Rising in the Ranks: An On Page Search Engine Optimization Start Guide
The number one organic search engine marketing goal for any business over the last ten years hasn’t changed. Ranking number one on Google for your most important keywords is still everyone’s ultimate SEO goal.
The reason it has remained at the top of every year’s list of things to do is also simple. Everyone knows that’s the position that’s going to get you the most traffic and earn you the most new customers and sales.
The problem with knowledge that everyone knows and goals everyone shares is that they aren’t always true. Nor is there just one way to achieve them.
In this Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide, we’re going to start where most companies start and talk about the things you can do to improve the content on every page of your own website and blog to begin your climb up the ranks. We’re also going to share a couple of secrets to building your authority and ranking abilities that aren’t on “everyone’s” list.
Defining On-Page Optimization
There are three practice areas within SEO: technical, on-page and off-page. It’s the combination of your efforts in all three areas that will ultimately net you the biggest return on your time and money investments in this channel. Today we’re going to go through all the things you can do to improve your on-page SEO efforts.
According to Wikipedia, on-page SEO refers to both the content and the HTML source code of a page that can be optimized. Google itself added a third element to this definition in its Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide that wasn’t considered part of the on-page equation until a couple of years ago. In addition to content and HTML, they now say that you need to consider the user experience and searcher intent when interacting with your page to cover more of the factors that the search engines now consider when evaluating your page.
All together that means there are nine elements on each page of content you create for your site that you can optimize for search.
1. Title Tags
Title tags appear in the HTML code of your page and do not appear on the page the visitor sees. The title tag should include a very brief snippet of information on what the page is about (roughly 50-65 characters in length). The search engines use this code to determine where in their databases they should index your page.
Title tags are the underlined, blue headline links that you see on the search result pages when you search for something. To be optimized, they should include “keywords” that searchers will use when looking for this information in Google, Bing or other search engines.
2. Meta Descriptions
You should consider meta descriptions the same way you do your online advertisements. While not technically part of Google’s ranking algorithm, meta descriptions provide you with an opportunity to tell searchers a little more about your page. They appear underneath the title tag on the search results page.
While Google has tested other lengths, you should keep your meta descriptions short at about 140 to 160 characters. They should include a keyword or two and a reason why the searcher should click to visit your page.
3. Canonical Tags
Another item that appears in the code of your page, but is not visible to a reader is the canonical tag. Where you have pages that are very similar (or identical) in content, you should use a canonical tag to tell the search engine which of the pages it should index and which to ignore. This is a particularly useful tool for retailers who might have one product available in several different sizes or colors.
Canonical tags are also very useful tools for bloggers. Over time as your article count in any given category increases, the number of index pages for each category will also increase. Canonical tags give you a way to help a search engine read that index.
4. Searcher Intent
The final item that does not appear on a page that a visitor sees has to do with why the page has been written. This is also one of those secret keys to a well-optimized page that we talked about at the start of this article.
Google and the other search engines and learning and growing in their understanding of web page content. Your page will be considered well optimized if the search engine can clearly understand what your page is about and who it is written for.
Your readers will also appreciate the high quality of a page that answers their questions clearly and completely. They’ll reward you with likes, shares, and more time spent on your site. These signs of engagement with your content are concrete things that the search engines can and do measure when ranking your page.
5. Keyword Focus
Once upon a time on the web, there was a hard and fast SEO rule that said each page should focus on just one keyword. There was also a keyword density rule that said that keyword should be used once for every 100 words on the page.
Keyword research and search engine optimization tactics have changed significantly over the past few years. Now, SEO experts blend keywords and buying behaviors to personalize content.
Today’s top-ranked pages are the ones that clearly answer a searcher’s intent by informing and educating visitors about a topic (not just a keyword), helping them to navigate somewhere or persuading them to take an action. Keywords must be used with much more precision than before and should be placed strategically on your page.
6. HTML Header Tags
People often get title tags and header, or headline, tags confused. The title of the page that actually appears on the page is technically referred to as an HTML header tag or headline.
Google and the other search engines rank the importance of these visible headlines according to their HTML tag size. The largest and most important tag size is H1, with H2, H3, H4 also being considered. The code itself isn’t seen on the page, but the relative size of each headline type is.
There should only be one main header on a page or one H1 tag as it is referred to in the HTML code. To be well optimized the main keyword for the page should be included in either the title tag or the H1 tag. In some content management systems, the H1 tag must automatically be used as the title tag, but if you are given the opportunity to make them unique, you should do so.
There can be multiple H2 or H3 headers on a well-optimized page. These are good places to use secondary keywords to boost search engine understanding of your content.
7. Image Alt Tags
Search engines still cannot correctly “read” images. They need you to tell them what each image on your page is about.
More importantly, many web visitors also need help in this area. If you do business with a government agency, are in the transportation industry, or just want to make sure that all your visitors can get the most from your content, you need to include “alt tags” on your images. These alternative tags can be seen if you hover over an image on your page.
A well-optimized image alt tag will include either your primary or secondary keyword if possible. It will also very briefly (five to seven words or so) tell a visitor how this image is related to the topic of your page.
8. External Linking
Over the years many debates have raged over whether or not you should allow search engines to “follow” links on your pages that lead to other websites or not. For a while, SEO best practices said you should put a “no follow” directive within the HTML code of each link that leaves your site so you wouldn’t lose important “link juice.”
There have been studies that show this is an effective strategy and studies that show it is not. Google’s spokespeople have also denied the validity of this practice, but we see all the discussion as covering up the more important point about external links.
Here’s another tip you won’t find everywhere on how to maximize your on-page search optimization.
Your site’s reputation does rest in part on who links to you and whether those sites are considered “good” and reputable. You can only improve the impression and reputation of your own site when you too link to known authorities in your field. For an example of what we mean just look to the external links we listed early in this article. Instead of linking to someone’s 16-year old social maven’s blog, we linked to Google, a well-known authority.
9. Internal Linking
Our final factor in on-page search optimization ranking is to use internal links wisely. These are links that take a visitor from one page of your site to another. If there is one area of optimization that is under-utilized or badly done it is this one. Many people think internal links are not counted by the engines, but they are.
Unlike external links that point to your web pages, you don’t need to worry as much about the anchor text matching keywords. Too many direct matches from external links could look like you are trying to game the search engines and they will discount the links.
Internally you have more latitude. We can link to our page that describes our Web Development services using the words Web Development as the anchor text for example and Google will give us credit for that link.
Customizing Your Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide
When you stand back and look at it, there are many different things you can do as you are writing a page to help it rank well. When you follow this Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide, you’ll be well on your way to boosting the ranking and value of each page you write.
However, if you need help putting these on-page tips into action or building up your off-page strategies or executing the more technical aspects of search engine optimization, don’t wait to call us. The sooner we get to work, the sooner you can begin your climb to the top of the rankings.