It can never be stressed enough that in today’s world, almost everyone is online. In fact, an estimated 3.8 billion of the world’s population (total just over 7.5 billion) are confirmed internet users!
That may not seem like much, but you have to understand that not everyone has access to the internet, especially in third-world countries. So when we say almost everyone is online, we mean almost everyone with access to the internet.
With so many people not only surfing the web but also developing an online presence, getting your blog or business website seen is an ongoing process. But some things can be done to give you the upper hand in boosting your search engine ranking.
Off-page SEO refers to some of the most well-known search engine optimization practices—external links to your pages especially. It is the blanket term used to describe both content and HTML source code optimization for your website pages. There is a host of methods to improve your on-page SEO, and we’ll be taking a look at all of them.
Content is what essentially forms the website page as users see it, and is probably the most obvious on-page factor. It stands to reason then that your content is going to be extremely important. Your content should be qualitative, which (from an SEO point of view) requires it meets two standards.
Whether you’re running a blog or a business site, the information you post online needs to be (for want of a better word) “wanted.” It’s no use posting about something no one is interested in or is ever likely to look up. Whether you’re posting text, a video, an image, or even an audio file, always bear in mind the way everything essentially works on a supply and demand basis.
No matter how perfect your content is from a human perspective (and no matter how advanced the Google AI is becoming), you have to remember that search engines are machines, not people. If your target market can’t get a link to your site, then you may as well not be posting anything at all. We know that sounds harsh, but it’s true—search engines are unlikely to rank pages or sites that can’t be linked. From the search engine’s perspective, and therefore from an SEO point of view, the best content may as well be the worst content if it isn’t linkable.
It goes without saying that duplicated content isn’t going to rank very well (and can get you into quite a sticky mess when it comes to plagiarism laws). A plagiarism checker, such as Copyscape and Grammarly, can help you pick up on any accidental duplication you may have included. But unique content goes beyond a lack of copy-paste (intentional or otherwise). You’ll earn “bonus points” for having content with exceptional value.
When your content is unique, the words you use don’t appear anywhere else online in the same order. But when your content is uniquely valuable, you provide a truly unique experience. Most website pages across the internet are unique (or at least fairly so), and many of them are valuable too. But few pages can offer a truly unique value by providing content that adds to the user’s takeaway in a way no other page does.
Uniquely valuable pages make generating social media shares, backlinks, and other positive ranking elements from external sources much, much easier. You don’t have much control over how such factors come into play on your site, so being able to provide content with unique value truly is like getting bonus points for your SEO.
When you’re planning content and developing your page, imagine yourself as one of your potential viewers. Picture a page that gives you something that doesn’t just answer all your questions, but is so different from anything else you can find by searching for your keyword. Got it? Now go and create it.
Infographics are a great addition to your content arsenal—and go a long way toward creating unique value. They’re designed to convey information in an easy to understand, visually aesthetic way, and for this reason, you’ll find it’s also one of the best ways you can generate incoming links for your site.
It’s not easy to make one from scratch, mind you. You’ll want to hire a graphics designer with experience in creating infographics and supply him/her with the information you want to include as well as the visual idea you have.
And on that note, you’ll soon see (the more you start noticing infographics especially) that the information is presented in short, concise snippets. It takes some practice developing a style that allows you to include all the information you need to add in just a few words. But once you’ve got that nailed and you’ve found a great designer to work with, you’ll soon be reaping the SEO benefits!
You might be feeling pretty confident that your content is highly qualitative, but you’d be surprised at how often good content doesn’t rank well because it isn’t linkable. A few typical examples include content that can only be accessed by logging in to the hosting site, content that can’t be shared online, and image slide shows powered by AJAX.
So one of the very first things you should be doing when compiling content for your site is asking yourself: “Will this post meet with online content demands?” and “Will this post generate links?” If you answer no to either of these question (or even if you’re unsure), then you should rather rethink the content.
The title tag forms part of your HTML content and is the element that demarcates your website page’s title (hence the term). It forms part of your meta tag structure. You’ve probably heard so much about meta tags and SEO that you’re just about sick of seeing them mentioned on almost every SEO article, but there’s a good reason for this. After all, the title tag specifies how your post’s heading is seen on the search engine results page (SERP) when anyone makes a relevant query.
Title tags not only help your page to rank better from the get-go but can also be the deciding factor in whether a user decides to view your page or not. Some SEO experts say that even if your site or page shows up as the first SERP entry, a bad title tag schema will cost you heavily—and this will ultimately cause your ranking to drop steadily over time until you’re no longer on the first results page anymore.
So what makes a good title tag?
Straight off the bat, you want to keep it short and simple. If you add a title tag that contains too many characters, search engines cut it shorter to save space—which could mean that important words are left out. Take a look at the letters used in your title tag too—narrow letters such as ‘I’ or ‘t’ take up less space than a ‘w’ for example and are more likely to allow your entire title to appear.
For the same reason, you should most definitely avoid using ALL-CAPS when adding your title tag (besides which, writing in ALL-CAPS can be difficult for visitors to read).
While there isn’t any penalty for using a longer title tag, you should always consider how your title appears on the SERP. Try to think of someone looking for a site, not your site in particular, and ask yourself whether your title is attractive enough to warrant a view.
We’ll get more into keywords at a later stage (we know, you’re probably sick of reading about them too), but it’s important to note that keyword stuffing is bad practice in general, and especially in your title tag.
Although Google’s algorithm doesn’t include any penalty for using a long title, putting your keyword (or keywords) into your title tag too often is sure to cause search engines to avoid your page like the plague. And once one of your pages is penalized, the rest of your site (by association) is likely to start suffering too.
A title with too many keywords doesn’t read well in any case. In the same way that search engines avoid any page (and title) that contains keyword stuffing, you should too. Titles that are a list of keywords repeats of the same keyword, or even contain more than one variation of your keyword are virtually suicidal from an SEO perspective.
It’s worth bearing in mind that search engines are capable of understanding variations in keyword use—so using “sofa” and “bench” interchangeably in your title tag won’t fool the system.
Keep it simple. Include the keyword that best describes your post (or is the most fundamental), but only use it once when creating your title tag—and then don’t add any others.
This brings us to the next step in creating quality title tags—where to put that keyword. Research into the user experience has discovered that most people only look at the first two words of titles on a search engine results page. In particular, it was found that the first eleven characters of the title (which includes spaces) tend to be the most important.
This, then, is where you want to put the one keyword you’ll be using in your title tag. While you certainly won’t lose out by using longer titles (in fact, longer titles tend to do better when sharing your pages on social media), if you want to rank well on a SERP then you certainly want your keyword to be one of the first words in your title.
This goes for your content as well of course, and you should always try to be unique when deciding on a title (and, by extension, the title tag). But in this instance, we’re also talking about making sure your titles are unique for every page on your site.
By this, we mean avoid generic default titles such as “Home” or “New Page.” Search engines take one look at title tags like these and move on. In fact, search engines are likely to assume you have the same content duplicated across your site, or even from other websites. And to be fair, how likely are you to open up a search result that has “Untitled” or “Product Page” as the title?
Of course, you should still try to be unique in your titles in general as well. While it may feel impossible to think of a truly unique title for every single one of your pages—especially considering there are hundreds, even thousands, of similar pages across the web—don’t lose hope! Most modern content management systems, website builders, and code-based templates have a built-in function designed to help you create unique titles that are data-driven. While this may not work for every single one of your pages, you’ll be able to use it quite effectively for the most important ones especially.
This is aimed particularly at established brands that already have a relatively good reputation and are relatively well-known, but even if you’re just starting out, it’s worth implementing. All SEO practices are long-term oriented, so setting these things in place while you’re still small will help you to grow—and you most certainly won’t want to go back and start implementing this particular trick only after you do make it big.
Add your brand name to your title tags wherever it’s fitting. Not every page warrants the use of your brand name in its title, of course, so be discerning in where you do add it.
Of course, you don’t want it to be the first, second, or even (with the rare exception) the third word in your title, but adding it near the end will certainly get you far. Some exceptions to this rule would be your homepage or your about page, but beyond that, you want to stick to using your keyword in front and your brand in the back.
Search engines have a tendency to include your brand automatically in the title, cutting out other words (in longer titles especially), so it’s always worth considering how the placement will display on a SERP when contemplating whether or not to add it. As a good rule of thumb (but by no means a rule set in stone), if you have any doubts then rather play it safe and leave your brand out of the title tag.
Not so much when it comes to business—as Richard Branson put it, when you put your staff first they’ll make sure to take care of your clients—but regarding your title tags, customers come first every time.
You have to remember that your title tag is the first impression potential visitors to your site have. Before they see any of your content, they see your title. Even if you have a rich snippet (that extra bit of detail that appears below your title on a SERP), users aren’t likely to pay it much attention if you haven’t shaped your title well.
The first thing you want to have happen is, of course, to rank well, and title tags help with that. But as we mentioned earlier, being on the first SERP isn’t going to help you generate views for very long if your title tags aren’t attractive to users.
Optimizing your title tags from a technical point of view is very important; otherwise, we wouldn’t have spent so much time showing you how to do so. It’s just as vital, however, to consider your user experience—which is why we’ve mentioned it so much to, of course.
Internal links are ideal for SEO, but more important is your URL structure. A good URL reflects the category hierarchy: domainname.com/Games/Action/ is an example. Here, you can see that the user can re-access this page by going to the Games category on the site’s home page, and then the Action sub category.
Not only that, but it allows the search engine to know that your page isn’t talking about action in general (which is a very, very broad topic). Thanks to the URL structure, the search engine’s website crawler (which builds and updates its search engine index to allow for a quick SERP loading time, so that the search engine doesn’t have to look through every page on the internet again each time) knows that this page pertains specifically to action games. This allows the search engine to find out when it would be most relevant to include your page in its SERP.
domainname.com/title/tt04zhiierhhh000/ on the other hand is a terrible URL structure. There’s no site hierarchy reflected, so search engines don’t intrinsically know what the page is about—only that it can be found as in a subcategory under the already very broad label of “title.”
Tt04zhiierhhh000 is not likely to be a search query. In fact, we tested it—and it came up with no results whatsoever. Other examples of dynamic URL structure—might yield some results, but these are likely to be a sporadic array covering various topics that aren’t related to what you’re looking for.
Put in the simplest of terms, a dynamic URL has no value in the view of search engines, so the page is highly unlikely to rank well. Your URL structure is incredibly important, as it helps search engines to determine your page content’s relative importance. You can think of it as another bonus point for your SEO.
Anchor text is a textual link to another page or website, and are considered the best way to incorporate internal and external links on your page. So how does this relate to your URL structure?
Good URL structure makes generating anchor text easy because anchor text can be considered the visible words in your URL. If you want to create a link to the page example.com/seo-tools/ for example, all you need to do is add a link to the words “SEO tools” in your textual content. This means if another website wants to direct users to your page, they can easily decide on how to phrase their anchor text based on your URL.
Search engines also love anchor texts, especially when they’re used to direct viewers to another website because they’re a reflection of what your content is about. Although you can’t control how links to your site are generated (other than using backlinking techniques, which merits a separate article), search engine platforms such as Google have publicly stated that incorporating anchor text into your content helps build SEO ranking. Anchor text usually displays in blue, sometimes underlined.
Now, we know that we’ve touched upon user experience as it relates to your title tags, but it does go beyond that and deserves a section all of its own. Many elements affect user experience, in the same way as they affect the ranking algorithms of search engines. It’s not entirely possible to optimize every single one of these elements to their maximum effect, but striving for the right balance (and knowing what to focus on) will result in a high-quality user experience. This provides great ranking value, in particular through second-order impacts: links, shares, and word-of-mouth.
If you can optimize your site to meet the following standards, then you’ve managed the very basics of providing a great user experience on your page and website:
Your content should be easy to understand and have a high readability score. SEO plugin tools such as Yoast SEO for WordPress have a built-in counter that will tell you exactly how readable your content is.
Your site layout should allow users to navigate intuitively. In layman’s terms, this means your categorization should be natural: visitors to your site should be able to find what they’re looking for without having to dig for the information. This not only makes it more likely for visitors to stay on your site and access more of your content but is an essential factor in ensuring return visits and referrals. Using a card sorting tool will help you do so.
Even on slower connections, such as mobile networks (especially mobile networks, actually), your website pages should be able to load quickly. When it comes to mobile users, you can rely on the mobile optimization features that many website builders and content management systems have in place. Google’s PageSpeed tools are also well-worth looking into.
Speaking of mobile users, your site should most definitely be able to render properly no matter what device is being used. Once again, most website builders and CMS systems have features in place that allow for your site to convert automatically as a mobile and (or) tablet optimized version.
Last, but certainly not least (and perhaps the most obvious!), you want your website design to be attractive and compelling for viewers. This is all about aesthetics—font, layout, color, and theme choices. While you most certainly don’t want your site to look too basic (some websites look like a basic HTML page, which is not attractive at all), you also want to avoid going to the other extreme. A site that is too busy visually will put users off because they’ll have a hard time finding what they’re looking for—and when they do, there are so many distracting elements that they’ll have an equally hard time focusing!
Every SEO blog you read will reference keywords, and you’re probably sick of hearing about them. But keywords can make or break your page ranking—in more ways than one. When it comes to keywords, there are a couple of things you should keep in mind.
You probably think having as many keywords (and repeating them often) in your content is a good idea. While having a variety of keywords certainly won’t do you any harm, be careful to focus on the relevant ones—otherwise, search engines will pick up that you’re trying to rank for queries that you don’t satisfy. Remember what we said earlier about creating content that meets a demand?
You also don’t want to perform keyword stuffing, when your keyword(s) appear too often. There’s no standard for how often a keyword should occur in your content, but most experts agree that 5% is the absolute maximum (some say as low as 3%). You can use free online tools (such as this one) to analyze your keyword density, which will help you make sure you’re not stuffing your content—or starving it, for that matter.
We’ve already covered good keyword practices for your title tag earlier, but it’s worth repeating the basic concept. Only use one keyword (your main one) in your title and headline—the two ought to be the same, but there are always exceptions. If you’re targeting more than one keyword in your content, then you ought to use your main keyword. Don’t repeat your keyword when generating a headline and (or) title (keyword stuffing again), and try to place it as the first or second word to ensure readers can understand what your page is about when scanning the SERP!
We covered what makes a good URL already, so you’ll recall that one of the features is that it’s highly readable. It goes without saying that your URL will most likely incorporate your page title. At the very least, it should have elements thereof! The next logical step from there is to try to use your main keyword when developing your URL.
Search Engine Optimization, in general, is an ever-changing field, and on-page SEO is no different. It’s important to be aware of and know which practices are best suited for search engines at present—after all, search engine technology is also constantly evolving!
A good example of this is the way Google’s AI is adapting to accommodate the increasingly popular voice search function, which is reshaping SEO as a whole. So it’s worth repeating: staying informed about new and improved SEO practices is highly important in ensuring a consistently good ranking.
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