SEO: On-Page Optimization- The Absolute Essentials

On-page optimization is something of a commodity in the SEO world. Everyone has their own way of doing on page optimization but at the end of the day it’s usually done according to an internal- and your agency or SEO will tell you “proprietary”, a lot of times- formula. On page optimization is probably the most commoditized and least interesting part of the SEO/digital marketing process but it’s still crucially important and can show big gains while other efforts such as linking and social take their time to kick in. In fact, I would recommend, in an ideal world, completing ALL on-page optimization before starting any offsite efforts, so as to “tune the site” to be ready to accept link equity. I’ll run down the basics of an on page optimization one way I might do it.

Title Tag– The title tag is one of the most important pieces of real estate on the page. It’s a major ranking factor in all search engines and sometimes jut changing a title tag from whatever generic one Magento or WordPress kick out into something that matches the content of the page can be a huge win. I write title tags to be as close as I can to 70 characters, including as many keyword phrases for the brand as I can, separated by pipes (not everyone likes pipes, you can use dashes if you wish)- and in the case of an established brand with a large contextual footprint, I like to include the brand name or domain name, for example. The title tag of this blog post will likely end up being:

SEO training | basic on page optimization |

Now, you might look at that and say to yourself “that’s only 57 characters! You’re missing an opportunity to stuff that puppy with keywords!” Well, I’m of the opinion that if you can be succinct with your titles it’s more valuable for the User than if you try to cram all 70 characters with related keywords. Falling in line with my feeling that everything Google wants is to make things easy on the User, it makes sense that a fewer number of characters might actually be more useful in a title tag. Make sure that the word you want the page to be found for is first in the title tag; and you don’t have to include the brand name; however, I primarily write this blog for reputation management and as such it’s important to me that my name is part of the title.

Description Tag– Many people will tell you that the description tag doesn’t matter, and in terms of the robots it probably doesn’t matter much. However, the description meta tag is also what appears underneath the title tag on a search engine results page; so it’s really the User’s first exposure to your site and a very good chance to put a compelling call to action in front of them. Try to keep description tags at around 155 characters, and include a reasonable number of keywords. The description tag for this post, for example, will likely be:

I discuss basic methods for on-page optimization as training for SEO. Come read, critique, comment or question!

Again, it’s only 111 characters, but I have my calls to action in there and the User can easily see if the post is something they want to read right from the SERP. Many times, I will put a phone number or the URL in the description tag also- this is so that people who don’t have time to browse right then, can still write down a phone number or URL for reference later. It’s a small step, and I usually only do it to fill the tags out to 155 characters if I’m way short- and this is more applicable to service-based or e-commerce sites, anyway.

Keywords Tag– The keywords tag is totally useless. In fact, it’s one of the first things I look for on a site- ‘are they using their keywords tag’? Worse, ‘are there 300 keywords in that field’? If they are, their SEO probably doesn’t know what they are doing. People will say “but it doesn’t hurt!”- well, it might! It lets your competition know, for example, exactly what you’re trying to rank for. “But some of the smaller search engines still use it” is another common reason to use the keywords tag- I say, “who cares about the other engines while Google still has 70+% market share?” Don’t even bother. The All-In-One-SEO-Pack for WordPress has a keywords field that I never, ever bother filling out.

Heading tags– heading tags are definitely useful for the User, as they let them look at a whole page and parse where the important parts are, just like reading a newspaper, for example. However, the idea that keyword stuffing your H tags, specifically the H1 tag provides a lot of SEO value is debatable. In the past, many SEOs saw a huge advantage from keyword loading their H1 tag and saw measurable results, but more and more evidence is showing that that’s due to the H1 tag’s position on the page, and not because it’s specifically within <h1> </h1> tags. If I were to use H tags on this post (I’m not) they would likely look like this:

H1- SEO Basics: On Page Optimization

H2- SEO Basics: Meta tags

H3- SEO Basics: Content

H4- SEO Basics: Conclusion

I mean, it logically organizes the page and everything but this is a pretty straightforward blog post that isn’t difficult to navigate, as such I don’t think the H tags are necessary. That brings me to another point- it’s possible to over-optimize a page. I feel that adding H1 tags to this post is overdoing it. Not every page needs every possible optimization.

Keyword Density– keyword density is something of a holdover from the bad old days when SEO was more about fooling the algorithm than it was optimizing text and code for the optimal user experience. It refers to the fact that in a natural piece of writing about a topic, keyword density is around 1-3%. Anything less than that and the content isn’t actually focused enough on the keyword, any more than that and you’re trying too hard. What I usually tell clients about keyword density is to just write naturally and you should hit the proper amount of keyword usage. Just make sure you include the phrase within the first 20 words of text on the page and try to include the word once every 100 words. This is a nice, easy ratio to try to hit- and then of course, the client hands the document to me and I’m able to work my magic as well. Always aim to write naturally rather than write a specific keyword density- shoehorning those extra instances of your keywords into your content needs to be done delicately.

Suggested Keywords– the other thing you want to do is to make sure that you are including not only the keyword that you want to draw traffic for, but other related keywords. So, for example, if you are writing an article about baseball cleats, you may want to include the keywords “spikes”, “baseball shoes”, “cleats”- because all of these words relate to your main keywords. This is a semantic signal to the search engines that your article, since it includes all these ancillary, or related, or orbital, or whatever you want to call them, keywords- is valuable to the reader because it’s semantically relevant. So where do you get these phrases? Google used to have a great tool called the Wonder Wheel that would give you all the semantic cousins of a keyword but that’s sadly gone the way of the dodo with their new SERP design. Instead, leverage Broad Match within the Google Adwords keyword tool to give you ideas for related keywords to keep your content relevant. In fact, if you do your keyword research ahead of time, you should start writing with maybe 4 keywords per page in mind and you should also have several related keywords to use by virtue of having done the research.

Interlinking– there is lots about linking that you can’t control, but what you CAN control is links from your own domain. Try to include links to at least one to three other pages on the site within the text of the copy you’re writing. This helps with bounce rates and keeps people on your site longer, and it’s also considered a good quality, relevant link! If you look in this article I link to another page on this site using anchor text that I wrote naturally. It makes sense that someone reading about basic on page optimization would be interested in reading about the other topics I have here- maybe not curry or chili though :), so the link is a great signal to the engines.

Linking Out– Linking out to other sites doesn’t do much for your SEO, but taking extremely paranoid steps like no following every single offsite link is a bit extreme. Besides, if I’m linking out to another site, and giving the User an opportunity to LEAVE my site, it’s probably an important and valuable link, like the one offsite link I have in this post. I like to include offsite links because I again come from the perspective that Google is all about the User experience, and sometimes Users will be looking for more detailed information than what I have. Besides that, linking out with a followed link is a nice way to thank those whose resources you’re using.

That’s one way to do onpage SEO. Do you do it differently? Leave a comment and let’s talk about it. Thanks for reading!


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