Chapter: 01 Introduction to On-Page Optimization
Google and Bing allow companies to buy temporary visibility in search results (Adwords, Bing Ads), selling clicks to the highest bidders in highly competitive auctions at prices that can be $30 or more for just a click. But SEO can drive those clicks and organic traffic at a much lower cost and for longer periods of time. When it comes to building a brand that lasts, improving traffic through organic search is a winning strategy.
But in order to earn that organic traffic, your website’s content needs to be optimized to show up in search results. On-page content refers to the visible content and HTML source code of every landing page on a website. Content can range from text, products, tools, forms, blog posts, ebooks, images, or videos, but it all needs to be high-value in the eyes of your users and search engines.
When you create content ask yourself these questions. Why should Google rank your landing pages? Are they comprehensive and well researched? How much effort did you put into building them? Is your target keyword even on the landing page? What’s your word count? If you want to create content that ranks, it needs to be high-quality, unique, long-form, informative, engaging, and have good information architecture that shows topical authority and depth.
Having the right content and keyword strategy will drastically determine whether your landing pages get traffic from Google. But to do on-page optimization successfully, you need to have the right tools, a foundational understanding of search metrics and ranking factors, and the time and effort it takes to make your web pages worthy of page 1!
For those who want to learn how to optimize their landing pages, this is the ultimate guide on how to strategically optimize on-page content. The larger your website, the more work and time you’ll need to dedicate, so having a dedicated team of SEO-trained content creators, or seeking out the help of an SEO agency, is key for larger and enterprise-level organizations.
Those webmasters who take the time to incorporate the best practices of content optimization are more likely to succeed in search. Not only is content optimization more affordable than paid search marketing, 70% of marketers see it as more effective.
The primary reason why SEO has higher ROI than PPC campaigns is that SEO provides traffic to perpetuity. PPC campaigns essentially let you rent that traffic short-term and don’t provide any long-term compounding growth benefits. When a paid search campaign ends, so do the clicks. However, earning a coveted spot in the SERPs can keep organic traffic and potential customers coming to your website for years.
Optimizing content as you create it, monitoring that content’s performance in Google Analytics, and re-optimizing as time passes, are the three major steps in implementing a successful onsite SEO strategy.
On-page content is made up of both the visible content and the onsite technicals of your website. This includes any content you’ve created to be viewed and used by the people who visit your site, as well as the invisible meta tags, HTML markup, and bot specific elements you’ve added to your site or site code to make your content easily parsable by bots and crawlers (Google Bot, Facebook Bot, Applebot, and hundreds of others).
Onsite SEO, then, are the optimizations you can make to the above components so your content ranks better in search engines. These optimizations can range from changing HTML tags and meta descriptions, to including more keywords and headings, but this eBook will provide you with guidance on the many ways you can optimize your site from the comfort of your own computer.
Before you start optimizing, you have to do your keyword homework. Keywords can be tricky; they trend, they change, they grow long-tails...yet keyword metrics are the most valuable data sets you can have before you start optimizing.
SEO experts are well-versed in the data of search metrics, and much of our work involves helping clients narrow in on relevant keywords. But with a keyword research tool like ours, so can anyone else, from content writers to bloggers, or online marketers to webmasters. If you create online content of any kind, you should get comfortable using a keyword tool prior to your content creation.
The best keywords to target are those that your ideal audience is already using to find products or services. It’s important to choose keywords that not only your site stands a good chance for ranking for, but puts your site in front of the audience seeking your product or services. This is where a keyword research tool is necessary.
Keyword research tools are designed to help you make the most strategic decisions about optimization. By understanding key SEO metrics, you will learn which are the most profitable keywords to target to get you in the relevant searches and in front of your ideal audience.
You can utilize our Keyword Research Tracker for free available in your LinkGraph customer dashboard, or you can find another tool that provides the search volume, keyword difficulty, and CPC metrics necessary to make informed decisions about which keywords to target.
In the above images, you will see some keywords alongside their accompanying search metrics. By understanding these terms, you can make some inferences about which keywords provide you the most potential opportunities to rank.
Understanding how all of these terms relate to each other is another important factor in successful optimization. Popular keywords are usually accompanied by higher monthly search volume, but that doesn’t automatically qualify them as the best choice for you. You need to take more than that into consideration when it comes to gaining visibility in the search engine results pages, particularly if you're a webmaster that's just starting out.
There isn't always a direct correlation between the most popular keywords and the keywords that are the right choices for your website or business goals.
For example, the search phrase, "Discount Shoes," gets 18K searches a month. That's an attractive number of searches, but the competition level for that target keyword is extremely high. Websites like Zappos, DSW, and Famous Footwear have high domain authorities and already occupy the top spots in the SERPs for that given keyword phrase.
When it comes to smart keyword research, the general rule of thumb is this: The best keywords to target are the ones you stand the best chance of ranking for and the best chance of converting from. Every new piece of content you create--whether a new landing page or a blog post--should target a new keyword so you have more opportunities to rank in more SERPs.
The best keywords should meet the following criteria:
Long-tail keywords can be a great way to make the most out of your optimization efforts. Long-tail keywords are usually search phrases over 4-5 words.
Targeting these long-tail search phrases with blog posts can be very effective because they have a more specific search intent and are far less competitive than other keywords.
Targeting long-tail keywords can also be an effective optimization strategy because it tends to result in higher conversions. Those users who rely on long-tail search queries are usually further down the sales funnel and more ready to make a purchase, fill out a form, or offer an email address.
Once you have identified which keywords you want to target, it’s time to transition to doing the work of including those keywords into your content. You need to incorporate your primary keywords in both the primary text of your landing page and the HTML title tags and meta descriptions.
If you use our copy optimizer tool, the process for doing so will not only be easier, it will help you avoid keyword stuffing. Because our tool provides you with the LSI terms that have topical relevance to your webpage content, the distribution of your keywords will appear more naturally and in a way that appeals to search engine crawlers without disrupting the readability or quality of your content.
Once you’ve chosen the best keywords, the next step is to start writing and optimizing your landing page copy.
But optimizing content goes far beyond simply hitting a keyword quota. In the early days of SEO strategy, simple keyword stuffing tactics worked, but search engines keep getting smarter and better at understanding the content of a web page.
For this reason, a content optimizer tool like ours can help you include your primary keyword phrases alongside Focus Terms that Google is expecting to see on your landing pages. These Focus Terms are topics, ideas, and phrases that we’ve determined are related and important to the keyword search you’re trying to rank for. Incorporating Focus Terms will help your landing page demonstrate topical depth and expertise.
Unlike keywords, which are the search phrases you want your own site to rank for, focus terms are semantically related terms that Google bots use to understand the topical depth, relevance, and quality of your web content in relationship to users' search queries. The LinkGraph content optimizer scans the top ranking pages for your target keywords, as well as all of the content on those pages that are appearing in the search rankings, and provides you word suggestions and related topics for the content creation process. Essentially, it helps you create better content in the eyes of Google bots.
High-ranking content often shares certain similarities. Long content, original research and reporting, infographics, and authoritative content all tend to have better content performance in search engine rankings. Google's algorithm rewards quality content, and making your own content more rich and in-depth becomes easier with the help of a SEO content optimizer tool like ours.
Like the Keyword Research Tracker, the copy optimizer tool is available in your LinkGraph customer dashboard. You can also download the LinkGraph Chrome extension to automatically transfer your web page content into our tool with 1 click and start your optimization work right away.
Whether you are creating a brand new piece of content, or revising an existing landing page, our tool makes the process of optimization easy, even for SEO beginners.
As you draft your content, our tool will keep track of the Focus Terms that you have incorporated and will provide you with a content score. Think of it like a content performance score: the higher it is, the more likely your content will get a higher ranking for your desired search term. Even small changes to syntax, vocabulary, complex sentences or phrasing can help you maintain the readability of the content while also optimizing for search.
Also, the content optimizer’s color-coded highlighting alerts you to which terms you have sufficiently included, which need to be included more, and which are being overused.
And because the content score takes length into consideration, it encourages you to create more in-depth content that allows the space for the keywords to naturally appear. Longer content tends to do much better in search, so our copy optimizer uses 2500 words as an ideal benchmark. The tool will also provide you with an overall Content Score. A score over 80 is considered very good.
Whether you want to update a page of content that is already on your site or use our Focus terms as a starting point for new ideas, our tool is the easiest way to see SEO success in not much time. In the below video, you will find a tutorial on how to use the copy optimizer tool to create the best content on your landing pages.
If you are optimizing an existing piece of content like your site’s homepage or current landing pages, adding our copy optimizer chrome extension to your toolbar will allow you to automatically transfer the content of any existing landing page into our tool and start your optimization work from there.
Starting in 2017, Google’s search quality teams have been specifically focusing their engineering efforts towards content-quality signals and have pushed core algorithm updates every quarter. Their BERT update in October 2019 was one of the most meaningful content related updates they have rolled out in years.
Bert has helped Google crawlers understand language and keyword usage the way that human's use it. Google will continue to do a better job of identifying quality content among its index as algorithms and content-quality signals become even more refined. For this reason, the sole focus of your copywriters and content team should be to simply create great content, because creating high-quality content is essential to the success of your optimization efforts in the long run.
Although quality may feel subjective, Google's webmaster guidelines are clear about what quality looks like in the eyes of Google bots. Search engines want to rank good content, and they look for hints about the quality of every web page they index, from headlines and subheads to keyword density and url structure. Each element of website optimization communicates to Google whether your content will keep readers' attention and whether they will find your content valuable and useful.
Factors like content uniqueness, content length, external and internal links, anchor text, headings, grammar, syntax, and readability all influence whether or not your content ranks. On their blog, Google advises webmasters to consider multiple questions about the pieces of content they create.
Internal linking is when you include a link that directs to another page on your site. It not only directs your users to contextually relevant content, it helps communicate to search engines your website architecture. It also spreads around your link juice--or the search equity passed from one page of your site to another.
Google uses a metric called PageRank to understand which pages are most important. Pages that are closer to the homepage of your site, like those linked to in your navigation menu and footer, as well as pages that you internally link to frequently have more PageRank. Google uses the amount of PageRank on your pages compared to the amount of PageRank on your competitors pages as a component of its ranking algorithm.
There are ways to use internal links to direct landing pages with higher PageRank to the most important pages on your site. For SEO purposes, you can evaluate content performance primarily through keyword rankings, or determine highest-performing pages through conversion rates. Then, direct PageRank toward those important pages to get them ranking more often. This is an advanced strategy and should only be implemented by SEO pros for the best results.
The anchor text of your internal links, as well as the semantic context surrounding them, are important indicators to Google about what type of information your pages contain and help them understand what type of searches they could be relevant for. These internal links also allow you to demonstrate topical depth and authority for your target keywords.
Outside of your navigation bar, blog posts are good opportunities to internally link to related high-value landing pages on your site. Do you have another post that explains a certain concept with more detail? Or do you provide a tool or service that can help meet a user’s needs? The more content that you create, the more important internal linking becomes, as it serves as a kind of directory for your users and shows search engines that your site has topical depth in your niche or vertical.
When it comes to optimizing HTML tags and technicals, non SEO experts may feel intimidated to start making changes or adjustments to source code. But if you have a CMS like WordPress, making adjustments to your tags is very simple.
Remember that when search engines crawl your site, they look to the source code for key information about your website’s content and relevance to specific search queries. Taking the time to ensure your target keywords are included in your primary HTML tags is an essential step in seeing tangible results in increased organic traffic.
The majority of webmasters use a content management system (CMS) like Wordpress to manage their website. Depending on your CMS, you should be able to specify your title tags, meta description, and HTML tags fairly easily.
When it comes to optimizing the onsite technicals of your website for search, having some familiarity with your CMS will be necessary. We use a modified version of Wordpress for most of our clients given it’s flexibility, ease of use, and performance. We’ve done optimization work inside other website builders like Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, and Shopify, and have generally found that the lack of direct control over the hosting environment and server limit the SEO capabilities of these platforms, and we would not suggest them for enterprise-grade organizations.
It’s also important the hosting environment you’re running your website on is performant and follows certain best practices. Here’s a checklist of key functionality you need to have:
The title tag is the HTML code that determines the title of a web page. Here is an example of what a title tag looks like in source code.
Content Length and Seo: Does it Really Matter?
And here is an example of how a title tag looks when your users see it in search results.
The primary reason title tags are so important is because they influence whether or not users click on your web page in the SERPs. This is known as click-through-rate (CTR), or the ratio of those users who see your web page in search results and the number of those who click on it.
A strong click-through-rate means your search is meeting the needs and desires of those utilizing the search phrases you rank for. You can find your CTR data in Google Analytics. If your CTR is low on certain webpages, it is your hint that you may want to consider changing your title tag or meta description to be more appealing to users.
In order to optimize your title tag, you need to include the target keywords you are trying to rank for. If you have a WordPress site, your title tag will be automatically generated from the title you give your HTML document in the designated text box. To optimize effectively, you need to determine a title that both includes the primary keywords and compels your users to click.
Google will display approximately 60 characters of your title tag. According to research, about 90% of title tags display properly. You want your title tag to appeal to users and search engines, so here are a few areas to focus when writing them.
The meta description is the 160-character snippet that appears below your title tag in search results. In the below image, you will see the meta description from our previous example highlighted in red.
When it comes to optimizing this description, you should consider both your readers and search engines. This meta description should give users a brief summary of the content of your web page and entice them to click. If you are using a Wordpress site, you will find a clearly designated textbox in which to enter your meta description. The CMS will take this content and embed it into the HTML source code as a meta tag.
Although Google no longer considers meta descriptions as a direct ranking factor, they do influence your CTR and so have an indirect impact on your rankings. Google also generates rich snippets from meta descriptions. Those websites with Structured Data Markup can help communicate to Google the most important parts of their meta descriptions to highlight.
You will see that in our search result in the above example, Google rich snippets emphasized the words “content length,” and “SEO,” in bold font. Seeing those are the keywords we were hoping to rank for with this particular blog post, we can see the tangible results here of our optimization efforts.
Heading tags structure your web page content for the benefit of both readers and search engines. Although your heading tags are not visible to users in search results, Google bots do crawl them and use them to determine the content and quality of your website. Here is what heading tags look like in source code. In a content management system, you will be able to easily designate your h1 tag - h6 tags. However, including your one or two primary keywords over and over again in these headings will look like obvious keyword stuffing, which is a major no-no for Google.
This is where our Content Optimizer’s Focus Terms terms come in handy. Using Focus Terms in your headings will help emphasi