ON-PAGE SEO: The basics

Optimizing Your Web Page

“A page’s relevance relied mostly on 2 things: how many times a word appeared in a document and how many times other websites related you to that topic (by linking to you.)”

Contents

Chapter 1: Optimizing the URL Chapter 2: Optimizing Meta Titles Chapter 3: Optimizing Meta Descriptions Chapter 4: Optimizing Headers Chapter 5: Optimizing Content

Chapter 6: Advanced: Optimizing for the User
Chapter 7: Rich Media
Chapter 8: Inner Links
Chapter 9: Enable User Engagement and User Generated Content

The first clue search engines have that a page may be related to a search query is the the URL or Uniform Resource Locator. In the simplest sense, the URL is just a readable version of your website address. It’s what you see on a browser’s address bar whenever you go to a website.

Optimizing the URL doesn’t necessarily mean making sure your domain is in the keyword. This is tantamount to abandoning all the authority your website may have earned over time. Optimizing the url just means including the keyword when you create URL’s.

The image below is how NOT to do it:

And here is the right way to do it.
How do I Optimize the URL?

If your website is built in WordPress, you don’t need a developer to help you optimize the URL. You just login to your WordPress admin page and go to Settings, then Permalinks.

Under Permalink Settings, you’ll have the following options:

  • Default (don’t pick this – it’s not optimized)
  • Day and time (don’t pick this either – unless all you want to rank for is a specific day and time)
  • Month and name (worse)
  • Numeric (the WORST!)
  • Post Name (getting better)
  • Custom Structure (the BEST option)

You’ll want a URL structure that tells the user what the page might be about. Like how this page’s URL is: https://organicseo.org/optimizing-your-web-page.

If your site is built using other popular Content Management Systems like Magento, Drupal or Joomla or even pre-built sites like Wix or Shopify or Skillshare, they also have permalink settings that allow you to customize your URL structure to include the topic or keyword in you URL.

applePRO TIP:

There’s no big difference if your URL looks like https://domain.com/category/page-title or https://domain.com/page-title so don’t sweat it.

Alphanumeric URL’s like https://domain.com/cat_10753/product_ID=287536 are really bad and un-user-friendly.

Lastly, you can have a developer fix your URL by going to the .htaccess file of your website. If you are a beginner, don’t even bother trying to understand this. Just say “fix the URL in via the htaccess file.” Your developer will know what to do.

Chapter 2: Optimizing Meta Titles

If you’re webpage was a movie, then the Meta Title would be its title. In a Search Engine Result Page (or SERP’s to SEO’s), the meta title is what a user will see even BEFORE they see the URL. It’s the FIRST THING the user will judge.

See that all the websites that want to be relevant for “iPhone X” have that keyword in their Meta-titles – even preceding their domain names.

Before LSI and all the current sophisticated Search technology we take for granted today – back when search engines relied on more basic algorithms, the meta-title was a great signal for what topic the page was about.  Afterall, if a search engine was going to guess what a webpage (or document) was about, its title would offer a great clue.

Today, meta-titles are still relevant ranking factors according to sites like backlinko, MOZ and SearchEngineLand.

How do I Optimize the Meta Title?

Again, If your website is built in WordPress this is a fairly straightforward process.  First, you’ll need a plugin called Yoast.

Installing Yoast (or other SEO plugin)

To install Yoast or other SEO Plugins to your WordPress website, just go to your WordPress Dashboard.

On the left control panel, you’ll see the “Plugins” Tab.

Click on Plugins and Click “Add New.”

You can pick Yoast that appears on the space to the right or do a search by typing “Yoast” in the search box.

Click “Install Now” from the plugins menu.

Once installed, just click “Activate Plugin” and Yoast will be installed.  You’ll know if you did this right because an “SEO” tab will appear in the left-side menu.

Optimizing the Meta Title

Click the SEO Tab on your WordPress Dashboard menu and you’ll see the Yoast page on the right.  The Yoast page will have nav options at the top.  You’ll want to Optimize “General,” “Homepage”, and “Post Types” but for now, we’ll focus on Post Types.

Once you’ve created a page with Content, just go to SEO, Post Types, and type in the Meta Title (and Meta-description – more on this later) you want to appear on Search for the page you just built.

Optimized Meta-Titles

When you’re optimizing meta-titles what you’re really trying to do are the following:

  • Prevent the title from appending (ending in “…”) by limiting the character count to 65 characters or less including spaces.
  • The true limit is 560 to 600 pixels, but because we’re not machines, you can typically fit in 65 characters or less within that pixel count. (Note: the count is characters, not words)
  • Include the Keyword in a readable phrase

There are 2 popular ways for optimizing meta-titles. The typical formulas are:

  • “sentence with key phrase|brand name”
  • “brand name|sentence with key phrase”
  • “brand name - sentence with key phrase”
  • “sentence with key phrase - brand name”

applePRO TIP:

Google objectively prefers the use of the hyphen (-) or dash.  Other SEO’s prefer to use the pipe (|) for the aesthetics.  The difference is minimal.

Chapter 3: Optimizing Meta Descriptions

Meta descriptions are HTML elements in your page.  You use them to give users (and search engines) a better concise idea of the content of the page you’re encouraging them to visit.  The sections in a search result appearing under the Title and the URL are actually called “Snippets”.  Both are meant to give a clear description or summary of the content of the page.

Going back to the movie analogy, if your page was a movie and the meta title is your movie title, the Meta Description is your trailer.  It’s the brief description of your webpage (take note, web page not website) that’s meant to give the user a good idea about what the page is about.

While including the Keywords in your meta description is good practice – it isn’t the most important thing.  The Keyword in the description reinforces topic’s relevance to the search user, but strictly speaking, it is no longer used as a ranking signal.  If you have a better way of giving search users a good idea of your page’s content without the keyword, then prioritize the user.

How do I Optimize the Meta Description?

Remember that plugin that we installed to optimize your meta title?  Whether you used Yoast, or any other plugin, you’ll use the same tool to optimize the meta description.

Meta Description Best Practices

Like the meta title, your Meta Description is optimized if it doesn’t append or end in “…”

An optimized meta description will have the following:

  • The keyword in the description if appropriate
  • Limit the description to 160 characters to prevent truncating
  • A clear and concise description of the page
  • In readable sentence format

appleFun FACTS:

Did you know?

  • While Google doesn’t specifically publish that the meta description is not used as a ranking signal, in several Hang-outs, John Mueller and other people from Google have directly said that Google no longer uses the meta description as a signal
  • The meta description is not static. You can create a meta description, but Google may display a snippet on the Search Page if it feels there is content on the page that better represents the content.
  • The Meta Description is the html element in your site that looks like this:
  • The description that appears in Search is called a “Snippet” and can change based on the users browsing habits, query, date of search, and other factors
  • “Rich Snippets” and “Snippets” are not Meta Descriptions. Meta descriptions sit IN your website.  Snippets appear in search.
  • In 2017, Google extended the limit of descriptions to over 300 characters.  In 2018, they minimized it again to less than 170
  •  

Chapter 4: Optimizing Headers

Headers are part of the Content that help Users in a page.  They help the users identify the primary topic in the Content of the page and allow the user the browse the page to quickly find the information in the article that they may specifically be interested in.

In HTML (or the source code of the webpage), the headers can easily be spotted by looking for the “H1” or other “H” labels.

Without going into too much detail and a little common sense, it should be clear that not all headers are created equal.  The H1 is more important (and potent) than the H2.  The H2 is more important than the H3, and so forth.

Unlike meta titles and meta descriptions, you can actually optimize headers without the use of any plugins.  You can implement optimized header tags in the content visual editor itself or edit it from the HTML editor of the Content Editor if you’re HTML savvy.

Chapter 5: Optimizing Content

Content is the most powerful, most important, most relevant ranking signal of them all.  If you think about it, in most browsing experiences we read websites.  Because content is so important, we will dedicate an entire section of this site to Optimizing Content <link>.  But for this section of the guide, we’ll cover the basics.

To Keyword or not to Keyword, that is the Question

There’s a lot of controversy when it comes to using keywords when optimizing content for a page.  Google says not to optimize for keywords, and yet in many search results, you’ll find pages ranking that clearly use the keyword as a signal.

This is especially true for bad websites where Google still offers them as search results even when they don’t use anything more than Keyword stuffing.

In the example below, the Video (Content) for the Keyword doesn’t exist yet, and yet there are thousands of pages appearing due to stuffing keywords.

This isn’t advice to stuff keywords or abuse them.  It’s just a practical example to show that Keywords in content matters.  Google still clearly uses Keywords with other signals to determine relevance.

Look!  But Don’t Touch  (Use, But Don’t Stuff)

While we absolutely do not recommend stuffing keywords in your content, we also discourage ignoring them.  Keyword “Stuffing” is the practice of abusing the use of keywords in the body content of a page.  At times making the keyword appear at a regular 1 per 100 words to 3 per 100 words.

When you use keywords, we strongly recommend you keep to a maximum of 1% keyword density.

Below is an example of a website in Colorado that uses Keywords mindfully without stuffing them into the content. 

The result? 

Ranking #0 for “local seo in denver” keyword.

Write for the Users

Google frequently preaches “Build for the Users.”  In the case of content, it’s “write for users” not for Search Engines.  To many SEO’s, the exactness of the keyword to the search query matters a lot leading to some very awkward sentences like: 

“website.com is your best source for buying playing cards las vegas online…”

Purpose, Purpose, Purpose

There is no such thing as an optimized word count or optimized content volume.  The volume of content on a page should depend on the purpose of the keyword and the purpose of the page.  Informational pages may require several hundred to thousands of words.

(For example, this is an informational page.  And as of this section, this is the 2048th word in this page.)

On the other hand, Amazon has hundreds of thousands of product pages with content that has less than 100 words.  There is more to ranking than content volume, or Amazon wouldn’t be rewarded with over 14 million ranking keywords in the first 3 positions of a Google Search results (SEMRush data as of October 2018).

A Practical Guide

We know… saying “It depends…” isn’t helpful, and you probably didn’t read this article 2000 words later to get non-practical advice.  To make this Guide practically useful for you, we’ll recommend actionable content volumes you can implement on your web pages based on experiments we did of 100 random keywords of the same purpose and the average number of words in the pages that Google tends to rank in the top 3 results of a search.

  • Homepage Content – word count is irrelevant. This page should be dedicated to your band and its value proposition
  • Informational Pages – recommended wordcount is over 1,000 words (the informational ranking pages for 100 random informational keywords had an average of 1,300 words)
  • Commercial Pages – recommended wordcount is 500 to 1,000 words. Your word count should be influenced by the word count of your competitors on the top search result
  • Transactional Pages – 50 to 200 words (no one wants to read a 3,000 word guide on how to get a great flight deal – they want to get to the deal NOW!)

Try to mention the keyword in the content, but there’s no need to mention the keyword repeatedly in a specific frequency.  REMEMBER:  Write for the Users

Chapter 6: ADVANCED:  Optimizing for the User

Website Speed

Site page speed is a ranking factor.  Do we need to say anything else in terms of why it’s here in the Advanced section of our Web Page Optimization Guide – and the first to boot!

Google has been obsessed with speed.  They’ve made that publicly known since April of 2010.  You’ll find a dozen excepts of people from Google reinforcing this like Urs Holze (Google SVP), Patrick Pichette (Google CFO), and John Mueller on several Google Hang-outs just to name a few.

The obsession began with a Google study in 2009 where they found they lost 20% of traffic for every 100ms delay in load speed.  They did another study the subsequent year (2010) with Microsoft where the study correlated dissatisfaction with delayed page loads.

In a Google Webmasters Video, Maile Ohye encouraged webmasters to optimize for a 2 second loading time, with Google striving for 0.5 seconds. 

Install WPRocket

Again, if you’re using WordPress to manage your website, the easiest win you can make for your site’s speed is installing the plugin WPRocket. 

The installation process is the same as the instructions for installing Yoast in the section above.

Optimize Images

When a website loads slowly, the usual suspect that’s often overlooked are the images.  With the advent of megapixel digital cameras, everyone’s posted high resolution images to their webpages whenever they can.  But if you think about it, with over 60% of internet use happening on mobile devices, why do you need a 1080 image or 8 megapixel photo on a 4 inch screen?

Here are a few ways to optimize your images on your website:

  • Use web optimized JPEG’s as the format whenever you can
    • BMP, PNG, PSD, and other transparency preserving image formats tend to have large file sizes
  • Use tools like Adobe Photoshop or Pixlr (web-based) to save your images as Web Optimized JPEG’s
  • Don’t use image sizes or pixel dimensions that are larger than what 90% of screen resolutions can actually accommodate (remember that tablets and smart phones account for over 60% of web traffic)
  • Definitely use images, but use the right amount; afterall, it’s a webpage, not a collage

Load JavaScripts Last

Javascript is a “client-side” programming language.  That means your PC’s browser downloads it, unpacks it, and executes it using your local PC’s resources.  This makes it a relatively heavy element in your website compared to the design elements, text or other HTML elements.

When pagespeedinsights tells you to address render-blocking Javascript, all it means is that your website uploads Javascripts to users’ browsers before it uploads lighter elements like HTML.

Preventing Javascript from blocking the lighter elements from loading first will require the help of a developer.

The best practical advice is to instruct your website’s developer to make sure that lighter elements are served to users first and heavier elements last.

Embed Videos, Do not Self-host

If you know the goal of the page you built and how it’s supposed to help your users, you should be able to critically assess which elements on your website add value to your user’s experience.

One of the elements frequently unnecessarily used are videos.  Worse than that, the videos are hosted in the media library of the website.

applePRO TIP:

Yes, you can upload videos to WordPress sites, but can doesn’t mean you should.

When you host a video in your site from your media library, the video is served from the same server that hosts your website.  Therefore, it’s limited by the bandwidth and specs of your (rented) server.  Why do that when chances are Youtube, Vimeo or Wistia have significantly superior servers than yours.

Embedding a video means the video still appears from on site, but is actually being served from the Youtube, Vimeo or Wistia servers.  You save on resources, and your site loads faster.

Cloudhost, If You Can Afford to Splurge

You’ve probably heard of “in the cloud” a lot.  It’s been a buzz word for at least half this decade. But what does that really mean?

One of the innovations on the web is “cloud hosting.”  In the simplest terms, Cloud hosting is just a service that allows you to rent multiple servers around the world so that your website can be served by the nearest or most resource free server from your user.  Cloud hosting providers actually just make multiple redundant copies (index) of your website at regular intervals.

Aside from the benefit of speed, you get the side benefit of security.

There are several Cloud hosting services available.  Some of our favorites are:

  • Cloudflare – $20 per month
  • Hostgator Cloud – $6.95 to $9.95 per month
  • Z-Cloud – $999 per month
  • 1&1 – $8.99 per month

appleCONCLUSION:

60% to 70% of the time, the tips above are enough to get you to the golden 2 second rule, or at least, very close to it.

Chapter 7: Rich Media

In a research activity we did in 2013, we ran a test to figure out if Google preferred certain types of pages over others.  In a test involving 65 Websites, what we discovered was that rich media significantly affected indexing frequency (how frequent or rare Google makes a fresh scan and copy of your site.)

What we discovered was eye opening.  Against a group of control websites with page banners and 1,000 words of pure textual content (original but random quality), websites with text, images and videos tend to be indexed 3 times faster and consistently more frequently than the control sites.

So this tip is fairly straightforward:

  • Have high quality, original, enjoyable text content on your site
  • Improve your content’s messaging by reinforcing it with related images

Include helpful embedded videos specially when they improve user experience.

appleCONCLUSION:

60% to 70% of the time, the tips above are enough to get you to the golden 2 second rule, or at least, very close to it.

Chapter 8: Inner Links

If you want search engines and other websites to vouch for your page, then you first have to vouch for your own pages.  This is essentially what you’re doing when you link your pages from your other pages.  Take this website for example.  Every time we mention “Web Page Optimization” in any other article, you’ll notice a link going back to this page. 

You will also have noticed that in this page, we linked to other pages in this website whenever that page’s topic is mentioned and when its content is more exhaustive than the section here.

applePRO TIP:

When you choose pages to rank for SEO, it is best practice to choose pages that receive a lot of links from other pages in your own website.

When you start building your website, it’s always a good idea to have an inventory of primary topics.  These primary topics should have pages dedicated to themselves. (Like how this page is the dedicated page for On Page Optimization and another page is specifically dedicated to Content).

The best way to check for which pages in your site receive inner links is through the Google Search Console (a.k.a. Google Webmaster Tools).  You’ll find this in Search Traffic >> Internal Links.  What you want to see is that your most valuable and rankable pages receive a healthy amount of inner links

Enable User Engagement and User Generated Content

There’s a little known element in search algorithms known as “Freshness.”  It’s largely why SEO Practitioners recommend blogging or news updates.  One of the ways to leverage freshness is to update the content of your website (like how this page gets a fresh update every so often).  But any content, webmaster or user generated is an update to the content of the page and leverages freshness all the same.

Have a look at some of the best pages that rank for informational terms.  Product review pages and recipe pages are great examples.  They are constantly fresh, not because the webmasters update a recipe, but because users keep the content fresh by adding comments to the pages.

Of course this benefit comes with some responsibility.  You shouldn’t enable comments and other feedback options to your page if you’re not going to put the time in to monitor, moderate and respond to the feedback.

If you do choose to enable comments on your posts or pages, keep the following in mind:

  • Enable captcha – you don’t want bots wasting your time moderating useless comments
  • Require moderation – you also don’t want uncontrolled and even spammy comments appearing on you page
  • Disable links or set links to “nofollow” – believe it or not, SEO’s are still using blog commenting as a staple for link building, just like in 2010. You don’t want to be a link farm

appleWEBMASTER’S NOTE:

These by far are not the only ways to optimize your page.  There are easily dozens of more activities you need to do to get as close as you can to the perfectly optimized page.  But this page is meant to be a practical beginner’s guide for non-technical webmasters and website owners.

For a more detailed technical guide on more advanced SEO Practices, feel free to continue to browse through our content or proceed to the Technical SEO Guide.

Thanks for going through the whole article (whether or not you did).  If you have questions or comments, drop them in the comments sections below.  We’ll try to get back to as many of you as we can.  And of course you understand I’m probably encouraging you, so this page can leverage freshness.

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