A Step-by-Step Guide to Optimizing Your Site
Over the years, on-page SEO practices, for the most part, have remained the same.
But recent advancements in natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML) have helped Google better understand web content and user search intent.
As a result, on-page SEO has become an even more effective way to communicate quality signals and drive clicks from organic search, even for newer websites with less authority and reputation.
However, on-page SEO is also more time-intensive. Google crawlers don’t just look for a single keyword on the page anymore. Google can now understand whether a web page is original, insightful, in-depth, and written by expert authors.
Effective on-page SEO requires more time and investment if you want to see ranking success. Here’s a breakdown of optimizing on-page elements to produce the biggest impact on your website.
What is on-page SEO?
On-page SEO is the process of optimizing web pages to rank for specific keywords on search engines results page (SERP). It’s one of the best SEO strategies for site owners because webmasters have complete control over their site content.
Why is on-page SEO important?
The main benefit of on-page SEO is that it helps Google see your content as relevant and high-quality and promotes it more often in the SERPs.
On-page SEO supports your overall digital marketing efforts, leading to:
- Higher organic clicks
- More web pages crawled and indexed by search engines
- Improved conversion rates
- Higher-quality content
- Better user experience
- Long-term value
- And more!
On-page SEO basics
Mastering the fundamentals is the right way for you to start to earn organic impressions and clicks. On-page optimization focuses on a page’s content and the invisible metadata that Google crawlers rely on to understand web content.
High-quality content and Google’s E-A-T
Google wants to show users the highest-quality original content.
But what makes a web page high-quality?
Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines define how its web crawlers understand quality. These guidelines involve expertise, authority, and trustworthiness, also known as “Google’s E.A.T”.
Although not an official ranking factor, E.A.T. is more like a guiding principle.
Google ranks web pages that display E.A.T. through qualities, such as:
- Original, insightful analysis
- Expert authorship and sourcing
- Relevant external links to other trustworthy websites
- Inlinks (or backlinks) from other high-quality websites
- High-quality page experience
You can think of E.A.T. as a North Star for all of your SEO efforts. You want your website to display expertise on a subject matter or topic (on-page SEO), authority through backlinks (off-page SEO), and as a result, communicate to web crawlers that it’s a trusted resource worthy of being promoted in the SERPs.
Satisfying search intent
To rank for keywords your target audience uses to find products and services like yours, the content on your web page also needs to satisfy their search intent.
In the age of NLP, this is even more important because algorithm updates like Hummingbird, RankBrain, BERT, and MUM have helped Google better understand search intent.
Search intent can be divided into four primary types:
- Navigational: Users looking for a specific website or web page.
- Informational: Users looking for more information or answers to their questions.
- Transactional: Users looking to make a purchase.
- Commercial: Visitors who may not be ready to purchase but are researching with the intent to make a purchase.
The type of content you create should match the search intent of the target keyword. For example, Google is more likely to rank how-to guides or resource pages for informational keywords. It’s also more likely to rank product or services pages for transactional keywords.
If your web content doesn’t satisfy search intent, it won’t rank, no matter how many times you include the keyword on the page.
How to do on-page SEO
It’s important to remember that Google ranks web pages, not websites. That means on-page SEO needs to be done for every landing page on your website that you want to rank in search results.
This is why you need to follow SEO best practices. Here are some on-page best practices to get you started.
Do your keyword research
Keyword research is the process of identifying relevant keywords in your industry that connect your business to your target audience. Every page on your website has the opportunity to rank for relevant keywords or a family of keywords. Some keywords are more valuable than others because they bring qualified traffic.
So how do you determine the value of a keyword? Key keyword metrics to evaluate are:
- Search volume: The number of monthly searches a keyword receives.
- Cost-per-click (CPC): The price advertisers are willing to pay to show up for a keyword in paid search. Higher CPC keywords represent qualified audiences with stronger conversion potential.
- Keyword Difficulty: Some keywords are more competitive than others. Newer websites with less Domain Authority struggle to rank for queries with high Keyword Difficulty, regardless of how high-quality or optimized their content is.
You can use a keyword research tool to access these important metrics and list keywords you want your web pages to rank for.
To see on-page SEO success, choose keyword targets with realistic Keyword Difficulty, higher CPCs, and meaningful search volume (otherwise, you’re optimizing for nobody).
Also, using your own website’s Domain Rating as a benchmark can be very helpful. If the Keyword Difficulty is higher than your Domain Rating, that keyword is likely too competitive for your website.
But don’t worry! As your site gains more authority through backlinks, you can target that keyword at a later time.
Create SEO-friendly URL structures
To start optimizing your web page for your target keyword, begin with the URL. SEO-friendly URLs include the primary keyword target, so Google and users immediately know what the content is about.
The URL is also visible to users in the SERPs, which can influence whether a user clicks on your SERP result.
Pay attention to length. Google only shows so much of the page URL, so keep your URL paths short and sweet and make sure they accurately describe the content on the page.
Optimize your meta tags
The page title and meta description are also visible to users in the SERPs.
Google sometimes rewrites page titles and meta descriptions, but this only happens 20% of the time. This is also less likely to occur when meta tags are already properly optimized.
To optimize these web page elements for greater ranking potential:
- Follow best practices with length; no more than 50-60 characters for title tags and 120 for meta descriptions.
- Include your keywords or variations to signal stronger relevance.
- Be accurate, descriptive, and entice the user to click. Google looks at your content’s click-through rates (CTRs) to understand if users find it relevant and valuable.
Follow SEO copywriting best practices
Google not only crawls all of the text on your web pages but also indexes passages on the page to rank in search results. How you write content is a significant part of your content optimization process.
Here are some SEO copywriting tips:
- Write readable content and avoid grammatical errors, keyword stuffing, and technical jargon to keep it accessible.
- Use headings and subheadings to organize your content. Add keyword variations to improve the relevance and explore common subtopics to signal greater topical depth and comprehensiveness to Google crawlers.
- Make your content “scannable,” making it easier for users to skim and get the major points or easily find the answer to their questions. Adding features like jump links to enhance the page experience.
- Aim for in-depth content that is longer or as long as the top-ranking content for your target keyword. Longer content performs better in the SERPs.
Optimize your images and alt text
Google likes content that incorporates rich media, but Google crawlers can’t see the images on our web pages.
So, an important part of on-page SEO is optimizing image alt text so Google can understand your images and their relevance to the webpage content.
Include your target keyword or a variation in the image file name and alt text. Your images should also be sized appropriately and shouldn’t slow down your page’s load time.
Add internal and external links
Google also looks at the links on your page to understand your content’s relevance and authority. When it comes to trustworthiness, Google makes sure that your content doesn’t participate in unethical linking practices.
- Link to authoritative, relevant sources so Google can see you’re doing business with other reputable sites.
- Internal links help Google crawlers find and index all pages on your site. If no links point to the page, Google won’t find it.
- Use anchor text that accurately describes the content of each target. This helps both web crawlers and users.
Internal links also spread around your PageRank. The majority of your PageRank is on your homepage, so make sure you link to key pages in the navigation menu or footer to distribute more link equity to those important categories or service-related pages.
Advanced on-page SEO strategies
To take your on-page SEO to the next level, you should go beyond the basics and embrace more advanced strategies.
Websites that understand the power of SEO are likely already on page one. To rank for more competitive keywords, you need to step up your on-page SEO efforts. Advanced SEO strategies help you rank for more keywords, rank in higher positions, and leverage content more effectively.
Optimize for keyword clusters
With over 62,000 searches performed on Google every second, users have a multitude of ways to search for products, services, or content like yours.
It’s better to optimize your content for keyword clusters to rank for more keywords, including the short-tail and long-tail variations of primary keywords. These are groups of keywords that share semantic relevance to a list of keywords and sort them into keyword clusters in spreadsheets.
Source: Google Sheets
By optimizing for all keywords in the cluster, you can improve your content’s overall keyword rankings and impressions. Pairing keywords with lower and higher search volume and lower and higher CPC can help you maximize the SEO value of a single piece of content.
Answer frequently asked questions in PAA
Google’s “People also ask (PAA)” feature now appears at the top of the SERPs for almost half of all searches. When you get your content ranking in PAA, you appear on page 1 in the SERPs, even if your traditional blue link result ranks further down the page (or even on page 2).
You can look at the SERPs or a keyword tool to find common questions people ask about your target keyword.
If you provide answers to these frequently asked questions anywhere on your webpage (the headings, FAQ section, or anywhere else in the web copy), you can likely rank in that coveted SERP feature.
Add structured data markup
Structured data is a vocabulary of microdata understood by search engines like Google, Bing, and Microsoft. Structured data allows Google crawlers to easily extract content on the page and display it prominently in the SERPs via their rich results.
Google has over 30 different types of rich results, and schema.org has over 792 different types of markups. Adding the schema types that make the most sense for your content – whether organizations, products, how-tos, reviews, and others – can help you get better SERP rankings and organic clicks.
Example of Recipe rich results powered by schema.org markup
Rich results have significantly higher click-through rates than traditional results because they’re more visually enticing to searchers and take up prime real estate in the SERPs.
To add structured data to your web pages, you need to generate the required markup and add it to your HyperText Markup Language (HTML) database.
Here are some basic steps to add schema markup:
- Identify the best markup to add to the page
- Use a schema generator or Google’s Schema Markup Helper
- Add any required properties identified by schema.org
- Copy and paste the schema into the <header> section of your web page via your content management system (CMS)
There are also plenty of schema plugins and tools that can help you add the right schema to your web pages and simplify the process.
Optimize for mobile
Many of your users discover your website on their mobile devices. If your web pages aren’t mobile-friendly, Google and users will notice.
You can use Google’s mobile-friendly test to see if your pages meet mobile standards.
Common qualities of optimized mobile pages:
- Responsive design: Your content design and layout should be mobile and tablet responsive.
- Thumb-friendliness: Buttons and CTAs should be appropriately sized.
- Load times: Your page speed should be high, meaning your content should load quickly on mobile devices and meet Google’s Core Web Vitals standards.
- Pop-up free: Too many pop-ups are hard to deal with on mobile and can disrupt the user experience.
On-page SEO with the help of AI
Beyond the basic and advanced strategies, webmasters who leverage SEO software and artificial intelligence (AI) tools for their on-page SEO process find it easier to compete in search, especially against larger websites and established providers in their industry.
This is because these tools use NLP algorithms and machine learning processes similar to Google’s, helping site owners meet the content signals that Google crawlers search and use in their ranking algorithm.
Here are ways to start using SEO tools for effective and scalable on-page SEO.
Automate keyword research
Keyword research tools provide updated keyword metrics so you can choose keywords more strategically. They make it easy to identify related keywords or subtopics that provide additional or more realistic ranking opportunities.
With keyword research tools, you can speed up the keyword research process and find more keyword opportunities. Keyword research tools often help SEOs identify hundreds to thousands of potential keyword targets.
And if you want to implement a keyword clustering strategy, some software tools automate the clustering for you.
Use content optimization software
Content optimizer tools provide the “cheat codes” for what’s needed to improve ranking potential. These tools suggest focus terms, subtopics, internal links, external links, questions, word length, grade level, and more.
Content optimizer tools make it easier for writers to create original content that displays expertise and topical depth.
Use AI-generated content for outlines and first drafts
Software engineers use GPT-3 in their applications to create new tools and opportunities for digital marketers and SEOs. GPT-3 is a text predictor. Give it examples of the type of content you want it to create, and it will generate original outputs.
Google doesn’t rank AI-generated content on its own. It still requires a human touch, but working with AI-generated drafts and outlines can speed up the writing process so you can target more keywords, create more content, and have more opportunities to rank in the SERPs. This is especially true for smaller teams without in-house content teams or writing resources to handle content production at scale.
Leverage analytics tools
Google gives site owners access to so much data about their own website via their free platforms like Google Search Console and Google Analytics. Anyone who cares about on-page SEO should set up these platforms to measure the impact of their optimizations.
Learning how to draw strategic insights from data can help you iterate through your on-page SEO strategy faster and identify the optimizations that produce the best results.
In addition to Google’s free tools, keyword tracking software and analytics tools provide data visualizations and granular insights to help you see the impact of on-page SEO and identify how to improve it.
SEO doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket
SEO is one of the most affordable digital marketing strategies. A webmaster can do on-page SEO entirely with little research, time, and execution. And because organic clicks are essentially free, on-page SEO is a wonderful way of lowering customer acquisition costs over time.
Additionally, you can drive organic traffic perpetually by re-optimizing your on-page content updates and keeping them fresh and algorithm-friendly.
Creating visual content makes complex information relatively easy to understand. Find out more about how you can do this via data visualization.