There are three big categories of on-page SEO that you’ll need to take a look at. The first and most important is content.
On-Page SEO Part 1: CONTENT
You’ve probably heard it before: “Content is king.” Bill Gates made this prediction in 1996, and it’s as true as ever today.
Because a Google search engine customer is happy when he finds the result that serves his needs in the best way. When you Google “quick and easy homemade mac and cheese,” Google will put all its energy into delivering to you what Google believes is the best recipe for homemade mac and cheese (that takes little time and uses few ingredients) on the entire web. It doesn’t look for just the quickest recipe, just the easiest recipe, or throw out a bunch of online shops for frozen dinners. It tries to give you exactly what you asked for. Google always tries to give you the best experience possible by directing you to the best content it can find. This means that your number one job to do well with SEO is to produce great content.
That’s a bummer, right? Having to put in all that work to create superior content? Actually no. Because most of your competitors are too lazy to make the effort. So this is actually a huge opportunity for you to overtake bigger, better-funded competition. Just like the best marketing in the world won’t help you sell a bad product, super advanced SEO will be useless if you’re content just plain sucks.
Here are the factors that make up great content in Google’s eyes:
Quality –While the times where just delivering the best-quality content would make you stand out from the crowd are long gone, it is still the starting point for any successful SEO effort (and any online business, really).
But coming up with great content is not easy. After all, it means that you have to become a teacher — and a good one at that. Yet, you don’t have to start from scratch. You can often start by piggybacking off of content that others have created and then making it better, longer, and more in-depth. Or maybe you have your own ideas already. If you do, then it might be worth brainstorming for a while and then come up with a compelling to start out with. Once you start writing, make sure you include all the important ingredients of great content in your blog post. Even if you’re a complete newbie, you can always take a professional approach to great content by simply committing to make writing a daily habit and work your way up in increments from there.
Keyword research –Doing your keyword research up-front is a crucial part of great content.
Since you ideally want to include your targeted keyword in your post’s headline and throughout the article, you need to choose your keyword before you start writing. Out of all on-page SEO factors, keyword research is what you should spend the most time learning. When I say don’t sleep on this, I mean it. There’s a reason we took the time to compile the top 40 posts on keyword research on Kissmetrics.
Use of keywords –Google has gotten smarter over the years. While you should, of course, use your keyword throughout your content, jamming your keyword into your text as much as possible will hurt your rankings rather than improve them.
Keyword stuffing is an absolute no-go these days. Today, the use of keywords is much more about semantics – or searcher intent. Google has gotten so good at interpreting the meaning of searchers’ keywords that it’s creepy. It not only looks at your keyword but also synonyms of it to understand what you mean when you type in something like “five guys nyc.”
Google will know that you’re probably not looking for five random males, but rather, it guesses that you’re looking for the fast-food chain “Five Guys, Burgers & Fries” by looking at similar searches that may include the keywords “burgers” and “fries.”
As long as you make sure your keyword is present in strategically important places (like headlines, URL, and meta description), there is no need to mention it tons of times in your text.
Just focus on the reader and seamlessly integrate your keyword a few times.
Freshness of content –Hubspot has done a benchmark this year that showed, once again, that posting more frequently improves Google rankings.
However, posting new content is only one way to signal Google freshness. There are plenty of things that you can do with content that you’ve already published to make it more up-to-date.
Brian Dean from Backlink, for example, has only published around 30 posts in two years. Yet, he keeps all of his posts up to date by rewriting them and adding new information as he finds it.
While it is important to publish regularly, you can still get great results by posting once a month as long as your content is thorough and in-depth.
Direct answers –Finally, Google will sometimes provide searchers with direct answers right on the SERP. If you write your content clearly enough for Google to recognize it as an answer to a particular question, it will show up directly beneath the search bar.
Matt Cutts, former head of Google’s spam team and often public voice for the latest in SEO and algorithm changes, announced last year that people who were cutting the jargon would be right on track.
That’s why detailed guides and long how-to’s have become more and more popular. So make sure you clear up your writing. Fancy buzzwords and complex sentence constructions will neither make you sound smart nor help your SEO game.
We just briefly touched on keyword research. But it’s such a massively important topic that it deserves its own section. Keywords dictate what each piece of content is about. It dictates what you call your site or how you describe your brand online. Keywords even dictate how you build links, including everything from the tactics you choose to how you plan on implementing them. The best SEOs are constantly doing keyword research. They’re also constantly reevaluating if the keywords on their existing content still make sense. Here’s how smart people make bad keyword decisions. Common keyword research mistake #1:Picking the wrong keyword. Let’s say you sell consulting services. Your service might cost customers $10,000 over the course of a year. That’s a little less than a thousand bucks a month, so it’s not out of the question.
But it’s still fairly expensive.
Now, if you’re ranking #1 for “free business growth tips,” guess what kind of audience you’re going to attract?
You’ll bring in people looking for free stuff! And that means that they probably won’t hand over their credit card the moment they hit your site.
That one keyword could send your site thousands of people each month. However, it’s probably the wrong audience. So it doesn’t make sense to rank for it! You’d be better off picking a different keyword that has buyer intent even 990 visits a month.
Common keyword research mistake #2:Ignoring the competition you’ve selected the right keyword from the get-go. It’s contextually relevant to what you do. And it better aligns with what
you’re trying to sell. So what is the very next thing you do? You open up a keyword volume tool like the Google Keyword Planner or even a paid one like SEMrush.You type in a few ideas and get the results back.
Naturally, you start gravitating toward the ones with the highest number of searches. But here’s the thing you’re missing.Your ability to rank for a keyword often depends more on the competition you’re up against. Check out the keyword “content marketing,” for example.
It gets around 6.5-9.5k monthly searches. That’s pretty good! It’s not one of the most popular on the web by any stretch. But it’s a good start. The problem happens when you compare your own site to the ones currently ranking.
Do you see the domain and page authorities for those sites? Do you see the number of linking root domains they each have? It would take most websites months (if not years) to get anywhere close. That means that your chance of pushing one of us out of the top three positions to none. So what happens next? People go straight to long-tail keywords as a result. They assume that just because the volume will be much lower for these, the competition will be, too. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Check out the “content marketing agency” search query to see why.
The volume is way less at only around 100 visits. It seems like the perfect long-tail keyword.
Except, there’s just one problem. Check out this competition.
All of these sites have been around for years. They all have hundreds (if not thousands or tens of thousands) of links. The competition for this query is just as competitive as the first popular one. So this one is worse than the first one. If you were to somehow rank at the top of this one, you’d barely get any traffic! The demand for this query is just too low given the high competition level. So once again, it doesn’t make sense. What do you do next?
How can you possibly find keywords that are: Relevant to your business not too competitive but still provide enough traffic to be worth the effort? That’s the golden question. The answer is that you have to think outside the box. Here’s how. Keyword research tip #1: Focus on search intent. Most people focus on keywords. Counterintuitively, that’s now what you want to do. Instead of looking at what people are typing in, you should be trying to identify what they’re searching for. This is what “search intent” refers to. And it’s the difference between getting a tiny bit of traffic and driving real revenue. Let’s kick things off with a basic scenario to highlight the difference. You own a job site. You make money by getting companies to run job post listings on your site. That means that you need to get job pages ranking well so that people come to your site instead of Indeed or somewhere else. The more people who find jobs through you, the more you’ll get paid.
But watch what happens with a keyword like “engineering jobs.”
The results are all over the place! Some refer to mechanical engineers while others focus on software or entry-level positions. The intent behind each search is completely different. That’s what you need to pinpoint.
What exactly is this user looking for? Which type of engineering job are they interested in?
Fortunately, this problem highlights how we can eventually solve it by coming up with good keywords that aren’t too competitive. Indeed.com might be a tough competitor right now. So you need to find different alternatives based on search intent. First, look at Google’s own suggested searches for that query.
These are other common searches that people perform. Already, you have a few potentials.“Mechanical,” “civil,” and “industrial” might be highly competitive. But what about “environmental” or “audio”? Scroll down to the very bottom of the SERP to get even more suggestions from Google. The “aerospace” one is especially interesting.
Let’s look at one last example to see the role search intent plays in keyword selection before moving on to another tool. But let’s start this one with a question: What is someone looking for when they type “best marketing automation tool” into Google? Yes, they’re looking for a marketing automation tool. Except, they aren’t ready to commit to one just yet. Instead, what they’re doing is looking for a way to evaluate alternatives. They’re looking for a side-by-side comparison so they can compare apples to apples. Now, watch what happens when you run that search query into Google.
I highlighted the first paid result and organic ranking because they’re going after search intent.
They’re trying to understand what people are looking for and not just what they’re typing in. Then, they’re giving it to them. The other paid results in the middle are just trying to sell you a tool despite the fact that people searching here want to look at multiple options. Those companies are looking at a list of keywords without considering the underlying motivation of each user. It’s like tunnel vision. You pull up a list of keywords in some tool, rank by search volume, and run down the list. Instead, you need to expand your options as you saw a second ago with Google’s own suggestions. AnswerThePublic is another of my favorite tools to do this because it uses actual search queries to build a list. Search for “best marketing automation tools,” and it will break the list down even further.
One of my favorite graphs will even help you segment exactly who’s searching for this.
For example, this graph shows that the following people are searching for “best marketing automation tools”:
- WordPress users
- B2B professionals
- Small businesses
- StartupsEach of these is a completely different audience. Each might have its own budget. A venture-backed startup is willing to pay more than a small business, for instance. Each also has its own needs.WordPress users will want a simple plugin to run campaigns directly from
inside the application, whereas a B2B professional might be platform agnostic. Or, they might want to run their website through the automation tool so that there’s less to manage. See the implications of that? It changes which keywords you target. The pages you build or the blog posts you create will address subsets of each one to compete for the best keywords in each space. But it even impacts the campaigns you’re eventually going to run. If you’re trying to get press mentions and you’re going after WordPress users, that means you’re going to target WordPress-specific sites and bloggers.You’re going to pitch or advertise on WPBeginner instead of Inc.com even though their readership is less.
Your odds of success will be higher due to less competition. And the site’s audience will be far more interested in what you have to sell. That means that you’ll not just get better links or search rankings, but also a lot more revenue.
On-Page SEO Part 2: HTML
Once you’ve made sure your content is evergreen, the next big chunk you have to take care of is HTML. You don’t have to be a professional coder or get a degree in programming by any means. But, running an online business without knowing the basics of HTML would be the same as driving without knowing what the colors of traffic lights mean. Thankfully, with places like Codecademy or Khan Academy, there are more than enough possibilities to learn everything about HTML that you need in the blink of an eye and for free. Heck, you can even learn it on the job by just using a simple cheat sheet.
Let’s take a look at the four parts of HTML you should optimize for each and every single piece of content you produce.
Title tags –Title tags are the online equivalent of newspaper headlines. They are what shows up in the tab of your browser when you open a new page.
The HTML tag for them is called the title. But when it comes to blogs, it often becomes an h1-tag, which stands for heading of the first order. Every page should only have one h1 tag to make the title clear to Google.
Meta description –Meta descriptions are what show up as an excerpt when Google displays your page as a result to searchers. It’s easy to spot
who’s done their SEO homework and who hasn’t by the meta description.
If you optimize a meta description result, Google will never cut it off and end with “…” or make it seem like it ends mid-sentence. Optimized meta descriptions also often mention the content’s keyword up-front. You can learn how to come up with great meta tags on Quick Sprout University, and should also check out some good examples to get a feel for descriptions. Don’t overthink this 160-character text snippet though. When writing it, you should keep the searchers in mind much more than the search engines. My favorite way to edit both of these is by using the Yoast SEO WordPress plugin.
I use it across a lot of my sites because it’s simply the best SEO plugin on the market.
It’s the most popular, they update it almost weekly, and it includes a lot of advanced time-saving features.
It will not only help you quickly edit your titles and metadata but it will also:
- Help you set metadata for each social network so that Facebook, Twitter, etc. will properly format your rich data, such as the images.
- Dynamically create and update your XML sitemap as your site evolves.
- Integrate with your Google Search Console out of the box so that you can quickly find and fix the biggest problem areas on your site.
- And lots more!
For example, instead of having to customize each page or post manually, you can create default settings for your titles and metadata. You can even add extra features. Two of my favorites are the Readability and Keyword analysis tools that help give simple benchmarks to people you’re working with or outsourcing to.
That way, there are clear indicators for them to hit before ever publishing directly to your site.
Schema –Schema is the result of a collaboration of several search engines. It’s basically just a subset of specific HTML tags that will improve the way the search engine result pages display your content.
For example, the author of the above example with Bitcoin used Schema to create the rating that Google displays on the SERP. It’s a rather small factor, but definitely good practice. When you’re done, don’t forget to test your page to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Subheads –I’ve previously identified subheads as one of the seven things every great landing page needs.
Not only do they help format and structure your content and give your readers easy reference points, but they also affect SEO. Compared to your h1-tags, your h2, h3, h4, and further subheads have less SEO power. But they still matter, so you should use them.
Plus, it’s one of the easiest SEO wins you can get on WordPress.
How to diagnose these HTML improvements –Google’s Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) has an “HTML Improvements” report that will help you spot some of the issues that I highlighted above.
Google uses your site’s metadata, including the title tags and meta description, to figure out exactly how to classify your site and then tell users about it.
Inside this report, you’ll be able to quickly diagnose if:
- You have duplicated them across other pages or posts on your site.
- They are too long, truncated, or cut off before people can fully read them.
- They are too short so they’re not descriptive or helpful enough.
- They simply aren’t informative enough and are lacking keyword intent.
- The report will give you a sitewide analysis.
Then, you can click on the number by each one to dive into the specific page or post issue.
On-Page SEO Part 3: ARCHITECTURE
The third and last part of on-page SEO that I’ll cover is site architecture. While this part gets super-techy really quickly, there are a few simple things everyone can and should take care of to improve SEO rankings. A good website architecture leads to a great experience for the user when he or she navigates your page. It focuses on things like fast loading times, a safe connection, and a mobile-friendly design. Ideally, you’ll map out the architecture of your site before even buying the domain. That allows you to really get into the head of your user and reverse-engineer your way to a great user experience (UX). You also need to optimize a few things for a great “search engine experience.” The more accessible your website is to Google, the better it will rank.
Easy to crawl –Remember the spiders from the introductory video? These are the programs that “crawl” from one page on your site to the next through links.
Depending on how well they can index all the pages on your site, they’ll be more likely to report back to Google that you are a good result. The thicker the web of links between pages of your site, the easier it is for the spiders to reach all of them, giving the search engine a better understanding of your site. You can make this job easier for Google by creating a sitemap with a simple plugin if you’re on WordPress or an online XML sitemap generator.
Duplicate content –There are a lot of myths ranking around duplicate content and how it hurts your rankings. A common mistake is to think that everything on your page should be original. Because the fact is, search engines do not penalize websites for duplicate content.
Re-posting your content on other websites or publishing your guest posts again on your own site doesn’t hurt your SEO unless you do it the wrong (spammy) way. For example, if you re-post your exact same content to a big outlet like Medium, it might hurt your rankings because Google indexes your Medium article first since it’s on the more authoritative domain. We often refer to this as a “canonicalization” problem. And many times, it’s already happening on your site without you even realizing it.
This is the blog category page that displays the most recent posts. Each post features a title, an image, and a share or comment count. Now, compare that to another blog example like MarketingLand.com.
Here, the latest posts feature an image and a title. But they also include a short description of the post. This is pretty common across all blogs. That’s because the theme you’re using (like on WordPress) often pulls this excerpt automatically. And it’s pulling it from the first few lines of the blog post.
As I said, this happens automatically. This feature is typically built-in by the theme’s developer because it can help readers see what the post is about. However, it also has the potential to create canonicalization issues. Technically speaking, that’s duplicate content. The same exact information is showing up in the individual blog post and the blog category page. Multiply that by thousands of blog posts, and you have an issue all of a sudden. There are several ways to fix canonicalization issues like these. But the exact solution depends on what’s causing the original issue. For example, removing a few lines of code from your blog theme will fix the above issue in about 30 seconds (if you know what you’re doing, of course). So even though Google Search Console or another tool says you have thousands of duplicate content errors, you really just have one big root cause.
If you have multiple versions of the same page, the canonical tag can help you specify which content is the original. All you have to do is drop in a single line of code that references the original page URL like this. Fortunately, plugins like Yoast SEO make this simple. You can set the default page or post version as canonical so that it always adds this line by default.
Alternatively, you can specify it manually under the advanced settings options for each page or post:
Another time-saving WordPress tip is to use the Quick Page/Post Redirects plugin. This one is helpful if you’ve had old pages morph into new ones. This often leaves behind a wave of broken links, too. Install the plugin, and you can add the old URLs in bulk and then the new version of each page.
Use this one with the Broken Link Checker plugin to see which URLs you need to redirect.
Most SEO-focused tools like Moz will also crawl your site like search engines to audit these common issues. Duplicate content and broken links (or 404 errors) are the two most common crawl errors plaguing most websites.
If you’re not on a content management system like WordPress, you’re going to have to edit the .htaccess file of your site to include 301 redirects. I’d strongly recommend educating yourself about 301 redirects and getting some professional help in this case.
Mobile-friendliness –Let’s face it: if your page isn’t mobile-friendly, you lose.
Over 54% of Facebook users access the network exclusively on their mobile devices. Considering that Facebook now has 1.65 billion monthly active users, that number represents nearly 900 million mobile-only users! You simply have to keep mobile devices in mind these days. While there are several ways to make your pages mobile-friendly, I recommend you start by checking with Google’s tool how you hold up right now.
Most WordPress themes are mobile-friendly from the get-go these days, and if not, you can always install a plugin to take care of that. You can also just implement Google’s suggestions from the tool yourself or hire someone to make the changes.
Page speed –Don’t fool yourself. You know just how important this is.
Remember how angry you were the last time the WiFi took 20 seconds to load a page? Today, we value our time more than anything. Long loading times can absolutely kill your conversions.
Google’s recent speed industry benchmarks proved this point. Their research shows that “the probability of someone bouncing from your site increases by 113 percent if it takes seven seconds to load.”
And based on their findings, the average loading time was over 22 seconds. That’s over 3x longer! You can use Google’s Test My Site tool to get a quick read on how well you’re doing (or how much work there is left to tackle).
Another one of my favorite tools to track page speed over time is Pingdom.
This will monitor site performance in general including uptime. You can even track your site from different locations around the world to make sure it’s in tip-top shape for international and multilingual users.
But here are some of the biggest issues to watch out for. Start by reducing the number of average requests to fewer than Google’s recommended 50 if possible. When someone types your web address into their browser, they’re “requesting” that your servers send over information. The smaller the data they’re shipping out, the faster your servers will send it. Both the GIDNetwork and GZIP will help you figure out how to compress the information on your pages to reduce requests. You should also “minify” your site’s code to reduce size. The WP Super Minify WordPress plugin can do it for you automatically, so you don’t even have to know how it combines stylesheet data.
Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) are another fast, easy way to reduce requests.
Most websites today are full of high-resolution images. However, the better they look, the bigger the size. A CDN like Cloudflare will take images off your own servers. They’ll host them on their global network and deliver them to users from the closest point possible to decrease loading times.
WP Smush.it (WordPress) or Compressor.io (non-WordPress) can also help you reduce image sizes prior to uploading. They’ll compress the file to reduce the size without sacrificing any visible quality.
Keywords in URLs –Including your targeted keywords in the URLs of your blog posts is a must. You shouldn’t squander those SEO points.
You might have to change the structure of your permalinks on WordPress, and you should certainly keep your human users in mind. But including your keyword in your URLs is a no-brainer.
HTTPS and SSL –SEOs have considered security to be a ranking signal for some time now.
However, Google’s not stopping there. They’re also now actively warning people when websites are not secure.
These warning notifications will essentially tell people not to give your website their personal information (or worse, their credit card numbers). This is a big problem considering that Chrome is the most popular browser in the world. One of my favorite mind mapping tools is XMind. But check out what happens when you hit their homepage.
Fortunately, their product and checkout pages are secure.
But the last thing you want after working so hard to get traffic to your site is for them to bounce immediately because a big, red notification from Google is warning them away. There are two common security protocols: HTTPS (a secure version of HTTP) and SSL (Secure Socket Layer). Both of them work and are worth considering even if they won’t up your SEO game too much. Moving from a non-secure connection to HTTPS or SSL is a bit of work, but it’s worth your time. If you’re starting out with a new domain, consider purchasing it as an option from your domain registrar or web hosting service.
Technically, there are five different SSL options to choose from:
- Single Domain: This option protects one single domain name. It won’t, however, work on subdomains (like “blog.website.com”).
- Multi-Domain: Your second choice will cover multiple domains like “yourwebsite.com” and “quicksprout.com.” But once again, it won’t cover subdomains of individual sites.
- Wildcard: This one will cover subdomains. So if you have “blog.yourwebsite.com” and “shop.yourwebsite.com,” you’re good to go.
- Organization: This one is similar to the first, but it doesn’t cover as much security for e-commerce transactions.
- Extended: And finally, this one will give you a few extra benefits like the name showing in the green address bar. But it also requires a bit of extra work.
Technically speaking, each one of those options is secure. The difference lies in how you’re going to use it. You can purchase these directly from your domain registrar. Otherwise, many other hosting companies like WPEngine and A2 Hosting will help you set them up. There are also WordPress plugins like Really Simple SSL that will help you quickly set one up.