Attracting visitors to your website is a constant process, and plays a highly valuable role in driving leads and awareness to your business. On-page SEO is a necessary role in terms of boosting the visibility of your website, as it encompasses everything a visitor sees and interacts with.
What is on-page SEO?
On-page (or on-site) SEO is an organic method of optimising each page of your website in order to improve its ranking on search engines. There are a number of key factors that influence on-page SEO including written content, images, and HTML tags. Chances are if you’re making manual changes to any part of your website that impacts its pages, it counts as on-page SEO.
The importance of on-page SEO for local business
There is no end to the importance of on-page SEO. If you want your website ranked ahead of competitors, it’s necessary to conduct on-page search engine optimisations, and to regularly update each element to keep up with changing search trends. On-page SEO allows businesses to have more control over what is used to help their website get ranked in search engines. Each element of on-page SEO is editable, and can be updated if certain keywords or other on-page SEO factors aren’t working to improve visibility. On-page SEO is also a constant, it doesn’t have an end date unlike paid search, which means other search engine optimisation techniques can be built on top.
If you’re starting your SEO journey, on-page SEO is the first step you take, which arguably makes it the most important technique of search engine optimisation.
On-page SEO factors
There are several key factors that contribute to on-page SEO, and some have been mentioned above. It’s necessary to understand each element of on-page SEO in order to maximise its ability to generate results for your business.
The relationship between on-page SEO and content
The written content featured on your website is one of the most important factors not only of on-page SEO, but also of encouraging customers to stay on your website to learn more about your business. The words you use, the tone of voice you convey, and the way you present your content will all have an impact on how your website is ranked in search engines, and how long audiences will spend on your site.
How to use keywords for on-page SEO
The first step in creating engaging content that will help improve the visibility of your website is keyword research. Keyword research involves understanding how your target audience use search, and which terms they type into a search bar to seek businesses like yours. Whilst keyword research can be a time-consuming task, doing it right gives your content the best opportunity of ranking well in search engines.
There are a variety of free tools available to help you recognise which words and phrases you need to use in your written content in order to feature in relevant results:
- People also ask: When you use the Google search engine, a feature will pop-up part way down the page named ‘people also ask’, this tool will give you ideas about related search terms to the one you first typed into Google.
- Searches related to…: Another feature on Google will offer suggestions on topics related to your initial search query. It’s likely not all will be relevant, but it can give some useful recommendations.
- Autofill: Another useful tool that most search engines offer is an autofill. Basically, when you start typing something into a search bar, suggestions that aim to complete what your typing will appear below. Some of these suggestions will present you with more ideas as to which keywords you should be focussing on.
These tools will give you a fundamental understanding on which words and phrases your written content should feature. Do bear in mind a couple of things though; firstly, you will need to use varied keywords and phrases depending on which page you’re working on at the time. For example, you should be using more general words and phrases relating to your business and industry on the homepage compared with specific product/service pages, which should include their own keywords/phrases to help each individual page get ranked. Secondly, search engines know if you’re keyword stuffing content. There’s no point adding keywords to your website text if it doesn’t belong, your written content needs to be fluent, and there has to be a rhyme and reason for it, otherwise, your website may well be penalised.
On-page header tags
You may be wondering why header text is important to on-page SEO, but it honestly plays a large part in how search engines rank your website.
Breaking down content to fit into numerous headings makes it easier for audiences to consume the information written on the page, and if it makes it easier for audiences, it makes it easier for search engine bots too. Whilst the thought of having search engine bots crawl through your website might seem a bit unnerving, it’s 100% necessary to have your website ranked. Plus, whether your carry out search engine optimisations or not on your website, bots are still going to crawl it, so you may as well help them out if it means your website could gain greater visibility.
Header text also gives audiences a heads-up on what they can expect from the page content, and whether there’s a certain section they’d prefer to skip to, rather than attempting to scan through the whole text to find the information they want. With this in mind, it makes it vital to create informative headings that relate back to what that specific piece of content is providing.
There is a structure to headings that’s simple to understand, but also vital in terms of having the content make sense to the reader. Often referred to as H1’s, H2’s, H3’s, H4’s etc., these structures allow for the clearest setting out of content and are ordered by importance. In terms of how they should be used, H1’s are for the page’s main heading text, you can use more than one H1 heading on each page, however pages with one optimised H1 heading tend to achieve better results. H2’s are the key subheadings that relates back to the subject of the title (H1’s), it might be useful to think of these subheadings as book chapters. There may be times you wish to include subheadings under subheadings, and subheadings under subheadings under subheadings… and so on, which is where the H3’s, H4’s, H5’s and H 6’s come in, depending on your requirements. It’s worth noting that H6’s are the last of the pack, and any subheadings under H4’s are rarely used as these are primarily for really deep and/or technical content.
In order to get the best use out of these heading structures, it’s important to draft out your content first, giving you a better understanding of how many subheadings you want to use, and where in the content they’re best placed. Research based on the page content you want to create should help define these areas for your headings and subheadings.
Use of blogs for on-page SEO
Blogs aren’t only a great way to engage audiences, they can also be a helpful tool for SEO. Optimising your blog posts can help attract more visitors to your website, which can only be a good thing.
It is important to remember, however, that blogs shouldn’t just be written for the purposes of SEO. They need to be written for customers and other key stakeholders your business has, because they’re the ones you need to engage and convert into leads.
The subject of your blog should be as original as it can be, and fits the interests of your target audience (which is easier said than done). Research into your target customer base and relevant blogs that are gaining traction in your industry, will be essential if you want your blogs to be as successful as possible. Also, as with any on-page content, keyword research is vital, and makes sure your blog is featured in relevant search results.
HTML tags for on-page SEO
HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language – in case the question comes up in a pub quiz 😉) tags define every structure on a HTML page. This includes the placement of text and images, as well as hypertext links. Any webpage will need four main tags, which include <html>, <head>, <title>, and <body>. These tags come in pairs, so the <html> tag should be used at the very beginning and very end of a webpage, <head> should be used at the beginning and end of the <title> element, whilst <title> itself should be used at the beginning and end of the actual page title, but within the <head> tags. You may have guessed already that the <body> element is used at the beginning and end of the of the main body of content featured on your page, which can include text, images, links, etc.
Most content management systems like WordPress have templates that mean you don’t have to worry too much about adding HTML tags to the pages you’re creating yourself, they do that for you, so you can focus on what’s going on the page. However, there may some instances where the formatting for your page isn’t quite right and so knowing these tags might be useful if edits need to be made to the code.
Meta-titles (or title tags) and meta descriptions are attributes of HTML that provide summaries of the page their related to. These are essential components of on-site SEO that help get your website ranked.
On-page SEO meta titles
Meta titles or title tags specify the title of a webpage. These titles are displayed on results pages as the clickable link that leads you to the webpage itself. It’s important for the meta-title to provide a concise description of the page’s topic matter.
In terms of the optimum length to ensure titles are displayed correctly on search engine results pages (SERPs), research indicates that around 90% of titles under 60 characters long will format correctly. However, title lengths aren’t actually based on character length, they’re based on a 600-pixel container. This is why you should try to avoid using ALL CAPS titles, because they use up more space. Generally speaking, meta titles within a 50-60-character length are ideal.
It’s important to personalise your meta titles because they help search engines recognise the topic of your page, if you have the same title as a different webpage from a different company, this will make it more difficult for your page to rank well in SERPs. There are three key places meta titles are used:
- Your meta-title is generally what’s displayed in search engine results pages (with few exceptions), and can have a big influence of whether a potential customer chooses to click on your site or not.
- Web browsers
- The meta-title is also something that will display at the top of web browser tabs. Unique titles that include relevant keywords help visitors recognise your page, particularly if they have many tabs open.
- Social networks
- When sharing website pages over social media, the meta-title automatically appears as a clickable link in the post. Whilst some social media channels let you edit it this through their platform to show differently than the original meta-title, it’s important to still have it optimised to fit with your page.
Whilst it’s important to include relevant keywords in your meta-title, don’t overdo it. Search engines understand variations of keywords, and know if you’re trying to stuff too many keywords into one title, this could result in the penalisation of your website. Additionally, it creates a bad user-experience for potential website visitors.
On-page meta descriptions
The meta-description is the HTML attribute for a page that provides a snippet of text that’s featured underneath the meta-title in search engine results pages. The aim of including a meta-description is to offer a bit more information about the topic of the linked page, as it’s often a visible feature in SERPs.
In terms of the ideal length of meta-descriptions, between 50 and 160 characters is recommended as Google usually truncates them if they’re any longer. Saying this though, it does depend on the situation as your aim should be to offer value and generate clicks.
As an on-page SEO method, it’s been discovered that meta-descriptions don’t actually contribute to search rankings. This doesn’t mean they’re not incredibly important to your website pages though. Meta-descriptions can influence a potential customer’s decision to click and land on your website, therefore they should be written in a natural and engaging way. This is what confirms to a potential visitor if the content of your page meets their needs of why they searched in the first place.
Whilst writing different meta-descriptions for each of your website pages is going to be a time-consuming task, it’s a necessary evil. Duplicate descriptions for different pages will likely just result in confusion for the reader, as well as simply demonstrating laziness.
When writing your descriptions, avoid the use of quotation marks. This is because Google and other search engines tend to cut off the description at the quotation mark when it appears in results pages. As a result, it would be good practice to avoid the use of non-alphanumerical characters when typing out your meta-descriptions.
There may be times when search engines don’t use your meta-description and instead apply their own. This is usually because those search engines don’t believe your original meta-description provides a suitable answer for the searcher’s query, but identifies a snapshot of text on your page that does.
It’s also important to note that because meta-descriptions don’t actually contribute to the ranking of your website, there’s even less point to overload this content with keywords. Saying that, you should still keep in keywords that relate to the subject of your page, because it could still help answer a searcher’s query.
Content audits for on-page SEO
Adding to your website with new pages and new content is great, and shows your business is constantly developing, however, auditing existing content is also incredibly important.
For those that are unsure what a content audit consists of, it’s the process of analysing all pages and assets on a website to provide an understanding of what needs to be created, completely re-written, updated, or even deleted.
Analysing existing content will help your business in a number of ways, as it allows you to:
- Evaluate each page’s successfulness (is existing content performing well?).
- Identify if the information featured is still accurate and relevant.
- Determine the types of content your website visitors still want to see.
Understanding these factors will work to keep your business fresh, up-to-date, and relevant. In turn, this will help you improve the experience of visiting your website for viewers, maximising session times and (hopefully) impacting on purchases.
Whilst conducting content audits won’t have a direct effect on rankings and visibility itself, any outcomes from an audit should have an effect. If you feel a page may need updating with more relevant keywords as the result of an audit, those changes should help boost that page’s visibility. For that reason, content audits should be a regular occurrence and embedded within your SEO strategy. There’s no point rushing an audit, because there may well be items you miss, such as broken links or missing meta-descriptions.
When running your content audit, it’s important to think of your goals. Would you like to push for higher conversion rates on a specific landing page, or identify which pages need to be better optimised for search engines. Drafting out these aims will not only help you clean-up your website, but also ensure its performance is the best it can be for the moment.
How to optimise images for on-page SEO
When optimising a website, most people tend to focus on written content. What they may not realise is that images and videos can have a big impact on website visibility too.
When images are used correctly on website pages, it adds to the content and can help structure the page to break up the text. As well as this, it can help further explain the page topic (a picture is worth a thousand words after all!).
Image searches on Google are becoming increasingly important for businesses to utilise, in fact mobile searches for ‘image search’ have increased quite dramatically since 2016 (Think with Google). This is why the use of visual content could be crucial to helping potential visitors find your page.
Using the right image for SEO
In terms of adding images to your website, originals are best. This is because part of Google’s algorithm to crawl sites includes searching for duplicates of any content, including images. It may be difficult to take good quality images relating to the content you want to include on your website, however even simply having pictures of your management team, or the products you sell could make a big difference. If you have a main image, or an image in particular you want to rank for, aim to keep that near the top of your page. Whilst it isn’t recommended, if you do need to use stock photos, try to stick to images that seem a bit more genuine and fit in with your brand.
If you want simple alternatives to photos, and want to keep things original, graphs or illustrations could also be useful and better help to describe the written content on your page. There are a number of useful tools available that can help get you started creating visual illustrations including blogs and YouTube videos. It should also be mentioned that GIFs are very popular these days with most age groups, and so if it suits your business to include these, it could act as a great way to keep the length of page sessions high on your website. Try not to go overboard with GIFs though, too many will likely distract the reader too much, and can make your page extremely slow to load.
Optimising images for search result pages
Once you’ve found the images you want to use on your site, the next step is to optimise them for search engines. There are several key tasks to take on in relation to optimising images, which include:
- Naming the file
- Formatting the image
- Uploading the image
- Adding the image to your page
Practical tips for naming files for SEO
It may seem obvious or unnecessary, however it’s important you use an optimised naming convention to name your image files. The file name you choose will be the one that search engines see when scanning your site. For this reason, keeping names like DSC1453.jpg won’t help your webpage at all. Stick to key-phrases that relates to both the picture and your page, as it better helps search engines understand what the image is about, and its relevance to your page (search engine bots can’t see pictures, so they focus on the name).
As an example of a better optimised file name for an image, if you’re writing a blog about Barcelona’s Gaudi architecture, and you include an image of the sunset behind the Sagrada Familia, the file would be best named gaudi-sagrada-familia-barcelona-sunset.jpg, ensuring your topic is at the beginning of the file name.
Formatting images for on-page SEO
There are several ways to format an image for your website, however it does depend on the image you want to use and where you want to place it.
- JPEGs are great for larger images, as they give decent results in terms of image quality at a relatively low file size.
- PNG images are generally of much higher quality than JPEGs, and therefore have a much larger file size, so should only really be used if you want to maintain transparency in the background of an image.
Different content management systems (CMS) and templates will have different image size conventions, so it’s important to make a note first as to the pixel sizes your images will need to be. E.g., a feature image may only need to be 400px x 400px, whilst a header image could have a limit of 1500px x 500px.
Uploading the image
Uploading an image is a simple process that should be clearly identified to you through the CMS you have chosen. However, part of the image uploading process is to add a variety of data, such as image title, alternative text (or alt-text), and image caption. This information makes it easier for search engines to read your image and rank it and your page accordingly.
- Image title
- The image title should reflect the file name you gave the image, sometimes this will be automatically populated with your given file name.
- The alt-text should be a more thorough description of the image. This text shows if an image can’t be displayed for any particular reason, or if the visitor is using a screen reader because they have a visual impairment. Try and ensure the alt-text features a keyword relating to the page it’s featured on.
- Image caption
- You may wish to add image captions that will feature underneath the image you choose to feature. Captions are often used when the image represents something significant, or as a brief description of a graph or table of data.
Adding the image to your page
There are several ways to add an image to your webpage, and again, it will vary depending on the CMS you use. You may want some to be a header, a feature, or a social image, which is usually done by uploading that image to a specific section named ‘header’, ‘feature’ or ‘social’. However, you may want other images to feature within the written content itself. If that is ever the case, for CMS’s like WordPress, you can simply add an image block to the right, left or in the middle of written content blocks, otherwise, there should be an option within your chosen CMS to upload an image within the written text, and that option should be featured within the toolbar.
Depending on how you want your image positioned within the text, you may need to use some HTML code to get it exactly right. Don’t fret too much if this ends up being the case, there are plenty of blogs and YouTube videos that will help explain how to use code to position your image in easy steps.
What to look for in on-page SEO analysis
Not only does optimising your website take a chunk of time to carry-out, it also takes a while for all the search engine bots to crawl and rank it accordingly. According to Google, it can take up to six-months to rank a website, this doesn’t mean on-page SEO isn’t any less worth it though.
There are two main factors you should use to check your SEO is working (after those anxious six-months), which include:
- Keyword rankings
- Webpage traffic
Keyword ranking analysis
Knowing how well your chosen keywords rank in search results will be the predominant factor in knowing whether your SEO efforts have taken effect. You know what your goal will be once those six-months are up (something that should be decided at the very beginning of your SEO journey), and if it’s to rank somewhere on the first page of Google, searching your target keywords will help you find out if you’ve made it.
There are also a number of helpful tools available that will show you how well your target keywords are ranking, although do keep in mind the most accurate and informative versions will likely have to be paid for. You may also have to check your keyword rankings regularly in order to understand how much they fluctuate, as one glimpse could only show those keywords at their highest or lowest rank.
Webpage traffic analysis
A key result of analysing your on-page SEO success will be page traffic. If the webpage you’ve optimised is ranking for its target keywords, then you should be seeing an influx of traffic. Without any increase in traffic for your page, then unfortunately it means your SEO efforts have been unsuccessful.
Of course, the ultimate goal of increased website traffic is increased revenue, and whilst you may see an increased traffic of 250% to your page within those six-months, it doesn’t really mean anything if enquiries or sales haven’t increased. If this happens to ever be the case, it may be worth looking at the page’s written content again, or try to encourage more reviews, testimonials and/or case studies.
External factors for on-page SEO
One of the key issues of having webpage traffic as a metric for SEO analysis is that there are a number of external factors that can influence it, as well as the on-page SEO you have carried out.
Firstly, Google likes to chop and change which ranking factors they think are more important on a website, and not tell anyone... This basically makes it a near-impossible job to keep your website well-ranked for any length of time. As a result, it’s important to keep up with any news regarding Google’s SEO algorithms, because there are some James Bond types out there that discover this information.
Secondly, if you have any competitions running on social media or elsewhere that leads to a page you’ve optimised, it’s difficult to separate out which audiences are a result of the competition, and which are a result of your impressive SEO capabilities. Fortunately, Google Analytics and the social media sites themselves can give you an indication of what visitors came from where to land upon your page; however, it doesn’t factor in people that have seen the competition, but typed the keywords into the browser rather than clicking on the link.
Thirdly, the way your target audience uses search is constantly changing. What may be a popular keyword they like to use one day can completely change the next, and with the growing popularity of voice searches, more long-tail keywords might be a favourable option. This is why it’s extremely important to constantly audit your on-page search optimisations, because nothing stays the same for very long.
On-page SEO best practices
In relation to on-page SEO best practices, it’s important you make sure to carry-out all factors of on-page SEO, and also that you do it in a systematic way. This will ensure you get the best possible results for your efforts.
Producing optimised content
Applying keyword research
Carrying out keyword research is simply the first step in understanding how your target audiences use online search, and what topics to include in your content. Understanding how to best apply them to your content will allow you to create engaging content that encourages visitors to learn more.
Once you have your keywords, group them into topics, and these topics should make up your pages. It’s a much more efficient practice to group keywords, than to create a new page for each different topic you have. Following this, typing these keyword groups into search engines will help you decide what type of content to include on that page. Taking note of whether pages ranking for the same groups are video or image-heavy, whether content is text-heavy or short and concise, and how it’s formatted, will help you go above and beyond what existing pages are doing to be that little bit more unique.
Low value tactics
The purpose of your website should be to provide your target audiences with knowledge about how your products/solutions will add value to their lives. This means each page of your website should provide a purpose and feature good quality content. You shouldn’t just be creating a website to rank on the first page of Google, because that’s counterintuitive.
There are several low-value tactics you should avoid either because Google will penalise your website for it, or because it doesn’t help increase the visibility of your website. One of these tactics includes creating individual pages for each keyword, even if they represent the same topic. For example, a craftsman may once have had a website featuring a page each for bespoke furniture, unique furniture, and personalised furniture, which all arguably mean the same thing. These practices aren’t helpful for audiences and can be confusing, so as well as not giving you any brownie points from could-have-been customers, it wouldn’t give you any from search engines either.
An update in 2011 to Google’s ranking algorithm made it so that websites with ‘thin’ content were penalised, and is a practice still used by the search engine today. Thin content means little, repeated, and/or low-quality content. This is a result of practices like those mentioned above, as it provides little value to visitors.
Duplicate content is another low-value tactic. Copying the exact content from another site and republishing as your own, or making slight changes to copied content, or copying content from one page of your site and adding it to another, all counts as duplicate content. Whilst there isn’t necessarily a penalty for duplicate content, if Google finds two or more pages suitable for a search result but with the same or very similar content, then the original page that published that content will be chosen, with the other options being hidden from view. Google choose to do this to better a searcher’s experience.
Keyword stuffing is another low value tactic to avoid. There’s no need to include a certain number of keywords within your written content to ensure your page will be ranked for it. Whilst Google does look for keywords within your content, it’s more important that what you write is unique and valuable, and makes sense to your audience.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
If your website already has plenty of content, don’t waste time on creating new content from scratch. Instead, evaluate each page on your website, and keep the pages that have high levels of traffic as they are, and look at editing the pages that are lacking in viewers. Once you’ve made the necessary changes to those pages that weren’t performing well, you can go back to the pages that are, and see if there are any tweaks that can be made to maximise engagement. This could include adding new content types such as images, videos or infographics, but make sure there’s a reason to do this, make sure it adds value.
Name, address, phone
Otherwise called your NAP details, including your name, address and phone number regularly and consistently across your website will help your customers enquire that little bit more quickly, should they need any additional information that isn’t featured on your site. Including your NAP details throughout your website will also help Google My Business and other listings pages you use understand the links between your website and the listings page you own that bit quicker, and acts as another string to your bow for getting better visibility to your website.
Additional best practices
While you may consider it to be counterintuitive to include links on your page that take visitors off your site to other sites, it can actually help your business in terms of its search rankings. Linking to quality sites such as Google, ONS or related industry bodies in order to offer your audience additional information about a certain subject, can increase your sites authoritativeness in the eyes of search engines.
Additionally, linking between pages on your own website will help search engine bots find each of your pages in order to crawl and rank them accordingly. As well as helping the bots, it also makes it easier for visitors to navigate your site, giving you extra brownie points. Be careful with linking though, and limit the number you have on each page. A simple rule to go by is only use a link when it’s needed and makes sense to do it, don’t just go adding links because you think it will help that page rank better.
How your website navigation is set out won’t only influence what a visitor thinks of your website and how long they’ll stay on it, but also how search engine bots will index and rank those pages. Your navigation also helps search engines understand the context of your pages and the relationship between them.
It’s highly important to remember that however much you want to rank on the first page of Google, your audience comes first. This is how you should see it, as it’s also how search engines see it. Search engines are there to help their customers find the answers they’re looking for, and if they bring up a site on a results page that has confusing navigation, it won’t only look bad for the owners of that website, it will also look bad for the search engines that rank it.
When creating or editing your navigation bar, think about page hierarchies. Try to understand what the most important pages for your customers are, and categorise them. These categories should then be used as the headings on the navigation bar. You can think of it like how food items are categorised at the supermarket, with labels above the aisles with general food groups, then more concentrated labels on the aisles themselves.
A quick on-page SEO summary
As you have read, there are so many factors that make-up on-page SEO. This is why it will take time to create the best website you possibly can that suits the needs of your audience, and proves to Google it’s worth ranking highly. Don’t be discouraged though, as it’s probably been mentioned already in this bible-length page, on-page SEO is a necessary evil, and you should be able to reap its rewards after those initial six-months are up.
The most important thing to consider when conducting on-page optimisations is your audience. Search engines aim to please them with the best results; therefore, your website should aim to please them with quality, unique, relevant content and easy to navigation.