Let’s start by answering an integral question.
Where does SEO usually go wrong?
My answer will be prioritization of SEO activities.
Google takes into account an overwhelming list of more than 200 factors to rank a specific website. So, if you start focusing on these 200+ factors at the very onset, your SEO effort will definitely go for a toss.
If you are aggressively doing any of the following, you are NOT doing SEO the right way.
- Build links by asking to link back.
- Write articles
- Increase content pages
- Submit to directories/ press release websites.
- Commenting in forums and blogs
The goal of your SEO effort should be to optimize your content. The website should be helpful to the visitors and readable to the search engines as well.
While the readability approach of humans is subjective in nature, the search engines have an algorithmic approach. Google or any other search engines need to depend on certain attributes within the content to determine its relevance. That’s where a good on-page SEO approach can work wonders.
What is On-page SEO?
On-page SEO involves optimization of content as well as the HTML source code to enhance the readability of the content across the search engines.
Following are 25 most important on-page SEO factors that should be optimized for better rankings in the SERPs. This should help you in getting your SEO priorities right.
1) Title Tags
Title Tags appears within the <title<…</title> tag within the <head></head> section of the HTML. This is possibly the most important on-page factor that should be considered while optimizing a page. Title tags are like a subject line which should tell you what the page is all about. Hence a page on SEO Best Practices should preferably have the phrase “SEO Best Practices” as a part of the title tag. Similarly for product pages, the title tag should have the product name/ model number etc. However, ensure that you do not stuff the title tags with full list of keywords. It should be relevant and also call out the keywords that are relevant to the page.
Following are some guidelines that should help you the frame a good title tag:
- Keep it within 60 characters.
- Try to place your keywords at the beginning. This is helpful for users as well as search engines.
- Use key phrases. For e.g.: A about a SEO Optimizer product should have “SEO Optimizer” within the title tags. Using merely words like, SEO, Optimizer, and Optimization will not make much sense to both the readers as well as the search engines.
- Using superlatives can help your page. These are also called as modifiers. For e.g.: Best SEO software.
- Use correct separators. NEVER user underscores. Use hyphens, pipes or spaces instead.
- Ensure each page has a unique title tag.
- Do not use special characters or SEO stop words as a part of your title tags.
2) Meta Descriptions/ Meta Keywords
Meta Descriptions do not have any additional ranking benefits. Hence Google, does not consider Meta descriptions as a signal to enhance a website rankings in SERPs. Nevertheless, Meta description is still important.
It acts like an ad copy and should be used to describe your content. It’s highly probable that the visitors will look a split second look at the Meta descriptions while browsing through the SERPs. A good Meta description can make your page stand out among the rest.
Meta keywords, are useless. That’s my opinion. Google too does not consider this as a ranking factor. The visitors do not view this and the search engines are happy to give this a miss. You may or may not have it. Either way, it will not add any value to the page.
3) URL Structure
Defines that way a URL should look. A URL should easily comprehensible to humans as well as search engines. While structuring URLs, focus on the following:
- Separators : www.example.com/do_not_use_underscores_as_separators.html
- Length : www.example.com/having-a-long-url-will-not-help-seo.html
- Query string : www.example.com/page1.aspx?category=seo#id=9876
- Session ids : example.com/products/software?sessionid=46464453244
- URLs making no sense : example.com/products/software/product1.html
A good URL should follow a clear directory structure. It helps the search engines to correctly determine the page depth and subsequently index the content.
4) Keyword Density and Placement
Defines how often should you repeat your keywords and where should you place them.
Following guidelines should be taken into consideration:
- Most important keywords should be placed at the beginning/ top.
- Targeted keywords should be highlighted.
- Keyword density refers to the total number of occurrences of the targeted key phrase as a percentage of the total number of words. Try to keep this percentage within the range of 2-5%. No official standard yet. Just ensure, you do not overdo it.
5) Duplicate content
Refers to same or similar content across multiple URLs. This factor is considered as a red flag by the search engines with a possible penalty. Hence ensure that each URL delivers relevant and unique content.
However, there will be scenarios where 2 or more URLs need to deliver same/ similar content. For e.g.: An ecommerce website might be having same product with different colors. In such cases use the rel=canonical element to specify the preferred version of the web page to the search engine.
6) Header Tags
The H1…H6 tags are referred to as the header tags. This emphasizes the subject matter of the page to humans as well as search engines.
H1: Main Title
H2: Sub Title
Hence, a page on top SEO tools can have the following in H1, H2 and H3 respectively
H1: Top 5 SEO Tools
H2: Specify the product name
Also ensure the following:
- Do not overdo the use of H1… H6 tags.
- The header tags should appear in descending order i.e. H1 > H2 > H3 >H4 > H5 >H6.
- Do not force yourself to use all the 6 tags. The usage should be based on relevance.
- Never have H1 tags in footer. This is wrong usage. Any short term ranking benefits will be nullified once detected.
7) HTML Elements to enhance texts
Ensure you use bold (<b>) and <strong> elements to emphasize relevant keywords across the webpage. As always do not overdo it. HTML text emphasizers have the following advantages :
- Improves readability as readers scan content rather than reading it word by word. Emphasizing relevant texts improves scalability of the content.
- Assists the search engines in comprehending the content.
8) Responsive Websites
Google has already stated their strong preference towards RWD websites. That’s the recommended design pattern. Hence, ensure that your website is responsive.
The objective is to have a mobile only version being rendered on the relevant device. Hence, you can either have
- Responsive design: Single layout (HTML and URL structure) offering different experiences to desktop, mobile and tablet devices.
- Adaptive design: Multiple layouts (Different HTML/ URL structures) for different devices being rendered on device detection.
- Dedicated mobile website: Having a dedicated website to be delivered for mobile experiences. For e.g.: m.example.com (mobile version).
9) Relevant Links/ Anchor Texts
Linking out to relevant resources (Internal and External) enhances a pages credibility. Consolidating every single piece of information within a web page may not be feasible. It will hamper readability. Hence, you can always link out to relevant resources. However, while linking out, ensure
- The links have a nofollow tag
- Use relevant anchor texts (<a> tags). Preferably key phrases.
- Ensure the external page opens in a new tab.
Some SEO consultants may advice against linking out to external domains. Linking out to external resources comes burdened with an age old theory of pagerank leakage. Google has not done away with the much abused pagerank green bar. Linking out to external resources will NOT devalue your rankings. On the contrary, it will only make the page more credible to the visitors as well as the search engines.
10) LSI Keywords
LSI refers to latent semantic indexing. LSI keywords refer to all such words that are related to the content subject. Hence a page on “apple ipad” can have the following LSI keywords/ key phrases.
- electronics ipads
- tablets computers
- 10 inch tablet
- apple mini ipad
11) Rich Snippets / Structured Markup
Helps a search engine in understanding the content in a better way. Structured data is in the form of JSON-LD, Microdata and RDFs. The purpose of having the structured data markup is to convey the meaning of a page to the search engines. For e.g. Apple can be either a fruit or a device. Adding structured markup will ensure that the content is classified as fruit for Apple as a fruit and as a device for Apple products.
In 2011, Google, Bing and Yahoo launched an initiative called Schema.org. The objective was to have a common standard across schemas to be used for structured data markup across web pages.
Additionally, having rich snippets also enhances the website listing in the SERPs leading to better click-through.
12) Images and Videos
Information is best conveyed with images and videos. Hence, having such multimedia assets within the website content not only engages visitors, but also improves the credibility of the web page. Well explained, in depth content hold high SEO on-page credibility.
However ensure the following:
- Images should have names. Do NOT have names such as 1234.jpg, image1.jpg etc. Rather an apple iPhone image should be names as apple-iphone.jpg. This enhances the chances of being fetched in image searches as well.
- Similarly for videos, use descriptive titles and filenames.
- Never overdo the usage of images and videos. Use wherever it seems relevant.
13) Navigation > Breadcrumb
How many times did you feel lost within a website? A breadcrumb navigation ensures that the visitor is able to identify the current location within the website page hierarchy. Breadcrumbs can either be any of the following :
- Location Based : Home > Mobile Phones > Apple iPhone
- Path Based : Home > Products > Mobile Phones > Apple iPhone
- Attribute Based : Home / Products / Phones / Apple
How Breadcrumbs improve on-page SEO credibility?
- Keywords: Have relevant keywords within the breadcrumb text.
- Breadcrumbs improves site indexing (Within a search engine’s index). It shows a clear page hierarchy which helps the search engines in assessing the page depth.
Pop up ads, interstitials Ads, Above the Fold/ Top heavy websites with ads do not lead to good user experience. Subsequently, search engines too do not like it. On landing up on a page, the visitor expects to read the content. In contrast, distractions in form of advertisements affects user experience. In January 2017, Google officially confirmed that they will penalize mobile websites with intrusive interstitials.
Having said that, a lot of content based websites solely depend on revenue generated from adverts. Hence, offers adverts that complement the content within being intrusive.
15) Dwell Time
A webpage’s Dwell time is a combination of session duration, bounce rate and CTR from SERPs.
Following is a brief explanation on all these factors that influences dwell time.
- Session Duration: Average session time per visitor.
- Bounce Rate: Single page visits by a visitor. Hence, a visitor lands on a page but exits without interacting.
- CTR from SERPs: Percentage clicks recorded on a search results as compared to the number of times it showed up for a specific query.
Dwell time, as a metric is not visible in Google webmaster tools. However, you may calculate it by compiling the CTR data from Google Webmaster tools and session, bounce rate data from Google Analytics. However, such calculation will only give you insights on how a single page of your website is performing as compared to others.
How to improve dwell time?
Focus on making the content and SERPs more relevant to the searchers. Improve site stick ability with engaging content, ensure lower bounce rates and you are well on track with your website dwell time.
Google Panda Overview
While the above list is exhaustive enough for your on-page SEO efforts, just ensure you follow the latest developments with respect to the Google Panda update. Following is an overview on this:
Google, from time to time, makes updates and enhancements to their algorithms that may affect the rankings positively or negatively. Since inception, Google had been making updates quite regularly.
However, while discussing about on-page SEO, Google Panda is by far the most important update.
Launched in early 2011, the objective of Google Panda was to identify and penalize websites with thin and low quality content.
Background of Google Panda Update
As SEO became more content driven, a lot of webmasters started flooding low quality content across the internet. Moreover, a lot of low quality articled and news websites gained prominence during the year 2005-2011. Most SEOs were misled into the following perceptions:
- Free content syndication across article directories.
- Backlinks ideally leading to better rankings across search engines.
Additionally, webmasters also maintained blogs with the sole intention of churning out content at the expense of quality. As a result, a lot of thin, low quality content pages gained undue prominence across search results.
Subsequently, Google Panda started rolling out from February 2011 onwards. Unlike most Google updates, this is not a single update but rather a series of update that taken down websites offering thin, low quality and irrelevant content. Till date, there has been over 25 Google panda updates.
The Google Panda update affected a range of websites starting from article directories to low quality websites on lyrics.
Don’t be worried, focus on offering relevant, unique and well researched content that adds value and your page is good to go.