David C. Dalton
Web Application & Database Development, Responsive Website Design, Programming & SEO Services
I get more chuckles from "other developers" when they find out I am master certified in HTML. But they usually stop chuckling when they can’t figure out what half the tags I use are and why they get my sites better rankings. So who’s laughing now?
What’s Organic Search Engine Optimization 2 - HTML Tags
Even though we know the spiders don’t read much code there are quite a few html tags they look at and some of these tags, if used properly, can mean the difference between decent rankings and great rankings! So let’s get started using the tags we already have at our disposal and use them to our advantage!
Your website’s title and the title tag
Take a look up at the title bar of your browser, as you probably know most websites have their own words or their site’s name in that bar. This is done via the html <title> tag. This is one of the top three places the search engine spiders look for your keywords. The closer you place your keywords for that page to the beginning of the title the more relevant they become to the spider. Titles that are too short rob you of the chance to get your keywords to the spiders. Titles that are too long or diluted with non keywords will also hurt your rankings. Personally I usually try to keep the title between 80 and 100 characters, but I do slip up once in a while.
Now, this tag alone will do nothing unless your page’s keywords can be found elsewhere, but we will get to that soon enough. Without a doubt the worst thing you can do is just have your URL or something like "New Document" in your title! You should also make sure the title for EACH PAGE of your site has keywords that reflect that page’s content. Do NOT use a generic title throughout the entire site!
Heading (or header) Tags
Second on our hit list of important HTML tags is the lowly heading tag. For many years these tags have been overlooked by most web developers for the simple fact that they were rudely large and had massive amounts of margin and padding. Starting with the <h1> tag and running down to the <h6> tag the text size was reflected by the "level" of the heading with the <h1> tag being the largest. What a lot of these developers didn’t understand is that the search engine spiders also looked at these tags as a very short synopsis of the page or paragraph and placing keywords within them added another level of relevancy to your page. Just as the heading tags become smaller the larger the number given to them, the spiders consider the <h1> tag most important. Thankfully these unruly, oversized tags can be styled to any size, color or font you wish with very minor CSS.
The alt & title attributes, hyperlinks, the abbr and acronym tag
The alt attribute has been around since just about the the beginning of the web (well ever since the web could handle images). I’m sure you have seen them as they are what shows up when the image can’t be displayed. This tag is meant for one reason, to display text when images can not be displayed or are turned off. So, can a spider see images? Nope, it is basically a text only browser (sort of). Now, let’s say you have an image of the widget you are trying to sell. Along with your description of the widget you also should include a short, keyword rich alt attribute in your image tag. Not only do you help those out who don’t see images you have added a couple of instances of your widgets keywords to the page!
The title attribute, not to be confused with the title tag, is without a doubt one of the most overlooked and misunderstood HTML tags around today. The title attribute is placed within hyperlinks and should contain a brief, keyword rich, explanation of the page the link points to. If you hover over any of the links on this site you will see a small "pop up" with some text in it. This is generated from the title attribute. Not only does this wonderful little attribute give your users this popup it gives yet another place to add in a short keyword rich description. What you have to understand though is that the title tag reflects the page the link points to, not the page the link is on, so make it reflect the content and keywords for that page!
While we are on the subject of hyperlinks let’s talk about the actual link text, otherwise known as the anchor text. The anchor text is the part of the link your users see and click on. It is absolutely essential this text contain keywords that reflect the content of the page the link points too! One of the worst mistakes around today is the practice of using words like "Click Here" as the anchor text. The combination of the anchor text and the title attribute can give a page a wonderful boost in the relevancy ratings! This is 100 times more important when the link to your page comes in from another website but that’s a whole different subject.
The <abbr> (abbreviation tag) and the <acronym> tag are by far the most ignored tags in all of the HTML language. As you would expect these tags are to be used to wrap around abbreviations or acronyms you use within the content of your website. Within the tag you can then use a title attribute (versatile little bugger isn’t it?) that contains the spelled out version of the abbreviation or acronym. A wonderful way to add keywords for technical sites or other sites that use these types of content but don’t get out of hand with them. I like to follow the accessibility guidelines and only use one abbr tag per abbreviation used on a page and for heaven’s sake don’t use them to "stuff" keywords in that don’t belong there. You will also notice when I use them around this site I like to style them with the question mark pointer so there are other neat things they can add to customer usability.
Meta Tags - Do we still need them?
The subject of meta tags is one of the most hotly argued points in SEO today. Do we still need them or can we just save the time (wow a whole 5 minutes) and ignore them? If you aren’t familiar with meta tags there are two that have been used forever to provide information to the search engine spiders, the description tag and the keyword tag. They were a great idea gone horribly wrong years ago. Originally they were used to give a brief description of the page and a short list of keywords that were relevant to the content to the spiders. Of course within a short period of time our friends the "black hat seo people" and the porn sites ruined it for everyone by literally stuffing thousands of keywords into them, usually having nothing to do with the site. I remember a TV ad some years back that had some people sitting in a room (supposed to be web pages) and one stood up and said "Welcome to my house of pain", the others looked at each other in confusion until one said "He comes up for everything". This is exactly what the commercial was about.
Thanks to the lowlifes the description and keyword meta tags are pretty much overlooked by the major search engines these days. I still use them though for a few simple reasons. The first reason is the fact that many minor search engines still rely upon these tags. Yes, they aren’t Google, Yahoo or MSN but I still feel a listing is a listing and if I get a client in from "Joe’s Search Engine" I’m just as happy as if they came from the big boys. Secondly, a lot of the directories use their own spiders to grab your description and keywords when you submit to them. I’m a big believer in directories so I still do, and always will, take the 5 minutes to make sure I put meta tags in.