Every site should start with great content. But that only gets you so far.
To really sell your site to your target audience, you will need on-page SEO.
Anyone looking to gain organic traffic needs to drop what they’re doing and read this comprehensive on-page SEO guide.
Here you’ll learn the basics of SEO and find actionable strategies to expand your readership.
What Is On-Page SEO?
There are two types of SEO: on-page and off-page.
On-page SEO is how you optimize a website from within. You can restructure pages, edit the content, improve your headings, change the URL, and adjust the HTML.
Basically, it concerns all the factors that you have control over.
In that sense, it’s the complete opposite of off-page SEO which mostly refers to building backlinks and marketing. While you can launch strategies to improve the odds of success, the result is ultimately out of your hands.
This post will focus on on-page SEO.
Search engines want sites to be useful and engaging for their users. That’s why they have algorithms in place to keep poor content out of their SERPs.
On-page SEO is the first step to satisfying both Google and site visitors. A proper on-page strategy will address issues that hamper the user experience.
In the end, you want your website to be informative, easy to understand and navigate through, fast, and relevant to user queries.
And the following tips will help you achieve just that.
On-Page SEO Techniques for You to Follow
Below are some of the guiding principles behind on-page SEO. A better understanding of these factors will help you build a site that’s designed for visibility online.
Research Your Focus Keyword
It’s all about keywords.
You can’t publish posts without targeting a primary keyword.
Ask yourself: What search terms do you want to rank for? What information does my audience need? What keywords are my readers using to find the answers I have to offer?
Optimizing your pages based on keyword research will drive traffic to your site.
To determine what keywords to use, you will first need to know what and why they’re conducting a search to begin with.
In SEO, there’s a concept called search intent. The idea is to find out the reason behind a search query. And based on that reason, you’ll have a better grasp of the keywords used.
There are four types of search intent:
The most basic type. The user is looking for information in the form of instructions, blogs, news, and the like.
The user is looking for a domain and needs Google to pinpoint where it is. People who Google “The Washington Post” are most likely looking for its homepage.
The terms that fall under this category indicate a desire to purchase a product but need more data. They’re looking for reviews, product comparisons, spec sheets, or any other information that’ll lead to a sale.
People who are ready to buy will use transactional search terms to find a product. They’re usually preempted by the word “buy” like “buy new iPhone” or “buy toaster online”.
Is your site providing information? Or are you trying to sell something?
Knowing what your site is setting up to accomplish will help you determine the kinds of keywords you should be targeting.
It may come as no surprise that generic search terms are harder to rank for. The reason is simple: the more a keyword is used, the more pages are built to rank for that term.
So keyword length will play a huge role in how you structure your pages.
A keyword will likely fall in one of three categories:
Usually consists of 1-2 words. These are hard to rank for because they’re generally vague and sought after.
They are 3 words on average. They fall in between a head term and a long tail keyword. It has the advantage of targeting other keywords in your LSI (more on that later).
These consist of 4 words or more. There are fewer searches made for terms in this category. But that also means they’re easier to rank for.
There’s no rule that says you only have to optimize pages for one category. A good mix of all three might even be beneficial.
It all boils down to your on-page strategy. What keywords do you need to prioritize?
Using head terms on the homepage is common practice. Medium tail terms are present in the upper tier landing pages. Long tail keywords are used on smaller pages like blog posts and articles.
If there’s a long tail keyword you’d like a homepage to rank for, you can use that instead.
Where can you find keywords anyway? Where would you conduct your research?
You have several options.
The easiest way would be through the Google Keyword Planner Tool, an application that falls under the Google Ads umbrella.
You will need to set up a free account to get started.
Log in using your Google account and follow the on-screen instructions.
You’re going to be asked to provide your business information among other details. Once done, you will be given access to the Keyword Planner Tool.
The dashboard will display the basic settings. To expand the view, click Settings and select Switch to Expert Mode.
When asked to confirm your selection, select Switch to Expert Mode again.
This will change your dashboard to introduce additional features. Go to Tools and Settings and select Keyword Planner Tool.
Now you can do two things. You can either find keyword ideas or get search volume and forecasts. Both would bring you to the tool itself with slight variations on the default settings based on the option you select.
Enter a base keyword to begin your journey. Think of your site’s main topic (if you’re a blog) or product (if you’re a seller).
Next, you’ll be shown the average monthly searches for the keyword you entered. Right below it would be keyword ideas you can use.
You can use the filters to refine the results. You can also change the location you’re targeting to dial in on your target market.
But Google’s Keyword Tool does have limitations. The results, for example, are limited and does not provide you as many keywords as other keyword tools.
Ahrefs is an alternative if you need better keyword suggestions. The only caveat is that it isn’t free. But if you’re really invested, it’s definitely worth paying for.
After signing up for an account, click Keywords Explorer in the navigation bar.
Enter your target keyword in the search box and hit Search when you’re done.
This will prompt Ahrefs to deliver you an overview of your search term.
Scroll down and you’ll find suggested keywords you can target.
Click View All if you want to see the entire list.
As with Google’s Keyword Tool, you can filter the results to get a better sense of your keyword options. Pillar keywords and pillar posts can help you to identify and manage your highest-priority topics, and can inform how you structure the rest of your site, too.
Optimize Your Metadata
Your metadata will tell both Google and your readers what your page is all about. And because search engines use this information to rank your pages, this would also be the ideal place to insert your target keywords.
What comprises the metadata?
There are three main components:
- Title Tags – These are given the most weight and the first thing users see on the SERPs.
- Meta Descriptions – Contains additional information to complement the title tag.
- txt – An HTML file on your site that tells search engines where to look for your metadata.
We’ll be focusing on title tags and meta descriptions for now.
You’ve likely seen them in action when performing a Google search.
How Metadata Affects Search Results
Your meta tags will have a profound effect on your search rankings. The key to ranking higher involves everything you’ve read so far.
Keyword research. User intent. Metadata.
Take the results below as an example.
A search for “Rent Los Angeles apartment” delivers mostly results for the keyword “Apartments for rent in Los Angeles”.
But alter the search term a bit and the results get drastically different.
Your meta titles and descriptions affect rankings. The results for transactional keywords won’t be displayed on informational queries.
The metadata relays to Google what your site is all about.
If users are looking to rent apartments, only results that help that purpose will be shown. And if users are only looking to find information, transactional pages are omitted.
Keep in mind:
A transactional page can also contain information that’s beneficial for users. But in our example, the meta titles and descriptions are clearly targeting potential customers.
The same thing can be said for the informational query example.
There are different ways to edit your metadata. Technically, all metadata can be edited by making tweaks to your HTML.
You simply need to insert the metadata in the right spot in the code.
Your meta title and meta description should be inserted in the <head> section of your HTML code.
Here’s what your typical metadata looks like in code.
Editing Your Metadata
Here’s a closer look.
If you’re unfamiliar with how coding works, you better consult with your web designer. Although editing your metadata should be quite easy.
Fortunately, most websites today use a content management system or CMS. These would be your WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, and other similar web building platforms.
These CMS have dedicated sections where you can control your metadata information. In the case of WordPress, there are plugins you can install to make the task easier.
And while each tool is different, they usually something like this:
They are usually found in the Edit Post section, above or below the area where you draft your post.
Edit URL Structure
A long URL just doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s even worse when the URL is reduced to a long string of characters devoid of any meaning.
So how should you structure your URL?
It should have the target keyword inserted and kept as short as possible.
This can be a challenge for sites that feature a lot of SKUs. But smaller sites like blogs, maintaining a clean URL structure better be common practice.
Your CMS should have an option for updating your URL. In WordPress, this can be found just under your post title.
Clicking Edit will allow you to make changes to the URL of the page you’re publishing. Do note that you can’t change the domain name, only the extension.
But why the fuss?
Google also uses URLs to determine what a page is about. So a clean URL helps them to accomplish its goals.
That is also the reason why your main keyword should be present in the URL.
This practice is not going to automatically rank your pages higher in the SERPs but it will definitely help you get there.
Publish Quality Content
Time is gold. And so is content.
What you put in your landing pages increase your visibility on Google. Especially if the information you put out there is invaluable to readers.
But as previously mentioned, you can’t put out articles willy-nilly. They need to adhere to on-page SEO practices.
And keep in mind, content covers a lot of ground. It not only refers to written copy. Videos, podcasts, still images, GIFs, white papers, and other forms of media are also considered content.
When writing content, remember this:
You’re trying to appease both readers and search engines.
Mistakes happen when the content is focused on manipulating Google by stuffing keywords. Not that keywords are bad. But there are times when sites overdo keyword usage that even readers begin to notice.
Take this site for example:
Not only is the site called Build Muscle, almost every heading on the homepage includes the words “build muscle”.
The site owner is clearly trying to rank for that exact term. But this is not the way you go about it.
The links, you can say, feel so inorganic.
This is a bad attempt at SEO. If done the right way, more thought should have been given to the flow of the article. On the plus side, you can take steps to repurpose your old content if it missed the mark.
Break Down Content With Headings
Headings break down posts into manageable sections. They also provide Google an overview of what the article is all about.
Search engines crawl pages so it can index pages properly. Headings are just one of the things they look at for additional data.
So headings are also a great place to insert keywords since Google finds them important.
Adding headings is easy. Here’s how you do it.
If you’re doing it through HTML, insert the heading tags (<H1>, </H1) followed by the heading itself.
But most CMS have a visual editor where you can highlight text and assign them as a heading.
Either way, inserting headings is not a difficult task.
Only Publish Fresh Content
To pump out more articles, some sites resort to copying articles and using them as their own. This is a big no-no in the SEO world.
Google has ways of finding duplicate content. Even when the content is only modified in the slightest, the chances of getting hurt is always there.
So why not start from scratch?
Stealing content not only prevents you from ranking higher, but it also dampens your brand.
Heather Lloyd-Martin is a prominent SEO with a good following. Naturally, her blogs get some traction. Like her post on convincing clueless SEO prospects.
It’s unfortunate that other sites steal her content and use them on their own sites.
Heather’s work has been lifted word for word.
But fortunately, the offending site is not ranking in Google. Even if you search for the post’s title itself.
So how would you know if your content had been stolen?
You can use a site like Copyscape to check if your article had been duplicated elsewhere.
The tool is free to use although you’d have to upgrade to a premium account if you exceeded the maximum amount of searches per domain.
Using it is simple. Enter the post’s URL and let Copyscape do its thing.
If there are duplicate articles, then Copyscape would display them in the results.
Make Spiders Read Your Images Better
Search engines crawl pages and read the content. This is done by what the SEO community refers to as spiders.
The problem with spiders is that they can’t contextualize images and other forms of media.
But there is a way around this.
By adding alt text in images, you’re able to tell Google what the image is and how it should be indexed.
This way, your image can be associated with your target keyword.
If you’re doing it through HTML, you will have to insert the alt tag within the embed code.
A normal embed code would look like this:
<img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-292″ src=”https://sampledomain.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/sample-image.png” width=”100″ height=”100″ />
But with an alt tag, it should look something like this:
<img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-292″ src=”https://sampledomain.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/sample-image.png” alt=”Add your alt text here” width=”100″ height=”100″ />
Note the section in bold. This is where you add keywords that best describe your image.
It gets even easier on WordPress. You can add alt text as soon as you upload your image.
You can also edit images in posts by clicking on them and selecting the Edit button.
This would bring up a window where you can add an alt text if there isn’t one already.
Make your alt text as descriptive as possible. Use keywords when applicable.
Link Out to Right Pages
There are two kinds of links you can add to your site: internal and external.
Adding both helps point readers to the kind of information they’re looking for.
But internal links have another purpose. They pass off link juice to your other pages.
What is link juice, you ask?
It’s an SEO term that refers to the value that’s being handed down from one page to the next through links.
Linked content are seen as important pages. Think about it: you wouldn’t link to a page that has no value, right?
By linking your internal pages, you’re telling Google that those pages have value and should be indexed.
In the example above, an internal link is inserted that points to a related page in Moz’s blog section.
External links tell readers that you care about them by referencing outside sources that provide more information. They can also be used when citing sources so you seem even more credible when publishing posts.
But don’t overdo your link building. Have too many and your content will appear spammy.
Improve Keyword Density
Think of it this way:
It’s good to have a high keyword density as long as the quality of the article is not compromised.
Otherwise, Google will penalize you for keyword stuffing.
As alluded to earlier, Google likes content that’s designed to reach a human audience. It means your content should have a natural flow when read.
Certain keywords can be disruptive to that process, especially those that are placed forcibly.
Posts should connect with the audience.
There are tools online that can help you check if you’re being too liberal with your keywords.
Small SEO Tools, for example, has one where you can just enter your URL along with your keywords.
Prepost SEO also has its own version that works the same way.
WordPress users might want to download a plugin like Yoast SEO which has a tool built that checks keyword density.
It will check your keyword density based on what target keyword you’ve entered.
If you find that you’ve used the keyword too many times, you’ll need to remove those keywords or use a keyword variant, whichever feels more apt at the time of writing.
Ideally, you want your keyword density to sit under five percent.
Use LSI Keywords
LSI (latent semantic indexing) keywords are a great solution when you find yourself adding your primary keyword too many times.
These LSI keywords are words and phrases that are closely related to your main keyword.
For example, you’re using Samsung Galaxy as your main keyword. If Google sees LSI keywords Android, new phone, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, camera, and other words or phrases like that, it knows your content is about mobile phones.
If you type in your keyword on Google, you’d likely see auto-complete suggestions. These would be a good place to start your search for strong LSI keywords.
However, if you want to be more methodical about it, there are other ways to gather enough LSI keywords for your post.
LSI Graph, for instance, finds keywords fast. Just type in your keyword and hit Generate.
In seconds you can have a list of LSI keywords. The paid version will open up more features and data.
You can also use Ahrefs to do the job for you.
Sign up for an account then log in. You’ll find Keywords Explorer in the navigation bar. Click it.
This would bring up the Keywords Explorer tool. Here you can type your main keyword. It will then proceed to deliver keywords, some of which are LSI.
LSI keywords give your article more context that is fantastic for your on-page SEO. This also opens the door to ranking for other search terms as well.
Use Structured Data
How you structure your data can also have an effect on how well you rank. Remember, it’s all about user experience with Google.
You can add ordered/unordered lists, tables, review stars, and other means of making your content more presentable to your audience.
You can add all these elements through HTML by using the appropriate tags. It does get tricky though especially if you’re a novice.
The table tags, for example, would normally look like this:
<th>Your 1st Header</th>
<th>Your 2nd Header</th>
<td>First Cell Content</td>
<td>Second Cell Content</td>
So HTML wouldn’t be the ideal solution. However, CMS users have more options.
For WordPress users, you can install plugins like TablePress that will make inserting tables much easier.
With WP Review, you can add a rating system that you can control when you’re logged into WordPress.
Ordered and unordered lists can be configured from the visual panel.
There’s also another structuring tool that hasn’t been mentioned yet which is schema markup.
Schema markup is additional data you can add to a post so search engines can better represent them in the SERPs.
These can come in the form of a rating system, publishing date, author name, and any other information users might find useful while browsing the results page.
It will give you a report that shows errors and warnings (if any are found).
Note: You will only be able to make changes to the schema markup if you’re a verified site owner.
Make Your Site Load Faster
Nobody likes a slow website.
Google hates it so much, in fact, that they’ve started penalizing websites that can’t keep up. And since more and more users are using phones to search, Google is now using page speed as a ranking factor in mobile search.
SEO guru Neil Patel has confirmed the importance of page speed in his extensive research.
He concludes that the top results in the SERPs typically have faster load times.
In a separate case study, Radware reports that most users abandon their shopping carts because of slow load times.
The report further claims that a two-second delay in the checkout process led to an increase in abandon rates (up by 87% from the baseline rate of 67%).
So, if you want to maximize the traffic you generate from ranking on search engines, you need to shore up your load time.
It helps in improving the user experience and keeps customers from bouncing away from your site.
Google has a tool called PageSpeed Insights. It can measure the page of a site on either mobile or desktop.
You simply enter the URL of the page you want to check and the tool does the rest.
PageSpeed delivers a list of suggestions you could perform for you to improve your site’s performance.
Expanding each error will show you more details about the issue.
It will also display a list of areas you got right.
Moving to a New Hosting Platform
Slow servers mean slow websites. So you better do some research before you choose a web hosting platform.
You want to look at user reviews. Do the servers go down frequently? Is customer service responsive?
There are tons of web hosting solutions in the market. Some are purposely built to be great at one thing (good for WordPress, best customer support, etc.).
Use a Caching System
Caching is important because it creates a static version of your page. This way, users would be able to load a site faster.
WordPress users have the option of installing plugins that cache their site. An example would be WP Super Cache.
Once the plugin is installed and activated, it should start caching immediately.
You can try testing the cache if you want to be sure that everything’s up and running. Or you can delete your cache if you run into any issue with cached pages.
Optimize Image File Size
Images, especially high-resolution ones, can take a long time to load. So to avoid that, you’ll have to optimize your images and bring down the file size.
You can do this manually through software like Adobe Photoshop right before you upload. The program’s Save for the Web feature lets you fine-tune the settings so the file size is as low as possible.
Or you can go online and use online tools like ShortPixel to compress your images.
Back in the day, sites would develop a mobile version of their sites so they can load properly on phones and tablets.
That should no longer be the case today.
Your site should be mobile friendly out of the box. This means the site should be able to adapt to any screen size.
WordPress users can use themes like Genesis to make your site mobile friendly.
If you’re not using a CMS that offers responsive themes, then you would have to get in touch with a web developer to help you out.
And you need to do it fast.
The longer your site is not responsive, the further you go down the SERPs.
A company called Offspring found out that their lack of mobile responsiveness led to poor user experience. After fixing that, they felt an immediate surge in rankings (102.58% uplift in mobile/tablet revenue year on year).
Improve Conversion Rate
How are your visitors interacting with your site?
Getting eyes on your pages is one thing, but analyzing how users navigate through your site is just as important.
Where do readers go? At what point do they leave your site? For e-commerce sites, is there anything about the checkout process that confuses your customers? How good is your conversion rate?
These are just some of the questions you need to answer.
In Google Analytics you can set goals so you can track website conversions.
Select New Goal to start a new one.
In the next screen, set up your goal details. Create a name and configure the rest of the settings.
Google Search Console, on the other hand, lets you identify which pages are drawing the most attention.
From the Search Console dashboard, click Performance.
This will display your total clicks, impressions, and other details that will give you a better idea of how the site is performing.
Scroll down a bit and you’ll find a couple of tabs. Click Pages.
Here you’ll find the top pages on your site.
The Queries tab will show you which keywords are landing users to your site.
Search Console has a lot more features to offer that can help analyze your site. So feel free to explore the tool once you have it installed.
A Quick Section About Local SEO
Local businesses need to pay attention to their local SEO. It allows them to rank for location-specific search database. Local citations are the driving force behind local SEO.
Here’s how you can optimize for local SEO.
Google My Business
Sign up for a Google My Business account. Don’t worry: it’s free.
After logging in, you’ll be asked to enter your business name, address, and other information.
At the end of the setup, you will need to verify your business on Google. You can do this by postcard, by phone, or by email. You can also use instant or bulk verification.
NAP stands for name, address, and phone number. You need to add these on important pages on your site.
You should be using a consistent NAP. Use the same NAP you provided Google during the registration process.
Add NAP to your schema.org markup so Google can crawl it.
You can use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper to accomplish this.
Select a category (local business) then enter the URL of your site. Click Start Tagging.
Highlight your business name and select Name from the pop-up menu.
Do the same thing for the address, phone number, email then select the appropriate category for each one.
Embed Google Maps
You should also insert a Google Map on your site. This is easy to do.
Go to Google Maps and type your business name or address. Open the Menu and click Share or Embed Map.
You will then be given an embed link you can add to your site.
Perform Site Audit
A site audit will give you an overview of the issues that are plaguing your site.
You can hire outside help to do this but know that you can perform one on your own.
The best free tool to do this is Screaming Frog.
After installation, enter your URL and click Start.
By browsing through the different tabs, you’ll be able to see the status of each page. It will also show if errors had been encountered during the crawl.
If the status says OK, then you don’t have anything to worry about.
You can also use Screaming Frog to check your meta titles and descriptions.
Viewing all the data from within the tool can be difficult. What you can do instead is export data and view it as a spreadsheet.
Simply click the Export button and select a destination to download.
The tool also allows you to check your internal linking. Select a URL and see where it was linked from and the anchor text used.
The same also goes for outbound links (so you can check for broken links).
The free version of Screaming Frog is limited to 500 crawls. So if you want to use the tool more frequently in the future, you should consider upgrading to the paid version.
A solid on-page SEO strategy is important if you want to succeed in your online venture.
Your strategy needs to be consistent. This is not something you can set and forget. You need to continuously update your site so that search engines would rank you better.
Keep yourself up to date with the latest trends on on-page SEO. Google’s Webmaster Blog is a good resource.
So regardless if you’re running a blog, a news site, a review site, an online store, or any other kind of site, on-page SEO should be your priority.