SEO Starter Guide: Improve Your On-Page SEO
On-page SEO is the practice of optimizing individual web pages in order to rank higher in organic search engine results. Higher-ranked pages attract more visitors, more qualified traffic and, see higher conversion rates. Use this SEO Starter Guide to improve your on-page SEO.
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.
Choosing the Right Keywords
Without keywords, there’s no SEO. So choosing the right keywords for your webpages is kind of a big deal. But it doesn’t have to be such a daunting task and you don’t need to be a Keyword Research expert to get your pages ranked.
Instead of worrying about what Google Keyword Planner is telling you about search volume, try focusing on topics, searcher intent, synonyms, and long tail keywords.
Understanding Searcher Intent
Search queries can generally be classified as either transactional, informational, or navigational –
Do, Know, or Go.
Think of how you can target a searcher in the following areas:
Awareness - Identify a problem that your potential users might have that might lead them back to you.
Consideration - Now that the user has identified the problem, think about what they may be looking for when in order to solve the problem from the awareness stage.
Solution - How can your solution validate the user's search? Does your page or product solve their initial problem?
Free Alternative KWR Resources
There are great unpaid resources at your disposal:
- Message boards
- Google Suggest
- Google Trends
- Related Searches
- Linked In
You can use these sources to see if others are asking the same question about the problem you are trying to solve. Check to see how they describe their problem to see what keywords might work best for your blog post.
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
While meta descriptions aren’t a ranking signal, they are an important factor when it comes to click-thru rates. Think of the description meta tag as a summary of what the page is about. Whereas a page title may only be a few words long, the meta description can be a few sentences.
Write Unique Meta Descriptions
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.
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.
Subfolders > Subdomains
Subdomains are treated as entirely separate websites and will also be indexed.
subdomain.yoursite.comis different from
But not too many subfolders
It is best to keep the URL shallow, meaning not to have to many subfolders within subfolders. i.e.
Hyphenate Your URL
Common practice suggests 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!
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.
Geotagging is a great way to get your images to show up in local search results. In addition to using location modifiers to the filename or alt description, you can add GPS coordinates to your images.
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 trustworthiness.
- Link to pages with relevant content. This just makes sense.
- Include targeted keywords in the anchor text.
- 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.
Page load time is the duration between clicking the link and displaying the entire content of the Web page on the requesting browser.
Why does it matter if your website loads quickly?
The average user would rather spend several extra minutes browsing fast-responding but less relevant websites, instead of waiting a few more seconds for slower, more relevant websites to respond.
Various studies have shown:
- 1 in 4 visitors will abandon the website if it takes more than 4 seconds to load.
- 46% of users don't revisit poorly performing websites.
- 74% of users accessing the mobile site would leave if it takes longer than 5 seconds to load.
Ultimately, a fast site makes for good user experience, and a satisfying UX leads to higher conversions.
How can you test page speed?
Each tool will give you slight differences but generally will have the same recommendations.
Keep in mind…
There are going to be some things that are out of control depending on what CMS you use, in which case it is worth it to have a web developer handle those issues for you. What I want to address are the issues you can fix on your own.
The biggest offender when it comes to page speed is your images. Image size is a problem I see on almost every site I work on.
Images viewed on the web only need to be saved at 72dpi.
If you use Photoshop, set the Quality about half way when saving (try 6 instead of 12). You'll be able to preview the image size. Ideally, your images should only be 100kb.
Crop your images to the correct size before uploading.
Your best bet is to work out the largest size your image will be viewed, and export your image at that size, at 72dpi. For instance, if the largest image on your site has a max-width of 900px, do not upload an image with a width of 2000px.
This may be something you have to code yourself, but more than likely your CMS will handle this for you (WordPress and Squarespace should do this automatically).
When developers write code, they include line breaks, white space, and comments which make the code easier for other humans to read. But your browser doesn't care about that.
Minification removes all that whitespace and condenses the code, which helps ease the loading time of your scripts.
Scripts and styles are combined and minified by default in Squarespace but for WordPress users, there are a bunch of options for plugins.
Remember to do your own research to find the most reliable and up-to-date plugin.
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.