Important On-Page SEO Factors
Ever heard the phrase “Content is king?”.
If that were absolute, then sites such as Wikipedia and Reddit would rule the internet. Fortunately, search engines are getting better at determining the intent of a search query and serving up the most relevant content.
Search engines still need to understand what site best fits the search query. As website owners, we can help search engines understand what our web page is about using on-page optimization.
On-page optimization is about taking steps to help search engines understand your content. It helps ensure your pages are served when relevant to a user’s query.
For example, if you’re a local plumber in Portland Oregon serving your website when someone searches for “plumber LA” isn’t going to do anyone any good for you to appear in the results.
Making sure you have structured your site appropriately is important.
#1 Use SEO Friendly URLs
The Universal Resource Locator (URL) is your web page address. Let’s first see what makes up a URL.
The Anatomy of a URL Simplified
So what’s the difference between an SEO friendly URL and not so friendly? Simply put user experience.
Below is an example of an SEO friendly URL.
Here is a not so friendly URL.
A user should be able to look at the URL and understand where they are on your site. Similar to looking at website breadcrumbs. Think of it as a hierarchy. Level 1 is the home page. Level 2 is a subcategory of level 1 and so on. This makes up your website structure.
Example of Breadcrumbs
Remember to keep it short and use your keywords. If a visitor can tell where they are by looking at your URL then so can Google. It’s as simple as that.
#2 Optimizing Meta Tags
Metadata is data that describes other data. For SEO purposes metadata describes the information found on your web page and is expressed by meta tags. Meta tags are one-way search engines understand the contents of your web page and they are an important part of on-page optimization. We are going to focus on four essential components.
Example of Meta Tags
Keep these descriptive and readable. If you brand them, put it at the end. The recommended length is 55-60 characters.
SEO Simplified | Your Brand
Your Brand | SEO – Search Engine Optimization Meta Tags – Rank First
Think of header tags as the structure of your web page. It breaks it up and helps search engines and visitors understand the content on the page. Like an outline, it distinguishes the different sections.
The most important tag is your H1. Search engine spiders and visitors use the keywords in the H1 as a signal of what information your web pages contain. The H1 can be the title of your article or the headline of your landing page.
You can use H2, H3, etc. to signal subsections. For example, let’s consider an article about taking care of your cat:
When using H-Tags never do these:
- Use more than one H1 per page. I hesitate to add this because you can use more than one H1 with HTML5. It would only apply in certain circumstances and something you will probably never use.
- Do not stuff H1’s with keywords. Make them readable for user experience.
- Do not have duplicate H1’s on multiple pages on your website.
- Do not use them for styling the size of your text. You have 6 H tags.
Notice how each is bigger than the other. Sometimes developers will use these to style text. Bad practice.
Meta descriptions are HTML attributes that commonly appear on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Meta descriptions may not be a direct ranking factor, but they can contribute to things such as click-through-rates that do have a direct a direct impact.
How to write a good meta description.
- Make it compelling. Your goal is to get the visitor to click your link and visit your site. Keep it relevant. If someone clicks your link but immediately leaves because it wasn’t what they are looking for this can negatively impact your SEO.
- Keep it around 135 to 160 characters. If it’s too long, it will be truncated.
- Add the keywords associated with the content of the page.
- Make it unique. Creating duplicate meta descriptions on site pages doesn’t benefit anyone and almost ensures search engines will not use them in the SERPs.
A simple way to find examples of good meta descriptions or what your competitors are using is to look at Google Ads.
Here is an example ad for Adobe:
Want to preview how your SERP will appear? Many tools will allow you to view it. We like Portents “SERP Preview Tool”. Just fill in the attributes. Great tool for testing ideas.
#3 Image Optimization
Image optimization is important especially if you have an eCommerce or other image based website. Image optimization ensures that your photos load fast and appear in other search verticals such as Google Image Search.
Image optimization is pretty straightforward.
- Name your image. Keep it descriptive, plain English and use keywords.
- Keep filenames descriptive.
- Add alt tags. Use relevant detailed keywords. Alt tags are important if you have an eCommerce site or other image-based websites.
- If your site is image based, consider using an image sitemap. An image sitemap will help search engines discover your pictures and appropriately index them.
- Compress the image. Keep image files sizes as small as possible without sacrificing quality. A good rule of thumb is 75 KB for product images and 100KB for other images. Large images can negatively affect your page load time.
There are several ways you can compress an image. I use Adobe Photoshop so when saving a photo to upload to the web I use Photoshop’s feature “save for web”. This feature will automatically optimize high-res photos for use on your website.
If you don’t use a program such as Photoshop, there are services available to help you compress your images.
- TinyPNG – is perfect for reducing the file size of PNG and jpegs. PNG’s are important because they support transparent backgrounds.
- Compressor.io – is a great compression tool that gives you the ability to choose between lossy (picture quality reduction) and lossless (keep same image quality) compression settings.
You can also use more robust programs such as GIMP. GIMP is an open-source program for editing image files. It’s free and supported by most operating systems.
Make sure and use the correct file type. The three most common types are JPEG (.jpg), PNG(.png) and GIF (.gif).
- JPEG image files are easily compressed without sacrificing picture quality. I use JPEG for images unless I need a transparent background. JPEG doesn’t support transparent backgrounds.
- PNG image files are usually much larger than either JPEG or GIFs. There are two main types used 8 and 24. Keep in mind that PNG-24 image files are several times greater than PNG-8s. One other difference is that PNG-24 supports transparent backgrounds.
- GIF image files are small, but the quality is very poor compared to PNG and JPEGs.
I have only used a GIF on a couple of occasions. As a simple rule use JPEG unless you need a transparent background. If there are image quality issues with a JPEG, then switch to a PNG.
#4 Keyword First Paragraph
Sometimes the most obvious things are overlooked. Using keywords in the first 100 words is one of them.
It should be natural and doesn’t mean it has to be exact but think about it from a visitor’s perspective. If they visit a landing page about cats, but you spend the first 500 words talking about dogs, then your visitors probably aren’t going to stay long.
Your visitors are on your site for a reason give it to them.
Let’s look at a simple example:
Query “What is SEO”. My first result is Webopedia. http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/S/SEO.html.
Notice how naturally the keywords are used. It should be easy to do. Help visitors and search engines understand your content.
#5 Outbound links
Outbound links are important because they give a clear signal what your content is about and give users additional information. Remember to only link to sites you trust. Your site is only as good as its links.
Think of outbound links like citations in a book. When you are reading a medical journal, you would expect to see citations regarding studies and material they are referencing. If you found the material to be less than credible, then you would probably question the paper itself.
Also, if you were reading an important paper wouldn’t you expect to see references? This same concept applies to web pages. Keep it straightforward and only link when necessary to supply further relevant material for visitors.
#6 Internal Links
Internal links are the most important links available. Why? They are usually the only ones you have any control over. They give you the ability to pass link equity from one page to another. The basic concept is by pointing to relevant links from one page to another you can tell search engines what pages are the most important on your site.
Be careful if you abuse this your site can be penalized or your links devalued. Remember internal links are to add value.
The Webopedia page we looked at earlier is a good example of internal linking.
We can see the words “website” and “search engine (SERP) link to pages on Webopedia that define these terms. Under “Related Terms” we can also find links to other internal pages that give visitors more information relevant to the topic.
Remember to use keyword-rich internal links.
Is longer content better?
What’s your goal? Links, engagement, traffic, etc.
Long content is better, but you shouldn’t take 2,000 words when you only need 1,000. If you’re trying to generate a discussion or looking for social shares and comments 1,000 words or less may work. If you want to target competitive keywords, then you’re going to need to be in the 2,000-word category.
A study by Capsicum Mediaworks on content length found that the top 10 positions have an average of over 2,000 words.
Remember it comes down to the quality of your content. Crap is crap. If it’s 2,000 words long and crap, then it just makes it a massive crap.
#8 Responsive Design
Today, having a mobile-friendly site is a must. Google started penalizing websites for not being mobile friendly in 2015. According to Google mobile has overtaken desktop searches.
Are you mobile friendly?
It’s pretty easy to find out if your website is mobile friendly.
- Check with Google’s very own mobile-friendly test. Once it reviews your site, it will give you the opportunity to download a detailed report on what needs to be fixed to improve your score.
- Download Chris Pederick’s Web Developer browser extension. Chris’s tool allows you to view different responsive layouts. It shows you how your site will appear on various devices.
Here is a screenshot of Chris Pedrick’s website using his tool. It is interactive so you can scroll your whole page for each view.
It is great for finding problems that may only exist on certain devices.
Responsive design is the easiest way to accomplish this but if you already have a website, and you don’t want to migrate you have several other options.
If you’re using a popular CMS platform such as WordPress, they have plugins that can help you accomplish this. If this isn’t an option, you can create a mobile version.
#9 Web Page Loading Speed
Google uses web page loading speed as a ranking factor. A slow site can have an adverse effect on a visitor’s experience and can affect how many pages search engines crawl.
Many factors go into how fast a page loads. I could write an article on page speed factors alone. I’m going to stick to what is usually the biggest issues slowing down a site and possible ways to address it.
Let’s use our site and see what results we get with GTmetrix. Just enter your URL and click analyze. It will analyze our page and give us some overall metrics and score.
Some quick takeaways in the “Page Details” section.
Notice my load time is under 3.0 seconds, the total page size is small, and requests are low. Page size and how many requests made for resources to load the page are significant factors in page speed.
From our results, you can see we performed pretty good. The performance score for “PageSpeed Score” is excellent but “YSlow Score” could use some work.
To find out what improvements we could make click on the “YSlow” tab.
From here you can “Expand” the tabs next to the areas where you have received a failing grade. Here you can find more details about the changes you can make to help improve these scores.
Don’t expect to score perfectly on everything. The goal is to ensure your site is fast, not perfect. Page speed only one of many elements factored into how well a page ranks.
Here is a quick list of some things you can do to make sure your site is fast.
- Improve Server Response Time.
- Optimize Images.
- Enable Compression.
- Reduce Redirects.
- Leverage Browser Caching.
- Use a Content Distribution Network.
How you go about implementing some of these changes depends on variables such as hosting provider, content management system (CMS), etc. Another great tool is WhichLoadsFaster. Here you can go head-to-head with your competition and see how your site stacks up.
Just enter your URL and your competitors and click “GO”.
In a few seconds both your site and competitors will appear and the results of who won. It doesn’t get much easier than this.
#10 How does your website score?
One of the most important exercises you can perform is studying your competition. Every niche will be different and if you want to outrank someone you first need to understand their weaknesses. As you learn more about your competition, you will also find out more about your website.
An excellent way to learn more about yourself and your competition is by using a website grader. There are many website graders, but one of my favorites is Website Grader by Hubspot.
Once you enter your site, it will give you an overall grade and factor based on Performance, Mobile, SEO and Security.
Scroll down and you can see the “Performance” section.
Here you find four different statistics and how your site performs. If you see that you have issues in one, you can click the “Read More.” Hubspot has created articles to help you address each section.
Next, you will find “Mobile.”
The website grader crawls your site and checks it for mobile capabilities. If you have any issues here, take them very seriously. Today it’s all about mobile and Google likes mobile-friendly content.
The next section is “SEO. Here it lists some of your basic SEO components.
This website grader is very basic but a great place to begin. It gives you a quick snapshot of your site health and can give you an idea of what looks good and what improvements you can make to improve your rankings. You can also use it to review your competition to get a sense of their SEO health.
Remember that any one of these alone isn’t going to propel you past your competitor. Just because you are the fastest kid on the block doesn’t mean you’re going to outrank your competition. On the flip side being slow probably won’t hurt you if your content is 10x better than your competition. You must look at all these factors as a lump sum score not in isolation.
If you follow this guide and implement the suggestions, your on-page optimization will be in great shape. Keep in mind that there is much more to website optimization. On-page optimization is just a small piece.
If your website itself isn’t optimized, then on-page optimization will have little effect. Other issues that may need to be addressed:
- Duplicate Content
- Website URL Canonicalization or Resolving
- Site Errors
- Keyword Research
- XML Sitemap
- Schema Markup
Remember the 80/20 rule. 80% of your results are going to come from 20% of your efforts.
What does this mean?
When it comes to SEO, there isn’t such a thing as perfect. Don’t dwell on things like site speed if your site is under 3 seconds your good. If you can make it faster with minimal effort, do it but don’t spend hours on it when you could be using that time to address other issues.
SEO isn’t a one and done affair. You will find yourself coming back and addressing some of these later.