You’ve most likely heard of the term SEO, especially if you’ve found your way to this blog post! Maybe you’re a beginner wanting to find out more, so you can do it yourself, or maybe you’re working with an agency and want to brush up on your own knowledge to be better informed about the recommendations you’re getting.
Whatever the reason, if you’re keen to know a bit more about SEO, without getting into all the technical details, you’ve come to the right place! This post talks about various on-page aspects of SEO that can help you.
We’ve previously talked about the importance of SEO on your business’s website, however this post will go into more detail about the various different aspects of on-page SEO and what they mean.
Although SEO can seem intimidating, as there are so many things to consider (local search, voice search, content, links, on-page optimisation, page speed, technical issues… the list goes on), it doesn’t have to be super-technical. There are actually some quick and relatively easy things you can do on-page to start making a difference to your website…
What Is On-Page SEO?
On-page SEO means making changes on the actual pages of your website designed to improve your rankings within the search engines. These can include your content, user experience and technical set-up.
Organic search drives around 51% of traffic, and the sites listed on the first page of Google drive 91.5% of that traffic share. What’s more, despite Google’s best efforts to ramp up their ads’ presence, 70-80% of users ignore them and focus on the organic results. With Google processing over 40,000 searches every second globally, that’s a lot of traffic you could capture, and the best part? It’s free.
SEO is about your website, but it’s also about the people who come to your website, or rather the people you want to come to your website. When you undertake on-page SEO, one of the first steps is to analyse in detail what your target market is searching for, how they’re searching for it, and what sort of content they want to see in the search results for a particular query.
For example, somebody searching for “how-to” type content is likely to want a step-by-step guide, or even a video, while someone searching for “buy [product]” is likely to be very close to making a purchase and is likely to want to see a list of your relevant products (if you’re an ecommerce website).
The best place to begin improving your SEO is with keyword research. Start by making a list of topics that are relevant to your business (5-10 is a good starting number). Then think about keywords that relate to each of those topics. Do a Google search for some of them and look at the related searches at the bottom.
Using Google Trends and Keyword Planner, you can refine your list. Rule out anything that has too little or too much search volume (Keyword Planner will tell you this – you do need to create a Google Ads account though), and check for any seasonality and projections in trends. You should end up with a list for each page that’s a mixture of head terms (shorter, more generic – think “vintage dresses”) and long-tail keywords (longer, more specific – think “vintage 1920s cocktail dresses”).
And that’s where the fun begins. Now you can start optimising…
You may find, having done keyword research that there are gaps in your content. For example, if you have specific locations that you operate in, you may find it useful to create pages optimised for [product or service] + [location]. If this is the case, now’s the perfect time to create new pages and optimise them to fill in these gaps.
On-page SEO Factors
The key aspects of on-page optimisation that you need to think about here are as follows:
This is a major ranking signal, as search engines will look at it to understand what a page is about. The title tag forms the clickable link that appears in the search engine results page (SERPs). A relevant, optimised and descriptive title tag is better than one that is too short, not descriptive or overstuffed with keywords.
Most search engines will cut title tags off after about 60 characters so keep yours under this limit. You should also make sure that the primary keyword you’ve identified for each page is at the front of the tag so it’s the first thing search engines (and potential visitors) see.
Although not a ranking signal, the meta description can help to drive organic traffic through to your website by being compelling enough to make people want to click through. Think of your meta descriptions as tiny advertisements to encourage users to visit your site.
If it contains relevant keywords, these will show up in bold in the SERPs, helping prospective visitors to realise that your page is likely to be what they’re looking for.
This is how your title tag and meta description look in the SERPs:
SEO is no longer about throwing a keyword repeatedly onto a page and hoping for the best. Search engines have evolved to the point where they can now understand context (to a certain extent – they don’t always get it right!), synonyms, and relationships between “entities”.
This means that if you’re a retailer that sells, say, sunglasses, search engines would expect your pages to not just talk about sunglasses, but also things like UV, prescriptions, lenses and other such terms, as well as brands like Ray-Ban, Tom Ford, Oakley etc, as they now understand these things are related to “sunglasses”.
The average first-page result on Google contains 1,890 words, so don’t be afraid to go into plenty of detail!
Headings are, well, just that. They’re the headings you use to break up your content and organise it in a structured way. Behind the scenes, they have their own tags that look like this <h1>, <h2>, <h3> and so on, with the main heading of your page being the <h1> tag.
As well as acting as further indicators for search engines to identify the pages content, it also makes the content easier for the visitors to read. As with other aspects of on-page optimisation, they should contain relevant keywords and synonyms.
Image ALT Tags
Image ALT tags help search engines understand what an image contains. Search engines can’t “see” images, so they rely on other indicators to determine what they contain, such as the filename and the ALT text.
The ALT text should basically be a short description of what an image is, optimised to contain relevant keywords. For example, product images should give the product name, size, colour etc.
ALT tags are also used by visitors who use screen readers, so they’re also important for accessibility and user experience, which is why all the images on your site should have them.
Internal links are links that point to other pages on your site. They are extremely useful for 3 reasons:
- Establishing a strong website architecture
- Helping users (and search engine crawlers) navigate a site
- Spreading link equity around a website
Using keyword-rich anchor text for these helps search engines better understand what your pages are about and the relationships between them. Anchor text is the visible, clickable, text in a hyperlink which is often blue and underlined (but this can be tweaked to match the format of the site). For example, in the introduction above, we’ve linked internally to another blog post, using a phrase that’s relevant to that post.
Canonicals are, well, pretty cool actually.
When used correctly, a canonical tag tells the spiders and bots (A spider is a program that visits web sites and reads their pages and other information in order to create entries for a search engine index. The major search engines on the web all have such a program, which is also known as a “crawler” or a “bot”), that a specific URL represents the master copy of page. So if you have a product which lives in multiple categories, and can be accessed via multiple URLs because of this, you can use the canonical tag to tell the search engine “hey, this is the page I want to appear in the search results… ignore the others and don’t slap us with a duplicate content issue, please?”
Page speed (how fast the content on your page loads) is now a ranking factor. This is all part of Google’s drive towards ranking sites that provide a good user experience, particularly after its move to a mobile-first index. Sites that are slow to load do not make for a great experience. According to Google research the average page load time is 22 seconds, whereas a user only needs three seconds to leave if a page doesn’t load. That’s a lot of wasted seconds.
So, making sure your pages load quickly is vital. Avoid using large images, pay particular attention to your mobile site, and take a look at your site on Google’s Page Speed Insights. This tool has its limits, but it’ll give you an idea of where you can make improvements.
Above is what the website looks like, which will give you a rating of your websites speed once you’ve typed in the URL.
What NOT to Do
SEO is a constantly evolving discipline, which means that techniques that may once have worked will no longer do so and may actually get your site in trouble. There are also plenty of things that have never worked and will never work, when it comes to SEO. Here are some of the big SEO no-no’s:
- Thin, duplicated or automatically-generated content
- Cloaking (presenting different content to search engines and users)
- Keyword stuffing (shoehorning your keyword onto your page at every given opportunity)
- Hidden text or links (text that’s visible to search engines but not users, usually text that’s in the same colour as your background)
- Links from spammy, low-quality or irrelevant websites
- Buying links
There’s plenty more to SEO – each of the headings above could easily fill multiple blog posts in itself! But hopefully this has helped you identify some of the areas you need to focus on, or at least to understand a bit more of what your SEO consultant or digital marketing manager is talking about! But remember, don’t expect immediate results. Changes can take a while to be picked up by search engines (and if your site’s new, it’s a bit of an unknown quantity so you have to build up trust), so SEO is more of a long game, but it will pay off in the long run.