A lot of businesses are run by people who are often referred to as control freaks. Which, in business, is normally a good qualification. But with regard to search engine optimization, it’s something you actually have to let go of, at least to an extent. A lot of SEO is outside your control. We’ll take a look at what you can control and the places where you just have to grin and bear it.
Most of what you put on your own site is under your control.
That statement often surprises people. They expect me to say that everything you put on your own site is controllable by you. Technically that’s true but there are a few parts of your site where what you decide to put there is ignored.
The first of these items is the page title.
This is supposed to be used by Google for the blue underlined link in the search results. Most of the time, that’s what they do.
But if your site is listed in the Open Directory (Dmoz) then Google will substitute the title from there in the search results unless you tell it otherwise by using the following meta tag on your pages:
<meta name=”robots” content=”noodp”>
That will then tell Google not to over-ride your page titles most of the time. But – sorry control freaks – that doesn’t mean they won’t over-ride the title if their computer thinks it can come up with a better title with regard to the search that’s just been carried out. This doesn’t happen often and there doesn’t seem to be much you can do when it does happen.
If you use more than about 65 characters in your page title then the search engines will truncate them. The length of your titles is under your control so make sure that they’re not cut off in their prime!
The second item out of your control is the page description.
If your web designer hasn’t put a meta description in each of your pages then you’ve given Google free rein to put whatever text it thinks best below your page title in the search results.
If you use more than about 155 characters then the description will be truncated, sometimes back to the end of the last word that will fit into the space available and sometimes back to the end of the previous sentence. There doesn’t seem to be as much logic to this process as you’d imagine, although I’m sure that some excellent programmers at Google would assure you otherwise.
But even if you’ve got your meta description perfectly crafted, Google can still substitute something else at its discretion if it thinks that it can “write” something more relevant for that particular search.
The third on-site part of the search engine optimization that isn’t totally under your control are the links on your pages.
Computers break every now and then. That goes for links as much as anything else.
Your internal links should always be perfect. But, just in case they’re not, it’s worth examining the error logs for your site. They can usually be found in your control panel and are worth checking on a very regular basis.
For example, page names are often case sensitive so it’s easy to get these muddled up, especially if you’re uploading pages from a Windows computer onto a Linux host.
External links are theoretically under your control – which means Google will likely penalize you if they point to bad neighborhoods.
You need to check your external links on a regular basis. Other sites may have simply ceased to exist. Or they could have changed their site layout so the page you were linking to no longer exists. Or a plethora of other reasons. It’s best to use a real person rather than a computer program to do this checking.
We won’t get into off-site SEO in this article. That’s another can of worms and definitely not something for a control freak to examine lightly!