Over the past few years, Google has released several updates to their algorithm, of which Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird were the biggest. Those updates set augmented rules on how owners should structure their sites, build incoming links and use anchor text for outgoing links.
Despite the updates, however, on-page SEO hasn’t really changed all that much. Every on-page SEO task is really for the user’s benefit. Yet, most SEOs still haven’t come to terms with that fact.
Google wants the user to be happy, when they visit your web page. And, the only way that Google will know that your site users are satisfied is when they’re engaged. How long do they spend reading your content?
Doing on-page SEO for your website? You may find this on-page SEO cheat sheet useful.
1. Site Speed
Recent research found that 47% of your target audience expects your website to load in under two seconds. What’s more, slightly more than half of all U.S. online shoppers won’t buy from a site if it loads slowly.
It makes sense. After all, don’t we all hate to wait? And, the instant-gratification of the web has only made us more impatient.
So, it makes sense that Google cares about page load time. From the Webmasters Central Blog:
Back in 2010, Matt Cutts announced that site speed will carry less weight than other key ranking factors, such as relevance, authority links and so on. That’s no longer quite as accurate. Nowadays, speed is essential.
Recent studies show that a delay of a single second in page response time can yield a 7% reduction in conversions.
You could use Pingdom’s speed test tool to check your current page load time. But, you can and should take it a step further, by identifying your competitors and comparing their site speed with yours. You can do this by using the tools at WhichLoadsFaster.info.
Just plug the two URLs into the boxes and click the “Go” button:
Next, see the result:
That aside, if you’re a WordPress user, you could delete unused plugins for an instant speed boost.
For more suggestions and how-to’s, check out the following resources.
2. Essential Tag Fundamentals
Do you take meta tags seriously? Although the effect of tags has changed significantly over the past several years, it’s still a good practice to pay attention to them.
In on-page SEO, the major types of meta tags that you should pay attention to are:
1). Title tags: Title tags define the title of your web page or document. They’re mostly used to display preview snippets of your web pages. When you’re writing your title tag, it should be short, clear and descriptive.
The ideal length is 50 – 60 characters. If your title tags exceed 60 characters, Google wil only show the first 60. Your entry in the results will look something like this:
You can use Moz’s preview tool to preview how your title tags will appear in the search engine.
The above title text will show up in Google results this way:
2). Meta description: According to Survey Monkey, 43.2% of people click on a given result, based on the meta description alone.
This is how a meta description usually appears in the organic search listings:
The meta description is what search engines use to gauge what topic you’re writing about and the exact audience that they should send to that page. So, make it descriptive and short – no more than 160 characters.
There is no need to stuff keywords in your meta description (which would work against you anyway). 160 characters is just not enough space for stuffing. Instead, use synonyms or latent semantic indexing (LSI) of your main keyword.
For example, if your main keywords in the headline are “generate website traffic,” here are LSI keywords that you can use:
- get site visitors
- drive free traffic
- attract site visitors
- attract website visitors
You can often find other related keywords beneath your search results. Those are also variations that you can use in your description:
If you’re a WordPress user, then writing your meta description is easy. Install All-in-One SEO Pack, then set up the title tag and the meta description all at once. See the corresponding result on this screenshot:
3. Creating Content That Drives Search Traffic
According to a HubSpot content marketing report from 2014, nearly three-fourths of consumers prefer to research companies and businesses through articles, instead of annoying advertisements.
Content is the backbone of a thriving business. You’ve probably heard the saying, “content is king.” But, there is way more to successful content marketing than just “content.” You have to publish the kind of content that will drive traffic and grow your business.
You’ll also notice that when you start creating in-depth content, you’ll see a corresponding increase in traffic from long-tail searches.
These days, your customers are smarter than you think. You have to be willing to listen to and learn from them – their search for solutions motivates them to ask certain questions. Those questions can tell you exactly what they want most from you.
Content that drives traffic …
Is practical, useful and valuable
- Is interesting to read
- Is in-depth and well-written
- Is written with the user in mind
- Solves a problem
- Is easy to share
- Is optimized for a high-volume keyword
Content creates a line of communication between you and your customer. Effective communication will increase customer retention by 88% and will boost brand awareness by 87%.
According to Demand Metric, 76% of online shoppers felt excited and closer to a company after reading its custom content. That’s why 78% of CMOs consider custom content to be the future of digital marketing.
Traffic-generating content makes the user happy. So, we’re going to start with the aspect of content marketing that matters most: user experience optimization.
1). An overview of user experience optimization: On-page SEO begins and ends with the user. No one should build a site for search engines. We build sites for people. After all, search spiders won’t write a comment, subscribe to your list or buy your product. Only your users can do that.
On-page SEO consists of those activities that directly affect the content, pages and architecture of the site – in other words, all of the internal factors that make a site useful for the visitor.
User optimization is all about presenting your content and design so that users can find what they’re looking for immediately – another reason that you need to speed up your site load time.
A recent statistic from Forrester found that 45% of U.S. shoppers will abandon an online purchase, if their questions or concerns are not addressed quickly enough.
It’s all about creating positive experiences for your users. One study, by Ruby Newell-Legner, concluded that it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved customer experience.
User optimization is all about answering search users’ questions with easy to read content, not merely targeting their keywords. For example, if customers are searching for “electric guitar lessons,” here is the wrong way to write your headline and introduction:
Easy Electric Guitar Lessons For Those Looking To Learn Electric Guitar
Do you want easy electric guitar lessons that will make you play guitar like a hero? Well, this electric guitar lessons post will definitely guide you on the right path, so you can master the electric guitar chords in 30 days or less.
To help you understand what user optimization is about, let’s write a better headline and introduction, while still targeting the keyword “electric guitar lessons:”
Best Electric Guitar Lessons That Will Turn You Into a Pro
What is the best way to learn guitar at home? Many people prefer to read books, but there is a better way. Take some electric guitar lessons from a professional who knows what he’s doing. I don’t want to flaunt my guitar skills here, but trust me, I can help you master the art.
See the difference? In the second example, the main keyword appears once in the headline and just once in the introduction. Moreover, the opening doesn’t promise anything that sounds too good to be true. The reader will understand the second article better, because it was optimized for them.
Remember that when it comes to user experience, use of keywords is not the major factor. Instead, the critical issue is addressing the user’s intent – in other words, the reason why the user is searching for that particular keyword.
When you do your on-page search optimization efficiently, your listing will be more attractive and the users will benefit, as a consequence, even before they click to visit your web page.
Brian Clark put it well, when he said that Google is like an infant who doesn’t know what to do and relies on you as a guide.
In his words, “you’ve got to spoon-feed search engine spiders with valuable content that the users will be excited about.”
And, over the years, Clark and his prolific team have produced some of the best blog posts and articles around. Through consistent and proper use of content marketing techniques, Brian Clark turned a blog (copyblogger.com) into a $7 million digital company.
Another important aspect of user experience is functional design. Steve Jobs knew that design isn’t just “how a device looks” but also about “how it works.”
When it comes to user experience design, a site that does it well is Strava. The user experience is spot on. Strava.com has upgraded running and cycling, which are often seen as a solitary experience and made it social.
Other great things that made the social site a good fit for the user are:
Another example is the Apple brand juggernaut. Many companies focus on selling features, but Apple also believes in the power of good design. Where most MP3 players were concerned with storage capacity, Apple had a different approach.
It empowered customers, by making their lives better – putting a thousand songs in their pocket with an iPod.
Apple customers trust the brand completely and happily recommend it to others, not because it’s the most affordable or sophisticated, but because of the sleek design and how the Apple experience makes their lives better.
Another site that thrives on good user experience, is easy to navigate, is legible and has a nice choice of colors combined with high-quality content is HubSpot.com.
2). Understand Google Panda algorithm: The Panda algorithm update was first released in February 2011. It was designed to help Google return high-quality results, when users type a keyword into the search box.
While other updates have come and gone, Panda’s effect is still going strong. You may recall that Panda penalized low-quality content and thin sites. If you consider the state of search now, you’ll agree with me that Google’s ranked top results have vastly improved, since Panda.
Marketers have come to realize that nothing spectacular can be achieved without the right content. According to Content Council, marketers are investing $12.5 billion in online content.
Panda made it easier for smart content marketers to start creating a conversation with their content. You give insights and advice to your customers and they respond with their questions, appreciation or suggestions.
That’s the reason for Google Hummingbird, as well – to bring the user and the marketer together and meet the user’s needs.
If you want to improve your search rankings, you need to consider two aspects of your content:
i). Avoid low-quality content: The days of generic content with no value are long gone. According to Rand Fishkin, you have to provide unique value in your content. For your content to be high-quality, you’ve got to research adequately and spend time writing the best blog post that you’re capable of producing.
ii). Avoid thin content: Your content may be high-quality, in terms of the information that you share, but if you want to give your blog a boost in the SERPs, you’ve also got to increase your content length.
No more 300- or 500-word posts, unless you’re also using an infographic on the same page. Instead, write in-depth articles of 2000 words or more, because recent stats by SerpIQ found that content length affects rankings.
98% of the articles that I publish on this blog contain around 5,000 words. And, by being consistent with the creation of in-depth content that offers a lot of value, I’ve significantly improved my search rankings for several keywords. For example, I rank #3 for a highly targeted keyword, “blog traffic.” See for yourself:
For the keyword “data driven post,” my listing is at the top:
3). Content freshness: The percentage of content, within a page, that remains fresh, has an effect on the site’s rankings. Google takes freshness very seriously. Back in April 2012, freshness was one of the algorithm ranking factors that affected 35% of search queries.
As a result of this, Google now prefers fresh content, breaking news and other recent content updates that deal with trends.
Freshness as a ranking factor isn’t new. Over the years, even before the Document Scoring Based on Document Content Update, which Google’s engineers filed a patent for in 2003, Google had scored content based on freshness for many years.
Singhal described the categories of keywords that will most likely require fresh content:
i). Hot trends: These are things that are happening right now, all around the world. Those in the gaming niche usually publish recent or upcoming games for a particular month. Some other keywords for hot trends can be found at Google.com/trends:
A typical example of an authority site that will benefit from a Google freshness reward is Mashable. This popular site constantly publishes fresh content, based on what’s hot in the fields of entertainment, technology, startups, business, education and politics.
ii). Recurring events: Events that take place every month, every quarter, every year, etc., can also lead to an increased freshness score, because such content requires constant updating. These keywords are recurring:
- AT&T earnings
- NFL scores
- The Voice contestants
iii). Frequent information update: Some other keywords that are searched for in Google require frequent updates. For example: best dslr cameras and top fitness programs.
These three yardsticks are important to Google, when scoring a web page for freshness. But, don’t forget that Google also gauges the freshness of a web page based on the date Google discovered it. Over time, this freshness fades and new content with a newer inception date replaces the older piece.
So, what are you supposed to do for your site, in order to boost its freshness score and ultimately attract more search traffic? First, you’ve got to consistently publish fresh content.
If you can, publish daily and make sure that you share helpful tips for your target audience. If you’re busy as I am, then publishing two times a week will ensure that your web pages are fresh and attract fresh crawls from Google’s spider, as well as deep bots that will sustain your indexed pages.
Recent research shows that Google prefers to serve up fresh results to users, when they search for a keyword. To get around this preference, some people use blackhat SEO tricks to manipulate web page freshness, by changing the inception date on older articles and pages.
This might work, but it’s very risky and it’s not sustainable. Avoid taking shortcuts that may seem promising. Why would you want to manipulate freshness and inception dates, only to risk your page getting penalized by Google?
4). Content engagement: The word “engagement,” in this context, means the state of interactivity. The true test of high-quality content is the engagement that it creates. When you’re conscious of engaging your audience, you’ll most likely create the right content for them.
This initial on-page optimization will align a piece of content with the user’s needs. If you’re going to attract the right clients to your business, you’ve got to focus on engaging your prospects.
A recent report from BI Intelligence showed that Snapchat is a smaller network than WhatsApp, but users spend more time on Snapchat. Furthermore, the report also revealed that 60% of social media time is spent on smartphones and tablets, not on desktop computers.Facebook engagement by 200%, using Buffer. He created focused news that his audience would enjoy, then shared it with them at the exact time that they wanted it.
He did some research to find out the best times to post on Facebook and Twitter and found this Infographic.
By being consistent with the right social media timing, he increased interactions on Facebook from 150 per day to over 700. That’s a 367% increase in engagement.
5). Content writing tools: An integral part of on-page SEO is content. You have to give it your full attention. However, you need to automate some writing tasks, because speed matters, when seeking to increase your search rankings. Some of the best tools out there to speed up your content creation are:
i). HubSpot blog topic generator: This is one of my favorite content writing tools. When you’re stuck and don’t know what to write about on your blog, just enter a few nouns or seed keywords. Then, click on “Give Me Blog Topics!”
HubSpot will generate 5 blog post headline ideas or prompts that will keep you busy for a week. If you want, you could tweak the headline ideas or, if you’re pressed for time, just use them as they are. I find that the prompts are usually attention-grabbing. Take a look at the results:
ii). nTopic: Relevance is a key ranking factor. If you want to make on-page search optimization a lot easier, then your internal links, inbound links and especially your content, all must be relevant to your topic.
However, if you’re not sure whether the topic or keyword that you want to write a post on is relevant, nTopic.org is a simple SEO tool that you can use.
On the homepage, plug your blog URL and topic (e.g., social media marketing) into the appropriate boxes. Click the “score” button.
4. Optimizing Crawlability
SEO is not complicated at all. In fact, people who generate the most results aren’t operating at a higher plane than the rest of us – they simply work harder on the basic elements. According to Small Business Em, SEO boils down to 3 crucial factors:
If you’re not familiar with “crawlability,” a quick search in Google will help, straight from the Google Knowledge Graph:
You’ve got to recognize that search spiders are not as intelligent as they’ve been portrayed to be by most SEOs.
If your link is broken and spiders couldn’t crawl your web page easily as a result, trust me – they’re not programmed to go looking for the right link. They’ll simply stop there – and you know what comes next, don’t you? Poor performance in the search engine results.
Although having a crawl-friendly web page is a fundamental SEO practice, it may not improve your rankings in the competitive sense, says Rand Fishkin, in a recent Whiteboard Friday.
SEO was never a “set it and forget it” proposition and it never will be. It’s a continuous learning process, wherein you put yourself in the shoes of your customers and create remarkable content that they want to read.
Remember, remarkable content will only improve your search rankings, if it triggers high engagement and sharing, on both mobile and desktop platforms.
Also, interlinking internal blog pages is an important step towards improving your site’s crawlability. Remember, search engine spiders follows links. It’s much easier for them to pick up your fresh content page from a link on your homepage than by searching high and low for it.
You should also know that there are some case studies pointing to the fact that improving the crawlability of your web pages can boost rankings. Chris Pearson increased search engine traffic by 455% in 30 days, by creating compelling content and making it easier for Google to crawl and index those pages as quickly as possible.
He made his fresh content easily accessible in one month. Little changes like this could mean a lot in your organic traffic and personal branding.
Having seen the importance of making your content pages easy to find (crawlable), let’s look at some simple ways to go about making it happen.
1). Your URL Structure: The URL – Universal Resource Locator – is the address of the web page on your site. It’s an important SEO best practice. So, why are there no ultimate guides for structuring your URLs?
Don’t change the URL of your older posts. If you do, it’ll cause a broken link, because your web page will no longer be accessible, when users click the URL that was initially specified.
Blog page URLs are meant to provide some information and a meaningful experience to humans and computers alike. This is why we don’t use binary numbers or IP addresses, but rather real words, in our URLs.
Structuring the page URL has been a controversial topic in the blogosphere. Most people believe that you should make it shorter, while others prefer it to be long – like having the whole headline in their URL. Terence Eden even advised that you should use dates in your URLs.
For the past few years, since I started blogging, I’ve always included the complete date that I published a post. I believe this correlates with the freshness ranking factor and it helps my readers to choose the most recent content, just by looking at the publication date.
Since the rules aren’t set in stone, the best way to structure your URL is to see how the authority sites are doing it. You can have your category come before the keywords that you’re targeting, the way that HubSpot does:
Or, you can model Copyblogger, which doesn’t use the category for structuring the URL of any web page. Instead, they simply add the 3 keywords that the headline revolves around:
Brent Carnduff recommends that, when you write your URL, you should make it 3 – 5 words separated by a hyphen (-), not an underscore (_).
In all, both long and short, keyword-rich, generic URLs do well in the search engine results pages (SERPs), especially when the content is useful and easy to implement.
Write URLS that will further educate the reader on what you’re talking about. Though I use all my headlines in the page URL, I don’t recommend this because it’s too long for readers to memorize and recall. For example, could you memorize the URL of this post?
It’s much more easier for the user to memorize and tell others about this particular web page, because the URL is short and contains just the 3 words representing the main topic of the article:
Above all, your URL should first and foremost be self-explanatory. In other words, the user shouldn’t need anyone to interpret what you’ve published on that page. Make it clear and avoid spelling errors.
2). Crawl Error Resolution: In the process of doing on-page user optimization to attract the attention of search engine spiders, there may be a crawl error encountered.
Remember that the SEO process is one of continuous improvement of your landing pages, content, architecture and audience. So, whatever error you discover, don’t panic – just let it motivate you to do what needs to be done.
These errors typically mean that your web pages were not easily accessible, when the bot visited a link to your site or came directly to your site.
It might even be caused by an error in the robot.txt file.
When I say, “come to your site,” I’m not referring to the way people do it. The way bots visit a web page is quite different. That makes sense, because they’re advanced programs written to scour the entire web, looking for fresh web page and links to add to their index.
When you find crawl error messages, it means that other sites can’t get access to some of your web pages. This is a mess. The faster you resolve it, the better off you’ll be.
Susan Moskwa, from Google, gives some simple advice for resolving major crawl errors on your site:
That should be good enough to stop Googlebots from crawling URLs that are already dead or no longer active, relevant or useful. Making those pages 404 will tell Google to change the crawl rate of your web pages.
If you get a “not found” error, it can be resolved in a similar manner, with a slight difference.
Again, according to Moz, the best way to resolve this kind of error is by using the 404 approach, especially when those pages are not getting any links.
5. Mobile-Friendly (Responsive)
The moral of the story: Before a new update jumps out at you unexpectedly, you have to prepare for it.
April 21, 2015 was a happy day for mobile users. Google gave them a gift, by setting up standards that force every site owner to consider mobile users. It was predicted that the update could affect over 40% of Fortune 500 websites.
Those who weren’t prepared got dinged in search rankings. One legal software company with a responsive design saw an initial decrease in rankings, but then a substantial rise, a week after:
Box Office Mojo, on the other hand, didn’t have a mobile friendly site. When the update was released, their search rankings and visibility tanked:
Searchmetrics compiled a list of authority sites that lost and those that gained from the mobile update. Here are some of them:
Trust me, the passion that Google has for mobile users will only increase in the future. That’s because mobile usage is only going up. According to Pew Internet, “90% of American adults own a cell phone.” And, there will be over 220 million new smartphone users from 2008 – 2018:
The purpose of all of the statistics above is to help you understand the opportunities available with mobile.
The reason why you should include responsiveness as one of your on-page SEO factors to pay attention to, is that the majority of your users will access your site from their mobile devices.
You’ve got to lay out your site for mobile users. You can always check whether or not your blog/site is responsive, through Google’s mobile-friendliness test tool. Just plug your site URL into the search box, then click the blue “ANALYZE” button:
Next, you’ll see the result:
My blog is mobile friendly. If yours isn’t, you’ll get this result:
Note: If your site is not mobile friendly, I’ve written a step-by-step guide that will enable you to fix this challenging issue.
A while ago, I wrote a post titled “The Ultimate Google Algorithm Cheat Sheet,” in which my goal was to give you an overview, as well as the exact steps, of how to build a content-driven blog that will generate the right leads for you.
I’ve taken the same approach with this in-depth article. However, if you don’t remember everything mentioned here, just keep in mind the true purpose of on-page SEO: to educate, inspire and guide your users properly, as they navigate your site.
Get your site ready, before going out there to build authority inbound links, because the foundation is what matters most, when it comes to SEO. Always study your Google webmaster tools and analytics, as both will educate you on what your ideal customers truly want from your site.
Both B2B and B2C marketers are beginning to realize the need to implement basic SEO practices. You need to commit yourself to the process, not just to the results that you’re after.
You’ll learn a lot more with that mindset than you could ever learn just by getting the top rank in Google.
Have you implemented any of these on-page search engine optimization hacks? What was your result?