16 Sure-Fire How-To Tips for Optimizing On-Page SEO
Every content marketing should put on their thinking caps to focus on optimizing on-page SEO. Why? Unless you have ads on Google, organic (unpaid) search traffic is the key to drive people to your website. Given that 95% of people never go past the first page of a search (see chart below), a primary goal of your digital efforts is ranking at the top is at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs). If you’re a content marketer–and not a back-end SEO expert–your best option is optimizing on-page SEO.
However, smaller businesses with limited SEO expertise, market share, and budget are often at a disadvantage. That’s why I want to focus on what is known as on-page SEO, as opposed to off-page SEO.
Why Optimizing On-Page SEO is a Great Option.
A good definition of on-page SEO, provided by Moz, is “the practice of optimizing individual web pages to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic in search engines. On-page refers to both the content and HTML source code of a page that can be optimized, as opposed to off-page SEO which refers to links and other external signals.
In addition to the effectiveness of optimizing on-page SEO, it has these particular advantages:
- On-page SEO is fully within your control.
- People with limited technology skills can implement on-page SEO techniques.
- You can make a wide range of improvements to on-page SEO with minimal costs.
If you don’t have an in-house SEO expert or just want to learn more, this article provides you with valuable information on how to evaluate and optimize your on-page SEO.
Google Reward Your On-Page SEO Efforts.
There are several basic goals of SEO:
- Have Google find, understand, and index your pages so they will display on the most relevant searches.
- Rank at the top of SERPs, for the greatest visibility and click-throughs.
- Create search listings, or “snippets,” that will be clicked on by your target audience.
Knowing how to optimize on-page SEO can have a positive effect in all these areas.
How Does Google use On-Page SEO to Rank Pages?
Google crawls the web to see what’s there, crawls each URL to understand it, indexes and catalogs them, and then determines the best results for each search, in order. Beyond that, it gets a bit murky. The search algorithm Google uses is a well-kept secret. However, SEO companies and experts make it their jobs to understand what makes certain snippets land at the top of a SERP based on the chosen keyword. Although we may not have the exact answers, we have a very good idea.
So let’s Dive into Ways to Optimize On-Page SEO:
1. Optimize pages with E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness)
Relevancy isn’t the only priority for search. Another major ingredient in Google’s secret sauce is Quality. Google does have a “quality score” metric, but that is specifically applied to paid ads. Most SEO gurus think that Google rates quality for organic traffic based on similar factors, known as E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness).
E-A-T is not a direct ranking factor, but it’s a way that Google raters evaluate each website page. And, yes, there are actual humans who apply E-A-T factors to their ratings. While these factors are somewhat objective, there’s a 168-page instruction manual that keeps raters on track. If done right, Google’s algorithm will agree with E-A-T principles.
Let’s look at each E-A-T factors:
Expertise: The content creator is a subject-matter expert who has a high level of skill or knowledge. Proof of expertise would include formal qualifications, and education of the content creator.
Authority: This refers to the reputation of the author and website among other experts in the industry. Indicators include items like reviews, references, credentials, awards, news articles, guest posts, about the author or website.
Trustworthiness: Characteristics include legitimacy, transparency, and factual accuracy of the website and its content. Trustworthy content has a satisfying amount of reputable external sources.
2. Improving On-Page SEO Engages visitors and builds page quality.
When creating website content, think about E-A-T factors. At the same time, look at user-engagement metrics. Metrics signal to google if the page was successful in satisfying a user’s search. Positive metrics also indicate a high-quality page. In other words, one that provides a good user experience. Analysis of the metrics also informs marketers about which pages should be kept, revised, or removed.
For example, if organic traffic is weak, your SEO page titles and “snippets” may need improvement, or your keywords may need adjustment. Another example: a high bounce rate might mean that your page content doesn’t meet your visitors’ expectations, your snippet and page content don’t align, it is poorly written, or it may be visually unappealing.
RELATED READING: Reduce Bound Rates in 7 Easy Steps for Copywriters
Now that we’ve reviewed important concepts about on-page SEO, E-A-T factors, and engagement, we can talk about specific on-page SEO techniques that will help you raise page rank, quality, and engagement.
3. Use Keywords Effectively.
The mother of all SEO topics is how to identify and use keywords. This article doesn’t focus on keywords, so I’ll just mention some of the most useful tips:
- Unless you’re one of the top brands in your industry, go for long-tail keywords, which have less ranking competition.
- Use keywords in your h1 and h2 headers (more on this topic below).
- Place them early in your intro paragraph—and sprinkle them throughout, but only if they sound natural; Google will penalize for keyword stuffing, and readers will be turned off if readability suffers.
- Google is getting better and better at understanding synonyms and related terms, so you can use related terms.
- Give each webpage a unique keyword to avoid “keyword cannibalization,” where multiple pages are competing for the same page rank. This will lower the value of each page individually.
4. Create Concise URLs.
Get down to the basics by having URLs that are descriptive, simple, and accurate. This will enable Google search bots to reach, crawl, and understand webpages. Use keywords if possible, but don’t make it look spamming by using them where they don’t belong. Use hyphens between words if it helps readability.
5. Write Useful SEO Titles.
An SEO title tag (aka meta title or page title) is an HTML element that specifies the title of a web page. The SEO title is NOT the same as the H1 title that visitors see at the top of the page. Rather, it’s the blue clickable title that appears on SERPs and in the browser window.
SEO titles help search engines (and users) understand what your page is about. They appear in three places: SERPs, Web browsers, and social networks. In these ways, it affects SEO, usability, and social sharing.
Tips for SEO titles include:
- Limit title tags to 55-60 characters so that Google doesn’t cut them off.
- For readability, make titles short, use simple words, and don’t use ALL caps.
- Use keywords if they make sense; if they don’t try “related” words.
- Give each of your webpages has a unique title.
Most content management systems, like WordPress, will let you create your own SEO title so that you don’t need to rely on Google to choose it for you.
6. Leverage On-Page Headings and Visual Hierarchy
Put time into your main H1 heading and H2 subheads. The hierarchy goes down to H6, but I rarely go below H3. Google uses our headlines to understand the purpose of the webpage, the content it includes, and how it fits into your domain. And, of course, its relevancy to a particular search.
Some tips for great headlines include:
- Keep your H1 subhead catchy, but without hype, to encourage click-through
- Deliver on what your heading implies about your content.
- Use keywords, but don’t overuse them.
- They should form a logical outline for the page content.
- Each subhead section should be distinct.
- Use subheads at least every few paragraphs (and keep paragraphs short).
READ OUR PRIMER: Write Great Internal Subheads for Better Online Performance
7. Prioritize Your Meta Description:
Your meta description (which is tagged a “metadata” on the back end) is what appears as the snippet in SERPs. It’s a key element to increase CTR. Content Management Systems like WordPress will enable you to create your own meta description. Otherwise, Google will typically use the first 155-160 words of the page. It’s much better for you to control the snippet so you can make use of keywords and copy designed for the greatest click-through—which isn’t always the case with the first few sentences that Google will grab.
8. Avoid Thin Content to Boost On-Page SEO.
To raise your authority (remember E-A-T), avoid “thin” webpages. Research suggests that content over 2000 words gets more top ten positions in Google search engine rankings. But these 2000 words must reflect quality and have relevance. Fluff and filler that add no value won’t do anything for SEO—and if they turn off users, your quality metrics will go down. Another way to extend content is by making smart use of internal links, demonstrating that you have expertise and depth of resources on the topic (see section below).
9. Develop and Internal Linking Strategy.
Linking to your own content can help tie pages together for both Google and your visitors, making each page more valuable. If you have an authoritative page and link to another page on your site, that helps your visitors find the other page and also passes on some authority. As you create new content, be sure to build a solid web of internal links so your pages can support one another. Also, don’t forget what we said at the start of this section:
RELATED READING: The Power of Internal Linking for SEO
10. Raise SEO Authority with Outbound Links.
By linking out to reputable websites in your niche, you show Google that you want to provide the greatest value to your visitors. In doing so, you raise your level of authority and create a better user experience. To do this, cite and link to the sources where you obtained your data, refer to studies and data from expert authors and websites, and refer them to additional external resources. Why they may temporarily leave your site, they’ll return if you have what they want. Plus, it can open doors and relationships with those you link out to.
RELATED READING: Understand Outbound Links—And Why You Need Them
11. Optimize Images.
Users will only wait 10-20 seconds at the most for pages to leads. If your pages are slow, your conversion will drop and bounce rates will rise. Anything that slows down your site (most of these are on the back end) is bad for SEO. Also, note that load times are slower on mobile—and more than 50% of searches come from mobile devices (varying by industry). Optimizing your images is a balance between compressing them (decreasing their file size) while still creating clean images for your readers. There are many image optimization apps and plugins, some free and some paid.
Related Reading from WPbeginner: How to Optimize Images for Web Performance without Losing Quality
12. Design for Mobile.
51% of searchers are more likely to purchase from a website that’s been optimized for mobile.
The number of people accessing your website will depend in part on your business and industry. But one thing you can be sure of is that, over time, you’ll see more and more mobile visitors. It’s important to improve their experience by optimizing for mobile.
The most important factor is to make sure that your site displays properly on all size devices, which calls for having a responsive website. There are many free tools you can use to test how your webpages display on desktops, mobile, and laptop devices. Other essentials for mobile-friendliness are using a large font size, use accessible menus that are easy to navigate on a smaller screen, and larger, easy-to-click CTA buttons.
One of the easiest ways to test your speed is with Google’s easy-to-use mobile testing tool and look at their other tips for speeding up load time. WordPress users can check out these tips for speeding up a WordPress site from WPBeginner.
13. Design for Accessibility.
Website accessibility refers to more than a typical user finding it easy to get onto your site and have a seamless user experience. It also refers to making your site usable for people with a wide variety of disabilities, including vision impairment, deafness, physical disabilities, motor impairment, cognitive disabilities, and more. It’s estimated that approximately 10% of the population has one or more of these disabilities, and there’s no reason why you wouldn’t want your site to be accessible to such a sizable group of potential customers.
Some things you can do to improve accessibility are:
- Fonts that are sufficiently large (at least 18 pts) and easy to read.
- High contrast between text and background
- Alt-text on images and other alternatives to video and multi-media
- Use descriptive URLs
- Use ARIA roles (Accessible Rich Internet Applications)
- Include keyboard navigation for those that can’t use a mouse for drop-downs, CTAs, dialog boxes, widgets, anchor-text, and other functional elements
14. Prepare for Voice Search.
Voice recognition technologies on smartphones and digital assistants have made voice searches skyrocket. In fact, by 2020, they will account for almost 30% of all searches—and even high for millennials. Create more keywords optimized for questions and phrases that sound like natural speech. This often calls for long-tail keywords that reflect how people speak, rather than the shorter phrases people type.
15. Consider the User’s Search Intent.
Google’s machine learning is refining the ability to more closely understand what users want. This requires a different type of SEO thinking. For example, you may want to attract people looking to buy a Honda Accord near Boston.
The keyword “Honda Accord” doesn’t make clear if it’s for people to what to buy an Accord, people who are comparing Accords to other sedans, people selling Honda Accords, or those looking for Honda dealers “near me.” This lack of clarity will make your keyword rank lower, get a lower click-through and bounce rate than if you use the keyword “ “Buy a Honda Accord in the Boston area.”
16. Remember Local SEO.
It’s a big—but common—mistake to ignore basic business information, especially if you have a local storefront business. Google takes this data into account when determining which companies to show for geo-targeted searches. There are several steps you can take if you’re targeting people in your local area, especially since “near me” is one of the most common search phrases on the web.
- Ensure your NAP profile information (name, address, phone number) is correct and consistent across all resources.
- Enter your NAP into local directories and/or industry-specific directories. InfoUSA, local chambers of commerce, the BBB, Yelp, Citysearch.com, 411.com, merchantcircle.com, etc. Some directories are paid but may be worth the expense.
- Placing business listings (and add reviews) on Google My Business and Facebook
- Including the right local search terms
Conclusion: Optimize for On-Page SEO is Worth the Effort.
SEO isn’t just for technical experts. It’s for anyone who wants their content to get a top page on Google and high click-through to their website. You don’t have to be a genius to be successful. Even a non-technical marketing can boost search results by optimizing on-page SEO. Just plan carefully, write well, and pay attention to the little things that will get Google and users to notice you. However, SEO isn’t any writer’s primary objective. Providing content to your user, with E-A-T and other factors (such as those listed above) are your most important priority.
If you decide your time is better spent elsewhere, call upon an expert copywriter who understands the value of on-page SEO and how to implement it.
Author: Amy Westebbe, Digital Content Strategist and Copywriter, Boston-based Westebbe Marketing
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