically by using synonyms, variations and co-occurring phrases, but another way search engines determine the relationships between words and phrases is their physical (or semantic) distance.
Semantic distance focuses on how page terms connect within paragraphs, sentences and other HTML elements such as titles, headers and lists, which we’ll dive into later. The closer the two terms are semantically, the more closely related they may be.
Take Leia and Luke for example—they were raised on completely different planets under entirely different circumstances, and because of this distance, the audience would have never guessed they were related.
Now, we’re not saying that closer semantic distances alone will fix everything (or potentially-incestuous situations), but they’ll definitely help search engines better understand what’s on your page, leading to better SEO performance.
One of the most important SEO elements on your page is your title tag (or page title). The page title communicates the page’s content to search engines as well as site visitors, so it’s important that it’s optimized for humans and bots alike.
Be sure to naturally include your page’s focus keyword, and do not keyword-stuff your title—pages with keyword-stuffed content are definitely the droids search engines are looking for. Not only do search engines monitor keyword-stuffing, but they penalize pages for it as well.
Other things to keep in mind are to try to keep the page title under 70 characters, make it relevant to your page, avoid using all caps and try to include your brand name.
Body tags(<h1>, <h2>, <h3>, etc), or headers, can help you organize your content for readers while letting search engines know which parts of your content are most relevant or important to search intent.
For the best header practice, incorporate important keywords (but not the same as in your page title) into your headers, reserving your most important keywords for your <h1> and <h2>.
This isn’t technically on-page SEO, and it’s also not officially a ranking factor for search engines either, but it will influence the click-through rate of your page—kind of like what Darth Maul did for The Phantom Menace; it may not get a lot of screentime, but it’ll definitely be a driving factor for traffic.
A click-worthy meta description is made up of one or two compelling sentences that are under 160 characters, include the page’s entire keyword or keyword phrase and avoid alphanumeric characters.
Think of alt-text as SEO for images. These days, search engines deliver almost as many image-based results as text-based results, meaning that people may be discovering your site through images, so it’s more important than ever to tell search engines what your images are about.
Good alt-text is specific and descriptive, contextually relevant to the page content and uses keywords naturally (without stuffing)—all while ranging around 125 characters or less.