On-Page SEO Guide: 2018 Edition
Search engine optimization is often shrouded in jargon and six feet of technical details. In some ways, that makes sense because SEO is a highly technical field that requires a lot of specialized knowledge. But in other ways, this mystery is encouraged by SEO agencies that don’t want average business owners to understand the basics of search engine optimization.
This on-page SEO guide will walk you, step-by-step, through the process of optimizing your website or blog for search engine results. Following this guide will require a small amount of technical knowledge, but we’ll keep it as basic as possible – so dive in and improve your rankings today!
Get Your Mind Right
Before we get deep into the practical steps, it is important to get your mind around the big concept of SEO. First, forget about trying the please the search engine bots. That sounds counter-intuitive, but the primary goal of SEO is to provide a good user experience to searchers. This means prioritizing answering searcher intent – your content should strive to provide valuable answers to real search queries. That’s the backbone of all search engine optimization.
All discussions of title tags, image optimization, and keyword density should be considered secondary to user experience and searcher intent. If you are looking for shortcuts to trick Google into thinking your page is better than it really is, then you’re in the wrong place. This guide is intended to help you optimize for real people first and bots as a secondary benefit.
If meeting searcher intent is our number one priority, then we should start our SEO discussion with content. All the metadata and link strategy in the world won’t overcome poorly constructed content. So, invest the majority of your time in crafting the highest quality content possible.
Content length is a big factor in SEO. Backlinko did a study that shows that the average word count of a Google first page result is 1,890 words! This doesn’t mean that you should fluff every piece of content until you hit a magic number – that’s a recipe for bad user experience.
There is still room for smaller pieces of content to boost your SERP (search engine result page) presence. But they should be deployed in support of high-quality, long-form content. The content experts at Vertical Measures call this a hub and spoke model. In this model, you craft big ‘hub’ pieces of content that are supported and promoted with smaller ‘spoke’ pieces of content.
Bottom Line: Keep all your content over 400 words and produce occasional high-value pieces that push the 2000-word count.
Keywords have been the focus of the SEO world since the beginning, but today’s keyword discussions are totally different than they were in 2006. The search engine algorithms have evolved to the point where we don’t have to stress over including every exact-match variant in every piece of content.
Following keyword advice from last decade is more likely to get you penalized than to help your rankings improve. In today’s world, you should be writing naturally and organically around your topic and focus keyword. This will include semantically related words that Google understands as related to your target keyword. You still should include your focus keyword occasionally (and especially in the first 150 words), but don’t go crazy with keyword stuffing.
Bottom Line: If you’re writing long-form content that is relevant to your target keywords, you don’t need to waste time counting keywords or going for perfect density. The search engine bots have evolved past that and so should your content.
Every page should have the content organized under headings, and those headings should be marked out with HTML header tags. Your headline/title (and only your headline) should be marked out with the H1 tag. The H1 tag should also include your targeted keyword – it’s one of the most impactful places to include keywords.
The rest of your content should be broken up under sub-headings – H2 all the way down to H6. Try to target long-tail and semantically related keywords with your sub-head tags. A good rule of thumb is to include a heading after no more than 300 words. It keeps your content scannable and easy to digest.
Google closely tracks how much time users spend on your website. If they serve up your page as the number one result and a user bounces in just a few seconds, then they know they failed to meet the searcher’s intent. High bounce rates will push you down the rankings – so make sure you are capturing (and keeping) users’ attention.
There is no one single solution for improving your site’s dwell time. But work on offering excellent quality content in an attractive package. Make sure that your site loads quickly, has easy to follow structure, and includes attractive images.
Bottom Line: Improving dwell time is often the result of all the content optimization methods mentioned here. Creating high-quality content that is presenting in an easy-to-understand package is essential for keeping the attention of searchers.
Meta Data Optimization
Once you have spent time ensuring your content is of the highest quality, you can turn to fine-tuning your metadata. Metadata is less important to the user experience, so it should be a secondary priority to the methods mentioned above.
But it will provide a boost to the user experience (especially title tags) and has an SEO impact, so don’t totally skip over these steps. Plus, they are generally quick and easy to accomplish.
We’ve already talked about the importance of engaging images for increasing dwell time. But you should also make sure those images are optimized from an SEO perspective. First, the image’s file name should contain a targeted keyword. And second, the alt tag should provide an accurate description of the image.
Many SEOs will just copy the keyword into the alt tag, and that’s not horrible, but remember you are better off focusing on user experience. And if you are selecting relevant images, then the alt tag will contribute to the overall relevancy of your content.
Bottom Line: Including more relevant information is always good for both user experience and SEO. Make sure to include descriptive names and alt tags to all your images.
Title tags are highly important because they have a big impact on both user experience and SEO. Your title tag will appear as the clickable link on the SERPs, and so it needs to capture audience attention in just a few words. You need to set expectations (to avoid bounces) and entice searchers (to increase clicks) all at the same time.
This is the best place to include your targeted keywords – because it will be the first thing that searchers see. Just like writing headlines, you should invest the time to craft an engaging title tag. The best content in the world won’t get noticed if you fail to write an eye-catching title.
Bottom Line: Spend time writing three or four title tags and pick the one that includes keywords, sets the right expectation, and sells the big idea of your content.
The meta description will appear as the short paragraph below the title tag link on the SERPs and as preview text on social shares. It serves many of the same purposes as the title tag but is in a secondary role – because of its location and people’s tendency to only read the headline before clicking.
You probably don’t need to write four meta descriptions for every page, but take the time to craft a well-written and enticing meta description. Put on your sales hat and pitch your content in the best light possible. Just keep in mind that Google will occasionally ignore your meta description and pull directly from your content to fill out the description.
Bottom Line: Think of the meta description as a sales pitch for your content. But remember that Google doesn’t use meta descriptions as an indexing tool so don’t waste too much time on it.
Other On-Page SEO Factors
If you optimize for your content and your metadata, then you’ll be in a pretty good place. But there are a few other factors that can help push your on-page SEO efforts from helpful to supercharged. Like optimizing for metadata, these factors won’t take hours to complete so they are worth doing on every new page.
This might come as a surprise, but your URL structure can have an effect on your search engine optimization. Google will look for keywords in your URL and use that data to help index and deliver your page to searchers.
Google has also stated that they give the most weight to the first 5 words of your URL. This means that you should build a URL structure that is simple and allows the search engine bots to focus on the important words contained in the URL.
Bottom Line: It’s time to drop the complicated, randomized URL and embrace a simple, user-friendly system that highlights each page’s focus keywords.
Adding external links might be the easiest way to boost your SEO performance. By linking to high-authority, relevant pages, you help Google understand the content of your page while offering value to searchers who have landed on your page.
Don’t be afraid of diluting your message – the internet is more about an ongoing conversation than holding your audience captive. External links position your content as a part of that ongoing conversation.
Bottom Line: External linking requires very little effort and sends valuable relevancy signals to search engines. It’s fast, easy, and gets results.
You should balance your external linking with links to your own content. This will help search engines index your full page and understand your site architecture. And it will also provide resources to your readers if they want to dig deeper into your area of expertise.
Your in-content linking should be to pages that are deeper on your website (not on the main navigation). This is because bots will only follow a link once, so if it appears on the main navigation, the in-content link will be ignored.
Bottom Line: Improve user retention and crawling by linking to blog posts and other ‘deep’ content from within the body of your content. Like external links, it is an easy and fast way to boost your SEO.
On-Page Search Engine Optimization
That’s a pretty good chunk of information, but it covers the vast majority of on-page SEO factors. If you’re looking to give your website a boost up the rankings, then there’s no better way than to follow this guide for each page. The content optimization will take a big investment, but many of the steps are quick and easy.
If reading through this guide made your head spin, don’t worry! Help is only a click away. An SEO plan from Fusion Group USA will optimize your site for both on- and off-page factors – helping you climb the rankings without having to dive into the technical details. We have plans for businesses of every shape and size, so contact us today to learn more!