For most websites, on-page optimization is the most important thing which can be done to improve SEO. It is something you have complete control over and often small changes like optimizing URLs or fixing broken links can make a huge difference to your rankings. There are many on-page SEO factors, but don’t feel overwhelmed! Once you get in the habit of optimizing these 0n-page factors, it will become second nature.
These are the 9 main on-page optimization factors we will go over here:
- Title Tags
- H1 Tags
- Subheadings (H2-H6)
- Meta Description
- Internal Links
- Back-end factors
This is one of most important on-page SEO ranking factors because it conveys to search engines what your webpage is about. A lot of beginner website owners make the mistake of letting their Content Manage System (such as WordPress) automatically set the URL. So, if your blog post is called “101 Surprising Tips for Growing Tulips”, this is what the URL gets set to. Even worse, your CMS might set the URL to something like the date or a number!
Search engines have a problem understanding complicated, long URLs. You need to make the URL as simple as possible so the search engines can understand it. Do your keyword research and get your main keyword right there in the URL.
Small business websites often make the mistake of using generic terms to describe their subpages. Let’s say that you have a page called “Services” where you include links to each service.
You don’t want to end up with a bunch of subpages with URLs like this:
Instead, set the URL as something like this:
With ecommerce websites, optimizing URLs can be a bit tricky because there are many situations in which URLs might be automatically generated, or a product could end having multiple URLs (such as when it fits into two product categories), thus causing a duplicate content problem. This is a bigger issue which requires a comprehensive strategy to make sure each and every page has its own unique, clear and keyword-friendly URL.
Title Tag Optimization
The Title Tag is what shows up in search engines. It is the title which searchers will click on. Title Tags do not show up on the actual webpage.
Just like how URLs inform search engines what the website is about, so do titles. For example, let’s say you run wellness center and write a blog post about stress. You come up with what you think is a savvy, clever title for your post, “How you are killing yourself without even realizing it.”
The post title might be clever, and might be okay if your main traffic source is social media. But this title doesn’t give search engines a clue as to what your webpage is about. You’ve got to get those keywords in the title!!!
More importantly, Title tags inform searchers of what your webpage is about. If someone is searching for information on stress, that person is more likely to click on a result which includes the word “stress” in the title.
H1 Tag Optimization
A lot of people mistakenly think that H1 tags and Title Tags are the same thing. While they both describe what the entire page is about, they are actually very different things. Check out this post to learn about the difference between Title Tags and H1 Tags.
You want to make sure you get your keywords into your H1 Tags. But don’t just stuff keywords into the H1 tag! Aside from being spammy, it doesn’t help users at all. The H1 Tag is the title which will appear at the top of the web page. You want to make sure it conveys to users that they’ve found the page which they were looking for or else your bounce rates are going to be insane (which will negatively affect SEO).
Subheading (H2-H6) Optimization
If you aren’t using subheadings, you better start now! Where H1 tags inform the search engines what your entire web page is about, the other heading tags inform search engines what sections of your webpage are about. For example, in this article, the H1 tag is “On-Page Optimization.” The subheadings (H2 tags) are each of the individual issues related to on-page optimization. Oftentimes, you don’t need to use H3-H6 tags. But, if you’ve got a long article and get into detail about each issue, you will want to use those subheadings to break the article into parts. Think about the outlines your teacher made you create before you wrote a report.
Remember that SEO should never be just about search engines. The real reason to use H2 and other subheading tags is to help users understand your content. Today’s web users don’t really read content: they scan content. If you have a 2,000+ word article, the reader isn’t going to spend an hour on the page reading every single word. They are going to look for those subheadings which are of interest to them. Look at these examples and see which page you find more useful – the example with no heading tags or the one which uses heading tags to guide you to important information.
Meta Description Optimization
Meta description is the short description about your webpage which shows up in the search results under your Title. At the beginning of the online era, it was a ranking factor for SEO. However, because webmasters write their own meta descriptions, it became too easy to manipulate and hasn't been a ranking factor for a long time.
Just because meta description isn’t a ranking factor, it doesn’t mean it isn’t an important on-page optimization factor. Web users have gotten a lot savvier in recent years. They don’t just click on the first result in the SERPs. They click the result which they think will best meet their needs.
Consider these stats: CTR studies show that about 17%-31% of clicks go to the first position on the SERPs. About 10%-14% of clicks go to the second position and about 8%-10% of clicks go to the third position.
Yes, being #1 in the SERPs is still best, but why do you think so many people are clicking on #2 and #3? One reason is because those pages had better-written meta descriptions.
You can’t always be in the #1 spot on the SERPs. But, if your meta descriptions are better than the page who is ranking #1, you can still get those clicks!
There is a good reason that the SEO mantra has long been “content is king.” Content is what tells the search engines what your webpage is about. Content is also what ultimately converts your users. After all, your goal isn’t to just get tons of traffic, is it? You want that traffic to do something like buy a product or sign up to your service! It is better to have 1000 visitors and a 50% conversion rate than 10,000 visitors and a 2% conversion rate.
Before we go any further, let’s define “content.” Simply, content is anything on your webpage. Content can be:
- Blog posts
- Landing page copy
A lot of business owners mistakenly think that content isn’t a very important on-page ranking factor. They see competitor websites which have little or no text, but yet still rank well. Yes, this is sometimes the case. But the fact of the matter is that search engines will have a much better time understanding what your website is about if you give them a lot of content to read. The more content you have, the better they are able to understand your site and rank it accordingly for your keywords (plus all those valuable long-term keywords).
Good content always starts with keyword research. But keyword research isn’t just about finding the most sought-after terms and banking on them. Good keyword research helps inform you about what your audience really finds important so you can better meet user needs.
After finding out what real people are searching for, you can then adapt your content to make sure you are addressing their needs. Let’s say you run a gardening supplies store and keyword research tells you that lots of people are looking for “rust-proof gardening tools,” then you better make sure to include the fact that your products are rust-proof! You might even want to start carrying these products if you don’t already.
When optimizing content for keywords, try to include:
- Keywords in first sentences of text
- Keywords throughout the text
- Relevant synonyms and associated keywords throughout text
- Keywords in URL, Title Tags, and Headings
- Keywords in image ALT texts
Ignore all those “experts” who give you exact percentages about how often your keyword should appear, such as “include your keyword 2-3%”. If you are writing quality content which is actually useful to your target audience, the keywords will be there automatically. However, a skilled copywriter will know some keyword optimization tactics.
For example, instead of writing
“The device is easy to use”
A good copywriter will tweak the content to get keywords in, such as:
“The heart-monitoring device is easy to use”
Optimizing content for SEO is more than just getting in keywords. Content which is truly SEO-friendly is going to have all of these features:
- Uniqueness of Content: Search engines will filter out what they view as duplicate content. This doesn’t just mean you shouldn’t plagiarize (which would get you a SEO penalty!). It means that you need to offer unique value from all the other pages already on the web. So don’t just take someone else’s article and reword it. The content may be “unique” enough to pass Copyscape, but it won’t provide unique value.
- Length of Content: Over the years, the average length of top-ranking content has increased significantly. A 2014 study found that the average length of the Top 10 ranking web pages was over 2,000 words! This makes sense: pretty much everything has been written about online. If you want to provide unique value, then you probably need to write longer, more in-depth articles to provide that value. A 400 word article just isn’t going to cut it anymore!
- Interesting Content: Your content can be completely unique and long, but if it is boring, it isn’t going to appeal to users. They will click away and your bounce rate skyrockets, which will affect your rankings. The boring content won’t be shared on social media, which is also a ranking factor. If you suck at writing, then spend the money to hire a good writer. It is worth the investment!
- Content is Easily Understandable: If you are writing 2,000+ words of content, then you better divide it up into neat chunks so users can easily scan through it! This goes back to the importance of H2-H6 tags for on-page optimization. To emphasize how important this is, consider the Search Metrics study which found that web pages with a higher Flesch Score (readability score) ranked the highest.
Search engines still can’t see images (at least not yet – search engines in the future will be able to see images like humans). Until then, it is up to us to tell the search engines what our images are about. This is done with Image Titles and ALT text.
The image Title is simply what you call your image. The ALT text is what will show up if the image fails to render.
Optimizing images for SEO only takes a couple seconds, but it is something that a lot of webmasters forget to do. You’d be surprised at how effective image optimization can be for SEO.
Let’s say you sell blue dresses and add an image called 023934.jpg. This doesn’t help the search engines understand your web page or image at all! By renaming the image and adding appropriate ALT text, you help the search engine bots better understand your web page so you can rank for the right terms.
Depending on what industry you work in, you might also be missing out on important search traffic if you don’t optimize images. While most people do search with Google.com, data from Alexa.com shows that 10% of Google searches are on images.google.com. Industries like Fashion, Entertainment, and Cooking can get fairly big percentage of search traffic from Image Search.
Internal Link Optimization
When we talk about links and SEO, it is usually in reference to backlinks from other websites. But internal links are also an important on-page optimization factor. By including links to other pages on your website, you inform the search engines about what pages are most important on your site by creating a hierarchy. For example, every single web page better link back to your home page, but you may have some other high-priority pages, such as for your services page.
The anchor text you use for internal inks can also help inform search engines about the content (Don’t stuff keywords in though! Just use anchor text which is natural for the readers.). You also don’t want to stuff internal links all throughout your website. You probably don’t need 47 links in a 500 word blog post Just link however seems natural. If you are writing a post about cat grooming and mention that quality cat food will improve coat, then link to your article about cat food!
We can’t emphasize enough that all SEO ranking factors are put in place to help users. The masterminds at Google know that users don’t just care about getting awesome, relevant content. Users want that content on websites which respond quickly, work on mobile devices, and are easily navigable. All of this falls into on-page optimization but it really deserves a category of its own because it happens in the backend where users can’t see it. Some important backend SEO ranking factors are:
- Site architecture
- Mobile responsiveness
- Page speed
- HTTP Status Codes