This is the latest article in the "Back to Basics" series. Previous articles include the importance of search engine marketing (SEM), effective keyword research, title tag formats, Meta tag use, as well as submissions. In this topic, we take a look at changes you can make to the content of your site to further improve search engine positioning.

Over the past few months, search engine optimization (SEO) has become more mainstream, with many companies considering this form of marketing for the first time. The amount of information on the topic of SEO has increased dramatically, with many new authors stepping forward to pen guides that explain how to optimize a website. Yet even with this increased awareness, it still amazes me the number of business owners that still believe tweaking titles or adding keywords to Meta tags is all that is needed to increase search engine visibility.

Optimizing your page content

In previous articles, I have endeavored to provide a beginner's guide to making these changes; now it's time to turn our attention to perhaps one of the most important aspects of any SEO campaign, optimizing your page content. The only problem with this topic is, where do I start? There are so many changes that can be made to a web page's content that I could easily fill ten articles on the subject, so you can see my dilemma in trying to condense my advice into just one single piece. But that is what we shall do; after all, this is a "Back to Basics" series.

So, where do we start? What is the most important change a Webmaster can make to a page in order to improve search engine positioning? To find the answer, we simply go back to the very first article in this series, where we discussed effective keyword research. When researching your industry, competitors and most requested search terms, you identified the keywords that are the most regularly used by your target audience. You've used them in your title and Meta tags, but their most important use is on the actual page content, the text you display on the pages you are trying to get positioned.

Include your targeted search terms

So many times, I have seen web sites that fail to mention any of the search terms they are trying to achieve rankings for. They'll have lots of graphics and may also have good levels of text on the page, yet the company still fails to include the exact phrase that is important to them. For example, if you're trying to achieve rankings for the term "desktop computer supplies," make sure your content has that exact phrase present in it. It is of little benefit to say something along the lines of, "The best selection of accessories for your home computer" when trying to target "desktop computer supplies." While you may pick up points for having text that is on the same theme, you won't achieve your best search engine rankings unless you include liberal occurrences of the exact phrase you are trying to target.

Checking keyword density

Your next question is likely to be "How often should I mention each search term?" A well- optimized page should include at least 250 words of text. Within that text, aim to achieve between 5-15% frequency for the term you are trying to target. Not sure how to calculate search term frequency? Check out, a great little tool that will show you the keyword density of each one, two and three-word phrases on any page within your web site. Make sure that you place your most important search terms in text located towards the top of your page and also try not to target more than 5 phrases within any block of text (the more phrases you try to target, the more text you need to achieve a high frequency).

Also look for opportunities to make links out of search terms located within your page text. In the example of "desktop computer supplies," consider making one of the occurrences of this phrase a hyperlink to the most relevant page within your website; it will give you a little push in your ranking efforts.

The impact of keyword proximity

If you're unable to include the exact phrase within your page text, which can often happen when the targeted search term is not used in the course of normal syntax, try at least to keep the words within close proximity. For example, you could use "Discounted supplies for desktop computers." While it is not as valuable as including the exact phrase, it at least contains the targeted words, albeit in a different order. The search engines, while preferring to display pages that match search terms exactly, have shown propensity to display web pages that have the targeted words within close proximity, if not the exact order they were searched.

Search terms should be pervasive

While the paragraphs of text within your web page offer the best opportunity to include search terms, make sure you don't miss the many other opportunities scattered among your content. For example, look at the text contained within the headings of each page and make sure they contain the most relevant search term for your content. Also, consider the navigation menu that you use and look for instances where you can include a relevant search term. How about the text you use under each product description? I've seen websites where the most dominant two-word phrase on a product page was "Sale Price." Ouch!

As you can see, the text you use on each page is vitally important when trying to achieve better search engine positioning. However, adding keywords to your content is not enough to get your web site to the coveted "#1" position. There are many other factors that need to be considered, including many that don't involve the content on the page, but as we are looking at the page content, here are a few quick tips:

  • Don't bury your keyword-rich content at the bottom of the page. The search engines consider where the text is located on a page when determining your site's relevancy. Google will believe that text pushed to the bottom of your site, in a small font, can't be that relevant to your business.

  • Don't overdo things. While having no search terms in your text is disastrous, having too many could have an equally negative impact. Stick to your 5-15% frequency.

  • Remember the user experience. While your SEO efforts will help improve your search engine rankings, don't sacrifice the usability of your web site. Ensure that it is easy to navigate and that all of your keyword-rich text still makes sense to the average visitor.

  • Add one or two targeted search terms to the ALT attribute of any image that links to another page within your website. Search engines have shown they consider ALT attribute text when the image contains a link to another page.

  • Don't go overboard with the use of "H1" tags or bolded text. While they can help improve your search engine positioning, less is more.

Walk before you run

Hopefully, the above advice will assist you in modifying your most important pages to increase search engine visibility. When you feel you have made all the basic changes to the text of your site, you'll find many articles that discuss fine-tuning your page layout and content. Search engine optimization is a continued process and you'll no doubt drive yourself crazy if you try to optimize every single aspect of your web site. Simply remember to keep your site relevant and make sure you have covered all the basics before advancing to more complex techniques.
November 14, 2003

Internet marketing consultant Andy Beal has provided online marketing advice to thousands of companies including, Motorola, NBC, Lowes and Quicken Loans and is a trusted resource for The Washington Post, LA Times, Dow Jones, NPR and CNBC. Andy provides consulting services on search engine optimization, business blogging and online reputation management. Read his blog and request a free consultation at Marketing Pilgrim.

Search Engine Guide > Andy Beal > Optimizing Content to Improve Search Engine Positioning