There’s a lot that goes into SEO. Keyword research, getting backlinks, writing content… the list goes on. It’s not always easy to understand your next step SEO-wise either. What’s the very next thing you should do to increase your rankings? Should you write a new article? Try to get linked on an authority site? Reevaluate your keywords? With so many possible tasks, it can be hard to prioritize, but here’s something you can do right now: get your on-page SEO into shape.
Understanding On-Page SEO
If you haven’t yet optimized your on-page SEO, your website isn’t going to reach its real potential no matter how many backlinks you get. On-page SEO techniques are the optimizations you implement on your own website, including your content, code, meta tags, and more.
On-page SEO serves as the foundation to the other SEO methods you use, as it generally revolves around making sure your website is properly structured to be read and indexed correctly by search engines. It also addresses improvements you can make to your website to ensure more interaction by visitors, which is a valuable ranking factor. To say it simply, on-page SEO serves to accurately tell search engines what your site is about and catch the interest of human visitors.
Here are eight important on-page SEO techniques to benefit your website.
1. Check Your URL Structure
The best URLs for SEO are short and to the point, and include at least one relevant keyword. If you have an online store and your URLs use product and category numbers instead of names, you’re wasting an opportunity. Likewise, if you have a blog that puts categories and dates into post URLs, consider shortening them to remove the fluff. Basically, you want URLs that are fairly short while still retaining the keywords that tell both human readers and search engines what to expect from the link.
If your website already has several pages, it’s not too late to change your URL structure — just be sure to create a 301 redirect for each URL. This automatically redirects visitors that go to an old URL to the corresponding new URL. If you don’t include redirects, you’ll break all your existing backlinks and lose out on what link juice your old URLs accumulated.
Your domain name itself can also cause problems, so if you still have yet to start your business or website, read up first on what makes a good domain name.
2. Improve Your Title Tags
The title tag is the meta tag that defines the web page’s name in a few places: browser tabs, user bookmarks, and search engine results. This is by far one of the best places to include keywords.
Use a relevant keyword or two at the beginning of the title tag and follow it up with the name of your site. You have about 70 characters to work with before Google cuts the title off in search results, but this varies because Google counts pixel width, not actual characters. A good rule of thumb for title tags is that the most important keywords always come first — that way, if something does get cut off, it won’t be the part that was most likely to get the searcher to click.
As far as improving your pages’ appearance when they come up in search results, you can go even farther with Schema.org and rich snippets, which are a way of structuring data to control how your links appear in search engine results pages (SERPs).
3. Use Headings Properly
Headings are your H1, H2, and H3 tags. The H1 tag is the most important, as it’s meant to be the main heading of a website page, and search engines actively look for an H1 tag to help them determine what the website is about. Every page on your website needs to use an H1 tag for its main heading and include important keywords within it.
If you use any H2 tags later in your content, at least one of them should include your main keyword, but H2 tags (and smaller ones like H3 tags) aren’t necessary unless you’re using them to break up long content — don’t put them in just for SEO.
4. Mention Your Keywords Early in Your Content
Your page’s main keywords should be found within roughly the first 100 words of your content. Search engines and human readers alike find it strange when an article’s topic isn’t brought up until you’re long past the beginning, so make sure you mention it early on.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should keyword-stuff your first 100 words, or even anywhere on your page at all, as doing so will get you penalized quite harshly. Google’s SEO standards are intended to bring helpful and informative pages to the top of search results, and content crammed full of keywords for their own sake isn’t worth much. Unfortunately many people still seem to think it works, or write this way just out of habit, as keyword-stuffing remains one of the most common SEO mistakes to this day.
5. Include a Few Internal and External Links
Internal links go to another page on your own website, while external links go elsewhere. This serves a couple of helpful purposes.
Internal linking provides visitors a quick way to view other related content on your website, which is useful for getting them to stick around. It also shows you have a lot going on, and makes you appear more established to the human eye. Yes, we’re optimizing for search engines, but human perception is what makes the difference in the long run — search engines judge your site partially by how much time people spend on it.
External linking, on the other hand, might seem like a bad idea at first because it takes people away from your website, but that’s not the case. Linking to other websites, especially authority sites, makes you look like an active participant in the online world. Google sees this as a positive trait.
If you’re worried external links will send people away, never to return, just set up your links to open in a new tab. Simple as that.
6. Give Visitors a Reason to Stick Around
Google’s whole purpose for its search engine is to ensure the most useful content is brought to the top of page one. So not only does it judge web pages based on keywords and other content to place them in its search results, it also evaluates how useful those results appear to be to the reader.
If visitors are leaving your page within a few moments, without staying to read or clicking on any of your links, Google interprets this to mean your website isn’t that useful after all. But if visitors are engaged by your content and spend time exploring your site, Google notices this, too.
So how do you make your website “sticky?” Of course the first consideration is interesting, relevant content, but you can spice this up further with images or video to catch your visitors’ attention. If you advertise to get traffic, make sure your ads aren’t targeting the wrong people and pulling in visitors who aren’t actually interested in what you have to offer — those people will find your site and leave instantly, sending your bounce rate through the roof.
7. Optimize Your Page Speed
Online visitors expect a website to load within 3 seconds. People on the internet are very impatient, and if your site doesn’t load quickly enough, there’s very little to stop them from leaving to click on the next search result instead. Google knows people hate to wait, so faster sites get an SEO bonus.
There’s a lot that influences page speed — your website’s code, the size of your images, the order in which your site requests information from servers, and more. The coding of some websites causes a delay in the appearance of the actual content, as the site focuses first on loading other things that should really be happening once the visitor already has something to read.
No matter what you’re using to build and manage your website, whether you’ve hand-coded it yourself or you’re using a content management system, your website’s design or template needs to be coded to load these elements in the proper order. Make use of designs or themes that load the content first and utilize speed enhancers like AJAX and Google AMP.
8. Prioritize Responsive Design
We just mentioned Google AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) in regards to page speed, but it needs a little more explanation because it relates to one of the most important aspects of web design today: mobile-friendliness.
Mobile devices are becoming more popular every year for web browsing and shopping, to the point that they’re overtaking desktop computers. It’s vital today that your website is mobile-friendly, and the best way to accomplish that is through responsive design — in which the page “responds” to different devices by adapting its screen size and layout. AMP enters this picture by providing instantaneous page loads on mobile, which does wonders for both page speed and mobile-friendliness.
We’ve mentioned how Google takes cues from user behavior when ranking websites, and the increasing preference for mobile browsing has definitely been taken into account. Responsive websites get an SEO boost, while non-mobile-friendly sites find themselves drifting lower in rank.
Making These Changes
Depending on the current state of your website, at this point you might have a lot of work to do. Some website builders make it much easier to follow the guidelines in this article, however, by providing you with tools to customize URLs, set up 301 redirects, install a responsive, code-optimized theme, and more. For example, if you’re selling products from your website, 3dcart provides a complete eCommerce platform with all of the above. Other platforms such as WordPress may require you to install particular plugins in order to easily make these changes.
If a look through your website’s control panel tells you it will be difficult to make these on-page SEO changes, you might be better off altogether switching to another platform. Yes, there will be a migration process, but in the long run it might take much less time and effort than trying to improve on a platform that forces you to do too many things manually.
Your next step is up to you and the needs of your business. Either way, these on-page SEO techniques will provide a substantial boost to the search engine potential of your website.