12 Jun SEO checklist part 9: On-page optimization
ON PAGE SEO CHECKLIST
On-page SEO factors are specific traits of a given web page that can influence search engine ranking. The beauty of on-page SEO is that you have complete control over these important search signals.
These attributes form the foundation of SEO and are what many in the industry call the basics. If done incorrectly or ignored, your marketing efforts could be in vain because you stand little chance of ranking on the first page of any search engine.
Forget about links for a moment. Link building and other off-page SEO factors will be covered in part ten of this SEO checklist series. For now, aim your crosshairs at your content, keywords and HTML tags in this on page SEO checklist.
On-page SEO factors
Keyword research, analysis and implementation are the common denominator of all on-page SEO factors. When Google and other search engines crawl your website and its pages, they index and rank content based on the following factors:
- SEO-friendly URLs
- Title tag optimization
- Rich media (images, videos and diagrams)
- Header tags
- Page load time
- Content quality (length, update frequency and bounce rate)
- Meta descriptions (CTR)
- Social signals
1. SEO-friendly URL tips
Search engines use URLs as one way to determine your website’s hierarchy. The key to having SEO-friendly URLs is to make them straightforward and comprehensible.
Here are two examples of URL structure:
Can you guess which one Google prefers?
The top example is better for both people and search engines because it leaves a directional breadcrumb of where the user, or search engine crawler, is in relation to the site’s hierarchy. It indicates that the page is about the specific branding services that ABZ Creative Partners offers.
Unlike the first example, the second URL does not reflect any hierarchical information or content clues about the page.
More SEO URL tips to keep in mind:
- Use hyphens instead of underscores
- Use informative keywords
- Correctly 301 redirect any error URLs to the proper new URLs
- Consolidate your www and non-www domain versions for consistency
- Keep URLs short and clean – don’t over-optimize
- Use subfolders (example.com/example) instead of subdomains (example.example.com)
2. Title tag optimization
In terms of bang for your buck, title tags are the most important on-page SEO factor.
Title tags, or title elements, define the content of the page. They appear on your web browser tab and are often, but not always, used as the snippet titles on search engine results pages. They are also important because they can be dynamically generated when shared on social media and can influence clicks and engagement.
Title tags exist in the HTML of your web pages in between the <head> tags. Here is an example:
<title>Charlotte Branding + Marketing Agency | ABZ Creative</title>
Search engines use the title element to help them determine relevancy of the page to a given search query. They also look at click-through rates, which can influence ranking, not to mention drive more traffic to your website.
Some SEO tips for title tag optimization:
- Implement keyword research and use terms that searchers are using
- Target main keyword phrases and don’t try to trick search engines by over-optimizing
- Move important keywords close to the front of the title tag
- Keep your title tags under 55 characters to reduce the chance of the title being truncated in search engine results pages (SERPs)
- Leverage branding, readability and emotional appeal
The more compelling the title element, the more clicks it will receive.
3. Rich media: images, videos and diagrams
Users don’t like pages that are just walls of never-ending text. Search engines know this and try to serve up results that utilize quality images, videos and other forms of rich media.
Incorporating infographics and visual diagrams can engage visitors, reduce bounce rate, increase time on page and encourage higher conversions. Google monitors these on-page behavior metrics and rewards websites that do a fantastic job of presenting quality content.
It’s easy to forget about multimedia when developing an SEO plan. We immediately think of keywords and text, but search engines have ways of “seeing” and understanding content housed in videos and images.
Tips for optimizing images and videos:
- Use high quality, high resolution images and videos
- Don’t be afraid to mix original imagery and normal stock photography
- Use keyword research to optimize file names
- Use the alt image text to accurately describe the image or video for search engine crawlers
- Optimize the image or video for faster page load time
- Include a video transcription on video landing pages
4. Header tags: H1, H2, etc.
At one point in time, header tags were one of the most important search engine ranking signals. While their importance has diminished, they are still important.
Heading tags, like H1, H2, H3 and beyond, help Google determine the hierarchy and importance of sections on a web page. Placing important keyword phrases in these H tags will help both visitors and search engines read your content and prioritize terms.
Think of your H1 tag as the headline on the front of a newspaper article. It’s the first thing people read and determines whether or not they decide to read further. Your H2 elements are your subheads, H3s are sub-subheads, and so on.
Here is an example H tags in the HTML of a page:
<p>Your brand identity is the most critical piece of what we do. It’s who you are. Every, single marketing cent should be spent supporting your ironclad brand. </p>
<h3>Branding strategy to reach the right people at the right time </h3>
<p>The best brands are built with clear positioning. Our process helps identify the tenets of your unique brand, how they differ from your competitors and how you and your products can stand out with value-based positioning. </p>
In the example above, the most important keyword is placed in H1. Related secondary keywords are placed in the H2, H3 and paragraph copy elements.
Most SEO experts also recommend placing the most important keywords at the front of the H tags.
Keep in mind that the keywords you use need to make sense to people, not just search engines. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
5. Page load time
Always be mindful of your page speed. As obvious as it sounds, Google does not want to send users to websites that take forever to load. Poor performing websites can expect poor results in the search rankings.
Google’s Page Speed Insights tool is a great resource that will give you suggestions to help you optimize your website’s load time.
According to research done by Moz, the most important measurement of page load time is the Time to First Byte (TTFB). This is a back end, or server, metric that measures the time it takes for your browser to receive the first byte of response from a web server. To decrease TTFB, look at network latency between a visitor and the server, server capacity, and how quickly your website’s back end can load content.
6. Content quality
The length of your content isn’t nearly as important as the quality. Think about your audience and discover what would drive them to spend five minutes of their lives reading your content.
Does your content:
- Provide unique, authentic value
- Stand out from the crowd
- Utilize high resolution images and video
- Satisfy searchers so that they’re not bouncing back to the search results for another resource
Read more on SEO and content marketing in Part 8 of this SEO checklist series.
7. Meta descriptions
The meta description tag is a 160 character snippet that search engines use to let potential website visitors know what a page is about before they decide to click. Google hasn’t used the meta description as a ranking signal for years, but there are several reasons why you shouldn’t overlook these tags.
A well-written meta description can dramatically improve click-through rate and increase the amount of organic website traffic. In the example below, the good meta description gives a high-level preview of what to expect and then a catchy call to action.
8. Social signals
Likes, comments, shares and tweets. Are these social engagement metrics used in Google’s ranking algorithm? It’s unlikely. Matt Cutts, Google’s organic search representative, says in the video below that, “you have this many followers on Twitter or this many likes on Facebook, to the best of my knowledge, we don’t currently have any signals like that in our web search ranking algorithms.”
But don’t delete your Twitter account just yet. For starters, that video was from a little over a year ago. Things have changed big time since then. Additionally, Cutts goes on to explain the many indirect SEO benefits of social media – increased impressions, traffic and links. Twitter and Facebook are still the best places for promoting your best content to your audience. And doing so naturally builds links and brings traffic.
What Cutts didn’t speak about was the effect of Google+ on SEO. Searchmetric’s Ranking-Factors 2014 study looked at 30 possible ranking factors versus actual webpage rankings and ran correlations between the two. The study discovered that articles with lots of Google +1s, which is similar to a like on Facebook, had the highest correlation for ranking well in Google.
Matt Cutts, so whats?
Of course, there are other on-page ranking factors, but these are the main ones to focus your efforts on.
Do you have 86 old blog posts that could use a touch up? Great. Look at your analytics to identify your top ranking posts and optimize them even further.
Then, look at blog posts that should be getting more traffic and split test keyword researched title tags, headers and beyond.