Understanding on-page search engine optimization
On-page SEO is used to describe all the elements on a webpage that can be optimized to increase the changes of that page ranking highly in search engine results.
On-page SEO elements include:
- The content on the page
- Titles and headings
- The page’s URL
- The meta description
Let’s look at each of these elements, how the impact on-page SEO and what you can do to increase the chances of a particular page ranking well in search results.
1. The content of the page
Obviously, the content of a page is a huge part of on-page SEO. There are several individual elements of a page’s content that can be adjusted to improve on-page SEO, but it also pays to look at the content of a page as a whole.
That’s because this is one of the things search engines do when deciding if a particular page should rank highly.
One of the most important factors to consider when assessing a piece of content is its relevance to the keywords you want it to rank for.
We’ll talk more about keywords later, but for now let’s consider a simplified example. Imagine clicking on an article with the title “101 great ideas for cake recipes” only to find that, despite the title, the article is in fact about shoes.
Clearly, you wouldn’t hang around to read an article about shoes when you’re interested in cake.
Now put yourself in the position of a search engine which is trying to ensure that its users are seeing content that is relevant to their searches. Clearly, you wouldn’t want people to see an article about shoes when they’re searching for “great ideas for cake recipes”. So despite the article’s title you, as a search engine, wouldn’t let it appear in your results.
As we’ve said, this is an extreme example but it helps illustrate a wider point – if you want a search engine to rank a page well for a particular keyword, then that page’s content must be relevant to that keyword.
As another example, if you were searching for “the complete guide to search engine optimization” would you be happy with a 500-word article on the topic?
Or if you were searching for “red women’s shoes” would you be happy with a page that has only black shoes?
Hopefully, you can now see why the relevance of a page’s content is important to SEO.
2. Titles and headings
Titles and headings help people understand what the content on a page is about, and they do the same for search engines.
For that reason, the titles and headings you use should accurately describe the content they introduce.
It’s also important that titles and headings use relevant keywords were appropriate, but you should never force keywords into a title or heading if they don’t naturally fit.
You also need to make sure that titles and headings use the correct H tags, also known as heading tags. The page’s title should have an H1 tag, any headings on the page should use an H2 tag and any subheadings should use an H3, H4, H5 or H6 tag as appropriate.
For example, on this page “What is on-page SEO” has an H1 tag and the “Titles and headings” heading at the start of this section has an H2 tag. If there was a subheading in this section, it would use an H3 tag. The next section, “keywords”, uses an H2 tag.
You can learn more about H tags in this guide.
Search engines work by matching a user’s query with relevant content on the web. Keywords are an important part of that matching process.
In the early days of search engines, just including a certain keyword enough times on a page would be enough to get a page to the top of search engine results.
Those days are long gone and stuffing as many keywords as possible into a page is highly likely to mean that page is ignored completely by search engines.
Here’s a brief guide to using keywords the right way.
Conduct keyword research
You need to find out which keywords people are searching for – there’s no point in topping Google for a keyword that has zero monthly searches. You can use a tool like GoDaddy’s Search Engine Optimization package to identify keywords you should be targeting.
Include keywords on the relevant page
If you want a page to rank for a search term, then you need to include relevant keywords on that page.
Aim to include a page’s main keyword in the title, headings, the first paragraph of your content and the page’s URL. However, make sure that you’re not crowbarring keywords in where they wouldn’t naturally occur. Remember, your primary audience is people, not search engines.
It can often make sense to include more than one keyword on a page, especially if the keywords are closely linked. For example, it makes sense to target the keywords “wedding photographer in Ealing” and “wedding photography service in Ealing” on the same page.
However, sometimes it can be beneficial to create separate pages to target keywords that are superficially similar. For example, “wedding photographer in Ealing” and “wedding photographer in Reading” deserve separate pages.
Don’t create multiple pages targeting the same keyword
Although it’s fine to target more than one keyword per page, you should never target more than one page for a keyword.
That’s because you’ll be competing with yourself in search engines, reducing the chances that you’ll rank well for the term in question.
You can learn more about website keywords here.
Relevant images included on a page can provide an extra clue to search engines as to what that page is about.
But you need to make sure you’re optimizing these images. At the very least this means giving your images a descriptive title that, where possible, includes keywords, and describing the image using an alt tag (again using keywords where possible).
Whatever you do, don’t add stock images to pages and then stuff their titles and alt tags with keywords – it won’t work.
You can learn more about optimizing images in this guide.
5. The page’s URL
A page’s URL is another chance to give people and search engines an indication of what that page is about.
Aim to make your URL short and descriptive, with keywords where possible. Usually, a page’s URL will be very similar to its title.
You can learn more about best practice for URLs in this guide.
6. The page’s meta description
A page’s meta description doesn’t have a direct impact on how search engines rank content, but it can still have an impact on the amount of traffic a page gets from search engines.
That’s because search engines can use a meta description to explain what a page is about. Here’s an example:
An example of a snippet in Google’s search results which appears for the query “how much does it cost to build a website”. Note how the words used in the query are highlighted in bold in the snippet.
Make sure your page’s meta descriptions are unique, descriptive and, if possible, contain the page’s main keyword. They should also be fewer than 160 characters long.
You can learn more about writing meta descriptions in this guide.
We’ve scratched the surface of best practice for on-page SEO here, but it should be enough to improve your website’s chance of ranking well on search engines.
If you want to learn more about SEO, check out this in-depth beginner’s guide.
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