I hear this question a lot. Usually after someone has spent a week or two making a real effort at writing better headlines (which means better title tags).
As usual, SEOmoz has done a lot of the legwork. Their “Ranking Factors” article is still must reading for people trying to figure out “what should I do now?”
Ranking Factors is described as:
…the collective wisdom of 37 leaders in the world of organic search engine optimization. Together, they have voted on the various factors that are estimated to comprise Google’s ranking algorithm (the method by which the search engine orders results). The result is a resource of incredible value – although not every one of the estimated 200+ ranking elements are included, it is my opinion that 90-95% of the knowledge required about Google’s algorithm is contained…
I’m only going to hit on the ones that are of the greatest importance, and yet easiest to get to for the CMS-driven news generated sites.
- Keyword Use in Title Tag -This is the big one, and terribly easy to do. For example, sometimes the print world would give a Baltimore site a feed with a news headline like: “Birds of a feather”. The story might be about how a bunch of the guys on the Baltimore Orioles all go fishing during the off-season. That headline needs to be “webified”. No baseball fan is going to type in “birds of a feather” when they are looking for a story.
So we rewrite it to be “Baltimore Oriole’s stars fish for Marlin during Off-season”, or “Brooks Robinson and friends find happiness fishing”. It will depend on the actual content of the story, but the fact that it’s an actual keyword rich title helps tremendously. I can’t speak to all CMS’s, but on most, the story headline populates the title tag for the actual story page.
- Keywords in the H1 and other header tags – In this case, if the search term is “Baltimore Orioles” and your story headline(“Baltimore Oriole’s stars fish for Marlin during Off-season”) is wrapped in an H1, you should have a good shot at being at or near the top of the SERP.
- Internal Link Structure – This is one reason many sites now “nofollow” the links to the “contact us” page or the “email the webmaster” link. You can increase rank on pages that are pointed to with high quality internal links.
- Outbound links on the page point to high quality, topically-related pages – Giving high quality links out from your site certainly helps the site you link to, but it also helps your site.
There are also bad things, and they should be avoided. Sometimes because of coroprate decisions spamminess may creep in, but in general, these are things most people can avoid.
- Links to low quality or spam sites – This is not as straight forward as you may first suspect. There is a difference between a site with thousands of outbound links, and 3 happen to be to spammy sites, and a site with 4 links out, and 3 are to spam. Ratio does play a part, but you need to keep an eye on what you or your users are linking to. Keep in mind that the “unverified” outlink was the driving force behind rel=”nofollow”.
- Duplicate title and meta tags – There’s just no reason every page on the site should have the same meta description, and certainly no reason the title should be the same.
None of the items I’ve highlighted are new or controversial or difficult, we should all be doing them on a regular basis.
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