If you have a website (which you probably should), you will no doubt have considered how to get more visitors to the site. Without attracting high quality traffic, a website offers very little real value to any organisation.
The vast majority of online journeys start with a user entering a search term on a search engine. This is why search engine optimisation (SEO) is such an important aspect of digital marketing. It is also why Google has become the giant that it is today.
Search engines are incredibly important for discovering content online and successful SEO will ensure that your brand is visible to online users who are actively looking for your products / services.
SEO can, however, be a little daunting. Many search engines often provide guidance on what they are looking for. e.g. Google has published https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35769?hl=en and the more detailed report at https://static.googleusercontent.com/media/guidelines.raterhub.com/en//searchqualityevaluatorguidelines.pdf.
They do not, however, publish specific details about their algorithms, which are the formulae that they use to determine the ranking of sites that they believe to be relevant for a user’s search query.
The SEO community is therefore constantly trying to reverse engineer the algorithms in order to ascertain which factors are the most important and what you need to do to perform well across the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Most experts agree that there are over 200 factors to consider with SEO. This can very quickly cause confusion and it may appear overwhelming.
The intention of this article is to help identify the most important factors and give you the confidence to optimise any page on your website. It does not need to be as complicated as many consultants may suggest and a few key considerations can make a significant impact.
Before being able to optimise a web page, you need to have a strategy regarding what you would like it to be found for. This actually needs to be an exercise that you perform on your website as a whole, as you don’t want to create a situation where you have optimised multiple pages for the same keywords. This introduces confusion for the search engines and is likely to dilute the effectiveness of any given page.
Keyword research is the topic for another article, but there is a great introduction available at https://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo/keyword-research. Just note that MOZ is an SEO product and will naturally suggest using their own keyword research tool.
There are plenty of tools available to use. Google’s own keyword planner used to be the go-to option, but it has become less useful in recent years unless you are spending a small fortune on Google Ads. I am personally a fan of https://keywordtool.io/, but using it to its full potential does incur a cost.
I would encourage you to consider the relevancy of each search query rather than be tempted to target the search terms that have the highest search volumes. Not only will the higher search term volumes be more competitive, but they are often very generic.
For example, if your website offers tax advice for the self employed, you would be far better off ranking well for a term such as ‘tax advice for self employed’ than for ‘tax advice’.
Whilst my data suggests that ‘tax advice’ has approximately fifteen times the average monthly search volume, it will be much more difficult to rank well for and it is too broad.
If you specialise in advice for the self employed, make sure that you target search terms that include ‘self employed’. You will be much more likely to rank well and will enjoy far higher conversion rates.
Once you have identified the phrases that you would like a page to be found for, you need to understand the basics of on-page SEO.
On-page SEO is an umbrella term for things that you do on a particular web page in order to improve its visibility on the search engines. Although it may appear to be a technical concern, it is really all about helping the search engines to understand your content.
By using your target keywords in specific areas of a web page, you greatly increase the likelihood of that page ranking well for those terms. Whilst there are ultimately more than three on-page SEO factors, I believe that the following three should be at the top of your list of priorities:
1. Page titles
Without wishing to bamboozle, html is the language that is used to create web pages. In html speak, the page <title> is not the title that you may actually see on a page.
The page title is the text that is shown in the web browser’s toolbar and, crucially for search engine optimisation, it is the text used as the main link in the SERPs.
For example, https://www.bytestart.co.uk/dividend-tax.html has a title of, ‘How are Limited Company Dividends Taxed? – Bytestart ‘ .
Any keywords that are used in the html title are given extra weighting by search engines, so it is very important to ensure that your primary keyword targets are used in the title.
Not only will it help a page rank well for the keywords used, the page title is displayed as the main link on the SERPs, e.g.
This can have a marked impact on the click through rate (CTR) of an individual listing as the user will naturally be drawn to a page title that uses the keywords that they are looking for.
This effect is accelerated by the search engines, which typically use bold text for keywords in the title that match the search query. So, not only will you enjoy better rankings for the keywords that you place in page titles, but you are likely to benefit from higher CTR which results in higher traffic levels and can then contribute to future improvements in rankings.
Page titles will be shortened on the SERPs if they are too long, so it is best to keep them to approximately 60 characters. At the very least, ensure that your primary keywords are used in the first 60 characters.
A good model to follow would be ‘<primary keyword target> | <secondary keyword target / category> | Brand’
Each content management system (CMS) will have a slightly different way of inputting the page title, but it is a required html attribute and all systems will allow you to edit the title on each page.
If time is short, this would be my first port of call. I have seen some impressive improvements in ranking from simply reviewing / improving page titles.
2. Meta description
The meta description is another html attribute that is not visible on a web page. The meta description tag allows you to input a short summary of the content of a web page. This can help a search engine understand a page in more detail, but it is not a direct ranking factor.
Most meta tags have been the subject of abuse and the search engines typically ignore them.
The meta description is, however, very important for SEO as it is normally used as the text snippet that is shown on the SERPs, e.g.
The content that is shown in this snippet can have a huge impact on CTR. The primary purpose of the meta description is therefore to encourage users to click on your link, rather than your competitors.
In the example above, the description provides an excellent summary of the page and would encourage anyone looking for information about the taxation on ltd company dividends.
It is very likely that anyone searching for information about dividend taxation is ultimately wishing to calculate how much tax they owe, so this meta description is highly effective.
Search engines will typically show 150-160 characters of a meta description before truncating the text, so there is little point in writing more than that. You should aim to include your main keyword targets in the first 100 characters and give the search engine user a real reason to click through to your site to find out more.
Meta descriptions need to be specific to each page. Avoid the temptation to duplicate meta descriptions across multiple pages and ensure that they reflect the focus of each page.
Html allows you to tag any text as a heading. There are six levels of html headings, with <h1> being the most ‘important’ and <h6> being the lowest.
Using the same page as an example, the highlighted text has been tagged as an <h1> heading:
Headings are important for SEO, as the search engines use headings as part of their analysis of a web page’s structure and extra weighting is given to keywords used in headings, especially the <h1> heading. They are therefore a direct ranking factor and careful optimisation of headings can lead to improved search rankings.
The heading above clearly states that the page is focused on limited company dividend taxes and, by using these keywords in the heading, the chances of ranking well for associated terms are increased.
Although not an SEO factor, headings can greatly improve the readability of a web page. Most web users tend to skim read a page online.
Headings can be extremely helpful at signposting content and guiding users to the content that they want to read. You should therefore expect longer average time spent on page and increased sharing of content, both of which should lead to improved rankings.
When reviewing html headings, you simply need to ensure that they contain your primary keyword targets and that they reflect the content of the subsequent content.
Unlike page titles and meta descriptions, headings will not be shown on the SERPs so there is no real character limit to consider, but it is good practice to keep headings concise and avoid diluting the primary focus keyword.
If you follow these three simple steps, you can improve the optimisation of any of your web pages. As with any online marketing initiative, it is important to measure the impact of your work.
SEO is typically a longer term exercise and results may not be immediate, but measuring the impact of on-page improvements should be possible once the page that you have optimised is crawled by the search engine spiders.
SERPs are highly personalised, so it is important not to rely on the rankings that you see on your computer. The likelihood is that your site will be ranking more prominently for you as Google will know that you like your site, based on the fact that you are a frequent visitor.
There are plenty of 3rd party ranking tools, but I would recommend using Google Search Console (https://search.google.com/search-console/welcome) and using the average position data available for individual queries. This will show you the impact of your optimisation work as you should see improvements for the search queries that you have optimised pages for.
Whilst ranking is important, it is ultimately not as important as actual traffic. You should therefore use your web analytics reporting to monitor increased levels of traffic to the pages that you have optimised.
Overall traffic volume is important, but also look for indicators of the quality of traffic such as the number of pages viewed, time on site and conversion data.
I hope that this article will give you the confidence to understand the most important factors for on-page optimisation. As long as you are publishing high quality content, on-page SEO is really about helping label this content and providing clarity about the primary focus of each page.
As a final thought, it is very important not to over-optimise content. You should be writing for your users rather than for search engines.
An obsession with keywords generally leads to unreadable content, which will not perform well and is unlikely to rank well. It is, however, possible to use your target terms in the areas outlined above and help to optimise a page without impacting the user experience.
About the author
This article has been written for ByteStart by Joe Friedlein, founder of https://browsermedia.agency/. Browser Media is a UK-based inbound marketing agency that helps clients improve their visibility online.
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