Common sense for your website

I am the last one to tell a website owner that his job is to become the local SEO or usability expert. That would be unrealistic. Why should a constructor learn SEO? He should not. Why should a gardner know all about user experience? He should not. But how about applying some common sense to your website?

Let’s go over an imaginary website, top to bottom:

Browser

Your browser has a couple of spots where your <title> is shown, like in the upper left and on a tab. That means your page title should start with he main subject of the page, not your site name. If it would start with your site name, all tabs would read the same title.

Next to that, you want your browser to display the website as quick as possible, meaning you should make your website as fast as possible. Sure, browser cache and compression might be way over your head, but how about not using a template with tables and combining your CSS and JavaScript files? Or lowering the number of CSS and JavaScript files by losing all ‘extra’ WordPress plugins, assuming your site is in WordPress of course.

Header

Do your really think putting all these items in your header help visitors or Google:

  • RSS, Facebook, Twitter, Google+
  • Telephone number
  • Additional menu for About Us, Privacy Policy, Contact, Directions, Terms & Conditions
  • Subscription form for email newsletter
  • Banner for your own or even worse other company’s products
  • Quality Marks
  • etc

And all that in the first 100px of your website. Squeezed together and made to be skipped anyway. That header area should contain only the necessary, all other items should be in a sidebar or footer area. If you want people to call you, list your phone number. Make it large, but no larger than your logo. If you are the best painter in Maine, make that statement in the header. No need for all the other fuzz.

With your header comes the menu (in most cases). If you would list 30 items in the menu, do you think that would add focus to your website or do you think just using six items would guide your visitor more? Consider creating a submenu and add that structure to your breadcrumbs as well.

So far I have not mentioned anything strange or difficult to implement, right? It’s all common sense and you have thought at least 10 times “I know that already”. So why are not all websites set up with these basics? Why is there so much crap on the web?

Content

Your page content should contain at least 300 words. That has a simple reason: would your page be a great source for the topic or keyword you want to rank for when it would only contain 50 words? Is that all there is to say about that keyword? I don’t believe that, you don’t believe that and Google does not believe that. There should be a significant amount of content for your page to be considered a great source of information.

Of course you will write some posts or pages that are much shorter, like your contact page, but do your really want to rank that page? No, not on most websites. Don’t go crazy over this on pages like that, that’s not worth the effort. Get them on your site with other pages and guide them to your contact form.

An easy way to do that is by using a call-to-action. Make that call-to-action stand out by using colors that are not overused in your design or use a much larger font. Surround the call-to-action with enough whitespace. If you are adding your fourth call-to-action, please realize that that again is killing all focus on the website. Stick to one and let the content do the rest.

Focus in your content can be achieved by adding subheadings to your text that should be structured in (again) a logical matter, pretty much the same way you should set up a Word document:

  • H1
    • H2
      • H3
      • H3
    • H2

That also means one H1 per page, being the site name on the homepage and the page title on the other pages.

I think we all agree nowadays that reading on a computer screen is not as pleasant as reading text on paper. But we should make things as convenient as possible: make short sentences and even more important, create short paragraphs. I’d like to create paragraphs that are four to eight lines long and I hope this is a nice read ;)

In these paragraphs you should link to your own pages as well as to other websites. The great thing about these links to your own pages is that these links are really valuable as they are surrounded with relevant, related content. Next to that, you can easily use your keywords of choice in the anchor text. Unfortunately most people seem to think that these links should only go to other websites. A regrettable misunderstanding.

Sharing

If you write great content.. Let me rephrase that: provided you write great content, people will be more than willing to tell others about your piece. Of course you should add social sharing buttons below the content. These buttons should not be styled in some fashionable way, but should look like the commonly used share buttons – see below this post ;) – for better recognition as sharing buttons.

I’d use Facebook, Twitter, Share-by-email and Google+ for all websites, Linkedin for business news / economy related websites and Pinterest only when you have that amazing image in the post that people might want to share. Do not list a share option, just because people you know are using it, but only use those sharing options you think are relevant for your website.

The fashionable buttons can be used for subscription options, like links to your Facebook profile or your Youtube channel. In most cases, the square icons are used for this, or the round icons you find on yoast.com.

Footer

This is not a great footer:

© SomewebsiteImade.com. All rights reserved. Reproduction of this content only after written permission.

First: really? Share buttons and telling people they should not use your content on other websites? We actually encountered this in one of the websites we have reviewed.

Next to that, I think the entire footer should be used for extra contact information (or a small form) and other information that you really want to list on your website like a small link list, perhaps some recent news items and a small category list (max 8 items or so). Not sure about this, but why not throw in some social profiles as well..

What I really dislike is a footer that has one million links in it. That reduces the value of all other links and all focus on the page.

So, in conclusion, I think you should not so much focus on hearsay about SEO, but think about what seems logical and makes the most sense. Only when your website makes common sense to you, you should go look for someone that can help you with the not so logical Search Engine and Usability optimization issues ;)

Any additions?

Common sense is not as easy as it looks for a lot of people. If you have any comments or additions to the list above, please drop me a line in the comments!

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43 Responses

  1. Steven D. SandersBy Steven D. Sanders on 6 June, 2012

    I think that having a phone number and a link to Directions is extremely important for some types of websites. I deal with a lot of local small businesses, and many visitors just visit their website to find their contact information.

  2. JasjotBy Jasjot on 8 June, 2012

    One thing I hate while visiting a site is improper layout of the text. And such sites do rank in SERP’s. A nice indentation and proper and consistent spacing is not only soothing to the eyes, but makes reading easy and you can actually think about sharing that information

  3. Oscar GonzalezBy Oscar Gonzalez on 8 June, 2012

    I love the part about content structure. So many people don’t understand that the H’s are actually functional, not just to make the text larger or smaller.

    I do remember Matt Cutts explaining that more than h1 per page is okay in some scenarios though.

    great post though!

  4. Edille RosarioBy Edille Rosario on 9 June, 2012

    I like the idea on Sharing part :D.

    I use WordPress plugin called “Sharebar”, but I guess by doing that, I am only making my readers disgusted. So I will try to put my sharing button at the bottom of every post.

    Anyways, thanks for sharing these info.

  5. Gary Anderson IIBy Gary Anderson II on 10 June, 2012

    As a hobby blogger since approx 2008 (that’s when I got serious anyway), I became very intrigued with the Art, Science, Technology and even the Psychology of SEO… I became an SEO addict.

    Now that I’m doing a small amount of Local SEO in my area on top of everything else, I think this “Common Sense” advice is actually extremely valuable!

    Sometimes the simple stuff is far more important than the advanced stuff because the advanced stuff doesn’t work very well without the basics working properly “first”.

    Thanks Man!

    Gary Anderson II

    • Michiel HeijmansBy Michiel Heijmans on 22 June, 2012

      Thanks for your reply, Gary. I totally agree!

  6. Bill BennettBy Bill Bennett on 11 June, 2012

    That infinite scroll thing certainly screws with your comments about footers. What do you have to say about infinite scroll?

    • Michiel HeijmansBy Michiel Heijmans on 22 June, 2012

      Could you tell me a bit more about this – I don’t get the infinite scroll remark?

  7. SzymonBy Szymon on 11 June, 2012

    Very useful tips Yoast! :)

    It is great article, we must think about our users. Using them is very useful for users.

    BTW. Thanks for your plugins

  8. Pauline ConnellyBy Pauline Connelly on 11 June, 2012

    I think one issue is that people want to do everything on their home page – cram everything they do onto it rather than picking the best. I just had my site reviewed by the Yoast Team and it appears i too have made that mistake, despite advising others against it. I guess we all need reminding.

  9. MallyBy Mally on 12 June, 2012

    This is a interesting article, and i especially agree with the amount of content that a page should display.
    On my website I aim to have between 300 and 500 words per page.

    Thanks for the information

    • DaveBy Dave on 12 June, 2012

      Wow i was just looking at your website, looks great! is it built using a CMS?

      • MallyBy Mally on 12 June, 2012

        Thanks Dave,

        No it’s not using a CMS, its all built from scratch.

  10. CarolynBy Carolyn on 12 June, 2012

    Not all of what you listed here is common sense for me. I don’t know how to combine CSS and JavaScript files, although I’ve read that I should.

    Also, I learned something new in your paragraph about not junking up the header with a bunch of things. Since it’s “above the fold,” I’ve always felt that I was being negligent by wasting that space with nothing more than my header image.

    Thanks for the tips!

  11. AliBy Ali on 15 June, 2012

    But i think wordpress is best because all setting is automatic set no need work manual like H1 tag, meta tags etc. But your information is 100% true this is very important for all webmasters.. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Sonny LanoriasBy Sonny Lanorias on 16 June, 2012

    This is really an awesome post! Good thing I got your newsletter and here I am reading this content. And yeah it makes a lot of common sense :)One thing, what plugin did you use for your social media sharing icons? Thanks and hope to hear from you.

    -Sonny

    • Michiel HeijmansBy Michiel Heijmans on 22 June, 2012

      Hi Sonny. No plugin. Joost hardcoded these in the template.

  13. Eibhlin Morey MacIntoshBy Eibhlin Morey MacIntosh on 16 June, 2012

    Brilliant, refreshing, and a great review (and reality check) for those of us who’ve been building websites since forever. It’s far too easy to get caught up in trends that we don’t think through, in terms of visitors’ experiences.

    Thank you so very much for saying this clearly, concisely, and completely.

  14. SteveBy Steve on 16 June, 2012

    Is there a way to position things in the header without them actually being stored there.
    Could they, for example be stored in the sidebar? Is this possible using css or something?

  15. VenitaBy Venita on 16 June, 2012

    Hi Yoast & Michiel
    Thanks for sharing your know-how. I am using WordPress on my site, with Atahualpa as theme, would you by any chance know where to check that the post title is in fact H1 for I know how to add and change text to H1 in the post, but then I am stuck with 2 headers to each post, which looks plain silly to me.

    Thx
    Venita

  16. NicolasBy Nicolas on 16 June, 2012

    Wow, brilliant post. Really synthetic about common sense stuff… For me personally they are not yet so common sense, but little by little!
    Thanks a million, i just stumbled upon your blog and i’ll keep it in my favorites!

  17. VenitaBy Venita on 16 June, 2012

    Hi Yoast & Michiel
    Thanks but it looks as if I found a way around my H1 + H2 tags
    using Ultimate TinyMCE plugging

  18. Kelli RoigBy Kelli Roig on 16 June, 2012

    OK, all of this makes sense. But, my question is, where do you put the copyright,etc information, if not in the footer? Thanks.

    • Michiel HeijmansBy Michiel Heijmans on 22 June, 2012

      If your site needs a copyright, I’d put it in the footer. My problem is mainly with useless texts like “Reproduction of this content only after written permission.” :)

  19. Abhishek PrakashBy Abhishek Prakash on 16 June, 2012

    Reading to the article makes me feel taht I am doing a lot of things in wrong way.

  20. Wolfgang BloomfieldBy Wolfgang Bloomfield on 16 June, 2012

    Keep it Simple Son, as the old saying goes and this is still true today, use simple language, simple navigation, so that everybody knows what you are talking about.

  21. Marcelo AlvarezBy Marcelo Alvarez on 16 June, 2012

    Hi Michiel
    Great article.
    I have a question about this: “That also means one H1 per page, being the site name on the homepage and the page title on the other pages.”
    If I have a one pages Web site with multiple sections like Welcome, About Us, Services, etc, is in this ok to have more than one H1? In my particular case 6 ?

    Thanks a lot

    M

    • Michiel HeijmansBy Michiel Heijmans on 22 June, 2012

      Do you want to rank for words like “Welcome”, “About Us”? Guess not.

      By the way, if anyone has ideas on how to properly rank a one page website without separate pages for the sections (most one page websites do), I’d like to hear that ;)

  22. Gal BarasBy Gal Baras on 18 June, 2012

    Nicely put. I might share this with some of my clients as another gentle way of telling them why they should pay me to do this for them ;P

  23. CorBy Cor on 20 June, 2012

    Wel sayed. Keep it clean and simpel and wil always work.

  24. FloBy Flo on 21 June, 2012

    Love it. Cut the crap and go back to basics…that’s how I like to roll too.

  25. MitchBy Mitch on 21 June, 2012

    Hi Yoast, i found some conflicting information you have posted…. for starters you recently mentioned and linked ot another article in your recent newsletter about the myths of SEO and software that does not help SEO at all.

    In that article the author mentions a lot of things that i simply cannot agree with, for example she says, h1 tags do absolutly nothing for SEO, neither do title tags, or how many words are on the page, she goes on to say that it just depends on what your talking about it could be 25 or 2500 words…..

    Then i read this article i just read and you go on to speak about must contain at least 300 words etc..etc…

    Hang on, is this confusing or am i not comprehending something ?

    For whatever it means the information provided is not consistent and lacks credibility because ive just had to re-evaluate and make sense of the 2 conflicting opinions.

    • Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 21 June, 2012

      Hi Mitch,

      you misinterpreted parts of the article you read that we shared on Facebook it seems and also are misunderstanding some things here. I’d love to explain, but you’ll have to let go of this attitude first.

      • MitchBy Mitch on 22 June, 2012

        There is no attitude at all joost…. i think of you highly and i read a lot of your articles and posts…. however im stating some facts of how i interpreted what i read and maybe others did as well. I entitled to that right ?

        Id love some clarification as it would clear that air.

        Cheers.

        • Michiel HeijmansBy Michiel Heijmans on 22 June, 2012

          I think your last two paragraphs qualify as an attitude, Mitch. They really do. But enough about that.

          Let me explain a little to you, because nobody else seems to have a problem with it ;)

          You refer to this post. I quote:

          “There is no specific number of times a keyword phrase should be used in my content. There is no magic number of words that my pages should have written on them. And there is no best number of words or phrases that belong in a Title tag. And most of all: There is no SEO software that can optimize my website (despite the claims of their creators).
          Use your common sense to optimize your site!”

          I can not agree more. But, as mentioned in my post, would your page be a great source for the topic or keyword you want to rank for when it would only contain 50 words? No. It’s common sense that it is not. What’s a number of words we all can agree on that is? I think 300.

          SEO is also about giving guidelines. Especially when talking about common sense, I think these come in handy, right? Else it becomes, as we say in The Netherlands, “natte vinger werk”. Look that up yourself, before we get any issues about the meaning of that ;)

          Btw, no mention of H1 in that highrankings.com article – where did you get that? Looking forward to reading that post!

  26. MitchBy Mitch on 23 June, 2012

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for getting back to me, i think the problem i had is that i think was in regards to the SEO software part of it that it does not optimize your site and your right, to a point.

    No one can expect the software to do it by themselves and auto optimize a site, but that is not why they should be used. There are several great plugins for wordpress that ive tested some better than others that DO infact give great guidelines and assist in basic optimal SEO signals to have eg. 300 words, (even Yoast’s page analysis feature does this to a point if you really want to get technical) not because it will rank you higher but because as you say optimal amount of words to have for a decent article, right ?

    I read another article recently that i had to also comment on about using smart auto links that will get you penalized so dont use it.

    It’s premise was mainly warning signs all over the joint. There was nothing positive about it.

    That plugin also has its purpose if used correctly in conjunction with SEO guidelines can work great and save a lot of time and manual work (i do agree thou that if you expect to rank for words like SEO, PLUGIN, WORDPRESS then it can be a problem because it may auto link each instances of those in the free version) but the likely hood of that happening is very very low.

  27. MoBy Mo on 29 June, 2012

    This article was plain and straight to the point. When I first read the title I expected to just see some general tips on improving a website, nothing useful. I was surprised that some of the small things I had overlooked when adding content to my website, were things that had a big impact as far as SEO goes. I use H1 in my text but never use H2 or H3, didn’t really think it was much point. After reading I realize not only the SEO benefits to a website, but that it also calls to action and visually makes for a better flow for the readers.
    Great article… Thanks

  28. KrisBy Kris on 29 June, 2012

    I just had a yoast overload! I downloaded your WordPress seo, took tour, read your article on setup, and now this common sense blog for website! Great information, especially for a newbie like me.

  29. Eva GomezBy Eva Gomez on 29 June, 2012

    Hi, Michael! Pretty essential tips are concentratediny our article and I am agree with you that as simple and nicely arrange we keep a webpage, as more is going to work in our interest!Keep it Simple is the rule I am following too, even though, sometimes tend to be a bit more lenghty in my explanations, than usual.Wordpress is by any means the best platform to me so far, as I am still probing the word of having and managing own website, but am going to give it more thorough look on the mentioned by you call-to-action stand and see what offers! Thanks a lot!

    • Michiel HeijmansBy Michiel Heijmans on 29 June, 2012

      Hi Eva, you should also read this post, also mentioned in the article, in that case. Thanks for your enthusiastic comment ;)

  30. Pali MadraBy Pali Madra on 3 July, 2012

    It might seem that the advise given is common sense but people like meed to be reminded about these common sense things because we get too involved in other technical and complex trivial things which do not have as much value as far as SEO is concerned.

    Thanks for reminding everyone to structure the content. May I request Micheal of Joost to write a similar simple post on how to structure content on web pages and blog posts.

    Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing.