In the next several articles, we hope to create an open guideline that all our SEO practitioners use in conjunction with their marketing or PR strategies. This page lays out the bare minimum we believe to be necessary to have in terms of page elements and attributes in the HTML to give web pages a shot at garnering semantic clout.
This article does not layout other off-page strategies that are important for web pages we’d like to optimize for search-ability, such as, site structure, back linking, etc. We only wish to deal with the elements in the page that are related to how our text is marked-up and the kind of priorities we need to have in the semantic structure of our pages.
That being said, in my opinion, the idea of the accessibility of web pages is one that I think should go hand-in-hand with this practice. Currently the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (or, WHATWG, of whom I am a contributor), is hammering out the new html 5 specifications for web accessibility. What exactly will transpire is yet to be determined by the WHATWG.
SEO Practices and Web Accessibility
Search spiders are special cognitive constructs. By this I mean that search spiders should be treated like those visitors who may have some sort of physical, sensory, or mental condition that disallows them from viewing our web pages in a way that we think most of our viewers do. In practice, I would like to think that if we are setting up web pages with accessibility in mind, based on a clear set of tags to semantically label and structure the textual content of our pages, then we can hope to serve relevant content about our pages in an unambiguous way. While the text we server in our web pages itself might be ambiguous, such as a poetic work, the page’s semantic structure is unambiguous.
So, for instance, if we were going to set up a web page to contain Sherman Alexie’s “Inside Dachau” (View a real html rendering here), while there could be some ambiguity of speaker’s mentioning of lies in the poem, the semantic framework and metadata of this web page (as opposed to the actual data, the poem) are clear and consistent.
(I am not saying that Beloit Poetry Journal contains a great example of best practice html structure, only that the poem, this page’s search-ability and accessibility all play into the point I want to make about how we should think about the contents of our html.)
The following is a checklist primarily intended for SEO and PR digital practitioners and front-end web developers.
- Title Tag
- Search-ability: Must contain keyphrases that come from good keyword research. Generally should correspond or even duplicate what is in our h1 tag.
- Accessibility: Crucial for labeling the page and letting readers discern at a glance the contents of the page.
- Page URL
- Search-ability: Must contain one of our core keyphrases that come from good keyword research. If using common open source CMS, this is often referred to as the page alias.
- Accessibility: none that I know of
- h1 tags
- Search-ability: Must contain keyphrases that come from good keyword research. Generally should correspond or even duplicate what is in our title tag.
- Accessibility: Good for labeling the page and letting readers discern at a glance the contents of the page, depending on how we style these tags.
- img tags that contain alt attribute
- Search-ability: May contain keyphrases that come from good keyword research.
- Accessibility: While ensuring that keyphrases are incorporated, the focus here should be on making sure that images are appropriately tagged and not just stuffed with keywords
- anchor tags
- Search-ability: Should contain similar or close keyphrases to our page’s keyword targets in the achor text as well the URL to which we are linking. This fundamental must be guided by, also, our internal linking (or ‘link juice’) methodology
- Accessibility: Good for labeling the page’s resources as well as providing supplemental information on the topic being sought.
- meta description
- Search-ability: Lower importance. This can be used to describe our page in SERPs, so while not as imporatant for search-ability, per se, it can do us a solid or injustice in our PR or marketing efforts if not set up properly
- Accessibility: Little to none
- meta keywords
- Search-ability: Of low importance or weight overall. Should contain the page’s target keyphrases as well as relevant or closely-related sets of keyphrases
- Accessibility: none
I know as marketers, PR practitioners, or even just web developers trying to please clients, we must always consider that the attitude we take toward the data we are creating and transmitting, which may reach beyond our narrow goals for it. If we do not care about how accessible or searchable our data is, then we care very little about our pages’ content and its semantic transmission over time. While the future may be out of our control, any good communicator should be concerned about the unseen forces that contain our information and in the end make it understandable to others down the road.
The bottom line: if we do not care about our content, who has access to it, or how others may see it, then why should the search algorithms or human beings for that matter?