Over the past few years, the pace at which Google updates and tweaks its search algorithms has accelerated dramatically. While it made 3,200 changes in search engine algorithm in 2018 alone, 2019 saw a number of publicly disclosed core updates, including its introduction of the BERT algorithm—touted as one of Google’s biggest changes in Search.
BERT is intended to impact 1 in 10 search queries, enabling Google to produce more relevant search results with better understanding of search query intent.
So, with Google rolling out core Search updates every few months, webmasters need to make sure their sites are consistently optimized—and on-site SEO is a great place to start.
What Is On-Site SEO?
On-site SEO—otherwise known as on-page SEO—is the practice of optimizing elements on individual web pages to earn relevant traffic and rank higher in search engines. It involves optimizing both: the site’s HTML source code as well as the content on the site.
The ultimate goal of on-site SEO is to help users and search engines quickly and clearly understand what the web page is about and whether it addresses the searcher’s query. This means optimizing the elements that matter to the users when they browse your web pages (including, trustworthy content, site-speed and mobile-friendliness) and the elements that matter to search engines (including structured data, HTML tags, crawlability, etc.)
Think about it: if your website has issues with readability and user experience, Google won’t deem your site worthy of ranking in search engines, consequently affecting your search presence.
Over the years, we’ve seen increased focus on off-site SEO techniques—like link building, guest blogging—and other technical elements, but in reality, off-site SEO won’t do you any good if you don’t pay attention to the fundamentals. After all, SEO is like an organic ecosystem where even a small snippet of code or unstructured data can affect the performance of your site.
Smart SEO practitioners know that on-site optimization should be prioritized, constantly.
Why You Need On-Site SEO?
Today, on-site SEO is an essential part of every effective marketing strategy.
To fully illustrate its importance, let’s go over some reasons why on-site SEO should be your top priority:
It Helps Search Engines Identify Content Relevance
Search engines are becoming more sophisticated; they no longer just rely on conventional document analysis and traditional text to rank their indexes. They can now extract meaning by simply paying attention to the frequency with which particular word combinations are placed in your content.
While keyword usage still remains at the heart of SEO, prescriptive methods like using exact-match keywords in certain locations of the HTML code is no longer the only tenant of on-site SEO. What matters more is relevance.
For each web page on your site, ask yourself how relevant your content is to the user intent behind the search queries.
On-site SEO helps you understand:
- who your audience is;
- what is your audience looking for when they type a query;
- and what topics (target keywords) should you focus on while creating content—that best addresses their pain points.
Thus, on-site SEO optimizes your website (content+ HTML code) in a way that helps search engines identify whether your content is relevant to the searcher’s query.
It Helps Drive Local Results
If targeted traffic is what you’re looking for, on-site SEO is your best bet.
Local SEO is aimed to reach audience that is looking for a product/service within a physical location. By implementing on-site SEO, you should notice an increase in local SEO conversions, which means:
- More targeted traffic for relevant search terms
- Greater online visibility, leading to a bigger audience and boost in traffic
Here are some of the many ways on-site SEO techniques help drive local results:
- Insert local and optimized keywords in your title tag
- Add NAP—name, address, phone number—in HTML code
- Create “local” content
Good User Experience Leads To Better Conversion Rate
In essence, anon-site SEO strategy combines best SEO practices with User Experience (UX)—SEO practices target search engines while UX targets the visitors on your site.
Here’s how this winning combination can take your conversions to the next level:
- Optimized visual and video elements increase visit duration
- Improved page load time reduces bounce rate
- Long tail keywords help boost your brand’s loyalty, thereby increasing conversions
Core On-Site SEO Elements
Now that we know the benefits on-site SEO, let’s move on to how we can practically implement it:
Publish High-Quality Content
Content is king in the online realm. If content is the backbone of a successful online business, then on-page SEO is the foundation of content marketing.
Content is in fact among the top three page-quality factors, according to Google.
But simply having content isn’t enough to climb up the SERP rankings; you need to publish qualitycontent that drives traffic.
Here’s what we mean by quality content:
This is because Google prefers only original and unique pieces in the sea of content on the internet.
In fact, according to the Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, sites that copy content with little or no effort and manual creation will likely be rated low in search rankings.
Aligned With User Search Intent
Always keep your audience in mind.
What do you want to tell your audience? Does your content help, educate or inspire your audience in any way? What is the takeaway from your article? Are you writing the article to engage your audience to buy your products or to read more posts?
Use these questions to create content that is relevant to user intent.
Moreover, you can define valuable content with these five benchmarks:
- Easy to share
- Easy to find
Studies have shown that ‘how-to’ videos, infographics, images and articles are some of the most engaging content types on social media platforms.
There’s no substitute for credible and well-researched long-form content (a minimum of 1200 words). Not only does it promote your brand’s image as an expert in the industry, but it also earns your customer’s confidence, thereby increasing its likelihood of being shared on social platforms.
All these factors eventually translate into increased brand awareness.
What’s more, studies show that approximately 10% searchers look up online resources on broad topics to learn information. This is a suggestive hint that Google ranks long-from content well.
How to Optimize
- Analyze the top-ranking pages for your target keywords and analyze their content.
- Incorporate semantically related keywords to drive traffic to content with additional sub-topics.
- Answer frequently asked questions about your topic.
Does the content on your site stand as a reliable source of informationon its own? If not, then it likely has low E-A-T ratings.
E-A-T stands for expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness.
It’s simple: Google doesn’t want to deliver links to potentially fraudulent websites that share uneducated advice and opinions. It wants to protect searchers from low-quality content, which is why it only recommends sites that display a high-level of E-A-T.
You can optimize your content for E-A-T by:
- Recruiting experts
- Displaying the writer’s credentials
- Using high-quality backlinks
- Earning users’ trust through useful and accurate content
- Managing your online reputation
- Humanizing your brand
Choose the right set of keywords
Keywords are the linchpin between what your audience is searching for and the content you provide to address that need.
Your goal is to drive organic traffic from SERPs and the keywords you choose to target will determine the kind of traffic you get. For instance, if you own a golf club and choose to target the keywords ‘new clubs’ you may end up attracting audience that’s looking for dance clubs. This will result in a serious drop in your click-through ratings and hurt your search engine rankings.
Find keywords that are relevant to your business using keyword research tools like Google’s Keyword Planner tool. You can then monitor where your site ranks for those keywords using a keyword rank checker tool like RankGenie. With ranking data at your disposal, you can figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Here’s a list of some importance places on your site that you need to optimize for your chosen keywords:
- Meta Descriptions
- Image Titles & Alt Text
We’ll further discuss how you can optimize these areas later in the blog.
You can get the most bang for your bucks by starting keyword optimization with pages that earn the most traffic.
Moreover, you can also benefit from long-tail keywords because:
- They drive voice search results
- They are specific to your business niche
- They are likely not sec
OptimizePage Title and Description
When Google crawls your web pages, it checks the page titles and meta descriptions of the pages to understand the purpose of the content and rank it (for targeted keywords) in its index.
Both page title and description provide searcher with an initial cue about the subject matter.
While the title alone doesn’t have a huge impact on organic rankings, poorly written, duplicate or missing title can negatively impact your SEO results.
How to Optimize For Title Tags
- Add target keywords at the beginning of the page titles
This gives search engines an idea of the keywords you’re targeting from the very beginning. However, make sure you don’t fall into the trap of keyword stuffing.
- Use short, descriptive titles
It’s recommended to keep titles below 60 characters(the amount of characters displayed in the Google search result pages).
- Include power words
Increase the CTR and make your titles more interesting by using power words like “actionable, ultimate, checklist, etc.”
It’s important to mention here that if Google detects any issues with your title, it may generate an improved title for your page from on-page text, anchors and other sources.
How to Optimize For Meta Description
Meta descriptions give webmasters the opportunity to advertise their content and convince their audience to visit their website, instead of their competitors.
- Write unique descriptions for every page: Identical descriptions aren’t helpful when individual pages of your site appear in web results. Create descriptions that accurately describe your web page.
- Add keywords in the description: Google highlights search terms in both the title and the description, making them more appealing and relevant to the searcher.
Format and Optimize Headings
Your web pages need to be formatted properly. Use header tags—HTML elements ranging from H1 to H6—to identify the headings and subheadings within your content.
You can either choose to keep the same content with the header <h1> tag and title <title> tag, or differentiate between the two, like the example above.
- Construct useful and interesting headings
- Use header tags hierarchically: <h1>, then <h2>, <h3>, so on and so forth.
- Incorporate related keywords in subheadings
Images certainly make your web pages more appealing, but there’s one problem: search engines can’t understand them.
So, it’s a good idea to add images with descriptive titles and alt text to support your content.
Here’s why optimized images are a valuable SEO asset:
- They give your content additional ranking opportunities (for example rankings in Google Image Search)
- They improve the site’s user experience
- Always use either original images or royalty free images.
- Optimize image size; the smaller the size, the better.
- Use a Content Delivery Network service to increase your page load speed if you have multiple images on a single web page.
- Describe the images using alt text (also known as alt attribute or alternative text). It is added to the <img> tag of your HTML page.
Alt text is shown in the place of the image, in case the image is unable to load. Search engine crawlers use this text to ‘describe’ the image to visually impaired users.
Use Internal Links
Internal links link the current web page that the user is on to relevant web pages on the same site.
Interlinking keeps the user engaged, thereby informing Google that your site is relevant.
From an SEO perspective, interlinking facilitates:
- User experience
- Lower bounce rate
Moreover, internal links help search engines discover more web pages on your site.
- Use links naturally and strategically within content
- Link to dedicated service pages and Contact Us forms, encouraging the user to take action.
Use External Links
External links help Google classify what your web page is about, based on other page topics, signaling your site as trustworthy.
There are three types of link attributes: “nofollow”, “sponsored”, and “ugc”
Google introduced the “nofollow” attribute as a way for webmasters to address shady links and content spam from user-generated content (UGC) — content posted by users on online platforms.
This attribute is helpful when you link to another page but don’t wish to imply an endorsement or pass ranking credit to another page. If you’re caught accepting anything of value for linking without a nofollow attribute, Google could penalize your website.
Google initially didn’t use nofollow attributes for ranking purposes, but it announced that as of March 2020, it’ll use nofollow attributes as ‘hints’ for organic ranking, instead of ignoring it completely. This means:
- it may use nofollow links for crawling and indexing
- in some cases, it may even use nofollow links for ranking
Moreover, Google introduced two new link attributes “sponsored” and “ugc” to identify the nature of hyperlinks across web content.
This attribute is recommended for links present in UGC, such as links within form posts and posts on social media and comments.
This attribute is used to identify links on sites that are created as a result of sponsorships, compensation agreements or advertisements. The attribute hints that this is a paid link from some user-generated content.
Impact on SEO
The outcome of these changes will possibly reflect in rankings and could mean considerable improvement in user experience.
These new link attributes will help Google better control black hat SEO practices. While webmasters don’t need to go back and change attributes of existing links, publishers who use “nofollow” for control crawling may have to reconsider their strategy.
Optimize for User Engagement
While one part of on-site SEO lies in optimizing website elements, the other half lies in ensuring users don’t bounce.
Let’s look at some user signals that impact your site rankings:
According to Google, with every second that a user waits around for your site to load, you lose readers and your bounce rate increases.
In fact, Google has ‘forced’ website owners to prioritize page speed by officially adding speed as a known ranking factor for mobile devices.
8 in 10 users have reported to stop engaging with websites that don’t display well on their devices. In the age of mobile-first indexing, it’s crucial that your site is mobile friendly. This means making sure your site has a mobile-oriented structure and responsive design.
Search engines crawl your website using robots, which follow links to discover web content. While a great linking structure with optimized page titles and page headings improve your site’s crawlability, optimizing your URLs also plays a big role in this regard.
Take a look at this URL:
Can you identify what the page is about by looking at the URL?
Now look at this one:
This is an example of a descriptive URL that tells you what to expect from the web page. Moreover, it also fulfils the requirements of an SEO-friendly URL:
- It includes target keywords
- It is short (should ideally be less than 255 characters)
- Uses hyphen to separate different parts.
SEO isn’t a one-shot marketing technique that will last you forever; instead, it is a continuous process and a long-term strategy that requires you to keep up with the ever-evolving search engine algorithms. That being said, SEO is a worth the investment in the long-run as it builds your audience over time, while also attracting new people to your site. As you start to gain a footing in organic rankings, you’ll notice high conversion rates and better leads.
Start with an on-site SEO strategy to enable search engines to find your content on the web and then continue with off-site SEO to get strong natural links from other sites. Furthermore, maintain your spot in top organic results by tracking your website’s ranking for target keywords using personalized keyword rank tracker tools.
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