The search gospel: Part 1, on page elements

I have lost track of how many times journalists (and others, but especially journalists) bemoan the fact that no one can find their long form lovingly written really truly excellent feature content.

To which my (apparently cynical) response is, “Well, what did you call it?”

“Oh, it’s got a great title,” they say. “It’s a called “Going the distance,” isn’t that great?”

“Lovely,” I say, “so it’s about long distance running or cycling? Maybe travel journalism about a hiking holiday?”

“No. It’s about Scottish Independence.”


And so it goes.

And so here is Aunty Hari’s absolute all-time top one rule about writing content that you want to be found organically by search engines.



Let us start with a glossary. There’s a lot of looseness in language when we talk about online publishing so I want to be very clear about what I mean for certain.

Page title – the title of the page as defined in the HTML code. This is also the title that you will see written out in the tab at the top of your Chrome window.

H1 title – this is the title ON the page itself, generally in the largest size of text and defined using a H1 tag in HTML

And then sometimes there is also a Search engine title, which doesn’t appear on the page or in the tab at the top but is what search engines will pull through and display on SERPS

SERPs – Search Engine Results Pages

Alt text – the text description that should be used on all uploaded images so that information is available for people who use screen readers or audio description of pages.

Link text – the text that is clickable as a link

Link title – the title of the link in the HTML

Okay I think that’s enough for now. As I have said Google considers 200 or more factors when deciding how a particular page should be presented in SERPs.

Key among these are what the page is called. Now if you work with wonderful writers who like their artistic headlines then you may run into issues here, the key thing here is to remind them that the Page title and the H1 title do NOT need to be the same thing.

I mean, they do here in WordPress unless you’ve got a particular plug in running, but most content management systems will allow you to have the Page title and the H1 title as two different fields.

And when you have that, everything becomes a lot easier.

So you’ve got your article about Scottish Independence and the title the author has given it is “Going the distance”.

If you have a content field set up for Search Engine title then you are set and you can put your nice keyword heavy, natural language friendly title in there and not worry. But if you don’t you need to make sure that at least one of either the H1 or Page titles are a bit more search friendly.

H1’s are important for search, but not, in my opinion as important as Page titles so I often have to sacrifice H1 in order to have the better Page title.

But in an ideal world this is how would I do it:

Article title by author: Going the distance

H1 title: Scottish Independence: going the distance

Page title: Can Scotland go the disance in the Independence referendum?

Search engine title: As the Scottish Independent Referendum approaches, [Magazine title] explores whether Scotland can go the distance and leave the UK.

Your H1 title for that article can totally be “Going the distance” if it has to because your author is precious. But really it’s good to get the main subject keyword in there if you can.

The page title keeps the same theme but is also (1) asking a question which ties in to natural language search (as in thing people ask Siri) and (2) mentioning the keywords of “Scotland,” “independence,” and “referendum.” Longer but not too long. Moz suggests that we should keep page titles under 60 characters as any more than that won’t display. And often sites have their names in the Page title box too so you can’t forget those characters as well.

And then the search engine title goes all the way. It’s longer (which the Daily Mail has proven is good for attraction search traffic), it includes the magazine title and both Scotland and Scottish, as well as the other keywords mentioned above and the phrase “leave the UK.”

All clear with me so far?

I’m not going to tell you what do with your body copy apart from make it good and make it relevant. And link, link all the time. We’ll be dealing with links later but for now, if you have a Scottish Indepedence page, then the first time the phrase “Scottish Independence” is used in the text that should be a link to that page.

If you have subject based landing pages that are relevant and populated then include those subjects in your copy and link the freaking f*ck out of them.


Alt text and link text used to matter but not so much anymore. That is not to say you should neglect them – no, both are still good for maintaining your page quality. And don’t use “click here for X” all the damn time either. Rather than saying “Click here to read our commentary”, say “Read our commentary” and make that the damn link.

It’s good practice to make your site friendly to reading programmes for people with sight issues. Don’t be dickish – alt text and link text are both all about accessibility.

Link titles however are still kinda important, and so if possible use similar language to the Page title of the page you are linking to. Doesn’t have to be exact, but similar is good. And always set it to open in a new window.

Other things that are good to have on a page but aren’t technically search ranking factors:

  • author name
  • publish date
  • an image

These are good because you can use these to mark up your content so that Google can read it easier in one of the tools in Google Webmaster Tools, but again, we’ll get to that later.

And so, dear friends and neighbours, I bid you adieu. Yes, there are things I haven’t covered, but this is the search gospel not the search encyclopedia.

In terms of on page stuff, titles are everything. SO don’t get lazy and just use the same damn poetic phrases for each one – think about it, make them different, be sure to cover the keywords.

Stay tuned for the next exciting installment where I shall be talking about site quality and site maps.

And for the love of the great god Google, call your damn content something sensible.

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One Response to The search gospel: Part 1, on page elements

  1. Pingback: The Search Gospel: Part 2, is your site quality? | Hari Patience

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