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SEO 101: On-Page Optimizations and How They Affect Your Rankings

Last month we started a simple blog series entitled SEO 101, to save us a bit of time explaining the technical ins and outs of Search Engine Optimization to both clients and colleagues. These blogs are for those folks who, at a high level, know what SEO is, but are missing the technical knowledge of implementing an SEO strategy. With that in mind let’s jump right in. In this blog, we’ll provide a brief overview of On-Page SEO, what it is, and how it impacts your search engine rankings.  

When taking on a new SEO client, the first step is determining their focus keywords. But where do you go from there? With on-page SEO, it’s step one.

What Do We Mean When We Say On-Page SEO?

SEO can be broken down into two categories: On-page and Off-page. Both refer to specific optimization strategies you take online to increase a site’s ranking results, and thus the traffic the site receives. As you might expect, On-Page SEO refers to the specific optimizations you make to your site to help boost rankings.

Where to Begin

The first place to start when developing an SEO strategy is to determine focus keywords, or the searches you’re trying to capture, which is a process that’s worth 10 blogs in and of itself. Keyword selection is truly the lynchpin of any successful SEO effort - it will determine every move you make both on and off your website. For the sake of brevity, we won’t cover it all here.

Beyond keyword selection is keyword assignment, whereby you assign particular keywords to a given page on your website.

As a core component of Bonsai’s Online Marketing System, we tell all of our client’s that each page on their website represents an opportunity to rank for between one to three keywords.

Check back on our SEO 101 blog series - we’ll cover the ins and outs of keyword selection and assignment. Afterall, those decisions are specific to your business, your website, and our overall marketing strategy.

For now, we’ll cover the specific aspects of each page to optimize when implementing On-Page SEO.

The Most Crucial On-Page Ranking Factors

  1. Site Map -
    • A sitemap is the quickest, most effective way to tell the search engine what pages are on your website. Your sitemap is built to match the architecture of your site, which should be hierarchically organized by information relevant to the user.  
  2. Proper Keyword Placement (Avoid Stuffing!)
    • There are certain places that search engines crawl to determine what the page is about and if it’s relevant to a user’s query.  Writing your site’s copy to include focus keywords in the following areas is often the first step taken in On-page optimizations:
      1. Meta Tags - Page Titles and Meta Descriptions
        • Meta tags are the clearest indication of what a page is about that you can give to a search engine. Some argue that Meta Descriptions are becoming less relevant, though you should still optimize them. Tip - try and include your focus keyword at the beginning of your meta tags, sites that do have been proven to outrank those that don’t.
      2. H1 - Page Heading
        • The heading of your page is another important piece of on-page real estate that is important to optimize. It’s a big indicator to both the user and a search engine as to what the particular page is about. Tip - stick to one H1 heading on each page, and make sure it’s unique page to page.
      3. Keywords in Page Content
        • Until not too long ago, it was common practice to include your focus keyword in your page’s text content as many times as possible. Nowadays, it’s pretty much common knowledge that keyword stuffing is effectively spam in the eyes of search engines and will get you penalized. Still, many SEOs will still argue that keyword density is an important factor when it’s really not. Tip - focus on logical, intelligent use of keywords from a user’s perspective and you’ll rank.
      4. Image Tags - Descriptions, Tags, Captions
        • Image Captions, descriptions and alt text are all areas that are crawled by search engines to assess the relevance of your pages. As such, they represent another opportunity to include a keyword in your on page efforts. Tip - Page load speed is another important user and ranking factor. Optimize your images files to be as small as possible without losing quality to help improve page load time.
      5. URL - Slug
        • Perhaps it goes without saying, but the page’s actual URL, the slug, the actual address of the specific page on your website is another opportunity to include a keywords. Tip - include the keyword near the beginning of the slug if possible
  3. Avoid Duplicate Content
    • This goes hand in hand with keyword stuffing. Search algorithms are getting smarter and more adept at spotting content and websites that are solely designed to rank. While duplicating content and sharing it on multiple URL’s within the same domain was a successful tactic for primitive SEOs, the algorithms are just too smart for that now. Avoid duplicate content, particularly when it pertains to keywords, or you’re likely to be penalized. Tip - Again, think like a user, that’s what search engines are trying to do. Duplicate content in’t useful to users, which is why it’s often penalized. Try to create valuable, useful content that engages users.
  4. Canonical Tags
    • As we said earlier, each page of your website represents an opportunity to rank for between one and three keywords, and for the sake of casting a wide net and bettering your chances, it’s best practice to spread those keywords over as many pages as you can. However, there are certain instances in which duplicate content is unavoidable - multiple ecommerce urls, mobile vs desktop urls, session id urls, etc etc. In this case the use of a Canonical tag enables you to tell the search engine which page to index and crawl as your preferred content, and which to avoid. Tip - this might sound like you’re getting into the technical weeds a little bit, and you are, but the good news is that most CMSs come with plugins are Canonical Tag functionality built in.

Other On-Page SEO Factors That Don’t Have to do With Keywords:

  1. Internal and Outbound Links  
    1. Internal links are important for establishing optimized architecture that makes sites more legible to search engines, it helps to establish relevance as well as spread link juice across your domain.
    2. Outbound links to other relevant sites represent a sign of trust. It indicates to the search engine that you’re sending users somewhere to get more information. Careful though - too many outbound links will diminish your page authority and hurt your rankings. Less is more.
  2. Page load speed
    • The time it takes for a page to load is another important ranking factor. Perhaps it’s obvious, but the faster the page speed the better. Not only is pagespeed important to user experience (waiting for a page to load is a frustrating experience), but slow page speeds inhibit search engines from crawling more pages on your site, which can damage ranking. Some have indicated that search engines only consider the time to first byte, or the very first signal from the server rather than overall page load time, but either way faster is better.
  3. Use of Schema.org structured data or other markup.  
    • A collaborative project by search engines that provides consensus definitions for microdata tags, Schema is just one way to make your site more legible to search engines. Schema tags are just one example of HTML tags, and there are a few different kinds, but at Bonsai we use schema.
  4. Mobile First
    • Is your site mobile friendly? Having a Mobile site is crucial to a positive user experience in a world where many users are accessing sites primarily on mobile devices. Plus, Google’s mobile first index is due out early next year, which means that if your site isn’t mobile friendly, your rankings are likely to suffer. But really, in today’s world of responsive design and mobile first design strategies, there’s no reason a serious business shouldn’t have a mobile friendly site.

How Does On-Page SEO Affect Rankings?

On-Page SEO is crucial, it cannot be avoided. The good news is that On-page factors are easy to control, and they’re well within reach of people with average technical ability thanks to modern day CMS systems. A good On-Page SEO strategy comes down to a strong understanding of the site’s architecture, user experience, and a site’s technical components. Knowing these components is just one aspect of it; writing great, relevant, useful content to fill these components is another.

Things Change Constantly

Google’s ranking algorithm is constantly updating, and 2018 will supposedly see the roll out of the mobile first index which will undoubtedly change things. It's important to stay on top of new or altered ranking factors as they develop, but it can be hard when there is just so much. As a Seattle based SEO firm, we’ve worked across multiple industries and helped countless companies achieve success in implementing results driven On-page strategies. Stay tune for the next blog in our series, which will cover Off-page SEO and tactics for driving traffic to your site from other well ranked sites across the web.

In the meantime, for any and all things related to SEO or Internet marketing, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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