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SEO is all about optimizing your site so that search engines such as Google rank your content highly for specific search terms.
What is On-Page SEO and How Does it Affect Ranking?
On-page SEO is the term given to the optimizations you make to the content on your website.
There are many factors that determine your ranking and these are closely guarded secrets of companies such as Google and Bing. These factors change over time as search engines improve the way they calculate rankings.
The goal of the search engines is to provide the most relevant results to the term that the user is searching for. The way they go about this may change but the principles are generally the same.
The important thing to remember is that search engines are in the business of providing search results ranked based on the relevancy of the content to the search term.
Here we will discuss the Best Practices for On-Page SEO.
We’ll divide this into two parts – the domain name and the page URL. Both are extremely important to search engines and visitors.
The domain name is an important factor in SEO. It is the basic building block for the URL and a well chosen domain name can make a big difference. Consider the following example:
Of the two domain names the first would do better on search engines if we’re looking to rank for the term “plumbing and heating”. The term appears right there in the domain name.
The page URL is equally important to search engines. It typically contains the name of the page and reflects any structure. For example:
The URL above not only contains plumbing and heating in the domain name but the page URL tells search engines that this is the heating repair page and that its parent page is the services page. If the purpose of this page is to rank for the term “heating repair services” then this should do well. It would certainly do much better than the example below:
The great thing about WordPress is that typically we don’t have to think about the URL, as long as we follow some simple rules:
- Set your permalink structure – We recommend a custom permalink structure of /%postname%/
- Create pages with good page names
- Make sure you create page structure where applicable
- Don’t use special characters in your page name that could end up in your URL. URLs should preferably be lowercase words, no special characters, and hyphens in place of spaces
2. Page Titles
When you create a page or post you give it a title, this is the name of the page. This title is used to generate the page URL.
In our example above we used Heating Repair as our page title, it was also used to create the URL. This title is the most important title on the page, it describes what the page is about.
When creating page titles you should follow these rules:
- Your page title should be relevant to the content on the page, describing what the page is about
- It should be short, descriptive and to the point. If this is a blog post then it can be more descriptive, think of a news headline rather than a page title
- It should be wrapped in H1 heading tags
- It should be the only H1 heading on the page
Regarding the last two points, a good theme will output the page title wrapped in H1 heading tags. If your theme does not then consider using a different theme.
3. SEO Titles
This is different from the page title, this is the SEO title that you set using All in One SEO.
The SEO title is output in the source code of your page wrapped in title tags. It’s what search engines may use for the title in search results, some search engines may use this or your H1 heading tag.
When creating SEO titles you should follow these rules:
- Your SEO title should be short, typically under 60 characters. Search engines will cut it off if it’s too long.
- It should be relevant to the page, you don’t want someone clicking on this in search results only to find the page they land on has nothing to do with the title you provided.
- Use the pipe symbol (|) to separate sections of your title if necessary. By default All in One SEO will output your site name after your SEO title separated by a pipe symbol. For example:
Heating Repair Services, Durham NC | ABC Plumbing and Heating
4. SEO Descriptions
The SEO description can be set in All in One SEO. This is output as the Meta Description tag in the source code of your page.
Search engines may use this as the description of the page in search results. Although search engines such as Google will most likely create their own description from the content on your page and other sources, it is still important to create these as it tells search engines you’ve given thought to how to describe your page.
When creating SEO descriptions you should follow these rules:
- Make the description relevant to your page, this should be a brief description of what the page is about. Combined with the SEO title, this is what will appear in search results and is what will influence someone to visit your page
- Be descriptive, don’t just include a series of keywords, make this a legitimate sentence
Well written content is by far the easiest way to improve your rankings.
In the introduction to this page I said that search engines provide results ranked by the relevancy of the content to the search term.
Search engines have become very smart at reading content. They are no longer looking to see if you included keywords in the first and last paragraphs, or if you are using your keywords based on some frequency algorithm.
These days you should consider that search engines read understand content and can recognize when content is coherent, well written, on point and informative.
Here are some simple rules to follow when writing content:
- Write your content for humans, not for search engines, it’s humans who are going to read your content
- The first paragraph is typically the most-read paragraph on the page, it should contain the most relevant content and summarize what the page is about
- Make sure your content is relevant to the subject of the page, stay on point, and be succinct
- Don’t go overboard with your content, you’re not writing a book and visitors will leave if they see too much text
- Read what you’re written, is it informative and well-written, would you be interested if visiting this page for the first time, would you get bored and leave the page before reading everything
- Break up your content with good titles, use H2 tags for headings and H3 tags for sub-headings
- Use bulleted lists instead of comma-separated lists, they are easier to read
- Only use bold text for content that is important, and don’t overdo this, not every paragraph contains important text
We’ve all heard the adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” well it’s true. Good quality images can make a huge difference on a website.
People love visual content whether it’s an image or graphic or a short video. These can sometimes get the point across better than a paragraph of text.
Images help visitors both by breaking up text content but also by providing a visual illustration of what we’re writing about.
When adding images to your content you should follow these rules:
- Rename your images before uploading them. The image filename matters to search engines. Which of the image file names below do you think would make more sense to Google:
- Set the image Alt tag, this tells search engines what the image is about
- Set a caption or image title if you want to provide useful information to visitors about the image
- Make sure you keep image file sizes small, below 100KB if possible, you don’t want images to slow down the page load times especially for visitors on mobile devices
When someone visits your page they aren’t there to read one page and leave, you want them to discover the other content on your site and ultimately capture their information so that you can engage with them in some way.
Linking your content within your site is important and the way you link it makes a difference to search engines.
Most websites these days have a menu, a navigation bar across the top of the site that enables a visitor to navigate through your site. A good menu which matches the structure of your site is important but so are links within your content.
Here are some rules for internal linking:
- The main navigation menu should match the structure of your site, important top level pages go across the menu with sub-pages displayed as drop down menus off of their parent page
- Links within content should build a pathway through your site that you want your visitor to follow
- Links should appear as a different color font from other text so that visitors can tell these are links
- Consider using buttons instead of text links, especially when you want someone to perform an action on your site
- Links to external sites should be relevant to your content and add value, make sure external links open in a new browser tab
- External links should be to sites with a good ranking, preferably a higher ranking than your site. Use the NOFOLLOW meta tag when links are to sites with a lower ranking
8. Design and Appearance
The web has evolved over the past 25 years and continues to evolve with new technology.
If you look at a website from 10 years ago compared to a website from 2014 you can see that the old site looks dated and unappealing compared to what we’re used to seeing these days.
This is even more important given that we don’t just browse websites from a desktop computer, nowadays we use a variety of handheld devices with a variety of screen sizes.
Appearance is more important to the visitor, a good looking attractive site can get more attention and visitor traction than an ugly site with small text and poor graphics.
When viewing websites on mobile devices the site should be responsive, meaning that the layout and content adapts to the size of the screen.
Typically design and appearance is something you can do little about without paying for a site redesign. However, there are some things you can consider when working on your site:
- Consider what page template works better for each page, should you use a full width page template or a page with a sidebar, what benefit does the sidebar serve
- Use clean large fonts that are easy to read, the trend nowadays is to focus on nice clear fonts with large font face
- Use color and large fonts to attract attention, this is especially the case with H1, H2 and H3 headings
- Make sure your pages are clutter free, you don’t want to distract your visitor from what you’re trying to say