On Page SEO refers to the on page content and HTML elements which can be optimised. As these elements are controllable by you, attention should be paid to get them right. This post explains some of the key factors you should focus on.
On Page SEO Factors: A Changing Landscape
Google has changed the rules significantly over the years, meaning that what once may have proved helpful in boosting your page’s ranking may no longer be the case.
This is particularly the case with keyword use. Whereas in the past, keyword placement and repetition was nearly all that was required for on page optimisation, Google’s increasingly complex algorithms mean the picture is no longer so clear-cut.
Additionally, on page SEO makes up only part of the process you’ll need to undertake to get your pages ranking well. It should be coupled with technical SEO and off-page techniques, which refers to external factors such as link building.
Whilst not an exhaustive list, the below are some core factors you’ll want to pay attention to when it comes to optimising your pages.
Although lots of things have changed in the SEO world over the years, the importance of the title tag remains key – they’re one of the most important on page ranking factors.
The title tag should contain your target keywords and address what the content on your page relates to. The most powerful position to place your keyword is towards the beginning of the title tag. To ensure that your full title is displayed, it’s recommended limiting it to under 60 characters but the optimum length of title tags can bit a bit more complicated than just the character count.
The title tag is also what visitors see on the Search Engine Results Page (SERPs) , so should be written with this in mind:
And of course, each and every page on your website should have a unique Title tag that reflects the SEO purpose of that specific page.
H1 Tag <h1>
The H1, or header tag, appears within the body text of a page should be consistent with your title tag, as users will be expecting to see a matching headline to the results they’ve just clicked on.
H2 Tag <h2>
There’s less of a focus now on ensuring an H2 tag contains your keyword – a 2016 study by ahrefs found that 93% of pages that rank in the top 10 don’t have a target keyword in their h2 tags.
Nonetheless, H2 headings should be used to logically structure a page. If it’s natural to include the keyword, then do so.
A meta description is the chunk of copy that appears underneath the clickable part of a search result:
Meta descriptions are not a Google ranking factor. However, if they’re well-written, they’re a great opportunity to improve click through rates. Think of them as a small section of advertising copy – it’s your opportunity to get your marketing message across to the viewer.
Additionally, as in the example above, if your keywords are included in the meta description, they’ll be made bold. Anything to help attract the attention of the user shouldn’t be overlooked!
Search engines truncate the copy to 160 characters, so keep within those limits.
Keyword density was the old secret to the top of the SERPs: by repeating the same keyword on a page there was a good chance of ranking well.
By writing unnatural and unhelpful copy, user experience is going to be negatively affected. Although ‘keyword stuffing’ may have worked in the past, Google’s got better at detecting nonsensical content: the 2011 Panda update aimed to stop sites with poor content from ranking well.
There remain many opinions regarding optimal keyword density, but the bottom line from Moz’s Rand Fishkin was that ‘repetition-based rules are not gonna boost your rankings, and may inhibit your usability and content quality, which have far greater impacts’.
These days, although it can be useful to get your keyword in the first hundred words of copy, your focus should simply be on writing useful content for humans – not bots. If it’s a well-informed piece, relevant terms and synonyms should appear naturally.
Poor quality content will only lead to a high bounce rate, which you’ll be penalised for.
Although using the keyword in the meta tags and copy is useful, Google’s sophistication means it’s now able to understand synonyms and relevance of a page.
As part of Google’s battle against spammers and techniques like keyword stuffing, Google uses Latent Semantic Indexing to understand the content of a page.
LSI will look for terms related to the contents of your page to determine its relevance. For example, if the title of your page was ‘Nottingham’, you’d expect there to be terms like ‘Robin Hood’ and ‘East Midlands’ on that page.
Google’s understanding of natural language and variations of words continues to improve, as it aims to understand what searchers actually mean when making a query.
As long as the content you’re producing is relevant, comprehensive and high-quality, this should come naturally!
A previously popular way to rank well for terms was to use keywords in a domain name. For example: www,buycheapkeyword.com
It’s best to avoid using domain names such as this. Google announced in 2012 that their algorithm would target this kind of exact-match domain spam:
Rather than forcing the use of an unnatural keyword, it’s more effective to simply use your brand name as the domain name. This is the term customers will remember and will use to find your site.
When it comes to top level domain names, it’s preferable to use .com, or the relevant country domain, such as .co.uk. Although not a ranking factor, alternative top level domains such as .biz, can be seen as spammy and influence how your site is perceived.
URLs are used by Google as a minor ranking factor.
A well-crafted, short and simple URL improves user experience. A static URL is preferable to a dynamic URL – see the difference between the two below:
As with the content on your page, focus on how well a human can read your URLs.
Keywords are still useful to have in URLs, but they’re not worth changing on a pre-existing site to try to improve rankings. John Mueller, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, stated in 2016 that ‘it is not something I’d really try to force. And it is not something I’d say is even worth your effort to restructure your site just so you can get keywords in your URL’.
Images shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to on page optimisation.
By correctly labelling the image file names and alt tags, you help Google further understand what your page is about. Additionally, this will affect where your image appears in image search rankings.
Take a look at this guide to optimising your images for search.
Internal & External Links
If it makes sense to create meaningful links to other related pages on your site, then do so as internal linking is a strong ranking signal.
Wikipedia is a good example of the effective use of keyword-rich internal links:
Obviously your site won’t be of the same scale as Wikipedia, but internal links remain useful to on page SEO.
The usefulness of links to external sites has been questioned, as they can make people click away from your page. However, studies have shown positive correlations between the outgoing links on a page and its search rankings.
This suggests that Google partly understands the quality of your page by looking at the sites you link to. By associating yourself with authoritative sources, Google can better understand the topic of your page and has evidence that it’s a useful hub of information.
A common theme among many of these factors is creating value for people. Whether that’s links to other useful pages, user-friendly URLs or well-written and lengthy content, Google will eventually recognise the usefulness of your page.
Of course, on-page SEO is just one of the areas you’ll need to focus on to make your site successful. Although it builds a solid foundation, you can’t ignore off-page factors, whether that’s building high quality links to improve your Domain Authority or ensuring aspects of technical SEO are seamless.