Solving the On-Page SEO Puzzle

By | January 6, 2016 | General Marketing Insights

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has seemingly countless pieces, which can make approaching it seem daunting. But once it’s broken down into smaller pieces, it becomes much more manageable. What I’m hoping to accomplish here is highlight on-page SEO, since it’s crucial in helping your fresh content show up in local searches.

Once you’ve conquered duplicate content, focusing on the SEO elements below will give your landing pages an extra edge in showing up for organic searches, earning traffic, and converting to new business at a higher rate.

In this post, we’ll define the most important elements for on-page SEO, give you best practices for each, then cover the best tools we’ve found to diagnose and optimize your site’s SEO health. If you’d like to learn a specific piece more in-depth, there are links to some great resources throughout this post.

Without further ado, let’s get started!

1) Meta Titles Tag

Definition: According to MOZ, the “title element of a web page is meant to be an accurate and concise description of a page’s content.” This is one of the main elements that Google & other search engines read to determine which search phrases to show your pages for.

Here’s an example of a title tag in a Google Search Engine Result Page (SERP):

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Best Practices:

  • Write a unique title tag for every page and blog post on your website.
  • For pages like inventory detail pages, make sure to use dynamic tags to fill in specific information about that product. This will help you avoid having to write a new tag every time you get something new in stock!
  • Google shows the first 512 pixels of your title tag, which translates to about 60 characters depending on the width of the letters. We keep our title tags under 65 characters because even if the last few characters are cut off, Google will read those.  It isn’t an exact science, but these are almost universally agreed-upon standards.
  • Place the most important keywords to the left of the title tag as numerous studies have seen a correlation between ranking for a certain keyword and that term being to the far left of the tag.

If you want to read more in depth, MOZ is a great resource for all things SEO and has written a thorough article on title tags.

2) Meta Descriptions

Definition: “Meta descriptions are HTML attributes that provide concise explanations of the contents of web pages. Meta descriptions are commonly used on search engine result pages (SERPs) to display preview snippets for a given page.” Thanks again to MOZ for this.

Here’s an example of a meta description in a Google SERP:

 

 

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Best Practices:

  • Keep these under about 155 characters. Like with meta titles, this isn’t an exact science, but based on studies and what actually shows up in Google, this is a safe length to stick to.
  • Write for the click. Because Google doesn’t read these for keywords, it’s important to focus on user engagement here. Make sure to include a call to action! These take up the most real estate most organic listings have on SERPs, so make sure to entice the user to click through to your site!
  • With that being said, Google will bold keywords from the search phrase in your meta descriptions, so make sure they’re focused around the page content. Find the balance between being informative and persuasive!

Read more in depth about meta descriptions in this insightful blog from Yoast, a popular SEO plugin for WordPress.

3) HTML Header Tags

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HTML Header Tags are used in webpage content to denote the title and subtitles within a page, and range from h1 to h6 in order of importance. They’re typically a larger font size and are often bolded so they visually stand out, but they also serve the more important purpose of giving Google ideas about the page content.

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The most important of these is the h1 tag, and having the keywords for which you’re trying to rank included in the h1 tag is crucial.  It should be consistent with the meta title and description, which in turn should match with the page content. However, be careful not to keyword stuff as providing a good user experience will encourage longer time on site, lower bounce rate, etc.

You’ll notice a theme throughout this post—agreement among all pieces of the SEO puzzle is key to your site’s success!

Use these tags in succession. If you have an h1 tag and need a subheading, make sure to use an h2 tag next. Don’t duplicate or skip numbers when possible, as this will keep search engines from accurately knowing which tags to prioritize.

For more information and a great in-depth blog post about h1 tags, here’s an article from WooRank to satiate your curiosity.

Tools to Use?

So now you have a basic understanding of meta and H1 tags. Woohoo! I’m sure you’re now ready to dig deeper into your site and explore your current meta state and how to improve it, so here are a of couple tools we regularly use:

  • MOZ Toolbar Extension for Chrome: It’s easy. It’s free. It shows all-important on page metrics, including meta tags, titles, and much more. Check it out!

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  • Screaming Frog: To quickly examine all the meta titles and descriptions, and much more on your site, check this tool out. There’s a free version that allows you to crawl up to 500 URLs. If you have a larger site, there’s a paid option that’s still affordable. Check out the screenshot below of how Screaming Frog lists out all the titles & descriptions on your site:

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4) URL Structure

URLs are what you type in to go to a specific page on a website. For example, Reunion Marketing’s SEO Services page is located at:

http://www.reunionmarketing.com/search-engine-optimization/.

If a CMS is left to its own devices, it can automatically generate needlessly complex URLs; instead, here’s a quick overview of best practices to make your URLs SEO and user-friendly:

Best Practices:

  • Simple – if you want users to have a chance of accurately typing in your page’s URL, keep it concise and as short as possible.
  • Descriptive – it’s a balance to keep a short URL but still have one that accurately describes the content on the page. This is one more way to help search engines discover your content so make sure to utilize it!
  • Dashes – Use dashes instead of underscores, based on Google’s recommendations.
  • Lower Case – Keeping a URL completely lowercase helps avoid pesky duplicate URLs when you crawl your site. We’ve seen multiple cases where an uppercase URL ends up causing problems that negatively affect organic traffic.
  • Subfolders – Especially in WordPress, creating subfolders of a main topic, like products or services, is extremely simple and helps keep your URL structure consistent and organized. For example, if you sell Porsches and want to create a landing page for each model, you can use the category /porsche-models, then each model will be listed under that. A 911 page could be /porsche-models/new-911-for-sale.
  • Plan Ahead – Set a URL structure and rules early on so as you continue building pages, they’ll be consistent and easy to find. For example, start all new inventory pages with /new- to make creating Analytics goals and other filters simpler by being able to group all these types of pages together.

Read more about URL guidelines from Google itself.

5) Content

This could be blog, a series, or even a novel on its own, so we’ll just scratch the surface of how important content is to your site’s organic rankings. Content can refer to anything from blogs to landing page content to email, but for the purposes of this post, we’ll focus on landing page content.

When building new content, it’s important to think like your customer. What questions do they have about your product or service that you can answer? At the most basic level, make sure you have pages with details about each of your products. Even if you don’t sell online, people want to learn what you offer and they can find this information elsewhere if not on your site. Be their go-to resource!

Here are some important best practices to remember:

  • Unique – Having unique content is invaluable. When your content is duplicate with another site or another page on your site, Google doesn’t know which version is worth showing and you can get lost in a sea of similar results.
  • Rich – Having more than 250 words on a page ensures you can fully address any questions asked and have enough written that it’s worth showing in a Google SERP.
  • Keywords & Variants – If you’re trying to rank for a keyword, “lease offers” for example, then make sure to include the keyword in the body copy of the page. Also include variants because people tend to vary their searches. Use phrases like “lease specials,” “lease deals,” etc. to make sure you’re present in results for any of these searches.

6) Images

For on-page SEO, images are important for several reasons: they make your content more interactive, they can lead to higher engagement and conversion rates, and they can help your content gain exposure through Google Images and other search engine image libraries. Because they are an extremely important addition to your site’s SEO, we’ll dive into best practices a bit more.

Best Practices:

  • Use images relevant to the content on your site & page. If you’re describing the benefits of the latest Audi model & you include some cool photos that show off the design & technology features that set this car apart, shoppers will connect with this. No one wants to stare at a wall of text!
  • Back to the consistency theme – use image titles and ALT tags that accurately describe the image content & that match the keywords you’re targeting for that page. These are what Google reads to determine when to show an image in search results.
  • Optimize your images for site speed by saving them in a size that’s large enough to have good quality, but small enough to maintain a healthy page speed.
  • Use .jpg images wherever possible, as this file format is typically much smaller than .png or other formats, while still preserving image quality for user experience.

Tools to Use:

  • Google Page Speed Insights will give an overview of any page on your website and will give recommendations for things that need to be updated to boost page speed, including images. It calls out specific images to compress, which is a great starting point for boosting page speed with images.

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  • Adobe Photoshop has an option to “Save for Web & Devices” which will shrink an image’s size while preserving as much quality as possible.

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To dive into more detail about image SEO best practices, check out this post from SEOblog.com.

7) Internal Links

Definition: An internal link connects one page of a website to a different page on the same website. In an internal link, the source domain and target domain are the same. (Kissmetrics).

Google and other search engines value links because they reason the more you’re linking to a certain page within your site, the more relevant it is, which can drive up organic impressions for the page.

Best Practices:

  • Make sure your most important pages are linked under the main site navigation, which usually lives just below your site header (with your logo, phone number, and other company information).
  • Link to this page from within other page content. If you have a page describing the new Porsche 911, maybe include a link from a Porsche Cayman page encouraging readers to check out other models.
  • Use descriptive, creative hypertext (the blue text that links to another page), as this is yet another factor that Google uses to assess the relevance of your content.
  • If you have numerous product or service pages, add a widget to the sidebar that includes links to all your other service pages which could be titled “Our Other Services” or something a bit more exciting!

 

8) External Links

Definition: External Links are hyperlinks that point at (target) any domain other than the domain the link exists on (source). In layman’s terms, if another website links to you, this is considered an external link to your site. Similarly, if you link out to another website, this is also considered an external link. (MOZ).

Including external links in onsite content that lead to trusted, pertinent sources is important for on-page SEO, but earning an external link to your landing page from another domain is one of the top search engine ranking factors for landing pages. Because earning these often takes some convincing of the other party, search engines believe this to be an excellent, unbiased indicator that your content is worth showing in SERPs.

Best Practices:

  • Strive for a variety of sources linking to your content. Having 50 links to your site from one website helps, but having 50 unique sources link to your content shows Google that multiple organizations consider your content valuable.
  • Reach out to trusted partners and industry organizations that you think would be willing to link to your content. If you’re a doctor, try reaching out to any professional organizations or certification boards you might be involved in that would be willing to link to your site as a member of their group.
  • Share your content on social media. By getting in front of a larger audience, you boost the chances of having someone link to your content.

For a more in-depth look at earning external links and growing your content’s presence, check out this link-building article from MOZ.

Tools to Use:

  • MOZ’s Open Site Explorer: This tool is free and gives you either a quick overview of your links on a particular page, or allows you to drill down in greater detail. It allows you to examine internal and external links, and even lets you compare your current state to your competition.

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  • Screaming Frog: Yep, this one’s back again! Screaming Frog will give you a list of internal links to each page on your site, and tells you exactly where they’re coming from. It also lists external links going from your content to other pages around the web, but doesn’t give you a list of other places linking to your content like Open Site Explorer.

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9) Page Speed

Earlier in this post we touched on page speed with image optimization, but this applies to everything on the page and carries over to your overall site design. Site speed is important to user experience for obvious reasons—shoppers hate waiting for things to load—and especially with the mass migration toward mobile browsing on phones that have less computing power than a desktop, site speed is crucial.

Below are some page speed best practices taken from the best source we know – Google:

  • As mentioned earlier, make sure your images are small enough to load quickly.
  • Minify the resources on your landing pages by keeping code as simple as possible.
  • Avoid plugins wherever possible as this is another element that requires time to load and can slow down your entire site.
  • Avoid using render-blocking JavaScript as this requires multiple elements to download before the rest of your page can be read and loaded.

Overall, many pieces of page speed are best tackled at the site-wide level by your Webmaster. Changing these settings could lead to hugely negative consequences for your entire site so approach these with caution!

10) Robots.txt File

Definition: This is a text file that resides on your website’s server and gives search engine robots direction as to which files, posts, pages, and more to crawl on your site and which to avoid.

Even though robots.txt applies more to your overall site than a specific page, I felt it was crucial to include this as an element of on-page SEO because if this file isn’t set  up correctly, every page on your website will be negatively affected.

In this file, you’re able to tell a robot, or user agent, where you want to allow it to index content on your site. Note that this won’t stop a bot from actually crawling pages on your site. You can specify a user agent, like googlebot for Google, or just use an asterisk to cover all user agents. Below is a simple example of a WordPress-generated robots.txt file:

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Best Practices:

  • Less is More: Don’t get carried away with blocking user agents from lots of pages on your site, especially things like pages for tags, categories, and more.
  • Block Admin Files: Your administrative files that make your site run shouldn’t be indexed in search results so to avoid airing your dirty laundry, add this line to your file.

Add Your Sitemap: Your sitemap should be extremely accessible to user agents, as this is one of the main ways they find and index new content quickly, so make sure it’s included in your sitemap like in the screenshot below:

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This article from WP Beginner has an informative yet easy to understand explanation of how robots.txt files work, along with some more in-depth best practices.

If you made it all the way through this post, congratulations! Hopefully you have a better idea of the different elements that comprise on-page optimization and now have some actionable best practices and tools to diagnose your site and improve your SEO! We’ve seen it work time and time again: Diligently implementing these pieces will increase your organic traffic & conversion rate for your internal landing pages on your site.

For more information or to get a free digital analysis, you can reach out to us here.