SEO Starter Guide: Improve Your On-Page SEO
Search Engine Optimization involves the use of strategies and tactics aimed at the increased visibility of a website via high-ranking placement in organic (non-paid) search engine results. Sounds complicated, right? Well, it can be, but even a little bit of knowledge can make a big impact.
There are approximately 4.7 billion webpages living on the internet according to The World Wide Web Size. There is literally so much crap on the floating around the web -- some estimates suggest up to 60% of those pages are spam -- so you’re going to have to do a little bit of work to stand out.
It should come as no surprise that higher-ranked pages attract more visitors, more qualified traffic and thus, see higher conversion rates than websites that are buried deep within the crevices of the interwebz. Not only are higher rankings crucial to your site’s visibility, it also instills trust that your content is relevant to the search. So if you really think about it, the success of your business hangs on the optimization of your website! No big deal!
But fear not, my friends.
This SEO starter guide will outline 7 areas you need to focus on to improve your on-page SEO. And you can do this all today! Right now!
What is SEO?
Well, there are two types of SEO:
- On-page SEO - what a site communicates to search engines
- Off-page SEO - what other sites say about a site.
Your rankings are determined by both and it can take months (or longer!) to see any progress.
The following areas are just a jumping off point for your SEO efforts. Each of these should seriously only take a few minutes of your time. Then you can get back to your Real Housewives marathon.
Create Unique, Accurate Page Titles
Page titles are arguably the most important factor in on-page SEO. The Title tag is the first description of the page that users see in SERPs, and it is important that it contain the keyword being searched for. An effective Title Tag can significantly improve your-click-through rate as well.
Page titles should effectively communicate the page’s content and therefore, every page should have a unique title tag. This helps search engines know how a particular page is distinct from other pages on your site.
- Keep it brief, yet informative. Google's actual guidelines limit the length of page titles to 512px wide. A good rule of thumb is to limit your title to 60 characters.
- Usability studies suggest that the ideal title is 7 to 8 words in length.
- Try to include keyword phrases of value and high search volumes in your Title Tag.
- Front-load your Title Tag. This is not a hard rule but Google puts more weight on keywords found at the beginning of your title.
If you want to see how your page will display in SERPs, check out SEOMofo's Google SERP snippet optimization tool.
Make Use of the "Description" Meta Tag
Think of the description meta tag as a summary of what the page is about. A successful meta description can positively affect your web page’s click-through rate in search engine results. Whereas a page title may only be a few words long, the meta description can be a few sentences.
The description meta tag is important because most search engines feature them as snippets beneath the title on the results page. And if a word the user is searching for lives inside your meta description, the word will appear in bold.
KEEP DESCRIPTIONS UNIQUE
Your most important pages should each have their own unique meta descriptions. For pages of lower importance or pages that aren't being indexed (think Privacy & Policy, Terms & Conditions, thank you pages, etc.) I wouldn't stress too much on having a meta description at all.
Former head of search spam at Google, Matt Cutts, has said that it is better to have unique meta descriptions or even no meta descriptions at all, than to show duplicate meta descriptions across pages.
Many content management systems like Squarespace or Wordpress will often take the first 150 characters or so from your post and use that as the page description. Great!
Like the title tag, your description should be succinct and explain the content of the page. Keep it short -- no more than 155 characters -- and include relevant keywords.
Improve the Structure of Your URL
A URL is a character string which your web browser uses to find and display a webpage. It is the entry point to any page and should be descriptive, yet succinct. Follow these general guidelines when contracting your URL:
SHORT & USER-FRIENDLY
I’m talking about human users here. The easier a URL can be read by a human, the better it is for search engines. Ever seen a link that looked something like this:
Try to use keywords in the URL to help indicate to users that the the link they are about to click will lead them to the destination they are trying to reach. A common rule to follow is to keep your URL length below 115 characters.
INCLUDE RELEVANT KEYWORDS
Choose a URL that effectively describes what the corresponding content is about. If your link is being shared without anchor text, the URL itself can serve as that anchor text.
USE SUBFOLDERS RATHER THAN SUBDOMAINS
Subdomains are treated as entirely separate domains.
subdomain.yoursite.comis different from
And it is best to keep the URL shallow, meaning not to have to many subfolders within subfolders. i.e.
HYPHENATE YOUR URL
In the past, underscores were a bit finicky for search engines however, this is no longer the case. Still, most would recommend you separate your words with hyphens instead of underscores. Not only is it the safer option, but it is also easier on the eyes and, let’s be real, image is everything!
Image alt text
I actually read somewhere that optimizing your image alt-text was optional.
Don’t forget about your images. Optimizing image filename and alt text makes it easier for robots to understand your images. In addition, if a user is visiting your site with a screen reader, the alt text will appear in its place.
Search engines can't "see" your images (well, maybe Facebook can so your alt text should describe the image to the user.
Your CMS should make this easy for you. Ideally, the alt text and filename will include targeted keywords but at the very least, both attributes need to be descriptive of the image.
Write better anchor text
I will admit that in the past I’ve been guilty of not being more descriptive. Ideal anchor text will provide a basic idea of what the user will get if they click on the link.
The most important site you need to be linking to is your own! Internal linking helps your visitors navigate around your site and consume more of your content. It is also essentially a map for bots to follow as it crawls your site (these are good bots).
You can analyze your internal links if you’ve got a Google Analytics account. If you need help getting started, sign up and then check out this article on successful Google Analytics implementation. Then, head on over to the search console to find your list.
The top linked pages should be your most important pages (most likely the links you’ve got in your navbar).
Linking to another page is a sort of endorsement of the linked page’s quality. After all, you wouldn’t link to another site if you didn’t truly find value in their content, right? Follow these guidelines when including outside links within your own content:
- Link to other trustworthy sites. Avoid linking to spammy sites to maintain the trustworthiness of your site.
- Link to pages with relevant content. This just makes sense.
- Include targeted keywords in the anchor text. The anchor text should be descriptive of the page it points to.
- Make sure outbound links are working. There are a few link checkers out there that will do this for you. If you come across any broken links, remove or change them.
- Include “nofollow" for affiliate links or other links that out of your control. Setting the link “rel” attribute to “nofollow” tells search engines not to pass your page’s reputation to the page that is being linked. This is super useful if you’ve got commenting enabled on your site.
Need some clarity on the "nofollow" stuff?
A site's ranking in Google search results is partly based on analysis of those sites that link to it. In order to prevent paid links from influencing search results and negatively impacting users, we urge webmasters use nofollow on such links.
Offer Quality Content and Services
This is a no-brainer and unfortunately, there is no secret or shortcut for this step. You’ve got to write engaging and effective content.
Your content should:
- Be easily digestible - there are tools out there that can quantify the readability of your content.
- Be of value to your readers - think about what users might search for in order to find your content. You can use Google’s Keyword Planner or Buzzsumo.
- Solve a problem - users are either looking to purchase something, looking to navigate to a specific site, or looking for information; how to, when is, how much, etc.
- Contain targeted keywords (forget the keyword density myth)
- Be targeted primarily toward your users!
The fruits of your SEO labor can sometimes take months to show progress but you can optimize your on-page SEO by making sure your site is consistently structured in a way that search engines understand.
Although there is no secret sauce that’ll launch you to the top of the search results, following the best practices outlined above will make it easier for search engines to crawl, index and understand your content.
Lastly, try not to obsess over optimizing your content solely for search engines. Remember, real humans will also be consuming what you put out there so you need to make sure you are giving them what they are looking for.