I originally wrote this as optimization guide as an e-book called Killer On Page SEO and if you’d prefer to have that, send me an email.
By following these basics, you’ll be on the fast track toward improving your site’s traffic.
What Is On-Page Optimization?
“On-page” optimization refers to the changes we make to each of the pages on our website. It is different than “off-page” optimization, which refers to the techniques we use off of our website, such as link building. Clean, concise on-page optimization is easy to perform, yet it is amazing how many businesses screw it up.
You’re not going to be one of them.
We will guide you step-by-step through the best practices for on-page SEO, giving your web pages the best chances to rank highly in search engines for the keyword phrases you are targeting.
Philosophy Of A Web Page
Whether you’re operating a business or blogging for fun, each page of your website should have a clear topic. Many SEO’s and webmasters target a specific keyword phrase with each page of their site, while others go “freestyle” and focus on writing great content that is necessary to attract visitors.
Either way is fine, as long as you’re contributing content that’s 100% unique and that adds value to the internet. The goal of most web pages is to attract visitors, give them information, and tell them what to do next.
Following the steps in this guide will provide you with all of the best practices we implement and teach to all of our SEO clients. Use these best practices tips to optimize each page and post on your website to ensure the best possible placement in major search engines like Bing! and Google.
#1: Quality Content
Before we get into the technical aspects of on-page SEO, let’s begin with something simple: Quality Content.
Rand Fishkin of SEOMoz says it best in his explanation of the importance of quality content beginning at the 6:29 mark of this video.
#2: <Title> Tag
A Title appears at the top of every web page you visit. It’s the first signal telling a search engine robot what your page is about. Write a clear, concise title for each page of your website that includes your keywords, without being repetitive or spammy. Use dashes, commas, or pipes for clean separation of phrases, locations, and site name. Don’t use hyphens.
Tip: Keep your title tag length to between 50-65 characters.
#3: <h1> Header Tag
The <h1> tag is your main header tag and it signals to visitors and search engine robots what your web page is about. It’s good practice to have your <H1> tag include your target keyword.
Your <h1> tag does not have to be an exact match to your title, but it’s okay if you set it up that way. Creating an <h1> tag that uses a variation of your title is a good idea, too.
For example, if you target “SEO Services” in your title, you could target “Small Business SEO Services” in your <h1> tag.
Tip: Do not create more than one <h1> tag for any page on your website. Doing so can be confusing and appear spammy to search engines.
#4: Image “alt” tag
Search engines do not yet recognize the pictures posted on web pages. Adding an image “alt” tag is what indicates to search engine robots what the images on your website are about.
Set your image “alt” tag to include your target keyword phrase, but make sure it describes what the image actually is.
In the example above, the page is about “Tips for Getting Pregnant”, so we’ve set the image “alt” tag to “tips for getting pregnant”. (That’s what we did for the client, but for the alt tag on this site, we used, “image alt tag example” as that is more relevant.) As with the <h1> tag, it’s okay to vary your “alt” tag slightly. We will often include the company name – along with the keyword phrase – in our “alt” tags for clients.
Check your image “alt” tags by viewing the page source:
- Right-click your mouse on the web page
- View Page Source
- Ctrl-F to search for “alt” to quickly locate image alt tag(s)
Tip: If you have more than one image on your page, make each image “alt” tag unique. Include your main keyword in your first image “alt” tag. Set subsequent image “alt” tags to other keywords that are relevant to your main keyword.
#5: Internal Contextual Linking
Internal contextual linking is a link from one page of your website to another page of your website. The link appears within the context of your page, making it different than links that might appear within your sidebar or footer. Internal linking is a terrific way to lead your visitor deeper into your website, which helps with engagement and time on site, two factors many SEO’s believe contribute to establishing website authority and improved search engine rankings.
Plus, it makes good sense. Each page on a website will usually have a natural place where it makes sense to link out to another page, in order to provide your reader with an easy way to navigate to the next relevant topic.
Use internal contextual linking sparingly. Too many can be distracting and dilute the value of your page. We like to aim for one contextual link per page, with no more than three for every 500 words.
Do not add ‘ rel=”no follow” ‘ to any of your internal links.
Tip: Recent data shows links with about 7 words in them are the ones most likely to get clicked on.
It is believed that the “description” of your web page does not play a large role in search engine algorithms in terms of ranking your site.
However, your description does play a very important role in whether customers click on your site. Try to write a compelling description that’s eye-catching.
If you choose not to write a description for every single page of your site (and we don’t), then search engines will pull snippets from your content that it feels is relevant to the search engine query that was made.
Tip: Make sure to write a concise description that’s more compelling than the one your competitor is using to get the most amount of clicks.
#7: Call To Action
What is the goal of your website? To make a sale? Generate a phone call?
Decide what you want visitors to do when they visit your website, then help them to do it. The purpose of each page on your site should be easily apparent to your visitors.
The simplest call to action is a reminder to “contact us for more info” at the end of each page. Another call to action might be to encourage your readers to “like” or “tweet” a post you’ve written. Perhaps your goal is to build an email list by giving away a free e-book.
Consider making multiple calls to action – without overdoing it – in the body of your page, on your sidebar, and in your footer.
Tip: List your business phone number and location in the upper right hand corner of your home page. It’s the place where people expect to see it.
#8: Clean URLs
This is an actual URL structure we copied (and modified to protect the guilty). The date information “2012/09” is burdensome and the trailing “#adf427htBs795i” serves no purpose whatsoever. It’s likely that this URL was automatically formed by the user’s CMS platform when the page was created.
Going back through to clean up sloppy URLs like this is a long, tedious process and often leads to site redesigns and site architecture overalls.
If you’re starting a new site, get it right from the beginning, and you’ll have great looking URLs that provide humans and robots with a nice description of how your site is layed out and where they are within it.
Here’s a much cleaner version of the same URL. CMS platforms like WordPress allow you to quickly set the way your URLs will appear.
Don’t try to jam your keyword into your URL multiple times. Setup URLs that are clean and your site will appear to be much more professional looking.
Tip: Use dashes to separate words for enhanced readability. Avoid using hyphens between words. Matt Cutt’s, Google engineer, explains why in this video.
A sitemap serves two purposes: First, it ensures that every single page of your website is crawlable, which is important for search engine robots. Second, it is a practical organizational tool that helps webmasters and website marketers employ a sound, organized website architecture.
The video above explains the importance of a sitemap, by Google’s Matt Cutts.
Tip: If your site is in WordPress, use a plug-in such as Google XML Sitemaps to easily submit your sitemap to popular search engines.
*** Bonus Tips ***
Highlighting Keyword Phrases
Use bold, italic, and underline sparingly to highlight keyword phrases. This helps show what a web page is about. As with internal contextual linking, we recommend bolding your keyword phrase or relevant phrase once, within the first paragraph, if possible.
Outbound Linking To Other Sites
While linking to other sites won’t hurt your website rankings, it does give users the opportunity to depart from your site.
Try to limit outbound links to other sites. Use outbound links that help to validate a point you are making or that provide technology your site does not offer.
Add the ‘ rel=”no follow” ‘ attribute to your outbound links if you do are linking to a competitor or to a site you do not necessarily trust.
There was a time when every SEO executive believed keyword density was an important ranking factor. Try writing 300 words of content and including a keyword phrase like “web design Fort Worth” 3- 5% of the time. You wind up with something that reads like a promotional announcement. It just does not read well.
Repetitive use of a keyword now will send you down – not up – in search results. Focus your effort on writing quality content that’s on topic, not on worrying about how many times you’ve included your target keyword.
Tip: Read your post/page aloud or have a co-worker read it. If it sounds spammy, then it is. Clean it up!
Google, for one, does not use the meta keywords found in the page source for your web pages. While it won’t help your pages rank higher, it may help you keep your pages organized, especially if you’re using a plug-in [see Plug-ins for WordPress]. Otherwise, don’t waste your time.
Stuffing keywords over and over into your site’s pages is a no-no. Some site owners attempt to boost their site’s rankings by adding things like “Search for us on Google under keyword 1, keyword 2, keyword 3, etc.” to their footer or near the bottom of their site.
This is just a clever way of spamming and will not provide the long-term results you are looking for. Don’t do it.
Write 100% unique content. Copying content from other websites is plagiarism and in the eyes of search engines, it won’t help your rankings. In fact, it could very likely cause your site to drop from search results.
Make sure each page of your site is unique.
Chain stores with web pages for different locations can make pages unique by providing directions, staff/management info and any other data that makes each particular location special.
The speed with which your website and its pages loads is crucial to your site’s ability to convert. Sites with lag in loading images and heavy scripts can cause a user to leave your site before they even view it.
It’s a fact that sites that load faster get more visitors and convert more sales.
A 404 error occurs when you have a broken link on your site. You can run an audit of your site to fix any 404 errors.
As a webmaster, you can add text to your 404 page, so that users can contact you if they notice a 404 error. This is a good practice we like to use on websites we design.
A Word About Keyword Targeting
While many SEO’s will insist that every page of your website ought to be highly researched, so that it aims at a keyword phrase, this is not always practical. There are many bloggers we know of who are doing just fine by not worrying at all about keywords. They just write.
Our rule of thumb is: Sometimes we target a keyword phrase, sometimes we don’t. It seems to work out better that way.
On-page SEO is not difficult to do; however, it can be time-consuming. If you wish to have us do the work for you, it is an integral part of many of the customized SEO packages we offer our clients. Contact us here.