What a year 2013 has been for SEOs and online marketers – and it’s not even over yet! Google stole the storyline for sure with their aggressive introduction of ongoing algorithm updates which is still leaving everyone feeling a little unsure what the search giant will do next. They’ve made their point heard though; stop trying to scam the system with black hat tactics (keyword stuffing, link farming, spammy blog comments, etc.) and start putting real effort into creating the best destination on the web for your particular product or service, using remarkable and original content and a stellar user experience.
With the various introductions of Google’s Panda and Penguin updates, and the latest introduction of Hummingbird, many marketers aren’t sure how they should be addressing On-Page SEO (On-Page Optimization) to ensure they don’t break any of the “new rules” that could that cause harm to their rankings and sites’ credibility. And many have also hung on to the old definition of “On-Page SEO” – which strictly meant keyword placement in specific areas of a website page for search engine crawlers to find. On-Page SEO of today should also be focused on optimizing your pages for the user too – not just the search crawlers.
Lets break down the confusion and let go of old habits!
1. Page Titles
When it comes to optimizing your site pages for optimal SERP (search engine results page) performance, Page Titles are a crucial component that users evaluate when making the decision to click on a search result. This element is also heavily weighed by search crawlers when determining the relevancy of the page in relation to the user’s search query.
Sample Page Titles (for search query “most reliable snow blowers”):
- Use the primary keyword at least once, preferably at the start of the title
- Limit to 70 characters or less (longer titles than this will get cut off in the SERP)
- Use pipe symbols ( | ) to divide specific keyword phrases but don’t go overboard. Remember these are “titles” so phrase them that way!
2. Page Descriptions
Similar to page titles, Page Descriptions (meta descriptions) are a key component to how your page listing appears in the SERPs and serves as the welcome mat into that page for the user. If you have a poor description, or lack of one, you won’t stand out next to the other more appealing listings on the page – even if you’re position #1!
Sample Meta Descriptions (for search query “inbound marketing software”):
3. Body Headlines
Your main headline within your page copy, most commonly declared with an H1 heading tag, acts as another qualifier for the user after they make the decision to click into your site from the SERP. According to the folks at Moz, their most recent rank correlations suggest that a topically relevant H1 is associated with higher rankings.
So, be sure to utilize your primary keyword here as well but don’t duplicate your page title exactly – unless it’s a blog title for example.
- Use one primary keyword
- Limit to 70-80 characters
- Make it similar to the page title to reassure the page visitor, but not an exact match
4. Body Copy
This should really be at the top of this list since it’s the most important element with modern On-Page SEO. Your SEO efforts will go nowhere fast if the destination your trying to attract people to is void of any real value in the way of unique and valuable content, based on the users original search query.
As for optimizing this copy, be selective with the use of primary and secondary keyword phrases and use them throughout – but do so naturally! It’s proven that modern algorithms can sniff out whether your page is simply placing keywords without relevance and if the content is lacking quality. So, be disciplined.
- Make copy as relevant, useful and comprehensive as possible (which doesn’t mean writing a novel for every page)
- Utilize 1 primary keyword and no more than 2-3 secondary keywords
- Break-up copy with additional secondary body headlines (H2, H3, etc.)
5. Page URL
The beauty of most website CMS or blogging platforms nowadays is page URLs are auto-populated based on your page title/blog title. This means if you’re properly writing an optimized page title/blog title, your page URL will be optimized as well with a specific keyword phrase. This will help you in the long run since page URLs are often used as link text, and link text with a keyword is better than link text without. Page URLs still have impact on search engine relevancy as well.
- If your website CMS auto-populates page URLs, focus on writing great page titles and blog headlines
- If you can still customize these URLs, use one dash between words and keep an eye out for weird characters
Website images are still one of the most under-optimized and under-utilized SEO asset. With how visual we are these days as online searchers, the production of great visual content and images is another avenue for your site and brand to be found in search. And, search engines do still factor the optimization of images when determining page rankings.
- Depending on the image usage on the page, add a title above or below the photo
- Surrounding text, such as a caption, can also be helpful
- Optimize the image file name with one primary keyword (e.g. my main blog image above has the file name “on-page-seo-best-practices-2014.png”)
- Last but not least, add optimized alt text to all images using one primary keyword. Many recommend keeping alt text to 125 characters or less but I personally use 80 characters or less
7. Internal & External Links
Don’t confuse this with link building, which falls within the Off-Page SEO camp. Internal and external links refer specifically to the links on your pages that:
1. Link internally to specific sections of your site. A good rule of thumb is a user should only have to click three times to get to any page on your site (four times for large sites). Internal linking can help you achieve this.
2. Link to external, credible websites that offer additional value to your user. Some marketers and webmasters have questioned directing their site visitors to other, competing sites using external-pointing links. But it’s been proven that sites who link to other valuable and credible content will be rewarded by search algorithms.
- When employing internal linking, it’s wise to now use nofollow links since dofollow links on your own pages, to your own pages, can start to look too self-serving to algorithms
- Be selective when handing out external dofollow links and only link to credible sites with valuable content and a healthy MozRank
8. Meta Keywords – It’s Time to Say Goodbye!
Yes, it’s true. After spammers and black hat SEOs continued abuse of meta keywords for years, and Google confirming way back in 2009 they don’t factor them in determining rankings, it’s finally time to let go of meta keywords moving forward. We’ve seen for ourselves that in HubSpot’s new COS, the meta keyword field isn’t even available anymore. Using them only leaves room for over-optimization of your pages and is a freebie for your competitors if they know how to look for them in your page source data.