On-Page Optimization Guide – Techniques for On-Page SEO
On-page SEO is half of the equation to achieving high rankings in the SERPs, much less than half the work, and highly misunderstood by many SEOs.
We take a very minimal approach compared to many others out there who seem to be overcomplicating the fairly simple but crucial task of how to optimize a website for Google search.
All of our methods are backed by years of expirementation and data for what it takes to rank in the top positions on Google.
In this on-page SEO tutorial, we’ll cover everything you need to know about on-page SEO, and nothing you don’t need to know. Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
What is On-Page SEO?
In a nutshell, on-page SEO is the optimization of your website to rank higher in the SERPs and get more organic traffic. We do this by making changes to the content and code of the website itself.
On-page optimization does not include link building or other external factors. This is referred to as off-page SEO.
It also doesn’t include things like design and conversion. While these are very important as well, they will not be discussed in this guide.
On-page SEO is all about ranking, not so much converting.
You’ve got your keyword research done, you’ve got some content written and your page set up, now it’s time to get it optimized and ready to rank.
Pay very close attention: this next section is 90% or more of everything you need to know about on-page optimization.
Many SEOs go on and on about keyword density and a huge variety of tactics that they swear are the only things you’re missing from succeeding, ranking, and making a ton of cash.
While some of their methods might be slight improvements, our data shows that if you get this next section done correctly, your on-page foundation will be set in many cases and you’ll be ready to move on to what will be the bulk of your SEO work: link building.
Without any further ado, here is the single most important thing to get right for on-page SEO.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PART
Here it is in two sentences:
90% of on-page optimization is getting your main keywords and variations of those keywords into your Domain, URL, Title, H Tags, Meta Description, and Content. The end.
A little more explaining is probably in order.
We will cover each of these 6 places to put your keywords more in-depth, and then we will wrap everything together at the end of the section.
All of these things work together, and they are covered in order of importance (the most important factors coming first).
The reason that certain positions are given greater importance by Google than others is because they are more difficult to abuse in a spammy way for SEO purposes.
A domain with “plumbing” in the name is most likely about plumbing, and a page with “plumbing” in the title probably is, too.
Your domain is your website’s name. While it’s not necessary to get your keywords in your domain name, having something in there can help you a lot, and it is probably the single strongest on-page factor.
This is because it sends a very clear signal to Google that your website is about those keywords.
When getting a domain name, you can go for an Exact Match Domain (EMD), Partial Match Domain (PMD), or a Branded Domain.
EMD Example: houstonplumbers.com
PMD Example: bigboyplumbing.com
Branded Example: bigboyco.com
EMDs are an exact match of an important keyword for your site. These can be extremely powerful and a pretty big shortcut to achieving high ranks.
PMDs contain only part of a keyword people would type to find your services. EMDs are are easier to rank, but PMDs are still great.
One advantage PMDs have over EMDs is that they are easier to expand in the future.
For example, houstonplumbers.com can really only be used for Houston. But what if you want to expand to a nearby city? Bigboyplumbing.com, a PMD, would be much better in that case.
Branded domains don’t contain any keywords that you are trying to rank for. It’s just the name of the company, usually.
Don’t worry too much if your site isn’t an EMD or PMD – it’s not the end of the world. Branded domains work just fine, it’s just that having your keywords in your domain name can be a serious shortcut for ranking your site.
Many people won’t have control of their domain name. Maybe it’s your client’s site, or maybe you just don’t want to start over.
For you guys, the page’s URL will be the most important place to put keywords.
For example: bigboyco.com/houston-plumbers
In this example, the domain is bigoyco.com, and the inner-page URL is /houston-plumbers.
This is a strong choice for an inner-page URL because it is an exact match for an important keyword the page is trying to rank for.
Important: Don’t repeat the same keywords too many times in your domain, url, title, and h tags.
It’s OK to repeat them a couple times, but what you really want to be doing is trying to have variations of the keywords instead.
So, if you’ve already used “Houston Plumbers” in one position, you can use something different such as “Plumbing in Houston” in another position. This is known as keyword stuffing and is a big no-no.
Here’s a good example: bigboyplumbing.com/houston-plumbers
This example is OK because “plumbing” and “plumbers” are technically two different keywords. They aren’t the exact same thing. Nothing is repeated.
Here’s a bad example: bigboyplumbing.com/houston-plumbing
Plumbing is repeated in the domain and the inner page URL. If it was another position such as the <h1> tag, it might be fine. However, for the domain and inner page URL, you should try to avoid having the same keywords repeat as much as possible.
Next up is your title (AKA title tag or SEO title). Sometimes people get confused about this because some themes use the <h1> tag as the biggest text at the top of their page as the “title.”
Your Title Tag is something different- it’s the big, blue, clickable title that shows up on the SERPs (shown in the picture above).
In html code, the title tag looks like this: <title>Here Is My Title</title> and is in the <head> section of the page’s code.
We usually use a free plugin like Yoast to easily change things like your Title Tag, URL slugs, and Meta Description of pages quickly.
There are a few other plugins out there that do the same job – just pick one, use it to edit these values, and ignore the suggestions it gives you.
Just like your domain and inner page URLs, you want to get a keyword or variation of a keyword into this position. Remember not to repeat keywords too many times in these positions.
Your title tag is in a very important spot on the SERPs, and is often the only thing the user reads before clicking through to your site. For this reason, you need to also make sure it’s visually appealing and entices the user to click it.
Yoast and the other plugins help you to know the optimal length of your title tag. Be sure to use as much of the space as possible without going over the recommended amount which is about 70 characters.
H tags, or header tags, are used as headings and subheadings to organize your content and let readers know what each section or subsection is about. These are the next most important place to put your keywords, with <h1> being the most important and <h6> being the least.
You can change your h tags within WordPress pretty easily, and each header tag will generally have a preset size which is larger than the normal content size. If you don’t want to use the preset font size for each tag, you can manually adjust them yourself.
Some SEOs argue that you should only have one <h1> tag per page which functions as the “title” for the page, and that by doing this you are making your page more relevant for the keywords you’ve placed there.
However, a couple would probably be fine. The main idea is to get your keywords in and use them to structure your content in a logical way for the reader.
Again, get your keywords in these positions in as natural a way as possible, and try not to repeat them in too many places.
Using more variations means you will not be over-optimized as well as casting a larger net for more keywords.
For this section of the article, we have h tags as follows:
<h1>On-Page SEO Guide for 2019 and Beyond</h1>
<h2>THE MOST IMPORTANT PART</h2>
You could argue that we should have some better keywords in the <h2> position, but we’re not too worried – you can always go back later and change things around.
Many people only really care about <h1>, and some pages don’t have enough content to use all the levels of the tags. We usually only use <h1> through <h3>, or even just <h1> on a very small page.
Your meta description (pictured above) is the next most important place to put your keywords.
This is the description that shows up under your page’s title in the SERPs and is a highly important position due to it’s ability to influence both Google rankings and readers to click through.
You don’t need to worry about repeating keywords from your other positions with your meta description, although by using variations you are able to cast a wider net.
You also have a lot more room to speak in full sentences and really convince the reader to click through to your website here, so again use all of the recommended space if possible.
Like your Title Tag and URL slug, you can edit this value by using a free plugin like Yoast.
Your content is just the regular text on your website which makes up most of the information that you are presenting to the reader.
What you are reading right now is just regular content.
This is where some SEOs go crazy trying all sorts of stuff that has negligable influence on ranking. Our approach is much simpler and backed by years of data.
Sometimes, simpler really is better.
Make sure your main keywords appear on the page at least once.
If you have to use your keyword in your content a lot, don’t worry about it too much. Be natural in your writing. If you have to use the keywords a lot, then do it.
Do NOT repeatedly stuff your keyword in your content as many times as you can. This is called keyword stuffing, and it can get you in trouble.
What used to work in the past for SEO does not work now, and can even land you in a penalty situation.
You are much better off only having your keywords in your article once or twice than trying to jam them in whenever you can.
If you are using a service like iwriter to have your content written, make sure that you look over the content and make sure that they didn’t keyword stuff. Many writers try to do this because they think it still has SEO value.
Concerning the length of your content, we like to see at least 500 words per page. A little less is fine, and of course more is fine.
Like with many things in SEO, one way to figure out what is working well is to take a look at your top competitors. Find out how many words they are using on a similar page and do the same (or maybe at a little).
Do not overthink this! Get your keywords in there, and then use your content to speak to your readers and sell whatever it is you’re selling.
If you can get that stuff down, you are about 90% of the way there.
We have ranked countless sites only applying the above principles – and often much less.
Backlinks are still the most important thing for ranking sites, and most likely will be for quite some time to come, but they still need proper on-page to be done beforehand.
To quickly recap what we learned in this section:
1. Get your keywords into your domain, title, url, h tags, meta description, and content.
2. Try to use variations of the keywords as much as possible.
3. Don’t overthink your content or stuff it with keywords.
4. Don’t forget that you also need to be communicating naturally with your reader.
You’re 90% of the way there.
That doesn’t mean that the rest of this article is worth skipping, though. Especially in tough niches, you might need that extra 10% to push past your competition.
On to the next one.
Page speed refers to how fast your webpage takes to load its content.
Google has said that it does take page speed into consideration as a ranking factor, not to mention it considerably improves the user experience and can decrease your bounce rate (people leaving your website quickly after clicking through).
We will not cover page speed optimization very deeply in this guide, but rather the basics that should be more than you need to get your site up to speed.
First of all, you can use Google’s free tool, Pagespeed Insights, to analyze your site.
It will tell you exactly what you need to do to get it running fast. Some of it might be a little technical sounding, but we’ll cover the important stuff here.
Another tool that many SEOs use to analyze their page speed is GTmetrix.
Both of these tools will be invaluable to you when working on your page speed.
Optimizing a site’s images will probably make the single biggest difference for most people who are trying to increase their page speed.
The problem is that images, especially large images, can take a long time to load.
You need to make sure that you are doing two things:
1. Use images at an appropriate resolution (no one needs a 3200x2400 picture).
2. Compress your images for internet use (decreases file size).
One very cool thing about Google’s Pagespeed Insights is that they will compress your images for you… for free! It’s a pretty nifty feature that a lot of people can get great use out of.
You can also compress your images yourself using software or a multitude of online services. Just get that file size down.
W3 Total Cache
This plugin is AWESOME for reducing page load times.
There are other plugins out there that do much the same thing, but we’ll just be covering W3 Total Cache. It’s free and it kicks butt.
Setting it up and getting everything working properly can either be as complicated or as simple as you make it. There are plenty of guides out there telling you the optimal settings to use on the plugin.
Here are some of the features that can really help you out:
1. Browser Caching
2. Database Caching
3. Minifying your CSS and JS
4. Object Caching
5. CDN Support
6. Lots More
The point is – get the plugin or a plugin like it.
Between getting your images optimized and properly configuring a plugin like W3, you will more or less be scoring right where you need to be on GTmetrix or Google’s Pagespeed Insights.
We don’t think you need to shoot for a perfect score. Just get things in the green!
There are a few things you need to be doing with your images to make sure they are properly optimized for SEO.
None of this stuff is too hard, and once you make it part of your process for building pages, you won’t even notice that you’re doing it.
Earlier in the article, we talked about how to optimize your images for page speed.
We do this by decreasing their resolution and decreasing their file size (compression). For more information on this, look back at the page speed section above.
Geo tagging images is the process of adding GPS coordinates to the images’ metadata.
This is useful for SEO purposes for local businesses because it makes you more relevant for your location.
Geo tagging images used to carry more weight in the past, but it still seems to provide some value today.
You can add geo tags to your images free online, and there is some software that can help you do it as well.
Ideally you would do this before uploading your images to your website. However, if your images are already up on your site, you will have to add the geo tags and re-upload them.
Titles and Alt Tags
All of your images should have proper titles and alt tags. You can edit these easily within WordPress.
Titles are exactly that – the title of the image. Give your images good titles and use keywords in them if possible (don’t be spammy).
For example: toilet-clogs
Alt tags are text that is displayed if your image can’t be shown for some reason.
Describe what the image is or what’s happening in the image. Again, use some keywords and variations if possible without being spammy.
For example: A man is fixing a clogged toilet in a home.
Schema is structured data (code) that, when inserted onto your website, helps communicate with search engines in letting them know some information about your site and business.
Schema is becoming more and more important in the SERPs as time moves forward.
Schema is responsible for the rich snippets and featured snippets you see in the SERPs along with a host of other things such as identifying the name of your company and your company’s contact information.
Without getting too technical, just know that schema is important and you should be adding schema to your site to help Google know what you’re all about.
We will only cover the basics of schema here. There are plenty of resources online that can go VERY in depth about this huge topic.
For most people, having very basic schema will be all you need for your on-page optimization.
One way to get the code you need to add to your site is using a schema markup generator.
There are plenty of options to choose from, or you could look for a template to copy and paste your information into.
Important: Make sure that you’re using JSON-LD format. This is Google’s preferred format.
Your code will look something like this once you are done (or potentially a lot longer depending on how many different fields you would like to define).
For some simple sites, every page might have the same schema.
On other sites, the schema on each page may vary greatly depending on what you think is important for Google to know about that page.
Before adding the code to your site, you should always test it using Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool.
This tool will let you know if there are any errors with your code as well as show you the values you have entered in for each field so that you can double check your work.
Now that you have your code and you’ve double checked it with Google’s tool, it’s time to add it to your site.
The code needs to be inserted into the header of the page code. You can do this manually or with a plugin that allows you to easily edit your header.
Note: If you’re unsure of what you’re doing, you might want to have someone do this for you. You could potentially make a mistake and mess up your site.
If all of this is too technical for you, you can always use a schema plugin.
You will generally have less control using plugins such as these, but it could save you a lot of time and stress.
Some plugins have more features than others, and you might need a certain plugin if you want to add a certain type of schema to your site.
Find the plugin that best suits you, watch their tutorials, and get the code added to your site.
Site Structure and Internal Links
Your site’s structure and internal linking are important for both Google to understand your site and for users to be able to find what they are looking for.
SEOs tend to disagree a lot when it comes to this topic.
The way we do things is working exceptionally well for us, and over time it seems like the tricks people used for site structure and interlinking are having less and less of an effect on rankings.
If you do things in a natural way that improves your users’ experience, you are on the right track.
Here is a brief overview of how we are currently handling our site structure and interlinking.
Like in the image above, your site’s structure should ideally be in a pyramid shape.
The homepage is at the top and acts as a navigation hub to the main categories of your site.
If it’s a small site, it might just link to a few pages and that’s it.
In a larger site, your homepage might link to category pages, each category might then link out to subcategories, and those subcategories to pages or posts.
You should be grouping your pages and content in as logical a way as possible.
Keep things clustered together by topic to make them easier to find for your users and to help Google establish topical relevance for your site.
For example, a local site is normally structured something like this:
Pages and Posts
Again, there are many different ways to do this. This is what works best for us.
We use pages for things that are considered the main hubs of our sites – the vital components of the site that are necessary for the business to operate.
Product pages, service pages, location pages, contact pages, and so on are great examples of this.
We use posts for things that are usually intended to bring traffic to the site but are a step away from our core services and site intent.
This would of course include anything on a blog, and what some people refer to as cornerstone content (very important informational content for your site that informs rather than sells).
We like to use posts to target related keywords and traffic to then be linked back to relevant inner pages.
When assigning categories and tags to your posts on WordPress, keep your users in mind.
Don’t go crazy trying to make millions of categories and tags. A few tags and and a few categories per post is fine, and you should be using keywords in these positions when possible to do so without being spammy.
At the end of the day, the distinction between pages and posts is a little blurry, and one SEO will prefer to do things differently than another.
Do what makes sense to you while keeping your users in mind.
Linking and Anchors
Internal links are links that point to other pages or posts within your site so that users can navigate around it and find what they are looking for.
Google learns about your site from these internal links much the same way they do for backlinks.
People used to “silo” their sites as a way to abuse their site architecture to boost rankings. Nowadays, it doesn’t seem to matter much at all.
We firmly believe that natural linking is key.
You should link to pages and posts that makes sense to be linked to. If you have a blog post about cell phones, it doesn’t really make much sense to link to another blog post about computer chairs. It makes sense to link to other posts or pages within the same category.
When you are linking to other pages and posts on your site, you have full control of your anchor text.
We recommend using a mix of exact match anchors, variations of those keywords, random anchors (“click here”), and maybe some url anchors (“sirlinksalot.co/niche-edits/”).
Mix it up.
It’s a great idea to link to other pages or posts within context as well as navigational links. This means to link within sentences or paragraphs of information related to the page being linked to.
This helps Google establish greater topical relevance by looking at the words immediately around your link.
One more thing you should be doing on local sites is adding your company’s NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) to any pages that you’d like to rank on maps for.
You will notice that most local pages do this simply by putting their NAP at the bottom of every page.
If your company has multiple locations, then you only want to add the specific NAP for that location at the bottom of the landing page for that location.
Note: Be sure to be very careful that your NAP is exactly the same on your site, in your schema, on any profiles or directories you have set up, and all of your citations.
This is very crucial for not confusing Google.
That’s about it for our guide for on-page SEO techniques. Remember that getting your keywords into those six important places that we discussed in the first section is about 90% of the battle.
We’ve ranked countless sites with only really paying attention to that – and sometimes not even doing that very well.
Never underestimate the power of good links!
On-page SEO is the foundation for ranking your pages on Google. They are what you will be building upon for the rest of your off-page SEO work, so we recommend getting the basics down and following best practices.
That’s it! You now know how to optimize a website for SEO.
If you think something should be added to this article, let us know in the comments below.
Chris Tzitzis is an SEO and a Co-Founder of SirLinksalot.co. He has extensive experience with Affiliate SEO and running an SEO Agency.
Get Special Offers and News
Subscribe to our mailing list today!