Search engine optimisation is simple.
There are only 4 things you need to do in order to make Google put our web page at the very top of the search results for any given keyword…
Show Google that your web page’s content relates to the topic of that keyword, and is useful to the user who puts it into their search bar.
This is relevance.
Show Google that their users are spending lots of time on your web page and digesting its content.
This is engagement.
Make it easy for Google to inspect your web page, and show that your site facilitates the best possible user experience .
This is known as crawlability.
Show Google that your content is credible, and is being vouched for by other trustworthy websites within the industry that your keyword is related to.
This is authority.
Just 4 factors.
It’s incredible that SEO is a $70 Billion industry, and it all boils down to four things that Google wants to see on a website.
By the time you’ve finished reading this post, you’ll be able to take action on your own website to successfully tick off 3 out of 4 of these factors.
I’ll show you exactly what you need to do to tell Google that your web page has:
These three things combined form On-Page Optimisation.
The 20-Steps To Perfect On-Page Optimisation
The beauty of on-page optimisation is that, if you do it right, it’s usually a one time activity. Once it’s done, it’s done. You can then focus all your time and effort on the fourth and final piece of the SEO puzzle; Number 4. Authority – AKA Off-Page Optimisation .
So let’s get this (on-page) party started, and make you an on-page optimisation ninja…
NOTE: In most of the following page-relevance factors, I advocate the inclusion of your primary keyword. This is on the basis that you’re working with a branded, or lightly optimised domain name. If you have a highly-optimised Partial Match Domain (PMD) or Exact Match Domain (EMD) , it’s probably safer to reduce the exact keyword use in some of these factors to avoid an over-optimisation penalty.
Your Uniform Resource Locator (URL) specifies where your web page is located on the internet (e.g http://www.example.com/example-page). More importantly for SEO, it specifies where your page is located within the architecture of your own website. Not only can you signal to Google what your page is about through a URL, you can also tell its spiders how the page you want to rank fits into the hierarchy of your website.
Google may infer that a URL like…
…represents a page that is less ‘important’ than:
This is simply because the 1st page is located within 3 subdirectories (usa/category/weight-loss) of your website, whereas the 2nd is located at the root-domain level.
For most small to medium authority websites, I like to place ranking pages a maximum of 1 subdirectory away from the root domain. You’ll need a lot of domain authority to have ranking success with web pages placed further away from the root domain.
For all branded domains (domains not containing the keyword you’re targeting with your page), include your primary keyword in the URL, and don’t make it excessively long.
2. Title Tag
You’re browsing a bookstore (if they still exist nowadays).
You’re looking for a book on a very specific category of vegetarianism. Why? I don’t know, but you’ve got your reasons.
You’re in the health and well-being section, and you’re scanning the titles.
Why are you scanning the titles? Because that’s the quickest and most effective thing you can do to ascertain the relevance of the content within the numerous books on offer to you.
This is what Google does to quickly understand how relevant your web page is to a specific topic or keyword. It scans titles.
Go to a web page that you want to rank for the keyword ‘vegetarian diet’? Make sure this phrase is in the page title.
3. Header Tags
Google uses header tags to quickly identify the relevance, content and structure of your page. It can determine what user queries your page is trying to address, therefore quickly understanding which keywords your web page should be considered for.
A logical use of header tags with primary keyword-related terminology is the way to go.H1 tag – Even though Google has announced that it doesn’t discredit multiple H1 tags, play it 100% safe and only use one H1 tag that clearly describes what your page is about. i.e Use your primary keyword. H2 tags – Your subheadings are a great opportunity to emphasise relevance to your primary keyword’s topic. Include ‘long-tail’ keywords and synonyms here. H3, H4 tags etc. – No need to go overboard with your optimisation. Just use these naturally to help you structure your content for the best user experience possible.
4. Keyword Use & Density
This is one of the most basic factors in communicating relevance to Google. Simply put, keyword density is the amount of times a keyword appears in relation to the total amount of textual content on the page.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ rule here. The keyword density of your primary keyword will depend on the keyword search result page.
Research the top-5 results on Google for the keyword you’re targeting. Determine an average keyword density for the words within your target key phrase used on the ranking pages and then alter the frequency of those words in your content, aiming for this average.
5. Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI)
Why?Latent Semantic Indexing . What the hell is that?
Having crawled billions of web pages, Google knows which words and phrases it expects to see being discussed on a page for any given topic. If you use synonyms and related-phrases for your primary keyword, you can hammer home the relevance of your page to your keyword.
(1) Type your target keyword into Google. Scroll to the bottom and make a note of Google’s ‘related search’ list. Try to weave a good handful of these related terms into your page’s copywriting.
(2) You can also find out what other words to ensure you include in your content by looking at the keyword density of the search results of the top-5 websites for your keyword.
6. Image File Name & Alt Tags
Even though Googlebot can’t read imagery, it can read the file-name and alt tags associated with that imagery (Alt tags were created to be read by screen readers, helping the visually impaired know what was on the page).
Make sure the file name and the alt text for the first image on your page is your target keyword. Then make sure the rest of your images have correctly populated file names and alt tags that are relevant to the page’s topic and that sensibly describe the image.
7. Outbound Links
If you’re truly trying to add value and help the Google user, then you’d expect a web page to share content and resources on the web that isn’t just your own. Google knows this. It can tell a lot about the content of your page by the content of the pages you are linking out to, from your page.
Include a few outbound links to authority sites related to your content’s topic. Don’t link to your direct competition here – we’d rather not give them an unexpected gift!
8. Topic Relevance
This was something I learned from Matt Diggity, and I’ve had good results implementing it. The theory is that, having other pages on your website surrounding your keyword’s topic that link to your ranking page will boost that page’s relevance.
Create 3-4 good-quality articles on broader/similar topics surrounding your keyword. Make sure these pages are added to your sitemap that you submit to Google so they can be indexed and the links on the page can be followed to your ranking page.
NOTE: The following factors do not directly contribute to Google’s assessment of your website. However, their indirect effect on rankings is huge. Take note and make sure you cover all these page engagement factors.
9. Meta Description
The guys at Google have made it clear that they don’t look at the 156 characters of your meta description to determine keyword relevancy. However, as this excerpt forms the majority of your Google result real estate, it plays a huge role in the click-through-rate of your Google listing.
If more people are clicking on your result compared to others on the search result page, their algorithm sees this as a huge sign that your website is in the right place and should be pushed up the ranks.
Use the 156 characters of the meta description to make your listing super clickable by including the benefits that reading your page will give the user.
You may want to use the ‘…’ trick at the end of the description to entice people to click. E.g ‘Download our FREE…’ ← (Even I want to click on that… and I wrote it!)
10. Site Speed
It’s 2017. There is absolutely no reason why your web page should be loading in over 5 seconds. Google users will talk with their feet. They have no loyalty to your site over the 9 alternative options on the organic listings. If a web page is slow, they will bounce off that site quicker than a rat up a drainpipe.
This ‘bounce rate’ is monitored by Google. If a large proportion of people click on your site and then immediately click back to the search results it tells Google that your site has not been very useful to the users. Bad news for ranking.
I get so worked up about site speed, I even went to the trouble of building a Speed Conversion Loss Tool! This allows you to calculate how much money your website is leaving on the table with a slow website, according to extensive research on conversion rates relating to site speed.
Use a site speed checker to determine your ranking page’s load speed. NOTE: For most accurate results, use a checker that allows you to select a server that is in roughly the same location as the majority of your target audience.
I use a combination of Google Page Insights and DareBoost to diagnosis any site speed issues. The latter will also provide you with a downloadable report that you can use to fix the issues yourself, or give to a developer to do it for you.
11. Video/Good Media
Engagement is about keeping people on your website’s pages, consuming your content.
If I’m feeling lazy, I don’t want to read long-form articles. However, I’ll happily sit and stare at a video for 15 minutes if the topic interests me.
Most Google users are lazy cats. Adding (good) video content can hugely increase page engagement and that’s a huge thumbs up for Google.
Include an embedded YouTube video in your content.
You don’t even have to be the producer of it, so long as the video is on the topic of your keyword. It doesn’t have to be a YouTube embed, but seeing as Google owns YouTube, I’m guessing it’d rather see one of its own properties on the page!
Tip – once embedded, create an XML video sitemap and submit it to Google. For some reason, Google seems to index your page so much faster if you do this!
12. Keep People Reading
Time on page. If you keep people reading, you keep people on your web page. Google can’t argue with a web page that seems to be offering the user enough value that it keeps them on the page.
- I. Love. A. Short. Sentence.
They’re so readable! The more readable and enticing you can make your writing, the more people will stay on the page and digest your text. Keep your sentences short.
- Use whitespace.
Any designer will tell you that whitespace is your best friend. The more whitespace you use in your page’s design, the less intimidating the content seems, and the more you’ll engage with the page.
- Use little ‘teasers’
There are lots of little tricks you can use to make your content moreish.
Like asking short questions like ‘like what?’ before then going on to answer it!
- If in doubt, ‘dumb it down’
I’m an English language snob. I love using sophisticated and colourful language. This is terrible when trying to engage web visitors. Use the ‘K-I-S-S’ method for all engaging content; Keep It Simple Stupid.
Use short, simple vocabulary in your copywriting where possible.
13. 1000+ Words
Studies show that, on average, long-form content wins the day in the search engine rankings. If you’re using a lot of text on your ranking page, your content will usually keep people on your page longer, be rich in keywords/related synonyms, and generally be seen as more useful by Google.
Write more content. 1000+ words of good quality content related to your keyword’s niche should win the day.
At the time of writing, I have a personal vendetta against the website forbes.com. (I can’t even bring myself to link to it I get that annoyed by it). Popups, welcome mats, obtrusive advertising – it really takes the prize for disrupting user experience.
All Google really cares about is user experience for their users. This has made them the 2nd biggest company in the world (top spot goes to Apple at time of writing). If something upsets that user experience, then this is reflected by the page’s engagement metrics (time on page, bounce rate etc) which are monitored by Google.
Popups for email signups and opt-in offers may increase a website’s conversion rate, but they’re also great at disrupting user experience. In January 2017, Google announced a new ‘popup penalty’ which will see pages being held back in the search engine if popups are detected on the page (at the time of writing this is only for mobile users, but watch this space for desktops!).
Don’t use popups on your ranking page.
NOTE: This is the more search engine focused side of SEO, and concerns how Googlebot actually crawls your website.
15. Sitemaps & ‘Noindexing’
Google should eventually find your website and index your pages via your internal links. However, we don’t want to leave this process to fate. We can somewhat influence which of our website pages Google indexes and considers most important through sitemaps and noindex meta tags.
A sitemap is simply a page (in XML format) on our website that contains the internal links of pages we wish for Google to crawl and index. We can submit this sitemap to Google so they can easily crawl and index these pages in a timely fashion.
Meta tags are little snippets of code included in our web page’s header that can pass various information about that webpage to robot’s crawling the page. With one of these meta tags we can actually direct robots (including Googlebot) not to crawl the page at all.
- Make a list of all your non-important pages. Visit these and add the ‘noindex’ tag to meta content in the pages’ header.
- Create an XML sitemap for your website including all the URLs you want Google to index. Submit this to Google through your website’s Google Search Console dashboard.
16. HTTP vs HTTPS
Google has openly told us that it will give a (slight) ranking boost for websites that are secured with https. You don’t have to no the technical difference between http and https, you just have to know that a site on https is overall more secure, and Google has previously launched several campaigns to make the web more secure.
Switch your website to https. There’s no excuse for a website not to be on https; it’s more secure for the user, it helps with a few issues relating to your Google Analytics account, and most important of all, Google prefers it.
The process of switching can be quite involved. Either you can try to do it yourself, (Hint: Don’t do this – it will take up your precious time and you could muck it up) or you can get your website’s hosting company to configure it all for you. After it’s all done, you can run through this checklist to make sure your site has transferred correctly.
17. Internal Links/Interlinking
Google indexes the pages of a website by following links. Being liberal and tactical in your use of internal links will increase the frequency Google finds and indexes your website pages. Also more internal links will increase the chance that users will navigate around your website demonstrating to Google that they are engaged with your site.
Be liberal with your internal linking throughout your site.
Make sure that the majority of your website’s pages include links back to your main ranking pages. If your website is structured this way, then Google will have little doubt that your ranking pages are the most important pages on your site for their users to see.
Consider 'siloing' your website. This is an advanced on-page optimisation technique which involves tactically linking around your website in a bid to influence the emphasis Google gives to various pages on your site.
18. Keeping Fresh Content
There are many indications that Google favours ‘freshness’ in the content you release. It’s logical that newer content about a topic is probably more relevant to Google users than old.
Google ain’t silly. Trying to be clever and regularly updating ancillary items on your ranking page like date and time tags (anything that isn’t the actual body of your content) is not going to affect your page’s ‘freshness’. If there’s no reason to change the content, don’t bother.
However, if you link to your ranking page from any new content you add to your website, this indicates to Google that the content on your ranking page is still relevant.
19. Removing Redundant or Duplicate Content
Contrary to common belief, there is no formal ‘penalty’ for duplicate content.
However, having 2 pages on your site targeting the same sorts of keywords and specific topics is going to confuse Google. A confused Googlebot will manifest in poorer rankings.
Also, we don’t want any redundant pages clogging up our site with thin or poor-quality content.
Make sure you have clear keyword targeting boundaries between your pages. There should only be one page of content targeting a specific keyword.
Delete any unnecessary pages on your website that have either low-quality content or no real purpose.
20. Mobile Friendly
“Google Search will be expanding its use of mobile friendliness as a ranking signal.”
This statement was made by Google last year. As mobile has now overtaken desktop in number of Google searches, to say focus is on mobile user experience would be an under statement.
Visit the mobile friendly test to make sure Google sees your website as mobile-friendly. If your website isn’t mobile responsive, put the time in to remedying this.