More Onsite SEO from Google SEO Report Card

This is the second part of a two-part series on what we can do to improve our onsite SEO, based on Google’s recent SEO Report Card of some of its own sites. In this part, you’ll learn the remaining three onsite SEO factors that can help your site achieve higher rankings.

In the first part, you learned about the following important factors included in the Google SEO Report Card:

1. Title tag format and length

2. Showing related snippets in search results

3. Effective use of sitelinks

4. Duplicate content check: clear main page result

In this second part, we will cover the remaining important onsite SEO factors included in the Google SEO Report Card:

5. Importance of URL canonicalization

6. Effective use of the Header tag

7. Use of logo image alt text

All in all, there are seven important onsite items checked by Google in its SEO Report Card.

Importance of URL Canonicalization

Google strongly emphasizes the importance of URL canonicalization in their SEO Report Card. There is a lot of important information pertaining to URL canonicalization to keep in mind.

For example, if the same content will be accessible to different URLs, their “Reputation” is being split, which affects the ranking of the canonical URL.

A classic example pf this occurs when you have a website home page URL, for example http;//www.yourdomain.com. Say you have engaged in some link building efforts which help this URL earn some reputation. Time passes by, and eventually there are a total of 45 organic links pointing to that URL alone (remember, this is just an example).

And then, there comes a time when you decided to make some improvements on your home page URL, like updating its design to make it more trendy and attractive. After the design has been completed, you have to upload a new home page file; for example home.html, so your home page URL will now become:

http://www.yourdomain.com/home.html

You also update all of your website’s internal links to point to http://www.yourdomain.com/home.html instead of the previous home page URL. And then, since your home page URL is new, you decide to promote it by getting some links; thus, the new home page URL earns another 20 new organic links from your effort.

And now, here comes the main problem: you notice that your rankings drop, even though your website is earning some new organic links.

From an SEO point of view, your site is facing serious canonical issues because you have two home page URLs that are crawlable and indexable by Google: http://www.youromain.com/home.html and http://www.yourdomain.com/, and both are earning links.

See the screen shot below for the canonical issues:

What if you later decide that http://www.yourdomain.com/ is your canonical URL? Of course, there will be issues because http://www.yourdomain.com/home.html has the same content as http://www.yourdomain.com/. You will face some challenges with pushing the rankings up for your canonical URL, since it lacks the organic links caused by the split in reputation (with /home.html)

Google recommended in their SEO Report Card that problems like this can be fixed by implementing or copying the design change from /home.html to /, then once that is completed, you should do a “301 redirect” from http://www.yourdomain.com/home.html to http://www.yourdomain.com/.

If you are in an Apache server with .htaccess enabled, you can accomplish this task by using these lines:

redirect 301 /home.html  http://www.yourdomain.com/

 

According to Google’s report, 301 redirecting other URLs to the canonical URLs will combine all split-up reputations into one (all links earned will be combined to a single URL), making the canonical URL stronger. This means it will rank better in Google. So the above screen shot will now become (after 301 redirection):

Those 20 links will now be added to the canonical URL, increasing the number of links, and canonicalization of URLs will translate to better rankings.

The second point you should keep in mind is that you need to be careful of other common canonical issues. Even Google experiences a problem with those, as stated in their Google SEO Report Card.

Here’s a common example: http://www.google.com/books (this is the canonical URL). However, the URL with the trailing slash also returns a 200 OK Header status: http://www.google.com/books/

Google’s recommendation to itself is to 301 redirect http://www.google.com/books/  to http://www.google.com/books, to avoid splitting reputation. This has the effect of combining two URLs into one, like the case mentioned previously.

Google does examine the effective use of header tags with respect to SEO. According to the Google SEO Report Card, “Using semantic markup like heading tags can provide search engines with useful information about how your document is structured that wouldn’t be possible with plain text.

So what can be learned from the SEO Report Card on the effective use of header tags?

First, structure your content by using H1 tags first, H2 and then H3. Wikipedia, for example, has a very good content structure using H1 and H2 tags. See screen shot below:

Second, you should have an H1 tag on the page. Google emphasizes the use of the H1 tag among other header tags. A good comment from Google regarding H1 tags found in the SEO Report Card:

While styling your text so it appears larger might achieve the same visual presentation, it does not provide the same semantic meaning to the search engine that an <h1> tag does. The product’s name and/or a few words about its features are great to have in an <h1> tag for the product main page.

Third, avoid using no header tags at all. It seems that header tags are important to Google, and they even suggest adding header tags to their own product pages as stated in the report.

The last important onsite SEO item Google checked in its SEO Report Card is the use of alt tags in the images. What follows are some important guidelines Google uses that pertain to alt tags in images.

First, you should avoid using empty alt tags for images.

Second, when using alt tags, you should be using a relevant, accurate and descriptive alt text.  For example, instead of using the alt text “Alaska Vacation,” you can it make it more descriptive and meaningful — for example: “Alaska Vacation – Whale watching photos”

Third, you should leverage the power of internal links by using alt text in image links. If you use a descriptive and accurate alt text, it will serve as anchor text and will help the user to determine what, exactly, the linked page is all about.

For example:

The exact source code of the encircled box above:

<a href="http://www.php-developer.org/strategy-to-get-all-urls-in-the-blogger-or-any-website/"><img title="Strategy to get all URLs in the Blogger or any website" alt="Strategy to get all URLs in the Blogger or any website" src="http://www.php-developer.org/wp-content/themes/arras-theme.1.3.5/library/timthumb.php?src=http://www.php-developer.org/wp-content/uploads/
2010/02/xenucrawler.jpg&amp;w=190&amp;h=100&amp;zc=1"></a> 

We’ll start by reviewing the objectives set in the first part. There were two of those:

1. List the important things that Google checks during their SEO onsite analysis.

2. Evaluate what Google’s SEO Report Card contains that SEO practitioners normally ignore.  

For the first objective, we learned that Google basically checks seven important onsite items in their SEO Report Card:  

1. Title tag format and length

2. Showing related snippets in search results

3. Effective use of sitelinks

4. Duplicate content check: clear main page result

5. Importance of URL canonicalization

6. Effective use of Header tag

7. Use of logo image alt text

As to the second objective, there are some things that might be missed by common SEO practitioners.

First, some SEOs completely dismiss meta descriptions. This is NOT bad (as shown in the analysis in the first part), however, there might be some important pages on your website that do not have ample content that Google can grab as nice and related snippets. For example, consider what Google does in their SEO Report Card (e.g http://www.google.com/mapmaker); they used meta descriptions only in some special parts of their website, to give a better user experience in the search result.

Second, some SEOs ignore and fail to improve the sitelinks of their clients, resulting in an effect on the click through from search engines that also decreases the effective traffic. Google recommends that you tweak sitelinks using Google Webmaster Tools.

Third, some SEOs dismiss the idea that duplicate content causes a penalty in rankings, and the normal reaction is to ignore these issues. However, it is surprisingly stated in the Google SEO Report Card that URL canonicalization is needed since "split" reputation or “link juices” can affect rankings.

Here is the exact comment from Google: “Prevent dilution of reputation – If the same content is accessible through multiple URLs, this could cause duplicate content. This content may rank worse because its reputation is spread over multiple URLs.

It might not be, strictly speaking, a “penalty,” but it affects the URL’s ranking.

Finally, some SEOs might not include header tags in their optimization, thinking they have a low impact on rankings. Even Google includes improving their header tags to give their content a better structure, however, which results in a better user experience as well as improved relevance in the search results.

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