On-Page Optimization – A Beginner’s Guide
On-page SEO is half of the equation to achieving high rankings in the SERPs. However, it’s much less than half the work and often overcomplicated by many in the industry.
If you’re looking to learn how to optimize your on-page for Google search – look no further. Years of experimentation and data have refined the on-page SEO methods we’re going to share with you today.
We take a minimal approach compared to some because frankly, the other stuff just doesn’t matter as much and produces negligible benefits. This on-page SEO guide includes everything you need for high rankings and nothing you don’t.
Enough with the introduction, let’s get into it.
On-Page SEO Guide – Introduction
On-page SEO is the optimization of your website so that it ranks higher in the SERPs and gets more organic traffic. This is done by making changes to the content, code, and settings of the website itself.
On-page optimization does not include link building or other external factors (off-page SEO).
Read: Benefits of Link Building for more info on this.
It also doesn’t include things like design and conversion. While these aspects of your website are very important as well, they will not be discussed in this guide.
On-page SEO is all about website optimizations that influence ranking.
The Core of On-Page Optimization
This section is without a doubt the most important part of our on-site guide. If you don’t learn anything else for the rest of this guide, be sure you get this part nailed down.
Ninety percent or more of on-page optimization is getting your main keywords and variations of those keywords into your website’s/page’s:
Heading Tags (H Tags)
Getting your keywords and variations into these spots all work together, and we will be covering each more in-depth in order of importance.
Something you want to watch out for is over-optimization. This occurs when you include the exact same keyword in all or many of these positions. Using variations of your keywords allows you to rank for more terms as well as protect yourself from over-optimization.
Your domain is essentially your website’s name including the TLD. Our domain is:
It’s not necessary to get your keywords in your domain name, but having keywords or related keywords in your domain is the single strongest factor for on-page SEO. Having keywords in your domain name sends a clear signal to Google of what your site is about.
When deciding on a domain name, you have a few choices:
EMD (Exact Match Domain): besthoustonplumbers.com
PMD (Partial Match Domain): bigboyplumbing.com
EMDs contain an exact match of an important keyword for your site. They are extremely powerful and are a huge ranking shortcut. We’ve ranked low competition keywords with EMDs with nothing but some pillow links and a little waiting.
However, the website’s future growth will be limited to it’s name. For example, the EMD above could not expand to a nearby city or unrelated services later – that domain is clearly just about Houston and plumbing.
PMDs contain only part of a keyword people would use to find your website. PMDs aren’t as powerful as EMDs, but many SEOs prefer them because they are more felexible than EMDs. The PMD example above could expand to nearby cities without any issues.
Branded domains don’t contain any keywords that you are trying to rank for. This type of domain has no extra SEO benefits but can be good for general marketing purposes.
Don’t worry too much if your domain isn’t an EMD or PMD. You will notice branded domains in almost every SERP out there. EMDs and PMDs are a powerful shortcut but not necessary for achieving high rankings.
The next most important position you have an opportunity to place keywords is in your inner-page URLs. Keywords in your inner-page URLs will better optimize that specific page for those keywords. For example:
This is a strong choice for an inner-page URL because it’s an exact match keyword that the page could be trying to rank for.
It’s important to not repeat the same keyword if it appears in your domain. For example:
The first example is bad because it repeats the exact keyword. The second example changes the keyword from “plumbers” to “plumbing” and omits “Houston.”
In some of the other positions, it’s OK to repeat keywords a couple times. However, we strongly recommend not repeating your keywords in your domain and inner-page URLs if at all possible.
If just one small word repeats, it’s probably not a problem. For example:
“Links” appears in both our domain and inner-page URL. However, it’s just one word that is fairly general. In this case, repeating part of our keyword is completely OK.
Next up are your title tags, also known as your Title or SEO Title. People sometimes get confused about this position. Your title tag is not the text that appears in big letters at the top of a page – it’s what appears as the blue clickable letters in a Google SERP:
You can use an SEO plugin for WordPress like Yoast or an alternative to change things like your title tags, inner-page URLs, and meta descriptions of your pages quickly and easily.
Just like your domain and inner page URLs, you want to get keywords or variations of keywords into this position. Remember not to repeat the exact keyword too many times in these positions.
It’s important to note that your title tag 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.
Heading tags (h tags) are used as headings and subheadings to organize your content and let readers know what each section of a page is about. Your <h1> tag is the most important all the way down to <h6> being the least important.
How you change your h tags will vary depending on your theme, but it’s never difficult to do.
Your <h1> tag usually looks like the title of your page – it’s up at the top and in a big font. The font size usually decreases all the way down to <h6>. Some argue you should only have one <h1> tag (we usually do), although it appears having more than one is OK.
Like always, you should try to get keywords and related keywords into these positions to better optimize that page for those keywords. However, you also need to keep in mind your users’ experience. Don’t jam keywords in places where they don’t make sense!
The h tags leading up to this specific section are as follows:
<h1>: On-Page Optimization Guide – Techniques for On-Page SEO
<h2>: The Core of On-Page Optimization
<h3>: Heading Tags
We usually don’t go further than <h3> because we don’t need to for most articles. Having a solid <h1> and a few good <h2>‘s will do some good work for your on-page optimizations.
Your meta description is another important spot to fit some keywords in. This is the metadata that appers below your title and URL in the SERPs:
Unlike the previous positions we’ve discussed, you don’t need to worry so much about repeating keywords from other positions in your meta description. Use the space wisely to target a variety of keywords.
Like your Title Tag, your meta description is one of the things users see before they click through to your site. Be sure to entice the reader and make them want to click.
You can edit your pages’ meta descriptions with your SEO plugin as well. Be sure to use up as much of the space as possible.
Your content is the regular text on your website which makes up most of the information that you are presenting to the reader. The text you are reading right now is the content of this page. Content is also known as paragraph and noted by a <p> tag.
Make sure that your main keywords appear in your content at least once. Do not engage in keyword stuffing – using your keywords much more than is natural. This is an outdated tactic that will just get you in trouble nowadays.
Keyword density, the amount of times your keywords appear in the page compared to the total number of words on the page, is something to consider but not something we get mathetmatical about. Instead of using percentages, we prefer to just “trim the fat” – keep your articles on subject without too much fluff or too many unnecessary words.
For content length, we like to look at top ranking pages for our keywords and write about the same number of words or a little more. You can also use this same process for keyword density if you wish (we usually don’t bother).
The most important thing is to just get your keywords in your content without overdoing it – the rest is just bonus.
This bring us to the end of the “core” section of our on-page SEO guide. If you can get these things down, you’re about 90% of the way there. That doesn’t mean the rest of this article is worth skipping, though. You might need that extra 10% in competitive niches!
Page Speed Optimization
Page speed refers to how fast your webpage takes to load for a user. Google has said that it takes page speed into consideration as a ranking factor, and it can also considerably decrease your bounce rate (people leaving your website quickly after clicking through).
That being said, some SEOs go completely overboard trying to get their page speed as optimal as possible. Instead of trying to get a “perfect” pagespeed score, we think you should aim for “not too bad.”
Page speed is a minimal ranking factor at best. Because of this, we will only be covering the basics in this on-page guide to make sure it’s not something holding your site back.
You can use Google’s free tool, Pagespeed Insights, to analyze your site’s load time. It tells you exactly what you need to do to get it running fast. Some of it will be a little technical for most people, but you can do the most important stuff yourself.
Another tool that many SEOs use to analyze their page speed is GTmetrix.
Optimizing a site’s images will make the single biggest difference for most people trying to decrease their pages’ load times.
You need to make sure that you are doing two things:
1. Use images at an appropriate resolution (lower resolutions decrease file size).
2. Compress your images for internet use (decreases file size).
Google’s Pagespeed Insights compresses your images for you for free. You just download them and reupload them to your site. If you’re a perfectionist, you’ll probably want to do this yourself, though.
Another option is a WordPress plugin called Smush. This plugin will get your image sizes down without too much work from you.
Page Speed Plugins
Having a page speed plugin installed on your WordPress will do wonders for your site’s speed. This is often the only thing we do besides optimizing image file sizes.
There are more in-depth guides out there on how to fully configure each of these plugins. 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
After you get your plugin set up and configured, go test your pagespeed again and be amazed. For most people, you’ll be done with page speed at this point.
We’ve already covered some optimizations that will lower your images’ file sizes for getting your page speed down. There are a few other things you can do to your images to make them help further with your pages’ relevance for your keywords and locations.
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 provides 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. Get into the habit of doing this before uploading them to your website!
Image Titles and Alt Tags
All of your images should have proper titles and alt tags. Titles are the file names and alt tags are short descriptions of the image. You can edit these easily within WordPress.
For both your titles and alt tags, try to get your keywords in without being spammy.
Image Title: toilet-clogs
Alt Text: A man is fixing a clogged toilet in a home.
Again, make this part of your process when you upload new images onto your website. After a while, you won’t even notice you’re doing it.
Schema is structured data (code) that helps communicate with search engines in letting them know some information about your site and business.
Schema is becoming more important as time moves forward – but not so much for ranking (although it does seem to help a bit). It’s responsible for the rich snippets and featured snippets you see in the SERPs along with a host of other things.
We will only cover the basics of schema in this article as it’s not a major ranking factor. For most people, having the basics will be enough for on-page optimization.
Schema code looks like this:
One way to get the schema 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 use a template to copy and paste your site’s information into. Also, make sure that you’re using JSON-LD format.
For simple sites, every page might have the same schema. On other sites, the schema could vary from page to page depending on the page type and content.
After you’ve created your schema code, you should first test it using Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. This tool will let you know if there are any errors with your code and allow you to see if the values you input are working as intended.
The code then needs to be inserted into the header of the page. You can do this manually or with a plugin that allows you to edit your pages’ header/footer code.
If all of this sounds too technical for you, you’ll want to get some help or use a schema plugin. Plugins generally offer less control but make everything much easier. Whatever you do, proceed with caution and keep backups just in case.
Your site’s URL structure should ideally be in a pyramid shape:
The homepage is at the top and acts as a navigation hub to the site’s main categories.
If it’s a small site, there might only be a few subpages “under” the homepage. They would look something like this:
For a larger site, you might go deeper than just 1 layer. For the services example above, some pages “under” it might look like this:
You should be grouping your pages and content in as logical a way as possible without going too many layers deep. We prefer to keep things a maximum of 2 layers deep like the services example we just used.
Having your content arranged in a logical way like this can help Google to establish relevance from one page to another in the hierarchy as they are related to each other. When in doubt, just do things in a natural way that isn’t overcomplicated.
Pages and Posts
The distinction between pages and posts doesn’t matter for SEO purposes, but we’ll be covering it briefly since it’s asked about so often.
We use pages for things that are considered to be vital components of the site such as product pages, service pages, and so on.
We use posts for things that function as traffic generating content or non-vital components. This content generally informs readers instead of selling to readers. We use posts to target related keywords and link back to our main pages.
Concerning post categories and tags, just do what’s natural without going overboard in a spammy, keyword focused manner. Like with your URL structure, do what makes sense and keep your users in mind.
Linking and Anchors
Links pointing to other pages on your website and the anchors you use are very important for Google’s understanding of your site. Google learns about your website from internal linking/anchors just like it does from external backlinks.
Here, naturalness is key again. Link to pages and posts that make sense to be linked to. An article about cell phones probably won’t link to an article about chicken recipes.
For your anchors, we recommend using a mix of exact match keywords, variations of exact match keywords, generic, and URL anchors.
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 context helps add additional relevance.
Name, Address, Phone Number
For local sites, you should be adding your company’s NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) to any pages that you’d like to rank on maps for.
Most local websites do this simply by putting their NAP at the bottom of every page. If the business 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.
Be careful that your NAP is exactly the same on your site, in your schema, on any profiles or directories you have set up including GMB, and all of your citations. This is important for not confusing Google and taking full advantage of all citations/directories built.
On-Page Optimization Guide Wrap-Up
That’s about it for our guide to on-page SEO. Remember that getting the “core” section correct is absolutely crucial and about 90% of the on-site optimization battle.
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.
Now that you’ve finished this guide, you know exactly what we do to optimize the on-page of the vast majority of sites we rank in the top of the results.
If you have any questions or comments, let us know 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.
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