Thanks to Google’s forever-updating algorithms and complex jargon, on-page SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is often regarded as a bit of a dark art in the world of digital marketing. But it doesn’t have to be.
Follow our guide to discover how to conquer on-page SEO and rank on Google with your blog posts and website content.
What is on-page SEO?
To answer this, we must first answer: what is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation, which defines the strategies and processes of increasing traffic to your web pages by ranking as high up on search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo.
There are two pillars of SEO: on-page and off-page. On-page SEO covers any practical changes to – and the creation of – specific web pages that earn you a higher search engine ranking.
On-page SEO factors
So, this is where it becomes technical SEO. However, our aim is to strip back the complicated jargon and make things as straightforward as they should be. The key columns of on-page SEO factors are:
- Content – The quality, relevancy and uniqueness of the content on the page.
- Architecture – The layout, speed and URLs of the page
- Coding – Using the right HTML to make it as easy as possible for Google to find and understand your content.
On-Page SEO Checklist
1) Write for your audience
Before we get into the technicalities of ranking higher on search engine results pages, there is one thing you must always remember, and that is who you are writing for. User experience is the most important thing. Google is not going to buy your products or services, but your target market will, providing you give them what they want.
Always write for your audience, not Google. Think about what they want to read, and how they want to read it, then find ways to optimise your content so that they can find it.
2) Complete your SEO Keyword Research
There are plenty of useful tools to help you target the right keywords on your web pages. Our favourite is SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool. This is part of SEMrush’s paid plan, although the SEO auditing site does give you the opportunity of a free trial.
If you’d prefer to keep things free, we would recommend Moz Keyword Explorer, which gives you 10 free queries per month. Once you’ve signed up and you know roughly what you want to write about, search for a term you think people would be using to find similar articles online.
Click on See All Suggestions underneath ‘Keyword Suggestions’ and explore your options. When looking for SEO opportunities and openings, keep an eye on searches with a high monthly volume.
If you’re using SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool, you’ll also be able to see a metric called ‘Keyword Difficulty’. This is extremely useful, as it tells you how likely you are to rank for a specific term compared with your competitors. We recommend looking for terms with a high search volume, but a difficulty around the low 70s or less.
Take a look at the example below. When searching for “mens socks”, the best opportunities are ‘fun socks for men’ and ‘mens bamboo socks’. Each has monthly search volumes in the thousands, with very achievable keyword difficulty. They are each an example of a long-tail keyword.
Remember, the more specific your search term/keyword is, the easier it will be to rank. This is why long-tail keywords (e.g. ‘fun socks for men’ as opposed to ‘men’s socks’) are a better use of your time.
3) Keyword Strategy
Once you’ve decided on your keyword, be sure to include it in your:
- Page title (at the start)
- Meta description (this does not technically impact on SEO, but it helps with clickthrough rates)
- H1 (your main header)
- H2 (one of your subheadings – but do not ‘keyword stuff’. This is an old-hat technique in which search engine optimisers would cram keywords into pages as frequently as possible. A fairly recent Google update put a stop to this. Now, if you have your keyword in every subheader and every other sentence, you’ll not only sound like a robot, but your SERP ranking will suffer.
- Image alt tags (providing the image is of your keyword).
These are all essential ranking factors.
If you need help researching and creating long-tail keywords, try using Google’s autocomplete and ‘People also ask’ suggestions. To make the most of autocomplete suggestions, simply type your search into Google and move your cursor to the start.
Useful ‘triggers’ (also known as modifiers) are:
- how to
To use ‘People also ask’, search for your keyword with a trigger, and then click on each of the ‘People also ask’ suggestions to produce more topic ideas and potential subheadings. Aim to answer three of these throughout your piece.
4) What are your competitors writing about?
This is a key indicator of how difficult it will be to rank for this particular search term. Start off by searching your keyword on Google.
As you can see, there is one Google Ad (a paid listing) from sockshop.com that has optimised specifically for that term. However, none of the top organic listings (Asos, Amazon, Sockshop) have optimised their Page title or meta description to include that exact phrase.
This tells you that you have an opportunity – hence the relatively low keyword difficulty score on SEMrush. To gain a real competitive advantage to rank for this particular keyword, you will need to ensure that ‘Fun Socks For Men’ is at the beginning of your title tag, as well as in your meta description.
5) Answer questions
Think about how people search for information on the web. A lot of the time, it’s to ask questions, particularly on search engines.
Use SEMrush Keyword Magic to discover the most-searched questions related to your key phrase. You can also use Google’s People Also Ask feature, which we tackled earlier.
6) Pick a title
When picking a title of your blog, be sure to include your keyword at the front. This is a mistake many people – particularly journalists – make when it comes to content marketing and SEO.
For instance, instead of writing “The best shops to get fun socks for men”, write “Fun Socks For Men: The Best Shops To Buy Them”.
7) Quality and relevancy of content
Google does not want people searching for a term and clicking on a website, only to retreat back to the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) within a few seconds. Therefore, make sure your content is:
- Quality – That means it enriches the user’s experience and gives them exactly what they want, how they want to receive it.
- Purposeful – There are three types of searches online: Do, Know and Go. The ‘Do’ searches are transactional (I want to…), the Know searches are informational (they want to know something) and the Go searches are navigational (where to…). Make sure each page and blog post only serves one of these at a time. It is important to serve all three across your site overall, though.
- Relevant – Does your content give the user what they want? Does it answer their questions? Is it relevant to your keyword, in other words, what they’re searching for?
8) Keep it unique
Google despises duplicate content, and it will punish you for it. Make sure that you do not copy content from other sources online. It’s also pivotal to ensure you don’t have content that’s very similar across multiple pages on your own site.
Keep your calls to action and surrounding page content fresh and unique. Google rewards you for having content and images that are specific to the particular journey a searcher has gone on to get to your site.
9) SEO images
Google now has the capability to scan images and (roughly) know what they are, judging on outlines and shapes. If you include relevant, correctly saved and labelled images on your page, it is sure to improve your rank.
What we mean by this, is ensuring that every image is…
- Saved with an accurate, sensible title. For example, “Mens Brown Nike Sock”, not “IMG1355345558”.
- Optimised and compressed. Use Image Compressor to ensure that your photos are not affecting site speed.
- Equipped with an Alt Tag. Alt text is a label that describes an image for the visually impaired. Make sure your alt tags accurately do this – if you can use your keyword as an alt tag, even better.
SEO Architecture & Site Speed
Site speed is a crucial SEO factor, and one that will constantly crop up in seo checkers and analysis. After all, if your web page loading takes 4 seconds, the chances are users are likely to leave your site before they’ve even read the content.
Google will not like this. Here are a few pointers on improving site speed, while also building an architecture of your web pages that will help with on-page SEO.
1) Backlinks, Hyperlinks & URLs
URLs are a huge on-page SEO factor. Remember to include internal links (hyperlinks that take people to other areas of your site) as well as external (hyperlinks that take people to another area of the internet).
Create hubs of content – pages that can be grouped together to serve a larger purpose. For instance, we would have 10 different blogs about “Content Marketing”, and group them together in each individual piece.
Links need to enrich the experience of your web visitors. The longer you can keep traffic on your site, and the more pages you can send each user to, the smaller your bounce rate. Google rewards sites with low bounce rates, as this demonstrates that your site is authoritative and trustworthy.
When using a hyperlink, make sure your anchor text – the word(s) used to link to another site – add value and tell the user (and search engines!) what the URL is. For example, instead of writing ‘Digital marketing is an extremely powerful tool’, write: “Business owners are looking ahead for the best digital marketing trends for 2020’.
When you’ve linked to an external site, why not try getting in touch with them (tagging on social media or emailing directly) to let them know. They may just link back to you!
2) Compress your images
Optimise and compress your images! Make sure the size of any visual content on your page is not in the megabytes if it doesn’t need to be.
HTML is the code used to communicate your site to Google. Consider it a language that tells Google’s crawler bot (the SEO checker that searches the web for content) what each element on your site is in terms of its functionality, purpose and content.
The most important and basic HTML SEO checklist should cover:
- Title tags (H1, H2, H3 and so on). Fortunately, WordPress will do this for you if you use their builder.
- Meta descriptions
- Alt tags
1) Schemas & Featured Snippets
Schemas are a slightly more complicated type of coding. These are what really separate the best search engine optimisers from the rest.
According to Moz, a schema is a “semantic vocabulary of tags (or microdata) that you can add to your HTML to improve the way search engines read and represent your page in SERPS.”
If you structure your HTML to correctly label particular types of content, you are more likely to appear in featured snippets on Google.
A featured snippet is a type of listing that includes information on the SERP. Often referred to by digital marketers as ‘Position Zero’, a snippet could be in the form of an answer to a question, how-to steps or a recipe, for instance.
To increase your chances of appearing in a featured snippet, check out Moz’s Schema optimisation guide.
On-Page SEO FAQs
1) How many words should I write for a blog?
Google prefers long-form content. When creating a blog, we recommend writing at least 600 words. This way, you can be thorough and specific, while covering the three key requirements to rank on Google:
2) What are SEO backlinks?
SEO backlinks are links through to your site from external sources. These are a precious commodity in terms of search engine optimisation. The more relevant and trustworthy sites you have linking to your web pages, the more likely Google will a) Know about your content, and B) Trust it enough to display it on the SERP.
3) What are AMPs?
AMPs are Accelerated Mobile Pages, which Google can use to help out slow-loading websites. An AMP is a page hosted on Google, but with your site’s content.
4) What should I avoid when writing for SEO?
The one thing Google hates the most is patterns, so do not use the same SEO techniques every time. For instance, if you want to generate backlinks to your site, use a variety of methods (directories, journalists, influencers), not just one.
Google is always looking for emerging patterns to ensure that digital marketers cannot ‘cheat’ the system.
5) What counts as off-page SEO?
Off-Page SEO covers things such as trust, links and personalisation.
- Site authority