On-page optimization tips for boosting your rankings and delighting your visitors in 2020.
Why optimizing for search engines is optimizing for visitors.
What is on-page optimization?
On-page optimization (also known as on-page SEO) is the practice of optimizing your individual web pages for both search engines and the people who visit your page from a search engine results page (SERP). The term on-page optimization encapsulates any changes you make to the content on your page or in the HTML markup behind the scenes to make your page more relevant to search engines and their users.
Optimizing for search engines is optimizing for visitors.
When search engines were in their infancy, their users didn't get nearly the amount of consideration they get today, from the search engines themselves and from SEO practitioners alike. A lack of sophistication in the search algorithms meant that black hat SEO techniques such as keyword stuffing, hidden text and cloaking could help get web pages ranked on page one for content that wasn't even relevant to the search query.
Thankfully, search engines have since grown up and are now deeply focused on finding the most relevant content for their users. This makes their service more useful and in turn, increases their advertising revenue. The evolution of the search engine algorithm has involved suppressing pages that use black hat techniques and using machine learning to understand search intent and display a myriad of useful and varied SERP features. The way a query is phrased in the search box can dramatically alter how a search results page appears. As we learned previously in our article about optimizing for search intent, Google will display different results and combinations of SERP features such as carousels, featured snippets, answer boxes , tables, lists and more, based on how their algorithm interprets the users search intent.
The key thing to take away from these advancements in search algorithms is that optimizing for search engines is optimizing for visitors. Search engines like Google are focused not just on providing results that are super relevant to the search query but also measuring how users interact with those results and then using that information to improve the results they deliver. As we'll see below in the on-page factors that influence search ranking, the experience your visitor has on your page is becoming an increasingly important ranking factor to pay attention to.
Keyword research is the foundational step for creating content that search engines and visitors will love. See our comprehensive guide on how to do keyword research.
It is also important to consider search intent when deciding how to phrase your keywords. For example, if you are optimizing a product page, the product name, price and SKU will be some of the important keyword modifiers to include. On the other hand if you are optimizing a page that is a guide on using this product, keyword modifiers such as 'how to ___' or 'how do I use ___'.
Armed with a mix of long tail and high volume keywords, you can now go about structuring your page to include them.
The page title is defined in the <title> tag in your HTML markup. Its importance can't be underestimated since it appears as the first line of the search result and is a strong contributing factor as to whether a searcher chooses your page over a competing page in the SERP. Page title is also an important ranking factor.
Page Title as part of search result.
Page Title Tips
- Make your title enticing and relevant to your page topic.
- Give each page a unique title.
- Keep to within 50 - 60 characters to avoid truncation in SERPs.
- Use keywords at the beginning of the title.
- Don't stuff your page title with keywords.
- Include your brand name.
Along with the Title Tag, the Meta Description is an important piece of content that appears as part of the search result. View this as an advertisement for your page and an opportunity to write compelling content to encourage clicks.
The Meta Description is not a direct ranking factor, however when a searcher clicks on your link from a search results page and stays on your page a while, Google records this as a signal that your page successfully answered their search query and takes it into account when ranking your page.
Meta Description as part of search result
Meta Description Tips
- Write compelling call-to-action content
- Give each page a unique Meta Description
- Keep to within 155 characters to avoid truncation in SERPs
- Include your main keywords
A short, human readable URL that includes your main keywords separated by hyphens is ideal.
If you're using a CMS, web builder or platform, you may find the URLs it generates look something like this:
Most CMS systems will enable you to change the URL to be more user friendly and shareable. You want your URLs to look more like this:
Content is one of the top two organic ranking factors in Google search. This makes content optimization a top priority for any organic SEO strategy.
The volume of content being produced for the web is growing exponentially and paid search costs are rising. This makes it increasingly important to maximize your chance of being found organically.
Content quality is a ranking factor and as you may have noticed in recent years, there is a trend towards longer, in depth articles with rich multimedia elements. This is because both humans and search engines prefer to see a topic covered in depth on a single page rather than split into multiple pages. Articles that come in at around the 4000 - 6000 word mark have the opportunity to rank better than shorter articles.
Applying a rich mixture of content formatting such as headings and subheadings, lists, bold and italic text, and "blockquotes", helps with visitor engagement on your page which in turn will help with your search engine ranking.
Headings & Subheadings
Breaking your content into digestible chunks using headings and subheadings helps visitors scan your content and focus on the sections most relevant to them.
Your H1 should include your primary keywords and be closely related to the Page Title and main topic for the page. H2s and H3s can include secondary keywords. This mix of long tail and short tail keywords will help search engines understand what your page is about.
Internal links are links between pages on your website. If you can link related pages together naturally from within the main body of your content, using optimized link text, you not only increase the usefulness of your website for visitors but you also help search engines find your content by establishing site architecture and passing link equity from one page to another.
A link that appears naturally within your content with optimized link text might look like this:
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Links to relevant content on high quality external websites can help increase the relevance of your page for search engines and also make the content more useful for your visitors. Outbound links can also help encourage backlinks from the sites you link to.
Increasingly narrow attention spans in this age of instant gratification, combined with the proliferation of mobile internet usage has made page speed an increasingly important consideration for keeping your visitors engaged once they find your website.
Google understands this well and as a result has made page speed a top ranking factor, giving priority to faster loading pages.
See our guide on how to boost your rankings and conversions by increasing your page speed.
Images & Multimedia
Using images and multimedia such as photography, illustrations, charts, infographics and video can help keep your visitors engaged with your content and stay on your page longer. This is known as dwell time and is a ranking factor. It is a signal to Google that your page was a good fit for the search query and provided your visitor with a useful answer or solution.
Images and multimedia contribute heavily to the speed a page loads so it's important to optimize and compress images. If you're using photographs, export them as JPGs and use compression. Illustrations or logos can be exported as PNG or SVG.
Image Compression Online Tools
Not a Photoshop user? No problem, these online image compression tools have your back.
Nano — SVG compression
Tiny JPG — JPG and PNG compression
Keyword Optimization for Images
Descriptive image alt tags, file names and captions that include keywords can give your page a boost and help people find your page through image search — an increasingly popular way to find content.
Over the past decade, websites have had to adapt to be usable on devices other than desktops. In 2016 we reported that mobile and tablet internet usage had exceeded desktop for the first time worldwide.
Non-responsive vs responsive design.
Since the emergence of mobile web browsers, responsive design has become best practice for displaying the same content in different layouts, based on the viewport width of the visitors browser. Whether viewing on a primitive smartphone or a supersized desktop monitor, the same website can be used without having to zoom and pan on small screens to enlarge tiny text.
Since 2015, Google has been prioritising mobile-friendly websites in organic rankings. Making sure your website is responsive is good for your visitors and your ability to be found in search organically.
Analyze and track your on-page optimization in Statcounter
The Pages feature in Statcounter analyze individual pages on your website and view trends for individual pages with a breakdown of referrals from search engines, other websites, social media and paid traffic campaigns.
Track your on-page optimizations over time for each page on your site and see what’s working and what you need to do more of.
The Pages feature in Statcounter
Make no mistake, search engines, like most businesses, are motivated by profit. Data is the fuel and selling advertising is the fire. However, the newly found focus on providing the most useful content for a searchers' query helps all of us. It sharpens our senses and helps us focus our attention on the searchers, the visitors and the potential customers.