How many times have you gone to your favorite search engine, typed in your keywords and been shown an entire web site as a result? The odds are, never. More and more often I find myself explaining how it’s not your whole site that is indexed, but it’s a bunch of individual pages on your website that are being indexed. This may seem like an insignificant difference or just a wording issue, but I assure you the distinction is an important one to understand and I promise I am not just splitting hairs.
I would think that most people agree that the general function of SEO is “to help web sites rank higher in the search engines”. I submit a more accurate statement would be “to help the pages of a site rank higher in the search engines”. The pages of a web site are indexed and ranked individually, based primarily on their own merits. There are very few factors in the search algorithms that when changed effect a web site on a global scale.
Too often, I see pages of a web site where the content is very diverse and tries to address multiple or related themes. While this does help the site creator in his or her work load reduction and the ability to produce sites on budget and deadline, it also reduces the effectiveness of the pages in the search engines. One area in particular where this is very common is a site’s homepage. It seems to me that many developers are just assuming that visitors are not going to click down to the lower level pages of the site. They build a homepage with the intent to touch on every section or theme contained in the site; this is fine in your navigation scheme, but not as blocks of content on the page. This individual page is not a non-targeted page; the content is too diverse and will not be able to compete in the engines with pages more specifically dedicated to individual topics.
My recommendation is not to target more than 2 primary key phrases on a page. Some designers or SEOs will recommend more than that, however you very quickly get into issues of keyword dilution. The number of pages on the internet is growing by the millions each month, competition for phrases is getting more specific and the dilution issues are going to affect your rankings more and more. For Example, if a specific page dedicated to one of the 5 topics included on your page does not exist today, it probably will tomorrow. At that point the page dedicated to that one topic will be more relevant than your page which only covers the topic in conjunction with 4 other topics. The more this happens the more you lose rankings on all 5 of your topics.
I concede that the engines will take into some small consideration the theme of an entire site, domain age or other global site factors when ranking the individual pages of the site. But once again, it is the individual pages of the site which are measured up against the search query and ranked accordingly. When looking at the optimization of your site, take care to focus on the individual pages as much as possible. While whole site issues also exsist, focusing on content targeting of individual pages will help you much more in the long run.
Oh … and no more asking “Why doesn’t my web site rank higher?”, because now you know search engines do not rank web sites, they rank web pages.