SEO and digital marketing are tough eggs to crack, and that’s because the field of online marketing is constantly shifting and evolving as algorithms change, goals shift, and search engine giants change their content agendas. This is especially true of on-page SEO, which is at the center of many SEO strategies and makes up the bulk of your page’s staying power.
Say you’re trying to make your own page stand out, target keywords with a laser focus, optimize the bejeezus out of it and give it the power to maintain and improve its search ranking for years to come.
So, what exactly should you do if you’re optimizing for the best SEO rankings? There’s a lot of ground to cover, and any bit of it is going to help you stand out. But let’s start with the basics.
Table of Contents
- 1 Keywords
- 2 Titles, Meta-Descriptions and URLs
- 3 Content is King
- 4 Final Overview
That’s right, keywords. If you’ve ever looked at anything even remotely referencing SEO, then you’ve heard the term being thrown around like smoothies at an open-top blender convention. It’s not for no reason though. Keywords are the bread, butter, meat and cheese of any on-page SEO strategy. If nothing else, you should have good keywords. But more importantly, you should follow the secret guidelines laid out by search engine algorithms.
More Keywords! But Not Too Many!
It wasn’t that long ago that the online marketing industry centered around maximizing the number of keywords on your page. The more keywords, the higher you showed up on the search engines. But if you tried this today, you’d quickly plummet straight to the bottom.
Keywords are a balancing act and making sure you have exactly the right ratio can be a challenge. For the most part, search engines are trying to find sites where the keywords blend naturally into the page’s content. Frontloading, backloading, and stuffing as many keywords as possible into your content is frowned upon. The search engine lets you know this quite clearly as it drops your search ranking off a cliff.
If you’re unsure how many times you should load up your keywords, and you’re after maximum optimization, then there are a bevy of tools available to tell you just that. You can find more information on tools over here.
As a rule of thumb, roughly 1.5% of your content should be keywords, and you should have your main keyword in both the first and last paragraph.
Keyword is a bit of a deceptive term. A more accurate one would be key-phrases. The most effective keywords are rarely single words. For local sites or niche sites, the most effective are often so-called long-tail keywords.
Long-tail keywords are generally entire search queries, designed to catch the people who make those specific queries. An example of a long-tail keyword would be “what are the best guitars that won’t break the bank?” These keywords are far more specific than general ones such as “best guitars.” This means that search engines will prioritize the long-tail keyword that matches the visitor’s search query over the nonspecific and generalized keyword.
Using long-tail keywords allows you to compete over a large number of longer keywords to compete for a large number of smaller groups of potential visitors and advertisers, whereas using generalized keywords have you competing with industry giants and big-name advertisers over one keyword. Often, these longer keywords will contain multiple smaller keywords as well, maximizing your keyword usage efficiency.
Search engines such as Google used to only take into account the number of keywords. However, more recently, they’ve changed their algorithm to take visibility into account as well.
What this means is that how visible your keywords are has a noticeable effect on your search rankings. If your keywords are the same color as your background, then Google will just ignore them. The same is true for other very low contrasts, the hidden tag, or the visibility property.
This is due to blackhat SEO, which took advantage of all of the sly tricks mentioned above to boost rankings by stuffing invisible keywords.
However, it also works the other way. If your keywords are placed in a “strong” tag, then they’ll seem more important to Google. The same is true if they’re italicized. But the most important keywords are the ones placed in headers. Headers are seen as the most important elements on your page by Google, so having at least one keyword in each header can have a noticeable effect on your SEO.
Titles, Meta-Descriptions and URLs
Two often overlooked aspects of on-page SEO are page titles and meta descriptions. Overlooking these can be a huge mistake for your digital marketing effort. Another commonly overlooked component of SEO is the page’s URL.
So, how can you make an effective title and a gripping meta-desc, as well as a compelling URL?
Judging a Page by its Title
The title of your page is important. It not only gives search engines more information about your page, it also tells potential visitors what to expect from your page. The page’s title is easily the second most important element for online marketing and on-page SEO; behind only the page’s content itself. It’s also one of the easiest SEO elements to use effectively.
Your title will appear in three key locations after you’ve set it.
- The Browser Window.
- The Search Results Page.
- External Links.
Only the second of these is particularly relevant for on-page SEO. The last is more relevant to backlinks and social media campaigns. The first being a simple user-experience improvement.
So, let’s focus on that second location.
When you set your page’s title tag, that title will show up in search results as the text of the link leading to your page. This means that your title is often a potential visitor’s very first impression of your site.
So, how can you make sure that their first impression is a good one?
Titles are meant to accurately and concisely describe the content of a page. Above all other aspects of your title, you should make sure it at least does that. So if your page is about the cutest dogs, for example, you want your title to reflect that.
You also want your title to appear relevant to search engines. While this usually goes hand-in-hand with making it relevant to your content, it helps to use keywords in your titles to help you reach higher rankings, not to mention that if someone searches for those keywords, they’ll be highlighted in your title.
There are a couple other factors you’ll want to keep in mind while you’re building a title as well.
The first is the title’s length. Don’t make your title too long, or it will be cut off. 70 characters is the maximum length that will show up in Google’s search results, and anything more will be snipped. If you do have a longer title, make sure that the important words are close to the beginning. Placing keywords close to the beginning of a title also means that search engines will find those keywords more important.
Another useful trick is to place your brand name at the beginning or end of your title depending on how authoritative your website is. If you’re a high-authority website with good brand recognition, it will be reinforced by having your brand name at the beginning. But if you’re a smaller website that puts more focus on the content than themselves, putting it at the end will still make you recognizable, but will show viewers the content they want to see at the forefront.
Make sure to consider how readable the title is, and how much impact it has. An unreadable title or one that reads like it was written by a robot will dissuade potential visitors. But a compelling title, with what I like to call a high “oomph” value, will pull in visitors and have them intrigued by your content before they even see it. You want your readers to be interested in your content and invested in what you have to say. You don’t want to look like you’re trying too hard to rank on search engines. It will make your site seem disingenuous.
Meta-desc For Your Meta Desk
If your title is someone’s first impression of your page and its content, your meta description is their second. It gives a more comprehensive description of your page’s content and allows potential readers to get a better feel for what you’ve got in store. If the title is your bait, then the meta description should be your hook. The potential visitor is intrigued, so now your goal is to get them to bite.
So let’s dive into how you can make an effective meta description.
When you create a meta description, it will only ever show up in one place. That one place is in search results, where it will be displayed just below your title. Potential visitors will see it in a small grey textbox, and it provides a finishing touch to their first impression of your site.
Think of your meta-desc as an extension of your title. Your title describes what your page is about, but your meta description should describe what’s actually on the page. So if your title is “The Top Ten Most Adorable Dogs!” then your meta-desc could be something along the lines of: “In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the ten most adorable dogs, and giving you a detailed look into what makes them so cute.”
Your meta-desc should be relevant to your content and give an accurate description of the page. But it should also appear relevant to search engines. You can accomplish that by adding a keyword or two to your meta-desc. If someone searches for that keyword and it shows up in your meta-desc, then it will be highlighted, showing them that your page is relevant.
Of course, you’ll also need to consider the length of your meta description. 156 characters is generally where it gets cut off, so any longer than that is a bit pointless. You’ll want to make the most of the description space you do have, and be certain to place keywords near the beginning for maximum effect. Search engines will like this, and so will potential visitors.
Naturally, one of the most important aspects of your meta description is whether or not it’s readable. You will get a far higher click-through-rate if your meta description is engaging and well-written. So trying to manipulate it by stuffing keywords is a quick way to lose ranking and visitors. You need to have extra “oomph” in your meta description because it’s what really sells the click.
My Name is URL
So, your title is beautifully written, and your page’s meta description is crafted for maximum effect. But what about your URL?
Chances are if you haven’t done anything to change it, your article URLs look something like “mywebsite.com/blog.php?view_post=32”
This is an example of a bad URL. What you really want is a CMS that allows prettier URLs, such as “mywebsite.com/top-ten-most-adorable-dogs”
But why do you want “pretty” URLs? The answer is pretty simple: Both people and search engines will find them easier to read.
If your URL is a string of random characters or a post number, it’s not likely that search engines will care about it, and viewers may have to go through a bit of hassle to share it. However, if your URL is a string of words that describe your page, separated by dashes, then it’s easier to remember the URLs of specific pages, and search engines may even rank you higher.
Moreover, if your page’s URL has keywords in it, then you’ve also got extra SEO firepower, because it will be highlighted in search results, and will give you a higher ranking. Often, you can get away with a URL that’s identical to your page title.
This doesn’t just extend to your individual pages though. A relevant domain name containing a keyword can be extremely beneficial for coming up higher in search results and increasing your “oomph” value.
If someone’s searching for “cutest dogs” they’re going to prefer “cutestdogs.com” to “mypetwebsite.com.”
Content is King
In 2018, keywords aren’t nearly as important as content. Your on-page SEO strategy should involve using keywords almost solely to point search engines toward rich content. But what exactly does this mean?
Alt-tags are a simple concept, but they can really help to boost your SEO. At their core, they’re simply a tag you can add to images in order to describe them. This allows the visually impaired to know the content of an image without being able to see it, and, more importantly for our needs, allows search engines to categorize the image.
Using keywords in alt-tags allows you to tell search engines that you have an image of something that someone is searching for. This makes your site seem more important to them because they prefer rich multi-media content over pure text.
Other tricks for optimizing image SEO include using keywords in the name of your image, as well as title tags which show up on mouseover. Each of these gives your image just a little more authority.
Video Killed the SEO Star
Search engines love videos. Having videos embedded on your site can increase its authority, especially if that video has a lot of views.
But if you’re after an increase in SEO, you should make sure the embedded video has a title with one of your desired keywords, as well as tags with your keywords. This will make your video appear far more relevant to search engines.
Images are Important
To reiterate: Images are important. Right, so we’ve got that squared away. But why are images important? Well, images can provide extra SEO power through alt-tags, but they can also increase your ranking just by existing.
If you have an image on your page, search engines see your page as being, you guessed it, more important. Search engines absolutely love multimedia. They especially love consistent multimedia. Images should be optimized with compression and resized as well as cropped to match other images both on this page, and across your entire site. This increases your search ranking by a bit, but it also does something that may be more important: It makes your site look nicer.
External and Internal Links
Links may seem like more of an off-page SEO consideration, but there’s quite a lot that you’ll be doing with links that relate to your on-page digital marketing plans.
External links are the main kind that you need to worry about. When you link a site externally, you’re giving a bit of your website’s search power to them. The less authoritative their site, the more you give up. However, it also works the other way. If you link to an extremely authoritative site, such as Wikipedia, your own site’s credibility may actually increase.
If you want to link to a smaller website that isn’t quite as popular as Wikipedia without losing any of your own credibility, then you’ll want to do it with a nofollow link. Nofollow links are simply ignored by search engines, meaning that you don’t lose any credibility, and they don’t gain any. If you allow users to leave comments anywhere on your site, you’ll want to make sure all the links are set to nofollow.
Internal links aren’t any risk to your site’s credibility, but they can help boost it and your search ranking. If you link to other relevant pages on your page, then that page’s credibility may increase, as will the search power of the linked pages. The effect is extremely small, but it can add up quickly.
However, there is one more type of link that can be useful. They’re not called links very often anymore, so you may know them as social media buttons or social media widgets. They’re buttons which allow you to share pages via social media, or go to your social media profiles. Since they link to social media sites, which often have high authority and credibility, you can sometimes get a little boost just from having them.
One useful trick for all types of links is setting their “target” attribute to “_blank” which forces the link to open in a new tab or window. This can increase the amount of time that a visitor stays on your page. The longer a visitor stays on your page, the more credibility that your site gets.
On-page SEO is incredibly important for keeping your rank, retaining visitors, and more. Using these methods doesn’t just make your site seem more attractive to search engines, it also makes your site seem more attractive to potential visitors.
SEO on its own isn’t what makes a website show up on the first page. It helps to massively increase your click-through-rate and the amount of time that viewers stay on your website. Those two factors are the real drivers behind your website’s rank, and there’s one more trick that can help you out in that regard more than any technical SEO tricks.
Create Compelling Content
It’s incredibly challenging to trick search engines. This is why SEO is such a complex field. But on-site SEO algorithms are designed to look for one thing in specific, and that’s compelling and well-written content.
Naturally, if you already create compelling, well-written content that engages viewers and keeps them hooked, then more technical on-site SEO is just an extra little boost to help you stay on top.