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Fact: Your site is ranked (specifically by Google’s algorithm) by on-page, off-page and technical SEO.
Fact: On-page SEO is focused on optimizing for bots as well as the human eye.
Myth: You need to adjust your website to work for SEO.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the whirlwind that is website optimization, but the biggest misconception out there is that you have to work for SEO when, in truth, you need to get SEO to work for you. And the easiest place to start is on your page.
With on-page optimization, do or do not; there is no try. You have the high ground, you have the ultimate power—OK, sometimes SEO feels like it’s its own world in a galaxy far, far away, but we promise it’s not science fiction. It’s very doable once you know what you’re looking for.
Basically, on-page SEO elements mainly fall into three categories: content elements, HTML elements and site architecture elements. Right now, we’re going to just stick with content elements, because we’ve got a lot of ground to cover, but we explore the other categories in Episodes II and III.
What can we say? We’re in the mood for a trilogy.
First and foremost, your content has to be more than good—it has to be linkable. This is the foundation of on-page SEO. Without it, all the other on-page elements have nothing to work with.
Your page’s content is you opportunity to show search engines and your site visitors your value, so once again, it’s about creating or investing in content that makes bots and humans happy. We go over the best practices for writing high-quality page content here if you need a refresher.
A long time ago, there were keywords everywhere. Everywhere. It wasn’t pretty. The original idea was formed with good intentions, but the result was copy that looked spammy and unnatural.
Thankfully, this practice has evolved into valuing keyword quality and over keyword quantity. Placing your keywords strategically and utilizing the rest of these content elements will prevent over-stuffing and keep your content reader-friendly.
When keyword density retired, TF-IDF took its place. Rather than measuring how often a keyword appears, if offers a measurement of importance by comparing the keyword to how frequently the term is used in a large set of documents.
This concept alone won’t get you very far, but it will improve your optimization when combined with other on-page elements.
Every time someone types a query into Google, the search engine is learning. That’s nothing new, but something to keep in mind is that with these queries, Google is constantly learning more about synonyms. After a time of sacrificing quality for quantity, this gave writers a new hope, and they were able to restore balance to their copy.
Using synonyms and variations not only provide a nicer, more natural read, but it also helps solve the issue of disambiguation. For example: if your keyword is “ship,” using “ship” and “mail” could refer to a mailing service, but using “ship” and “transportation” could refer to a boat (or the Millennium Falcon).
Aside from keywords, search engines also index sites by complete phrases and the relevance of those phrases.
Since search engines know that certain phrases usually predict other phrases, co-occurring phrases strengthen topic focus and relevancy. For example: if you wanted your page to rank for “Anakin Skywalker,” some co-occurrence phrases to consider using could be “Hayden Christensen,” “Darth Vader” or “hates sand.”
In our last episode, we went over how to improve your on-page SEO through content elements and techniques. This time around, we’re focusing on HTML elements.
HTML elements are the elements in your site’s source code that communicate directly to search engines, and they are crucial to the delivery of your page’s information.
Think of those scenes with only R2-D2 and C-3PO speaking to each other. It’s pretty clear that R2-D2 is the droid that’s moving the story along, but without C-3PO’s overall narration of the situation, we in the audience wouldn’t really know what was going on.
HTML uses a specific language to translate page information to search engines the way C-3PO uses English to inform the audience of what R2-D2 is saying or planning.
Is this an attempt to show our favorite golden gearhead some love? Absolutely. But more importantly, it’s an opportunity to explore how a few adjustments to your page’s HTML can vastly improve your on-page SEO.
In Episode I, we discussed the power of writing more organically by using synonyms, variations and co-occurring phrases, but another way search engines determine the relationships between words and phrases is their physical (or semantic) distance.
Semantic distance focuses on how page terms connect within paragraphs, sentences and other HTML elements such as titles, headers and lists, which we’ll dive into later. The closer the two terms are semantically, the more closely related they may be.
Take Leia and Luke for example—they were raised on completely different planets under entirely different circumstances, and because of this distance, the audience would have never guessed they were related.
Now, we’re not saying that closer semantic distances alone will fix everything (or potentially-incestuous situations), but they’ll definitely help search engines better understand what’s on your page, leading to better SEO performance.
One of the most important SEO elements on your page is your title tag (or page title). The page title communicates the page’s content to search engines as well as site visitors, so it’s important that it’s optimized for humans and bots alike.
Be sure to naturally include your page’s focus keyword, and do not keyword-stuff your title—pages with keyword-stuffed content are definitely the droids search engines are looking for. Not only do search engines monitor keyword-stuffing, but they penalize pages for it as well.
Other things to keep in mind are to try to keep the page title under 70 characters, make it relevant to your page, avoid using all caps and try to include your brand name.
Body tags (AKA headers) can help you organize your content for readers while letting search engines know which parts of your content are most relevant or important to search intent.
For the best header practice, incorporate important keywords (but not the same as in your page title) into your headers, reserving your most important keywords for your h1 and h2.
This isn’t technically on-page SEO, and it’s also not officially a ranking factor for search engines either, but it will influence the click-through rate of your page—kind of like what Darth Maul did for The Phantom Menace; it may not get a lot of screentime, but it’ll definitely be a driving factor for traffic.
A click-worthy meta description is made up of one or two compelling sentences that are under 160 characters, include the page’s entire keyword or keyword phrase and avoid alphanumeric characters
Think of alt-text as SEO for images. These days, search engines deliver almost as many image-based results as text-based results, meaning that people may be discovering your site through images, so it’s more important than ever to tell search engines what your images are about.
Good alt-text is specific and descriptive, contextually relevant to the page content and uses keywords naturally (without stuffing)—all while ranging around 125 characters or less.
In Episodes I and II, we’ve gone over content elements and HTML elements, and now it’s time to explore how site architecture can affect your on-page SEO.
Site architecture can offer visitors better browsing experiences and bring you a stronger web authority. The stronger your site’s structure is, the better. You could have the greatest content in the world, but if your site is slow and outdated, you’re not going to be doing yourself or your visitors any favors.
Remember: it was an architectural flaw that eventually led to the defeat of the Death Star. Now, we’re not saying that your website is a weapon of mass destruction, but if you want to build an empire and take over the industry, the delivery system for your brand matters! Here are some site architecture elements that will affect your on-page SEO:
Sometimes the where is as important as the what. Not only do you want to create high-quality, SEO-friendly content, but you also want to give it a prime spot on your site as well. Typically, content that’s located in the main body text holds more importance than an alternative position like a sidebar. This becomes a big factor for mobile formatting, especially since portions of the page aren’t as visible as they are on desktop.
Keeping your page URLs simple will help search engines and readers be able to digest the information better. When writing SEO-friendly URLs, try to: use one or two keywords (don’t keyword-stuff!), use HTTPS (Google uses it as a positive ranking factor) and remove unnecessary words. Not only will it look a lot cleaner, but it will help you keep your site hierarchy consistent as your site grows with internal pages like blog posts and subpages.
Placing internal links on your page is the equivalent of giving your site visitors the ability to use lightspeed to jump to other parts of the galaxy. Ok—it’s not that cool—but they’ll definitely help navigate them to other important pages on your site. Offering internal links prompts your site visitors to stay on your site longer, which tells search engines that your site is helpful and valuable. Plus, the longer someone is on your site, the more time the search engine has to crawl and index your pages, which lets the search engine absorb more information. This could potentially lead to a higher SERP ranking.
Selecting a web hosting service, site theme and design that mobile users can read and navigate is crucial. Even for desktop searches, Google has begun favoring sites that are optimized for faster mobile speeds and mobile responsiveness. To see where your site currently stands, check it on Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test
Repeat after us: site speed matters for on-page SEO. And this goes for mobile viewing or desktop viewing. We know we spend a lot of time talking about how to keep search engines happy, but user experience is the true motivation—for bots as well. If a site’s user experience is slow and poor, it’s not going to rank very high, and that’s because people aren’t going to stick around for a tedious loading screen. Your site speed affects your conversions and ROI, so it’s important to check on it regularly (you can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights for this).
So there we go—that’s our trilogy! From going over content elements in Episode I to reviewing HTML elements in Episode II, we hope you’ve enjoyed this on-page SEO journey.