What is On‐Page SEO?
When we talk about on‐page SEO, we mean the practice of ‘optimizing’ web pages to help them rank higher in search engines. The end goal of the process is increasing organic (free) traffic to your site.
What does the on-page optimization process involve?
Here is a bunch of outdated on‐page SEO advice: strategic placement of exact‐match keywords on your page (keyword in title, keyword in the meta description, keyword in H1, etc.) Hey, guys! This tactic does not work anymore.
Google is getting smarter day-by-day. Today, it understands synonyms and semantically‐related keywords.
Translation: You don’t need to worry about the strategic placement of exact‐match keywords on your web pages. Don’t be afraid to miss old SEO optimization practices from 1999, instead follow these 8 on‐page SEO tips below:
1. Optimize for Search Intent
When I was a little girl, I was dreamt of becoming a famous gymnast. But unfortunately, I never fit into necessary parameters: too tall, not skinny enough, etc, etc. I didn’t miss a single training but coaches never took me seriously.
If you want to read the ending of this “heartbreaking” story, I will tell you. One day I just gave up on gymnastics and decided to take on dancing instead. Since then, I haven’t felt the bitter taste of the words “don’t waste your time, go and choose some other hobby, you will never become the second Simone Biles”.
Things become way easier when you understand that you are an unlikely match for the sport. You are not the prospective champion most coaches are hunting for. They won’t pick you for the team and you won’t win the Olympics.
I share with you this story not just to entertain you but demonstrate Google’s way of thinking.
Google is like a coach picking the prospective champs, which are web pages. It gathers a powerful team (top rankings for a particular search query). If your content isn’t good material, if it’s not what searchers are looking for, you won’t be in the game and won’t get a single chance to win (Rank #1 or on the first page).
OK, I am sure the above concept is pretty clear. Now, how do you figure out what online users are searching for and what they want?
The answer is not complicated. For example, it’s obvious that someone who types “buy multivitamins” into Google, they’re looking for product pages like these…
… or product category pages like this:
You already know that Google serves the most relevant results towards the top spots of their search results. You can use this fact to your advantage by checking what currently ranks for your target keyword.
Let’s do that by searching “buy multivitamins” right now.
Here are the top‐ranking pages in Google “buy multivitamins”.
As you see, product and category pages are exactly what Google returns. This shows you what searchers want to see.
This tactic also works great for less obvious queries, the ones where “search intent” isn’t so clear.
Next, let’s investigate the search term “how to drive traffic.”
We understand that this is an informational query. But do you know exactly what the searchers want to see? Do they want to get a step-by-step guide? Maybe they want a list of traffic driving tips? Or do they want something different?
Enough guesswork, let’s check the top‐ranking pages.
Do you see how much Google favors lists of traffic driving tactics?
If you want to rank for this keyword/topic, you should definitely create a list of this kind, similar to those shown on Google's top search results. In fact, Google is telling you (or predicting) what searcher usually want to see.
Takeaway: Understand search intent better by looking at the current top‐ranking pages for your specific key search term. Then you’ll better understand how to take action to rank your webpage so that it´s more likely to appear in the results in the future. This is your chance to win the SEO game.
2. Your Web Page Should Load Fast
I am sure that everybody has experienced the following: you click a result in Google and it takes ages for the page to load.
When this happens, most online users do the following: hit the back button and choose a different result. No one has time to waste.
Of course, Google knows that slow loading websites irritate users, that’s why page speed is a ranking factor since 2010.
Would you like to improve your website’s loading speed?
The point is not only to achieve higher rankings but to also provide a better user experience. I advise you to start your on-page SEO optimization process by checking your web page loading speed using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. It will analyze your page and provide you with suggestions for optimizing your webpage.
A small tip: Google Pagespeed Insights is an awesome tool but you can only check page speed for one page at a time using it, which makes the whole process laborious and time‐consuming.
Naturally, as I am currently working for the Ahrefs company, I use Ahrefs’ Site Audit tool to speed things up.
Here are a couple of tips for improving page speed on a page‐by‐page basis:
- Optimize your images’ size: “Put off some weight”, by lowering your image’s file sizes. If you are running a WordPress site, I advise you to use a plugin like Shortpixel. These plugins optimize and compress images automatically.
- Remove unnecessary HTML: Remember that all HTML characters have to load, so minimize useless HTML. Those who are using WordPress can edit their posts in the text editor rather than the visual one. This will minimize the number of HTML tags that slow down your web pages.
According to Google’s stat, 53% of users abandon a page if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. So I suggest aiming for 2 seconds or less.
3. Insert Your Target Keyword in Your Page’s Title, Meta Description, and H1 tags
Are you surprised? Did I say that this doesn’t work currently?
Let me explain.
I didn’t say that keywords strategic placement is a bad idea. What I really said is that this won’t work if you believe that strategic keywords placement is all you need to do in terms of the on-page SEO. It’s not as important as it used to be in the past.
However, it still makes sense to include your target keywords in meta titles (the page’s browser’s title/name), meta descriptions (The short description that Google shows on search results), and H1 tags (headings).
We, at Ahrefs, strategically place keywords in our articles and we have reasons for that. I am going to share them with you.
By the way, did you know that keywords meta tags aren’t something you need to use at all because Google simply doesn’t take them into account? You can just leave this old meta tag blank.
Here are two important reasons why we apply strategic keywords to our articles:
- First, our study of 2 million keywords proved that there is still a small correlation between rankings and the strategic placement of exact‐match keywords.
- The second point is more important. The tactic helps ensure to online users searching that the page is the most relevant result for their query.
Let’s see an example. Suppose you are going to buy new running shoes. So you search for “running shoes.” in Google. Which of the following two results would you click?
Buy Sportswear | SITENAME
Looking for some new sportswear? We’ve got all the sportswear you need. Sportswear is our life and passion. #sportswear. Seriously, buy some sportswear from us? Would you?
Running shoes | Sportswear | SITENAME
Take a look at our versatile range of running shoes. Black, white, and red — we offer them all. Free shipping.
I’d choose the second option, what about you?
The second option contains the keyword in the title and looks like the best match for my search query. I highly recommend you to watch this video on how to write the perfect title tag to increase CTR.
However, sometimes exact‐match keywords can look really spammy and unnatural when stuffed in your content. For instance, if you are targeting the query “marketing tool free”, the exact match in your content will look strange.
My tip: Just don’t force the exact keywords into your content, instead write more naturally. Use synonyms, stop words, and so on. If your content is straight to the point, Google will understand what it is all about.
4. It’s Better To Use Short Descriptive URLs
Please take a look at this one:
Is it possible to tell what is this page about just looking at its URL? Don’t think so.
And now take a look at this one:
You don’t need to be a genius to figure out that the blog post is about on-page SEO. This is an example of a descriptive URL which tells you what is waiting for you on the page.
Why is this good for SEO?
Descriptive URLs help the online users to understand whether the page is likely to match their query if they decide to click on the search result to visit the page.
What’s even more important, most of the descriptive URLs include the keyword(s) you’re targeting. According to our study of 2 million keywords, there’s a slight correlation between rankings and keywords in the URL.
5. Optimize Your Image File Names and Use Descriptive Alt Tags
Did you know that 8.1 million (3.3%) Americans have a vision impairment? These people use a screen magnifier or a screen reader, as some of them might have a form of color blindness.
In other words - nearly 1 in 30 search engine users have a visual impairment and may be using a screen reader.
This is where alt tags, a special type of HTML tag inside the (image) tag become handy. They describe your images. This text will show on the screen if the image fails to load or if a visitor is using a screen reader.
Here’s an example of the HTML syntax for alt tags used within an image HTML tag:
Try to describe your images both in the alt text image tags and the image file name as accurately as possible. The descriptions may include your target keyword(s), which will be even better for SEO. Just don’t force your keywords if they don’t naturally fit the description of what your actual image is about.
Our same study of 2 million keywords from 2016 found that 50% of pages in the top 10 search results don’t have alt tags for their images. The correlation between the use of keywords in alt tags and rankings was also very slight.
Please note that the above are the results of the regular search only. Most likely they (as well as the correlation) would be different for Google Image Search.
6. Use Schema Markup to Increase CTR if Appropriate
What is Schema markup?
Schema markup is a specific form of microdata found at Schema.org. When you add it to a webpage, schema markup creates an enhanced description, a rich snippet, which appears in search results.
Why is it beneficial to use the Schema markup?
Because it helps search engines to better understand what your page is about.
Have you ever seen Google search results with star ratings, reviews or images? This is an effect of the Schema markup.
Here are examples of search results with and without Schema markup:
It’s not hard to understand why such markup increases the ‘clickability’ of web pages in the SERPs. Everything that helps your page stand out makes a positive effect, it draws user’s attention.
You can do even more than that with Schema.
I mean you can mark up specific mentions of objects, places, things and more. Supposing you have a web page selling something. You can use the Schema markup language to specify that a specific page is an eCommerce product page and also specify the product’s name, price, ISBN (for a book), etc.
Should you add Schema markup to every page of your website?
No, because many pages won’t benefit much from the Schema markup. Add it to the ones that will benefit from it the most.
If you are not sure which web pages to choose, take a look at the top‐ranking pages for the primary keyword you’re targeting. Do most of them have Schema markup? If the answer is “yes”, then it will likely make sense to add it to your page too.
7. Relevance to the Topic Makes Things Easier for Google
Are you wondering why I am speaking about this under the on‐page SEO topic? it’s because of ‘phrase‐based indexing’ and ‘co‐occurrence.’
In plain English, the idea is that Google can better identify the topical relevance of content through the co‐occurrence of words and phrases.
For example, suppose you have a page with the title tag “Simple pizza recipe!” Google can probably guess what your page is about based on its title. But if you want to turn that guess to certainty mention pizza ingredients on the page.
Well, everything is clear with a pizza recipe. But what if you are optimizing a website for a client that sells some complicated equipment you have no clue about. So, you don’t know what co-occurrence of words on the same page will increase its topical relevance.
In this case, you will need to do some research. You need to find out what kind of things the top‐ranking results mention. I use Ahrefs’ Content Gap tool for the purpose, you can use another SEO tool that can provide you with the same information.
8. Keep Your Content Simple and Readable
I didn’t write this article as an academic piece because most Americans read at a 7th or 8th‐grade level. Academic writing is not the easiest thing to understand. Abstruse words may send the reader straight to the back button.
How does this relate to on‐page SEO?
It’s commonly believed that Google takes user signals (dwell time, time on page, etc.) into account. So if your copy is overcomplicated and difficult to understand, your visitors won’t stay long on your page. That is not good for those user signals.
Here are a few tips for keeping your copy simple:
- Avoid “long” words.
- Use short sentences and paragraphs.
- Keep things informal, write the way you speak.
You can use tools like Hemingway to check how easy is to understand your copy is.
Over To You
I sincerely hope that now you understand that on‐page SEO is not just about cramming a few keywords into meta tags.
On-page SEO is about fulfilling search intent and giving searchers what they want. This is utterly important. If people don’t get exactly what they are looking for on your web page, it will never rank high in search engines.
You must keep Google happy as well.
This involves including keywords in your meta tags. But this part is small and not that necessary.
Did I miss any awesome on‐page SEO tips in this brief guide? Please let me know about that in the comments and don’t forget to share this blog post with your friends on social networks.