Search algorithm updates that focus on content and user experience have brought along with them new on-page SEO strategies. While keywords still play an important role, relevancy and user experience are taking center stage in all SEO efforts. Rand Fishkin from Moz states that effective on-page optimization should:
A) Have the best opportunity to rank highly in Google and Bing
B) Earn traffic from social networks like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.
C) Be worthy of links and shares from across the web
D) Build your brand’s perception, trust, and potential to convert visitors
Here’s what Rand and many other influential SEO’s consider to be the most important elements of on-page SEO:
Provide Content That Makes A Difference
When content truly makes a difference, it provides unique value to the user. It can help to solve a problem or improve a process, for example. Adding interesting visual elements to your content is one easy way to add more value for users. If the content is useful and valuable to the user, it is much more likely that the content will be shared. We’ll talk more about why social sharing is so important later.
Create A Flawless User Experience
As noted by Brian Dean of Backlinko, Google has made no secret of the fact that page loading time is an important SEO ranking factor. A MunchWeb study found that 75% of users won’t return to a site that takes longer than four seconds to load, so it’s important that your pages load in under four seconds. Dean states the easiest way to reduce page loading time is to invest in a quality web hosting service.
Internal linking is important to user experience as well. From my own experience, I find internal links extremely helpful. I enjoy being directed to related content on a website and relevant, well-placed internal links do help keep me on a website longer. Dean states it’s a good practice to include internal links towards the beginning of your content because users tend to be more “click happy” when they enter your page. Again, from my own browsing habits I also find this to be true.
Clear, clean design and navigation are also an important elements of user experience. The number of steps it takes for a user to complete any action on the site should be as minimal as possible. It’s now becoming clear that mobile-friendliness is no longer optional. Mobile-friendly design and fast loading time are both necessary for SEO. We’ll talk more about that later on as well.
Put Keywords Where They Belong
Keyword targeting is here to stay, but the way to do it for SEO has evolved. Here is what is still considered important when it comes to keywords (I used a mash-up of data from Moz, Whole Brain Marketing and Backlinko for this section):
The page title is extremely important. A user wants to see the keyword they’ve searched for in your page title so they’ll know it’s worth a click. The primary keyword should be used at least once, preferably at the beginning of the title. Read more about writing great titles here.
The meta description of your page is another place the primary keyword should appear. Don’t stuff the description with as many keywords as possible. Two to three keywords is a good limit. The goal of the meta description should be to compel the user to click on the link, so be specific and explain how the page creates value. Search terms are also bolded in the page description which can help increase your page’s visibility to the user. Remember, the page description will be cut off after 155 characters on the search results page.
Much like the page title, including the targeted keyword in the headlines of the page is a way to let the user and search engines know your content is relevant to the search.
Get right to the point in your content by including your keyword within at least the first 150 words. This not only helps SEO but your reader as well (we have short attention spans). And again, don’t stuff your content with tons of keywords. Follow the two to three keyword strategy from the description for your copy as well.
Most content management systems today will generate a URL for the page based on its title. If your title is already optimized with a keyword, the URL will be optimized as well. Also, URLs will serve as anchor text around the web when people share your content, so they should fully optimized.
Images are often forgotten because they’re not known for high traffic or conversions. However, images should be optimized for at least one keyword. If anything, it will help emphasize the topic of your content and improve your search rankings. Besides including the primary keyword in the title of the saved image file and alt text for your code, adding a title or caption for the image in the text with the keyword can be helpful as well. Also, when an image is linked, the alt attribute is viewed like anchor text by search engines.
Outbound & Inbound Links
Using outbound link keywords to authoritative sites has been shown to increase page rank. Linking to relevant sites with high page ranks helps Google better understand what your site is all about. Additionally, users find value in being directed to related content and this added value can contribute to return visits. As for internal linking, a user should be able to find a page in no more than four clicks or three clicks if the site is smaller. It’s also always a good idea to link to relevant pages on your site within the content or post, as we talked about in the User Experience section.
Meta keywords are so yesterday. Google announced way back in 2009 that meta keywords are no longer used to determine rankings. Therefore, you can forget about using meta keywords in your on-page SEO strategy forever.
Make Content Easy to Share
Social sharing buttons are key for this component of on-page SEO. There’s no need to include a social sharing button for every social network on the web though. Just focus on the networks your target audience uses most. Social proof is extremely important for any business because it helps instill customer trust. Google also takes social proof into account for search rankings as it helps determine how relevant users found the site’s content. A study by BrightEdge found that making social sharing buttons easy to see and use can increase social sharing by 700%. Obviously, the use of social sharing buttons is an on-page SEO opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.
Design For Use On Any Device
Web traffic is becoming increasingly mobile. Is your site responsive (meaning the design of your site is optimized for all screen sizes)? According to Frank Isca of The Weidert Group, Google prefers responsive sites over ones that have a separate sites for desktop and mobile. Leverage responsive web design to provide a better user experience and to prevent double SEO work for two sites (one on the m. domain and one on your regular domain). Also, as Rand from Moz says,
If you’re not optimized for all devices, you’re missing critical opportunities for amplification to a broader audience.
Let The Crawlers/Bots Find You
Making sure your pages can be found by the search engines is another critical piece of on-page SEO. Follow these guidelines from Moz when it comes to being crawler/bot accessible:
- Avoid duplicate content: If you have identical content on two different URLs of your pages, use the rel=canonical tag to direct the bots to the original page
- Follow best practices for URLS: They shouldn’t be too long, should be static instead of dynamic and should be included in the correct RSS feeds or XML sitemaps
- Don’t make the mistake of blocking bots: While it’s ok to block bots from certain content, be extremely careful that you don’t stop them from indexing your important pages
- Use the proper redirects: Make sure you are using the right codes and protocol when you have to redirect your content (read this article on best practices for SEO redirection)
Take Advantage of Additional Markup (Authorship, Rich Snippets, Etc.)
There are many new ways to include additional markup for your content in search engine listings, such as Google Authorship and Rich Snippets. Rand from Moz suggests identifying the markup that will provide the most value to your potential customers. Avoid using every additional markup that’s out there because it could be damaging to your online reputation. Learn more about rich snippets here.
While on-page SEO is needed to achieve higher rankings in search results, content is truly the key. When the content provides unique value to the audience, many of the other on-page SEO elements, such as social sharing, will naturally take place. Following the key practices of on-page SEO will help your content perform at its best and help make the most of your content marketing efforts.