Chapter 4: HTML Code & Search Engine Success Factors
HTML is the underlying code used to create web pages. Search engines can pick up ranking signals from specific HTML elements. Below are some of the most important HTML elements to achieve SEO success.
Ht: HTML title tag
Imagine that you wrote 100 different books but gave them all the same exact title. How would anyone understand that they are all about different topics?
Imagine that you wrote 100 different books, and while they did have different titles, the titles weren’t very descriptive — maybe just a single word or two. Again, how would anyone know, at a glance, what the books were about?
HTML titles have always been and remain the most important HTML signal that search engines use to understand what a page is about. Bad titles on your pages are like having bad book titles in the examples above. In fact, if your HTML titles are deemed bad or not descriptive, Google changes them.
So think about what you hope each page will be found for, relying on the keyword research you’ve already performed. Then craft unique, descriptive titles for each of your pages. For more help about this, see our posts in the category below:
Hd: The meta description tag
The meta description tag, one of the oldest supported HTML elements, allows you to suggest how you’d like your pages to be described in search listings. If the HTML title is the equivalent of a book title, the meta description is like the blurb on the back describing the book.
SEO purists will argue that the meta description tag isn’t a “ranking factor” and that it doesn’t actually help your pages rank higher. Rather, it’s a “display factor,” something that helps how you look if you appear in the top results due to other factors.
Technically, that’s correct. And it’s one of the reasons we decided to call these “success” factors instead of ranking factors.
A meta description that contains the keywords searched for (in bold) may catch the user’s eye. A well-crafted meta description may help “sell” that result to the user. Both can result in additional clicks to your site. As such, it makes sense for the meta description tag to be counted as a success factor.
Be forewarned, having a meta description tag doesn’t guarantee that your description will actually get used. Search engines may create different descriptions based on what they believe is most relevant for a particular query. But having one increases the odds that what you prefer will appear. And it’s easy to do. So do it.
The following category takes a closer look at the meta description tag:
Hs: Structured data
What if you could tell search engines what your content was about in their own “language?” Behind the scenes, sites can use specific markup (code) that makes it easy for search engines to understand the details of the page content and structure.
The result of structured data often translates into what Google calls a “rich snippet,” a search listing that has extra bells and whistles that make it more attractive and useful to users. The most common rich snippet you’re likely to encounter is reviews/ratings, which usually includes eye-catching stars.
While the use of structured data may not be a direct ranking factor, it is clearly a success factor. All things being equal, a listing with a rich snippet is likely to get more clicks than one without.
Read more about structured data in the categories below:
Hh: Header tags
See the headline up at the top of this page? Behind the scenes, HTML code is used to make that a header tag. In this case, an H1 tag.
See the sub-headlines on the page? Those also use header tags. Each of them is the next “level” down, using H2 tags.
Header tags are a formal way to identify key sections of a web page. Search engines have long used them as clues to what a page is about. If the words you want to be found for are in header tags, you have a slightly increased chance of appearing in searches for those words.
Naturally, this knowledge has caused some people to go overboard. They’ll put entire paragraphs in header tags. That doesn’t help. Header tags are as much for making content easy to read for users as it is for search engines.
Header tags are useful when they reflect the logical structure (or outline) of a page. If you have a main headline, use an H1 tag. Relevant subheads should use an H2 tag. Use headers as they make sense, and they may reinforce other ranking factors.