Much like our universe, the web is constantly expanding. As it does, it’s increasingly difficult to achieve high search engine rankings. Consequently, it can sometimes feel like you need to write dozens of guest posts or pay for heaps of advertisements to get ahead.
As luck would have it, that’s not necessarily the case: Go back to the basics and start implementing smart on-page SEO practices to give visitors what they want, make each page the best it can be and send rankings through the roof.
- What Is on-Page SEO?
- Make Every Page Valuable
- Create Top-Tier Content
- Prioritize Performance
- Use Keywords Wisely
- Add Relevant Links
- Get Social
- Ensure Crawlability
- Check Your Progress
What Is on-Page SEO?
Search engines use a vast array of signals to determine a page’s ranking. Some don’t have much to do with the page’s actual content—for instance, Google can use links, brand mentions and backlink anchor text to decide whether a page should rank on the first page or the last.
But search engines don’t ignore the page itself: From keywords to loading speed to the user experience, a page’s individual elements can influence its ranking. The practice of optimizing those elements to improve search engine performance is known as on-page SEO.
On-page SEO is demonstrably crucial to SEO in general. As seen in Moz’ survey of 150 SEO experts, the most important Google ranking factors are more or less equally divided between on-page and off-page components:
To start achieving higher rankings through the power of on-page SEO, all you need to do is master a handful of fundamentals.
Make Every Page Valuable
As search engine algorithms have gotten increasingly sophisticated, pages’ ability to rank on the basis of links and keywords alone has plummeted. Now, it’s imperative that every page you want to rank provides visitors with value.
Exactly what that value consists of varies by site and page. For instance, an about us page can provide value by giving in-depth information on the organization it concerns. Similarly, a product landing page can offer value in the form of product photos, a clearly stated price and a well-written product description.
In short, a page’s value is dependent on how effectively it achieves its purpose. As Google explained in its 2020 Search Quality Rater General Guidelines:
The purpose of a page is the reason or reasons why the page was created. Every page on the Internet is created for a purpose, or for multiple purposes. Most pages are created to be helpful for users, thus having a beneficial purpose. Some pages are created merely to make money, with little or no effort to help users. Some pages are even created to cause harm to users.
As you’d expect, pages created to benefit users are viewed as better than those created with a purpose that either doesn’t benefit visitors or directly harms them. The more a page benefits visitors, the more time they’ll spend on it, and the more likely they are to convert, whether that means making a purchase, clicking a link or signing up for an email list.
Such user behavior clearly tells Google that your page is high-quality, designed to offer value and worthy of higher rankings.
Create Top-Tier Content
If there’s any one universal truth of content marketing, it’s this: High-quality content is worth its weight in gold. Even if your page is ranking in the top spot on Google’s first page of results, visitors will quickly back out if the content they see on it doesn’t meet their expectations.
You already know that high-quality content should fulfill a purpose and provide value, but what else should it do? Sprout Social found that 70 percent of marketers want their content to increase brand awareness. A significant percentage also want it to generate leads and sales, increase engagement, grow their audience and boost traffic:
To accomplish those goals, strive to create page content that’s:
- logically organized;
- 100 percent original;
- formatted in accordance with the rest of the site’s content;
- geared toward your audience’s unique wants and needs; and
- enhanced with relevant images, videos and/or graphics.
To ensure that every page’s content meets those criteria, we strongly recommend you establish a comprehensive style guide and content strategy. While your style guide will cover things like voice, syntax and grammar, your content strategy will dictate elements like formatting, publication and promotion.
Page speed is more than just a number: Quick loading times are crucial to the user experience, so much so that the longer a page takes to load, the more likely visitors are to abandon it altogether.
When a page loads in two seconds or less, the average bounce rate is about nine percent. When it takes five seconds to load, though, the average bounce rate shoots up to 38 percent:
Suffice it to say, page performance matters. To improve yours:
- implement effective image optimization tactics;
- validate code with text W3C’s markup validation tool;
- consider using a content delivery network (CDN);
- implement asynchronous loading or lazy loading;
- get customized recommendations from Google’s PageSpeed Insights;
- use responsive web design; and
- minify code.
Use Keywords Wisely
As with any SEO endeavor, successful on-page SEO demands a thoughtful keyword strategy. To ensure a page is making the most of its keywords, start by following a few simple steps.
- Choose and prioritize your keywords: Select the most basic and important keywords for the page based on its main topic and purpose. Next, use a keyword research tool like Google Keyword Planner or Wordtracker to identify the exact words and phrases you should be emphasizing. Be sure to note which is the primary keyword (i.e. the one with the most search volume) and which ones are less important.
- Add them in the right places: When incorporating keywords into a page’s content, add the primary keyword first and include it in all the most prominent spots on the page. This includes the HTML title, the first paragraphs and the first few headers. Make sure the non-primary keywords don’t appear before their primary counterpart.
- Pay attention to density: The number of times a keyword appears on a page is just as important as where it appears. While there is no such thing as perfect keyword density, you can’t go wrong by ensuring that the primary keyword appears more often than the secondary, the secondary appears more often than the tertiary and so on.
- Add image alt text: To give a page even more ranking opportunities, add alt text to all its images. Alt text is an HTML attribute that contains a short description of an image, and you’d be smart to include relevant keywords where appropriate.
- Optimize the meta description: While Google won’t use a page’s metadata to determine its rank, you can still give users a preview of its content by including the primary keyword in the meta description.
Want to get more insights on the keywords you’re using? You may benefit from the data provided by a paid keyword research tool. For example, Semrush’s Keyword Magic Tool provides information about cost per click, keyword difficulty, competitive density and more:
Add Relevant Links
Both internal and external links are crucial ranking factors, and this is just as true for individual pages as it is for entire websites. When you’re optimizing on-page SEO, turn your attention to internal links in particular.
For search engines, strategically placed internal links can:
- establish relevance between multiple pages;
- contribute to the site’s perceived authority;
- pass link equity from one page to another; and
- assist with crawling and website indexation.
For users, those same links can:
- facilitate navigation;
- make it easier to find related content; and
- increase time spent browsing the site.
When adding internal links:
- only place them where it makes logical sense;
- don’t use the same link more than once on the same page; and
- try to include the primary keyword of the page being linked to in the link’s anchor text.
Although social media activity doesn’t directly impact a page’s Google ranking, it can still indirectly affect it.
That’s because links posted on social media sites count as external links, a crucial indicator of the page’s influence and authority. As an added bonus, social media engagement can also help to organically grow a site’s audience.
To make social sharing as effortless as possible, ensure that every page is equipped with social media buttons. W3Schools has a handy tutorial on how to style such buttons with CSS:
To create even more ways for visitors to link to your page on social media, you can also add the Tweet button or Pinterest Save button to especially interesting pieces of content. Does the page feature a quotable original phrase? Add the Tweet button! Want readers to share a beautiful photo? Throw the Pinterest Save button on it!
Crawling is the process search engine bots like Googlebot use to visit and read web pages. Once crawling is complete, pages’ data is sent to the search engine and indexed.
By making it as easy as possible for search engine bots to crawl a page, you’ll also be helping the page get indexed and rank higher.
- ensure your content management system (CMS) isn’t blocking crawling;
- increase page speed;
- find and fix broken pages to avoid depleting a site’s crawl budget;
- check for mobile compatibility with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test;
- make sure the page you’re optimizing is logically organized within the site’s structure; and
- use tools like Google’s URL Inspection tool to test if search engines can properly interpret the page’s code.
Once you’ve taken the time to boost crawlability, search engines bots will be able to crawl (and rank!) your pages faster and more efficiently than before.
Check Your Progress
After implementing the most important on-page SEO tactics, keep an eye on your pages’ progress with the help of an on-page SEO checker like the free tool from Sitechecker, or the paid one offered by Semrush.
Such tools can help you take a step back and get a broader view of how well your on-page SEO is working. You’ll also be able to see suggestions for improving it, all conveniently located in one spot. For instance, Semrush’s on-page SEO checker provides ideas for strategy, backlinks, content, technical SEO and more:
Master on-Page SEO to Stay on Top
Trust us when we say the results will be worth the effort: To reap the many benefits of on-page SEO, all you need to do is use simple tactics to give each page the attention it deserves.
Moz / September 2018
Sprout Social / September 2019
Pingdom / January 2018
Semrush / October 2020