On-Site SEO is all about aligning the different elements of your website with the parameters that search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo use to understand what type of content your site has to offer.
Optimizing web pages so that search engines can better understand its content significantly increases your chances of ranking higher in search results for your target keywords, as well as any closely related keywords that people will likely use.
Improving your on-site SEO also gives users and your target audience a better idea of what your website is all about and if it’s relevant to their search query just by looking at how it shows up in the search results page.
If your content provides any value to your target audience, you should easily see an increase in traffic just by tweaking and updating your page’s source code and its content with current standards.
Let’s take a look at a couple of best practices that will make your on-site SEO more effective and boost your search ranking.
1. Create content for humans not computers
Several years ago, all webmasters and SEO professionals had to do was stuff their content and web pages with keywords to rank higher in search results. Thankfully, search engines have become much smarter by using more sophisticated algorithms, like Google’s Panda update, that can distinguish between high quality pages that are relevant to people’s search queries and provide real value to its users, and low quality content that’s hacked together with random keywords. Modern search algorithms actually penalize and rank down pages with low quality content that are simply trying to trick the search engine by bombarding it with keywords.
If you’re still stuck in the past, your web site is in need of a massive overhaul. Instead of trying to game the system by providing content that you think search engines will like, fill your site with content that your target audience will find useful.
The first step in making great content is knowing who your audience is and figuring out what they are looking for. If you’re able to satisfy people’s needs, your site’s credibility and trustworthiness increases which eventually leads to increased traffic over time as more and more people recognize it as a valuable source of information.
2. Start with great titles and meta descriptions
The title is the first thing that people will see when scrolling past search results. Space for page titles is also limited to around 50 or 60 characters when it shows up in search results, so make sure the titles you choose are clear and descriptive enough before it gets cut off on the search page.
Your title should capture people’s attention and compel them to click on your page over your competitors. Search engines also use your titles to understand your page content and rank it based on its relevance to the search query.
Meta descriptions that show up just below the page titles and URLs on the search results page take up valuable space, so make use of this space wisely.
Give your audience a quick summary of your page’s intent to convince them that your page has the information they are looking for. Use this space to include related keywords that users are likely to include in their search terms because it will be highlighted in bold letters which increases your page’s visibility and click-through rates.
3. Keyword optimization
Even though keyword stuffing is a thing of the past, search engines still use keywords to match your page’s content with search queries.
To ensure that your page will rank highly in search results, it’s important to include target keywords and related keywords in several key places of the page:
• Meta description
• Subheadings (H2 tags)
• First paragraph of content
• Image file name and ALT tags
Search engine bots and crawlers use the information you include in these sections to determine if your page content is relevant. Think of keywords as clues or puzzle pieces that search engines can use to figure out the page’s significance to the search query. Leaving out keywords in any of these page elements means you’re missing out on opportunities from getting hits off of different search queries.
Image file names and ALT tags are often overlooked when it comes to keyword optimization. Including relevant keywords in these page elements means you’re page also shows up even if users are searching for images.
It’s also important to keep in mind that search algorithms are smart enough to identify semantic keywords or variations of the keyword that mean essentially the same thing. You don’t have to insert the same exact keyword or phrase in different sections of the page.
4. Use internal and external links
Aside from keywords, search engines also use links on the page itself to better determine the ‘theme’ of your content. Similar to how search algorithms use semantics or word usage to make sense of the content on your page, it can also follow both external and internal links and process the content on those pages to map out the intent of your content.
Linking to other pages that provide more information about a topic that your audience will find useful gives search engines more information to work with as far as figuring out your content’s relevance to different keywords and search terms.
This doesn’t mean you should litter your page with links to completely unrelated pages or simple ‘Contact Us’ or landing pages, because you’ll be penalized for these techniques. Much like how your content should be written for your user’s intent, your links should also be helpful and aim to improve their overall experience to make an impact on your search ranking.
To establish the credibility of your content, you can link out to external sites that are established leaders in their respective fields to back up the information that you’re presenting. You should also ensure that there are no broken or dead links on your site.
5. Faster page load times
To make sure the work you put in to show up on search results and get a click doesn’t go to waste, your page has to be optimized properly so users can access your content quickly. People can be impatient and every extra second they spend waiting for your content to show up increases the chances of them hitting the back button and moving on to the next search result.
To make sure your pages load quickly no matter how slow or spotty your users’ Internet connection may be at the time, you need to reduce image file sizes and streamline your HTML code.
6. Optimize for mobile search
Mobile search is ranked separately from desktop search, and mobile consumption is fast becoming the platform of choice across different markets.
Most people have their smartphones within arm’s length pretty much round the clock, and in many cases phones and tablets are their only device available. Ignoring your mobile search ranking means you’re losing out on a huge segment of the available market.
7. Make sure your content is easy to consume
Once users actually see your website, your content needs to be easy to read. Most people won’t be reading your content from start to finish.
In most cases, your users will be scanning the first paragraph and checking out the different sub headings to find out if your content is worthy of their time and if you have the answers they are looking for.
You can make the user experience better for a larger audience by using words that are simple and easy to understand. Organize topics in a logical manner so that readers can easily absorb the information you are trying to present.
Pay attention to your sentence structure and use shorter paragraphs rather than large walls of text that look intimidating. Use images and graphics to illustrate your points better, and use bullet points or numbered lists whenever applicable.
8. Use Schema markup to help search engines understand your content better
Schema was created through the collaboration of the major search engines – Google, Bing and Yahoo – to better sort content on the Internet. It takes keywords and tags to another level by using a common vocabulary and special tags to identify specific types of information which can be highlighted in search results. This special information, also known as structured data, shows up as rich snippets in search results and gives users more insight into your page’s content than blurbs or meta data descriptions can provide.
For example, a search for the keyword ‘pasta’ can mean that the user is looking for recipes, restaurants or reviews. Using Schema lets you specify if your page is either about a product, a business, a tutorial or a review.
You can also use Schema to make sure thumbnails of videos, pictures, ratings, prices, addresses or phone numbers show up alongside your regular page title, URL and meta description in search results.
The small pieces of code that Schema markup uses only affects how your pages show up in search results and don’t change how your page will display in browsers. It not only helps both search engines and your target audience identify your content, but also allows you to present important information like phone numbers, addresses and reviews right off the search results page. This additional information gives your page better visibility and makes it more likely for users to check out your business or brand.
Currently, less than a third of websites on the Internet take advantage of the benefits that Schema and rich snippets are able to provide. This means there’s a huge opportunity for you to stand out among your competitors once you incorporate Schema markup in your website pages.
Good on-site SEO requires a lot of planning and strategising.
It all starts with keyword research so you can understand what people are searching for. Creating great content based on your target keywords that answers people’s questions or provides solutions to their issues will drive people to your site organically.
Make sure to use meta tags and structured data to help search engines understand the content on your page and increase your site’s visibility and ranking in search results.
Optimizing your site and content to make it easily accessible for a large audience is a never ending process that’s constantly evolving as new developments in search algorithms are introduced.
But as long as you’ve already established a solid foundation for on-site SEO, you’ll eventually only need to implement minor improvements in the future to make sure your content is updated and still relevant, and improve page load times and responsiveness for different platforms even more.