I do a lot of training for people that want to do SEO themselves, and the best way to describe how search engines read a web page is an analogy: Search engines read your web page like a college professor reads a research paper.
Remember back in the day when you wrote those 20 page research papers? I once asked a professor, “How on earth do you read all them all?” He said, “I scan the paper first to know what it’s about. Then, I read it from start to finish.” He smiled and quietly said, “I usually know the grade of the paper just by scanning,” and he told me what he looked at:
- First, he reads the title of the paper to identify what the page is about. [Equivalent to an H1 tag]
- Then, if there’s an executive summary, he reads that. [Equivalent to a meta description]
- Then, he scans the page, looking at the sub-headlines to identify the direction of the paper [Equivalent to the H2, H3, H4 tags]
- He said there are other things that catch his attention – bulleted lists and numbered lists, they must be important because they’ve been called out in an orderly fashion. [Equivalent to list tags]
- Bolded and italicized text stood out, because it identifies important points.
- Lastly, the professor read the conclusion. You always restate your subject and reinforce the direction. [Equivalent to the end of your page copy]
- By this time, he has a good indication of what the page is about (and what grade it will receive), next he reads the detail.
Today, I remember this whenever working with clients on how to write for search engines. Every point that the professor notices are the most valuable pieces of real estate in your page copy, these are the places that you want to put your keywords. You want someone to be able to scan your page like the professor that first skims a research paper to understand what it’s about.
The last similarity: like college professors, search engines do not like duplicate content – it can get you thrown out of school and it can get you dropped from the SERPs.
One key difference: Unlike professors that want a 20 page research paper, most of the SEO copywriters I know recommend 250-300 words per page for optimal results.
What most sites are missing:
- Keywords at the end of the page. Remember, the conclusion always restates your subject. To further illustrate the value: a few years ago someone from Ask.com was on-stage at an SES Conference and mentioned that they look for the targeted keyword at the end of the page, because this indicates if the entire page is about that topic.
- Header Tags. Headlines marked with header tags are extremely valuable. I’ve been amazed at the power of the header tag. Use them, and make them useful for both users and SEO. I write them so that you can get the gist of the page copy by reading the headlines, if you like what you saw, you’ll read the entire page. Most importantly, don’t forget your keywords!