As we continue on from my original article Introduction to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Beginner’s Guide to Keyword Research, now is the time to move ahead in developing a deeper understanding of SEO and looking towards some of its practical aspects.
At a broader level, SEO is usually defined into two elements: On-page or on-site SEO and off-site SEO. In this article, we will look at the practical applications of on-page SEO.
On-page SEO is the process of ensuring that your website is properly read and indexed by search engines. The actionable steps outlined in this article will ensure that Google picks up the right keywords that you are looking to rank for as well as identify those easy win opportunities (“low hanging fruit”) to help improve your website’s overall performance.
On-Page SEO is indeed very useful and, in fact, an essential process that ensures long-term success and growth for any website or other forms of online content. And unlike some of the other aspects of SEO, most On-Page SEO can be done by yourself.
This article will outline some easy tips, tricks and applications to consider when optimizing your site for those easy wins, helping put you on top of the competition!
Difference Between On-Page and Off-Page SEO
It is crucial to have a clear understanding of the differences between the two components of SEO. On-page SEO refers to all the work that is directly done on the content and HTML of a website. For any SEO job, the first step usually involves fixing visible problems on the website and working to improve the outreach potential of the content. When doing On-Page SEO, it is important to consider these three factors:
- Is my site content visible to search engines?
- Is my site content relevant to my preferred search results?
- Is my site usable to all site visitors, no matter the device/browser they are using?
On the other hand, off-site or off-page SEO refers to all the activities that are done outside the website in order to improve the website’s ranking. The most important technique in this regard is related to link building.
The more (authentic) websites and sources that link to your website, the more reliable your website is in the eyes of any search engine algorithm.
Psst…I’ll let you in on a little secret.
What I am about to reveal to you is Google’s basis on its overly complex, search engine algorithm.
Knowing these three things will help you unlock and answer any questions you might have regarding your overall search engine optimization efforts.
Expertise + Authority + Trustworthiness = Higher Rankings
Or also referenced as EAT, E-A-T.
That’s it! That’s the super secret!
Google is built upon these three parameters. Its entire algorithm, all 200+ factors working to determine which sites rank higher in results, is predicated on expertise, authority and trustworthiness.
Now before you decide to leave, I also want to mention that there are also very practical applications to On-Page SEO, which we will go over later in this article.
So as we look at each aspect of SEO, I challenge you to not just look at it from a technical aspect, but from the lens of the 3 parameters in which Google defines its rankings.
Understanding On-Page SEO
Arguably, both components of SEO are equally important. However, any SEO activity will always start from On-Page SEO and a considerable amount of time may be dedicated to optimizing the on-page content for search engines. It is a continuous process because requirements of search engines keep evolving with time and it is important to keep your pace up with these changes.
In order to do so, I have provided some reference links at the end of this article for you to stay abreast of the ever-growing, ever-changing search engine ranking factors.
Historically, keyword density was regarded as the most important factor for search engine ranking and most SEO professionals would only focus on it. They would try to achieve a keyword density of 2-3% and it would be enough to gain the required ranking.
But today, Google, as well as most other search engines, have evolved and as mentioned earlier they consider over 200 different factors to rank web pages and other content. Majority of these factors are related to On-Page SEO.
Hence, it is extremely important to dedicate a considerable amount of time and resources for on-page SEO and leave no stone unturned, from domain URL to title and keyword density to mobile-friendliness of the website, as everything matters.
Major SEO Factors
I can’t help but to mention again that practically hundreds of different factors may come into play when deciding the ranking (and fate) of your web page. It may not be possible to work on each factor or to even discuss it here, as it is too big of an exercise.
However, most people get the desired results only by focusing primarily on the most important factors. The best part of on-page SEO is that with a basic level of understanding, you are able to do it all yourself, with little to no support from your IT or development teams.
Below is a brief discussion related to the on-page factors that matter the most, and by which I have personally had the most success with. So, let’s see which are the most crucial On-Page SEO factors and how these may be of great help for you to optimize your website.
1. Search Engine Friendly URLs
This is a 3-part assessment that I consider best practices for better recognition by Google and other search engines.
Clean URL Structure
Nothing is more difficult to share or identify then a URL that looks like the following:
If you as a user are unable to understand what the URL is related to then it is fair to say that neither can Google and other search engines. These kinds of URLs are a surefire way to confuse both search engines and site visitors.
Consider replacing these kinds of URLs with the following:
Don’t think search engines care about your URL structure, then take a look at the top 10 search results within Google. You will find a majority, if not all of them, have clean and readable URLs like the example above.
The best part of this implementation is that most content management systems have the ability to provide search engine friendly URLs, it’s just simply ensuring that these settings are enabled within your administrative settings.
Length of URL
According to a study of over 1 million Google search results, it was revealed that shorter URLs have a better chance of gaining higher search engine ranking.
Fortunately, it is a pretty straightforward task to ensure shorter URLs for each web page.
For example, if your content is related to “top 5 home maintenance things to do in summer” you can simply add “summer-home-maintenance” with the main domain name to make it short and sweet.
Don’t overcomplicate this process and don’t go as far as to start using abbreviations. Just keep it simple.
Target Keywords in URL
Each web page is ranked in the relevance of certain keywords. Another important technique is to ensure your target keywords are included in your URL.
Again, it is a simple thing to do but it has the potential to yield amazing results. In the example given above, the URL is perfect if the target keyword was “home maintenance.”
2. Title and Description Optimization
When a search engine crawls your web page, meta tags known as meta title and meta description, are among the first things it crawls through and reads.
But don’t overdo it! Keep it succinct.
As a general rule of thumb, the title should be close to 60 characters and descriptions may range from 130 to 160 characters.
If you haven’t already read my other article on Title Tag Optimization, take some time to read this article as it correlates to both on-page SEO optimization as well as improving overall Click Through Rate (CTR).
3. SEO Content Strategy
One cannot emphasize enough on this aspect of on-page SEO. After all, it is the content that you want visitors to see. Make sure to have a clear understanding of what constitutes good content and follow every rule you are aware of. It can be a very lengthy topic to discuss in detail but remember to ensure the following traits in your content.
- It is original and unique
- It is relevant (There’s that word again!)
- It provides enough detail and information
- It is of adequate length
- It is optimized and contains the targeted keywords
- It has adequate writing style (readability and good grammar).
- Contains copyrights free images (not essential but preferable)
Readability is probably one of the most unrecognized or under-utilized optimization practices and by far one of the strongest ranking factors within Google.
Unsure as to whether or not your content meets these requirements, consider using the following tool to provide you with an accurate readability score as well as recommendations for improving your score:
4. Optimize Site Speed
Page speed, or the time in which your site takes to load a webpage, is a considerable metric used by Google when considering site ranking. In fact, Google’s very own, Matt Cutts, publicly announced that fast load speed is a positive ranking factor.
If you are looking for a way to boost SEO performance, improving load speed is a tried and true way of moving up the ranks. And unbeknownst to most organizations, desktop and mobile are now ranked separately amongst sites.
How so? Well in July of 2018, Google rolled out its “Speed Update” which no longer considers site speed for desktop as a ranking factor within mobile search results.
Google’s Speed Update now takes mobile page speed as a ranking factor for mobile search results (https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2018/01/using-page-speed-in-mobile-search.html).
This means that beyond just being mobile responsive, your site must be fully optimized for speed performance for both desktop and mobile to rank well within both desktop and mobile search results.
Unsure what your page speed is? Thankfully Google has provided its free tool, Page Speed Insights to help test and optimize your site.
By providing you with a score out of 100 and comparing you with other sites, you are able to see how you stack up. Though this tool does provide you with a mobile scoring and optimization report, I would recommend using Google’s alternative Mobile Website Speed and Performance tool, for your mobile optimization.
5. Internal Links
Listed within the top 10 ranking factors revealed by Google, the number of internal links is one such factor that is proven successful in ranking within the top 10 of search results. First and foremost, it is imperative that your primary navigation links are text based and not image based, as your primary navigation is used by Google’s website crawlers to navigate and index your site. Beyond your navigation, it is also important to build out internal links within the body of your website.
What I ask most clients to do is to imagine navigating through their site without the support of their primary navigation (i.e. header and footer links). For most, they are unable to get to more than half of the pages on their site and in some cases unable to get to their most valuable pages which lead to conversions.
Take some time to assess your site.
Are you able to navigate through your site without your primary navigation?
Are there pages you are unable to get to? Make a list of those pages?
How might you incorporate more links within your site?
Beyond just accessibility, internal linking is the best and most highly favored way amongst SEO professionals of weaving in keywords into their website(s).
The above factors will surely help any web page to get a higher ranking. However, remember to continue researching about latest updates in search engine algorithms as more and more factors may be included periodically to improve reliability and relevance of search results for the users.
You can keep yourself abreast of Google’s ranking factors by checking out the following online resources:
In the famous words of Sun Tzu, a Chinese general, military strategist, writer and philosopher, “All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.” Don’t get caught in the tactics of On-Page SEO but again focus on overall strategy (E-A-T).