Website content optimization: Basic elements

January 28, 2021

So you want to improve your Google ranking. You know that SEO is a ‘thing’ that you need to ‘do’ or ‘improve’ or something, in order to achieve your search performance goals.

But it feels really abstract. Maybe you don’t yet have (or necessarily want) a ton of technical knowledge, but you want to boost your website’s presence.

This blog post is for you. (Of course, if you’re looking for a more detailed approach, we’ve got you too.)

In this blog we’ll walk you through the most basic (and important) details to track:

  • Page title
  • URL
  • Meta description
  • Page speed

To implement the tips in this post, all you really need is a web browser.

How search engines approach your site

Instead of bogging you down with details about algorithms and code, let’s start with a little thought experiment…

How do you pick out a book at a bookstore? Here’s how I do it.

  • I pick out a title that seems to be what I’m looking for.
  • I read the blurb on the back to get a description.
  • I flip through it, to see if it looks worth my time. Was it put together in a professional, readable way? Is there a typo on page 1? Do the chapters look relevant?

That’s a (simplified) way of thinking about Google’s approach to each page on your website.

In many ways, Google approximates human thought patterns when ranking content.

Basics to optimize for search engines

Google looks for some basic things before others. There are all sorts of ways to collect UX data on your pages, but here are the big ones you should attend to first.

Page Title

If you optimize only one detail on your page, make it this one. Search engines weigh page title heavily when assessing relevance, and more importantly, so do your users!

How to optimize it Make sure your keyword is in the title.

For example… Let’s say a construction contractor searches the phrase ‘preliminary notice vs notice of intent’ in Google. This Levelset page ranks #1:

Levelset-SEO-Screenshot.png

The keyword phrase is in the title, with some other useful context (“Construction Notices 101”). That same keyword is present in a few other key fields, too.

URL

This is the next important feature of your page, for two reasons…

  • For Google: the search engine looks here to gauge relevance – it helps to verify that the title of the page is actually the substance of the page.
  • For humans: when people share links with each other, a clearly worded URL allows someone to figure out what the page is about right away.

How to optimize it

  • Make the URL as similar as possible to the title (including target keywords).
  • Keep it within 50-60 total characters.
  • Cut out stop words (small in-between words like Or, But, If, And, etc…) to fit within character specs, without compromising readability.
  • Minimize slashes in the URL as much as possible.

For example… if you’re a developer, and you search the phrase ‘headless CMS SEO,’ Google will show you this post from our friends at GraphCMS:

GraphCMS-SEO-Screenshot.png

Notice that the URL has the keywords, so Google can see them. The phrasing is not exactly the same as in the title, but it works because it’s still a readable phrase. If a friend sends me this link, I can glance at the URL and understand what the page has to show me.

Meta Description

Meta description is designed to be the copy that will appear underneath your listing on a search results page. Recently, however, Google hasn’t been using it much (or at all) – when search results come up now, Google often presents different text from your site.

In theory, Google is selecting whatever content on your site it deems most clickable. So, we recommend writing meta descriptions that have more click appeal than anything else on your site. There’s no surefire way that Google will use it, but it’s worth optimizing in case it does.

How to optimize it

  • Keep it within 150-160 characters.
  • Write the clearest possible summation of the page content and its value proposition.
  • Include target keywords.

Here’s a great example from the legal A.I. wizards over at Casetext. This product page shows all the fundamentals we’re talking about…

CaseText-SEO-Screenshot.png

The keyword ‘secondary sources’ is consistent in title, URL, and meta description. The meta description itself is concise, clear ad copy, complete with a call to action: “Download the guide…”

Page Speed

When we talk about page speed, we’re talking about the speed at which the page will load on your user’s screen(s).

Why do we chart this? We want the page to be fast so it ranks better in search. Google considers speed to be a UX feature. (We do too.)

Think of page speed as a general health metric.

Note: Google only looks at mobile speed, not desktop.

What are we looking for? Generally, any score under 20 can (and should) be improved. Slow pages can still rank okay, but you’re not doing yourself any favors.

Again, this is relative, and most business sites are actually pretty slow, especially for mobile.

What does it tell us for optimization? Low page speed can be a tough one to act on. Sometimes, there is a relatively painless way to improve your speed. For example, image file size is a common culprit, and one that’s easily fixed. Go ahead and resize those bulky image files. It will help.

But just as often, the slowness of a page is usually related to third-party code that businesses need for various sales and marketing trackers, such as:

  • Facebook ads
  • Hubspot
  • Marketo
  • Drift
  • Hotjar

The pile-up of third-party code can build quickly and grow excessive. Most companies struggle to implement workarounds, and eliminating the code is out of the question.

Occasionally, a slow loading page points to more structural concerns, such as a misconfiguration or other significant technical issue in the way your CMS is set up.

If you’re in that situation, here’s what we recommend:

If yours is better, then you’re probably doing alright (even if both are slow).

Conclusion

There are a few really basic things you can do right now to improve keyword performance for pages on your website.

Make sure the keyword is in the most important fields:

  • Title
  • URL
  • Meta description

Then check the load speed for each page (and maybe a few of your top competitors’ pages). Google might have some immediate recommendations for quick fixes that will improve your load time – and thus your overall UX (which helps search ranking).

And if you’re interested in taking the next step to optimize your content library, you can always reach out to us with questions.


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