Ultimate On-Page SEO Guide

I’ve written several posts in the past relating to on-page SEO, these now all re-direct here. SEO changes so often and some users land on my old on-page seo posts, these are obviously outdated and in some cases give bad advice. Because of this I have merged them all into this ‘Ultimate On-Page SEO Guide’. Doing it like this makes it much easier to maintain and keep up to date.

Meta Descriptions

Meta description tags are displayed to a user when they perform a search within a search engine, see below for an example:

Meta Description Tag

Meta descriptions are important, they do not necessarily help improve rankings anymore however they can have a significant impact on your click-through rate from the search results pages (SERP’s).
You should always try to have unique meta descriptions on each page and they should be keyword rich.

Title Tags

Title Tags are one of the most important aspects of On-Page SEO; having good title tags can significantly improve search engine positions since these are what initially tells the search engines what the page content is about.

As with meta descriptions, you should always try to have unique title tags for each page; and again they should be keyword rich. If you are using a system like WordPress, which automatically adds the site title to the beginning or end of the URL like: ‘How to create the best title tags ever – This Web Guy’, you should remove the site title and stick with just the page/post name.

HTML Heading Tags

HTML heading tags, otherwise known as <h1>, <h2> and <h3> tags, are an important on-page SEO factor. Heading tags should explain what is on a page, and where possible keywords should also be included. This will help Google better understand page content and rank it accordingly. Heading tags are especially important with longer pages as it is not only more visually appealing, it also helps Google better understand the sections on the page and rank you accordingly.

Keyword Placement in Copy

It is important to ensure that the copy on a site is optimised. The content should be well written and contains relevant and informative text, and for the search engines the content contains target keywords and phrases.

It is becoming increasingly more important to have a variety of keywords on the page, otherwise you could potentially get penalised for over optimisation. Check out our ‘Keyword Density’ guide for more information regarding placing keywords onto your pages (the right way). Keyword placement should always be completed in conjunction with Keyword Research to ensure that the words and phrases used by potential visitors are included within the copy.

Image Use and Optimisation

Images can be optimised to show in Google’s image search results, which could potentially bring more traffic to your website. Optimising images can also help to improve rankings in the general search results. Properly optimising your images involves ensuring each image has a relevant ‘Alt Tag’ and their file names are also relevant (rather than IMG-213). For more information on proper image optimisation check out our guide here.

Internal Linking

How you link internally to other pages within your site can help improve search rankings. For example if you had a page regarding ‘red widgets’ you could link to it from your ‘blue widgets’ page with the title ‘information on red widgets’. This would help improve search rankings for the ‘information on red widgets’.

Good internal linking can also increase the indexation of a site, especially when linking to deeper pages that the search engines might have trouble finding.

On-Page Copy

Having good relevant content on a website is crucial to achieving good search engine rankings. The more content and focussed pages a site contains, the more search terms it can potentially target and rank for. Whilst all content should be keyword rich, it is important to write for the readers, not the bots.

A blog is one of the best ways to increase a websites content without overloading the user with lots of extra tabs in the main navigation. Another good thing about a blog is that it gives you the opportunity to write slightly shorter posts/pages that target long-tail keywords; which is in my view one of the best ways to increase website visitors – go for the long tails, not the trophies.

Google Analytics

Google analytics is a great way to be able to track conversions within your site, it allows you to see exactly where people are dropping out of the sales funnel, or what pages people are bouncing on. Without it you really have no idea how your website is performing, and no way of increasing its performance. The information mentioned above, will allow you to improve pages that are not currently converting as well as other pages on your site.

As-well as the above, Google Analytics shows you the keywords (not all of them) that people have used to find your site, if you notice people are finding your site using terms you overlooked, you can then add them to your keyword list and create a new page targeting it. Since you were ranking for the term easily, without performing any SEO to target it – you should be able to rank even higher if it had a dedicated page. This is just one way you can use Google analytics to increase your websites traffic. Check out our Google Analytics category for some more awesome Analytics tips.

XML Sitemap

XML Sitemaps allow the submission of every page to Google and other search engines easily. They are especially helpful if your site is new, your pages are not well linked, or you use dynamic coding that prevents indexing. You can also specify meta information for pages to improve search engine crawling schedules, and specify meta data with file types such as video, images, mobile, and news. If you are using a CMS System like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal these will usually be automatically updated whenever you add a new page, otherwise you would need to re-create the sitemap each time.

Robots.txt File

A robots.txt file allows Webmasters to include pages they do not want the search engines to crawl or index, but it also has another use; allowing Webmasters to include the URL to their sitemap. Every search engine looks at the robots.txt file when it visits a website so including a sitemap URL into a robots.txt file is highly recommended.

Google Webmaster Tools

Google Webmaster Tools is the primary communication tool Google uses to let website owners know about issues it has crawling their pages. It also provides additional information about your website and helps to identity 404 pages, HTML improvements and other errors. It also allows you to see what keywords your website is showing for within the Google Search results, and on what page. This can help you identify new keywords and get ideas for new content that targets specific keywords.

Webmaster Tools also allows you to submit an XML Sitemap, which ensures it is always picked up by Google. See below for the type of information you can see in Google Webmaster Tools:

Custom 404 Page

404 error pages can show for a number of reasons; a user may have typed the URL of your website incorrectly, another website may have linked to a page that no longer exists, or you could have removed a page and forgotten to 301 redirect it to an existing one. Whatever the reason, it is important to have a helpful, custom 404 page in place.

My recommendations for creating a useful 404 page:

  • Explanation of why users are seeing a 404 error page in a friendly manner.
  • Links to various pages of the website, not just the homepage.
  • The design of your site carried through including the navigation.
  • The custom 404 page should also still register a 404 error code for search engines.

This will help you retain a user on your site, should they happen to land on a 404 error page.

Canonical Tags

Canonical tags, dubbed the ‘The Most Important Advancement in SEO Practices since Sitemap’s’ by Rand Fishkin canonical tags have begun to play a big part in an SEO strategy. Everybody knows Google doesn’t like duplicate content, and is well known for penalising websites for having it. But they also understand that in some situations duplicate content may happen for a reason, for example if a post has comments that span more than one page, the whole post will be duplicated on the second page of comments (/my-great-post?=comments). There are various reasons why duplicate content could be causing a problem for you, but with the canonical tag – this issue fades away.

The canonical tag, basically tells Google which version of the page is the correct page, and which version they shouldn’t bother with. That is the simple explanation, for a more thorough explanation I highly recommend checking out this post by Rand Fishkin, I couldn’t have put it in better words.

Page Speed

Page speed can not only affect your search rankings, they can also affect your website visitor’s user experience. And by affecting their experience in a bad way you are affecting your conversion rates. A good page speed would be around 3 seconds, an excellent speed would be 2 seconds or less. Now this is hard to achieve, especially if you are on slow or shared servers. But there are ways to improve your loading times, some of them are quick fixes too. Check out our ‘Speeding up your website’ post or if you’re using WordPress ‘Speeding up WordPress loading times’.

Google Rich Snippets

Rich snippets allow you to modify how your listings look within Google’s search results. There are many options from author pictures to prices and review scores. Although it hasn’t been proven that using these will increase your search rankings, they have been proven to improve your click through rates from the SERPs – see below for a couple of examples:

Google authorship markup

Recipe Rich Snippet

Personally I think these give the searchers a lot more information without having to click on a listing, thus improving the searchers visitor experience to the Google website. So I would be surprised if Google hasn’t given a little more ranking power to people using these – even if it’s a tiny bit.

Mobile Ready

Tablets, smart phones, hybrid laptops and smart watches – everyone is using them. Google has recognised this and are showing mobile / responsive websites higher than regular websites when people search from a mobile device (they have done for a while now). Because of this it is very important to have your website mobile ready, if it’s not you are potentially losing out on quite a bit of traffic.

Try checking your Google analytics reports and seeing how many people are visiting your site from a mobile device, you might be surprised. And if you are not mobile ready, the changes are their user experience wasn’t the best.

And there we have it folks, my ultimate on page SEO guide; I hope it was helpful!

Have I missed anything from the list? Why not let me know so I can add it?