It’s not easy to keep up with Google. It seems like they’re always changing what’s required to get the kind of rankings your business needs. And, while you might still be trying to measure the impact of their latest update, which put a lot more emphasis on the ‘mobile-friendliness’ of your website, there are some straightforward steps you can take to make sure the on-page optimisation of your main site is as good as it can be.
Good on-page optimisation is essential for good rankings and, in our opinion, it’s going to become increasingly more important as one of the factors that determine your rankings for the search terms you’re targeting. But what if you don’t know where to start? Well, luckily, we’re going to walk you through the main aspect of on-page optimisation for 2015, and how you can make sure that you’re webpages are up to scratch.
What is On-page Optimisation?
Before we start, it might be a good idea to define what we mean by on-page optimisation. Essentially, it’s the elements that are on the pages of your website that are likely to affect your rankings in search engines like Google – as opposed to off-page elements like back links, citations etc..
To look at the various on-page elements in more detail, we’ll break them down into two main areas: technical and user-experience.
The following are what we would refer to as technical elements, and form the code behind your webpage that makes it look and function the way it does, and also provides information to the search engines that tell them what your webpage is all about.
The URL of your page is the very first indication to Google as to what your page is all about, and your first opportunity to optimise your webpage for the keyword you’re targeting. The first of the examples below being good for on-page optimisation, and the second example providing little or no benefit from an SEO point of view:
The <title> tag (or meta-title as it’s often called) defines the title of the page, and is another important indicator to Google as to what the page is about. Ideally it should be about 50-55 characters long, contain the page’s target keyword relatively near the front, and succinctly describe what the visitor is going to find on the page.
Similar to the meta-title, your meta-description provides more information to both Google and Google’s users about the content on your webpage. It should be around 140-155 characters long and serve as an overview of the page’s content. While it could also include your target keyword, it’s usually a good idea to only add related terms to the meta-description, to avoid issues with over-optimisation (which we look at towards the end of this article).
In your webpage’s HTML code, the meta-description will look like this:
<Meta name=”description” content=“This is the content of your meta-description, and usually provides more detail, and related terms, about the content the site visitor is likely to find on your site.”>
As much as you might want to try and craft the meta-title and meta-description of your pages to appeal to the search engines as much as possible, as it’s what will probably appear in Google’s search results, you want it to be attractive to the person searching as well, so it encourages them to click through to your site. In Google’s search results, the meta-title and meta-description would look like this:
H tags look like this: <h1>This is a Title</h1> and will be used to structure your content by defining headings. H1 is the first heading, with all other subheadings numbered consecutively: h2, h3, h4, h5 and h6.
As you might expect, the first and main heading is another indicator to Google as to the topic of your content, and as such, is another opportunity for you too include suitable keywords. Subsequent headings will carry slightly less weight (H2 less than H1, H3 less than H2 etc.), and should really only be used to target longer-tail and supporting keywords, or even no keywords at all, so as not to run the risk of over-optimisation.
Keyword placement & density
Keywords at the top of the page are typically given more weight by Google than those at the bottom. However, as well as this, you also need to maintain an acceptable keyword density, you can’t simply repeat your main keyword over and over again. The current rule of thumb recommends your main keywords should be around 3% of your total word count (with the majority of experts recommending between 2% and 4%).
Related keywords are the kind of keywords that are supplementary to your main keyword, and still likely to be used by the kind of people looking for what your webpage is about. For example, if you were targeting the term ‘women’s red shoes’, a related term would be ‘ladies red high heels’. Including these terms in your content not only supports your main keyword but could also mean you start ranking for other searches and get more traffic.
Similar to related keywords, LSI (which stands for Latent Symantec Indexing) keywords, are the kind of terms that also support your main keywords, and give Google a better understanding of the context of your content. This is an oversimplified example, but if you were looking to rank for the term ‘party’, that could mean a group of people, a celebration, a political group etc.. With supporting LSI keywords like ‘balloons’, ‘cake’, ‘games’, ‘presents’, ‘dancing’ etc., it makes it much clearer to Google which of the possible meanings your content refers to, which in turn would help it decide which searches you should be ranking for. For more information on LSI terms, read this article.
The User Experience
Other than visitors to your site enjoying what they find, you might wonder what the user experience has to do with on-page optimisation and your potential rankings in the search engines. Most experts agree that things like click throughs (how often your result gets clicked on when it appears in the search results), and bounce rates (whether someone leaves your site without going any further than your landing page), are all factored into your rankings by Google.
So, making your meta-titles and meta-descriptions as relevant and attractive as possible (rather than simply stuffing them with keywords), and making sure the content on your page is related to the search terms the visitor used to get there (so there’s a greater chance of them sticking around), could all count towards improving your rankings. There are a number of other ‘user experience’ elements that could also help you on-page optimisation.
Page load speed
It’s long been accepted that page speed, or how long it takes your webpages to load, has been a factor when it comes to rankings. It seems that this may become even more important in the future, especially since Google started showing ‘slow’ website warnings in its search results. Slow websites don’t provide a great user-experience, which effectively reflects badly on Google if they sent you there, so you can see why they would be more likely to rank the webpages that load quickly. Generally speaking you should be aiming for a page load time of 2-3 seconds (you can test your own website for free at Pingdom).
Clean, user-friendly layout & design
Providing a clean, user-focused layout and design not only ensures that visitors can easily make their way around your website, ultimately taking the actions that you want them to, but it also help to reduce bounce rates by encouraging visitors to spend more time browsing your whole site.
Use of multimedia
Multimedia enriches the user experience, which is great from Google’s perspective. So including a variety of relevant images, videos and infographics where and when you can is always a good idea.
There may be no direct evidence that simply having social share buttons (the buttons that allow users to quickly and easily share your content on their own social accounts) are good for SEO and will improve your rankings, but with social signals becoming an increasingly important ranking factor, these buttons will help you to benefit from an increased Social Media presence. As your content gets shared, you not only get links back to your site from powerful social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, but also benefit from the impact these social signals can have on rankings – plus it encourages other Social Media users to visit your site too.
You might already understand the concept of getting good links to your website, well, linking out to other websites can also help your SEO. It’s been shown that linking to other, authoritative websites on your topic can indicate to Google that your content is equally as reputable, trustworthy and useful. – a sort of ‘benefit by association’. In most cases this may mean linking out to the source of the information you’re referencing, or a webpage that would provide additional reading/information on the topic, but it may also mean linking to other parts of your own website if relevant – internal links can be a useful way of enhancing the authority of your own webpages.
It might seem odd to leave this element of your on-page optimisation till last, when it’s mostly likely one of the first things that gets added to a new webpage, but it’s possibly one of the most important factors when Google decides where to rank your page. You might have often heard that the secret to ranking well is to simply add good content to your website. While we feel that even the best content needs a little SEO help to rank well, there really is no substitute for having well written, relevant content on your website.
When you make your content genuinely valuable to your readers, you’re not only satisfying one of the key criteria Google has for deciding where to rank your site, but you’re also providing your site visitors with what they want – which has the potential to positively influence other elements important for your rankings (reduced bounce rates, increased social sharing etc.).
Being Wary of Over-optimisation
When you decide you want to optimise your on-page content to try and improve your rankings, it’s always important to make sure that you don’t go too far. What constitutes over-optimisation? While blatant over-optimisation is relatively easy to spot, it’s harder to define the exact point when your on-page optimisation goes too far.
As a general rule, look at the optimisation of your page and try and objectively decide if it looks natural – does it look like the kind of page someone would have built if they were just trying to provide the best content, with no thought to SEO? If it does, you’re probably fine, and even if it looks a little more optimised than a completely ‘natural’ webpage, you’re probably okay – generally, you’d have to really push it to cause yourself serious problems.
Avoiding over-optimisation is just about using your common sense at the end of the day. For example, if you have your keyword in your URL, and possibly in your meta-title, don’t use the exact same keyword again in the description and in the H1 tag. Apart from it starting to look like over-optimisation, your rankings will probably benefit more if you use your main keyword more sparingly, along with a variety of supporting, related, ‘long-tail’ and LSI keywords as well, throughout the other on-page optimisation elements and your content.
What constitutes the ‘right’ on-page optimisation can vary from site to site, but hopefully this guide will at least point you in the right direction. If you feel you need a bit of assistance, and would like to find out more about our on and off-page optimisation services, feel free to get in touch and we’d be happy to see how we can help.