7 Essential Elements of Search Engine Optimization

7 Essential Elements of Search Engine OptimizationWant to rank well for a certain keyword?  Just tell the search engines what keywords you want to rank well for.  By optimizing certain parts of your web pages, you can greatly effect your church’s website’s search rankings.

As the search engines look at each page of your website, they read the various parts of the page to try to figure out what the page is about and, thus, for what search terms to rank the page.  By using your targeted keywords throughout the various parts of your web pages, you can get the search engines to list your church’s website for specific keywords.  Here are…

7 places on your web pages to use your keywords:

1. Title Tag: This is one of the most important elements in on-page optimization. The title tag is an element found in the head of the page. Look for title and /title in angle brackets (<>). What comes between these is the title tag. The title tag is visible to visitors, but not in the body of the page, rather it is displayed in the top bar of the web browser. The title tag should be a short description of the page and should contain the keywords you want to target for that page.

Screenshot of the head of a web page showing the title, description, and keyword tags.

The first word in the title tag has more weight than than the last word.  So, put your most important words first.  Also, the more words you use, the less weight each word gets.  So, if you have a 4 word title, each of the words will get more weight than if you have an 8 word title.  So, use as few words as possible.  If the title of your church does not have any keywords in it, then it’s best to have your church name at the end of the title, if you include it at all.

2. Text: Using keywords in the text on your page is probably the most important element of on-page optimization, though the Title tag is nearly as important. Search engines read the text on a page to determine what the page is about. The key is what’s called keyword density, how many times a word or phrase is used on a page compared to how much text there is. The more times a word or phrase is used, the more important that word or phrase is (except for words like “and” and “the”).

The trick with optimizing text is getting the right balance. You want to use keywords multiple times on a page, but not over-do it. It’s difficult to say how many times you should use your keywords, as it will depend on how much text you have on your page, but I’d suggest using the keywords at least three times no matter how little the page is.  If the page has over 500 words, I’d use the targeted keyword(s) once or twice more for every 200 additional words.

3. H tags: H tags are used for paragraph headings and titles. There are 6 tags,
h1 through h6. (creative huh?). In HTML these tags include several characteristics, including size, weight (boldness), and a line break. An h1 tag will be very large and bold, while an h6 tag is small. Because these tags are used for headings and titles, the search engines place extra weight on words used in tags. The weight they give also depends on which tag is used. h1 is given more weight than h3 and h3 more weight than h4. Be sure to use your keywords in tags.

If you do not like the appearance of the text when it’s placed in an tag, then you can use CSS to change the font attributes, though there is some debate as to whether that effects the amount of weight the search engines give the h tags.  There are a couple rules of thumb when it comes to h tags.  First, only use the h1 tag once and use it near the top of the content.  Second, the h4 – h6 tags really don’t get much weight from the search engines if any at all.  So, use h1 – h3 for any paragraph headings you are optimizing.

Internal Links4. Internal Links: Incoming links are great for helping websites in the search engines, but your internal linking structure (the way each page in your website links to other pages in the site) can help as well. Use keywords in the link text. So, instead of “Homepage” use “Grace Baptist Church Homepage” or if you want it shorter, just “Church Home”. Keep in mind that the text in the link counts more for the page being linked to than the page on which the link placed.  In addition to using keywords in the link text, you can also add title attributes. Title attributes are to links what alt tags are to pictures. Just add title=”” in the A tag. Like the alt tag, title attributes are visible to visitors if they mouse over the link.

Now, this isn’t an endorsement to go put a whole bunch of links on all your pages.  Every link you put on a page waters down the value of all the other links.  Plus it would look really bad to visitors.  So, limit the number of links you have on your pages. Tip: If you have graphical link, you can use both an alt and a title tag.

5. File Name / URL: It’s never too early to start thinking about SEO. When you are creating the page, consider your keywords when you name the page file (if you have that option). Instead of using a file name like “directions.html”, use a file name like “directions-to-Atlanta-church.html”. If you use more than one word in the file name, it is best to separate the words by hyphens as search engines see hyphens as word breaks.

6. Alt Tags: Alt tags are attributes that can be added to images. Search engines can’t read pictures, but they do read alt tags. So, alt tags allow you to get some SEO value from those pictures on your site. Generally, the alt tag should describe the picture, but you can usually do that in a way that includes a keyword or two. You can add an alt tag to a images by adding alt=”” in the img tag. If you are using a web builder, their may be an alt option or possibly a description or title option.

Alt tags are viewable by visitors. If someone mouse over a picture, a text box will show the alt tag.  Also, if someone has images turned off in their browser or are blind and using a page reader, they will only see/hear the alt tag.

7. Description META Tag: Most SEOs consider the description tag meaningless when it comes to SEO.  They were abused early on by optimizers and so the search engines stopped paying attention to them regarding SEO.  That said, the description tag should still be optimized, just a little differently. The description tag is not seen on the web page, but some search engines do use the description tag in the search listings. That’s very important because that means that a well crafted description tag can be the difference between someone clicking on your search listing or moving on to the next listing.  One thing that tends to both get people’s attention and get them to think a listing is relevant is seeing the keyword they just searched for in the description.  By including the targeted keyword(s) in your description, it can make the listing more effective.  So, write a short, but compelling description that includes a call to action and includes the targeted keyword(s).

The description tag can be longer than the title tag, but should still be relatively short and should contain each of the keywords you are targeting. It is located in the head of the page, usually just below the title tag. The coding for the description tag is meta name=”description” content=”” in angle brackets (<>). The text used between the quotes after content= is the description META tag.

Final Thoughts:
Optimization is a comprised of several small elements that work together to get the result of higher rankings for targeted keywords. Each element adds to the affect. You may find, however, that you cannot or do not want to optimize every element of your page. That can affect the results, but just because you can’t do everything, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything. Every element you optimize is another step towards that #1 ranking.

Photos by adesigna and Matti Mattila
So, now that we’ve looked at what should be optimized, let’s take a look at what you shouldn’t do when optimizing your website.

About the author

Kurt Steinbrueck

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