Previously, we provided an introduction to search engine optimization (SEO). In that article, we stressed the importance of ranking well in search engine results because of changes in the buyer’s journey. Research-driven buyers rely heavily on search engines to find information about products and services, so it’s an opportunity as well as a challenge for marketers to get their companies’ websites in front of buyers through on-page and off-page optimization.
SEO is not a crapshoot. There are tactics that make it easier for the search engine algorithms to find sites and reward them with a high ranking in the search results. When developing a strategy, on-page SEO is the logical starting point. On-page SEO refers to tactics applied to a company’s web pages to influence their search engine ranking. To put it more simply, it’s letting search engines know what the pages are about so it’s easier to rank them. The exciting thing about on-page SEO is that it’s completely within your control. If you want to improve your site’s ranking (and you should if you want your business to be successful) you can do it with proper page setup.
In this article, we’ll provide some basic on-page SEO tactics that will allow you to properly update and manage your website so that it ranks better and is more easily found by buyers who can be turned into leads and, eventually, customers.
The first step of any SEO strategy is to research keywords. Keywords are at the heart of everything SEO, and it’s essential to develop a well-researched and validated keyword list before doing any website work. If you have been following along with our blog series, you should be familiar with keywords. They come into play during the development of messaging in addition to SEO. Keywords are the words and phrases that resonate with a target audience and allow a company to speak to them in their language.
When developing a keyword list, it’s important to compile a variety of different terms. Too few keywords will decrease the quality of page content, as well as limit company exposure from organic search. However, your list shouldn’t be all-inclusive, either. Too many keywords will make it difficult to focus content and be more difficult for search engines to determine what’s important on a page, which will result in lower ranking. The “ideal” number of keywords varies depending on who you talk to, but many sources suggest between 5 and 20.
With keywords, competition must be considered. A common mistake companies make is putting too much emphasis on either the most popular keywords that are highly competitive or on less competitive keywords that aren’t as commonly used. Yes, getting high first-page ranking with popular keywords is a major advantage, but it’s extremely difficult to earn that ranking when there are hundreds or even thousands of companies attempting to rank for that term as well. On the flip side, it’s great to have top ranking for a keyword, but ROI will be minimal if the keyword isn’t popular with search engine users.
A good keyword tactic is to use a combination of the most popular general keywords and those that are a little more specific and a little less competitive but still searched with decent frequency. Keywords can be validated by utilizing surveys, consulting with current customers or by using Google Ads, which allows you to:
- Search for new keywords by phrase, website or category
- Analyze search volume data and trends
- Find new keywords based on existing keyword lists
Once you have a validated keyword list, you can go to work optimizing your web pages. The keywords will be prevalent as you add or revise meta tags, which are snippets of text embedded within the HTML code of the pages. Meta tags aren’t visible on the pages themselves but exist to help search engines identify what information is contained within the pages, which allows them to be indexed. Here are some of the top meta tags to optimize:
The title tag refers to the page title and serves two functions. First, it tells search engines what the theme of the page is. Second, it serves as the title that will display on the search engine results page, as well as at the top of the internet browser when a page is visited. Title tags should include a keyword at the beginning, a secondary keyword and the brand name. Title tags should include approximately 55 characters to maximize the allowable search engine display space.
The meta description is a description of the content found on the page. It also displays in search engine results, appearing below the title. Unlike the title, meta descriptions are allotted more space — up to 160 characters. They should contain a primary keyword, secondary keyword and a call to action that entices people to visit the page.
Heading tags are used to emphasize important text on a page. In addition, it breaks up copy into sections — a suggested practice to make it easier to read. Heading tags are identified <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, etc. The <h1> tag displays text the largest and typically is used for the page title. The <h2> and other heading tags are subheadings that bring attention to and introduce the ensuing sections of copy. The <h1> tag should include the primary keyword, and the other heading tags should contain secondary keywords.
It is a good practice to have a keyword within your page URL. However, don’t assume that having a URL that exactly matches a keyword you’re trying to rank for will result in the top search result. There are numerous factors that impact ranking. According to SEO Made Simple, a Google algorithm update was even made to target and penalize companies trying to cheat the system by utilizing exact match domains, which are domains that consist solely of a target keyword phrase.
Once again, content is king. Providing quality, original and relevant content is a recurring theme in marketing, and on-page SEO is no exception. Pages that contain well-written, well-organized and properly tagged content will have a better chance of being rewarded by search engines. Content should be organized from left to right and top to bottom — it’s the way both humans and search engines read pages. The most important content should be presented first, which means your primary keyword should be listed early on the page. Secondary keywords should be included throughout the rest of the content. Keywords should be emphasized by being bolded, italicized or underlined when possible.
Images on a page serve a couple of purposes. They make it more visually appealing for readers and also break up blocks of text. In addition, images can help with on-page SEO if tagged correctly. Images uploaded to a page should be treated like page titles, containing keywords in alt tags.
Keyword density also needs to be considered. As mentioned in our SEO introduction article, stuffing content with keywords can result in penalties from search engines. Providing content that is informative and enjoyable to read is more important than loading it with keywords for the search engine spiders to find. Most SEO experts agree that keywords should only make up about 2% of your page content.
Ease of use also plays a role in search ranking. Pages should load reasonably quickly, easily link to other pages on the site, be mobile-friendly and be easily shared on social networks. These are additional examples that demonstrate that the public comes first. The experience of the target audience is extremely important, and the companies that provide a positive experience have a better chance of being rewarded by search engines.
On-Page SEO Summary
On-page SEO consists of several components, but the advantage is that companies have a say in the way they are perceived by search engines. New websites can be optimized from the start, and existing websites can be improved. With the right keyword strategy and technical skills, your company can improve its search engine rankings and get in front of more prospects.