On-Page SEO Introduction
On-page SEO refers to a wide range of best practices that help determine whether your page is properly optimized for search and will be able to rank when your intended audience searches for terms relevant to your content. This article will cover the importance of user experience(UX) to SEO, how to avoid producing thin and/or duplicate content, how to produce high quality header tags and other metadata, best practices for linking, best practices for redirects, optimal image formatting and URL structure/nomenclature best practices.
UX & SEO
While thought of as two completely separate disciplines, user experience and search engine optimization share the most important commonality of all, focusing the design of a given site to best serve the user. SEO is often misunderstood as being about gearing your site towards search engines, and while that is certainly true that conception elides the underlying fact that search engines have evolved to understand and mimic how human users find and interact with content; you can then understand how designing your site to have the best possible user experience will often also result in improved SEO performance.
Conducting proper keyword research and having a clear understanding of how your audience searches for something versus how you present your content and/or products will allow you to bridge that gap. Keep in mind that while you may be a subject matter expert in your business your intended audience often isn’t; it’s important to meet the audience where they are, and use the terms they’re comfortable with even when they diverge from the “official” terminology you’re accustomed to using in your business. This can also help drive clicks and traffic to your site, as when a user is scanning a search engine results page the decision to click on one link over ten others can come down to which one uses familiar and engaging language.
You can check out section 3 for more detailed information on best practices for producing high quality metadata, but it’s important to note that it plays a role in UX. Your title tag should include the primary keyword for whatever your page content is most relevant to and should be engaging. Your URL structure is also very important, as having simple, easy to understand URLs serves both the user and search engines well. Meta descriptions provide an opportunity to include relevant keywords and engage your audience to boost CTR. Header tags (the H1 tag in particular since it’s most often at the top of the page) are referenced by users when they land on your page to confirm it indeed has what they were looking for, so write them with that in mind. Navigational elements also serve that purpose, so be sure they are clear, thorough in including everything that can be found on your site and follow a logical hierarchical flow.
Speed is also a key component to providing an optimal user experience as well as key to your SEO efforts. Users expect that when they navigate to a page that all of its content and interactive elements are available quickly, and on the SEO end the importance of page speed as a ranking factor has only continued to rise with recent algorithm updates. Providing images in next-gen formats such as JPEG 2000, JPEG XR and WebP will allow you to maintain high page speed without sacrificing high image quality.
How to avoid thin and/or duplicate content
The first step to avoiding thin content (and more importantly the negative effect it has on your SEO performance) is knowing how to identify it. Pages with little or no content, duplicate content, automatically generated content and content scraped from elsewhere on the internet are all examples of thin content. Starting with the Panda algorithm update in 2011 Google has penalized sites with an excess of thin content severely, so not introducing it in the first place is your best bet to keep from getting hurt by it; however, if that’s not an option we highly recommend that you audit your site for thin content and eradicate it.
Duplicate content is a bit tougher to define but generally refers to content that is shared across multiple pages on the same domain or across different domains. Content that is “scraped” without consent from another site also constitutes duplicate content. Whether simply cut-and-pasted from another source or altered slightly without introducing any new value to the user or original content, in order to fulfill its mission Google is obligated to choose only one version of duplicate content in search results and if your page isn’t it it will not rank. When you do have a legitimate reason to produce duplicate content on your site make sure you’re using the rel=canonical tag on the content you want Google to consider as the original content.
How to produce high-quality metadata/product descriptions
High quality metadata will allow your content to be better understood and indexed by search engines. For sites that deal in e-commerce it’s also important that your product descriptions are useful to the user and address any questions or concerns they may have. Follow all the best practices listed below to ensure your metadata and content meet that standard:
1. Metadata Optimization
- Page titles- A title tag is an HTML element that specifies the title of a web page. Title tags are displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs) as the clickable headline for a given result, and are important for usability, SEO, and social sharing.
- Page titles should be between 50 and 60 characters in length
- Ideal structure should be: Primary Keyword – Secondary Keyword | Brand Name
iii. Try to avoid ALL CAPS and special characters (aside from dashes and pipes) in your titles
- Avoid keyword stuffing
- Meta descriptions- The meta description is an HTML attribute that provides a brief summary of a web page. Search engines such as Google often display the meta description in search results, which can influence click-through rates.
- Meta descriptions should be between 50 and 160 characters.
- A page’s meta description should intelligently (read: in a natural, active, non-spammy way) employ the keywords that page is targeting, but also create a compelling description that a searcher will want to click.
iii. Avoid keyword stuffing
- Alt Text- Alt Text is used within an HTML code to describe the appearance and function of an image on a page.
- Describe the image as specifically as possible
- Keep alt text around 125 characters in length
iii. Avoid keyword stuffing
- Don’t include “image of” or “picture of” in your alt text
- H1 Tag Optimization
- H1s should include your product name, brand name, and target keywords.
- H1s should be between 20 and 70 characters in length
- Avoid keyword stuffing
- Product Descriptions
- Product descriptions are a very important part of on-page SEO. Be sure to follow these general guidelines for improving your descriptions.
- Be sure to know your target audience. By understanding your buyer personas, you will be sure to highlight the most important features of your application for potential buyers.
- Focus on the product benefits. How will your application improve the buyer’s life?
iii. Use a natural tone and make it easy for individuals to scan. What specific questions are people searching for and how can your product help answer such questions?
- Use your target keywords and write with SEO in mind.
Internal linking best practices
The internal linking structure of your site can either help or hinder its crawl-ability; when done properly it helps ensure that search engines can find all of your pages, that link equity is passed and that your users can easily navigate your site.
An element you need to consider (and that’s most visible to your users) when building out your internal link structure is your anchor text; this is the clickable portion of text, often highlighted in a different color and sometimes underlined, that leads users to the hyperlink you’ve embedded. Because this text sends a signal to search engines on what the link will be about (e.g. anchor text reading “microfiber couches care tips” should ideally lead to a page that’s primarily focused on how to care for microfiber couches) you need to be thoughtful about what language you use in it to ensure it’s aligned with what the page the link leads to is all about. Be aware, however, that reusing the same anchor text too often on a page may read to search engines as keyword stuffing, so try to strike a balance between accuracy and maintaining a natural, organic flow within your content. You should also keep in mind that some links, such as those that require an additional click to reveal as in a drop-down menu, are hidden from search engines and will not count towards link equity unless available as directly accessible links elsewhere on the page.
Redirect best practices
At some point you will need to remove or rename pages within your site, whether due to a branding shift, sunsetting obsolete products, keeping up with industry trends, etc. The main thing to remember when doing so is to update any and all links on your site that lead to the altered page. If possible, you should go beyond just redirecting a page to a new location and also update all internal links to that page at the source; doing this allows users and search engines to avoid having to pass through redirects to arrive at the desired page. If you do opt to just redirect you’ll want to avoid creating a chain with too many redirects. It’s better to have a page redirecting directly from the original location to a new one as opposed to creating a chain that goes from the original location to a redirect and then another redirect.
Optimal image formatting
Images are an essential element of creating a pleasing user experience, breaking up long pieces of text and communicating additional information and context for your content. Unfortunately, they are also often the main drag on your page speed performance, which is a ranking factor that has continued to gain importance with recent search algorithm updates. Get ahead of the game by ensuring your images are provided in next-gen formats such as JPEG XR, JPEG 2000 and WebP; these formats will allow your images to load much faster than older formats like JPEG and PNG without sacrificing the high image quality your users expect. Creating unique images (as opposed to reusing existing images that may cause copyright issues or are already in use by other sites) through your art department or in-house photographers sets you apart from sites using generic stock images and help you be more relevant in search results.
When naming your image files it’s better to create unique names that relate to the image being used (such as “house with red door”) and avoid generic file names (such as “IMG_34851”), as this helps search engines better understand the image being used. Similarly, you’ll also want to ensure your image alt text is written in an SEO-friendly manner. This serves two purposes, making your site more accessible to visually impaired users and/or users employing screen readers and allowing search engine bots to “see” an image they otherwise have no capability to comprehend. You’ll want this text to read naturally and describe the image efficiently, and avoid keyword stuffing; a useful exercise when creating alt text is to close your eyes and try to visualize the image using solely the alt text you’ve written. You’ll know pretty quickly whether you’ve done so effectively.
URL structure/nomenclature best practices
While URLs may not be the first thing you think of when you consider SEO they are one of the first things a search engine bot looks at when crawling your site. For this reason it’s highly important to keep SEO top-of-mind when naming your URLs and defining a structure for them. The rule of thumb when naming a URL is to keep it simple and intelligible; we’ve all seen URLs that include a long string of numbers and special characters, and they are no easier for search engine bots to understand than they are for your users. A URL that succinctly and efficiently communicates to users and bots what they can expect to find on that page is by definition SEO-friendly. To provide an example, this:
Will always perform better than this:
Aside from naming your URLs well you should also consider whether the way they’re structured is logical and will make sense to both your users and search engines. Avoid placing pages in irrelevant folders; for example, if you have a site for an organic bakery you’d want to make sure that your cookies page is located here:
As opposed to here:
A few other things to keep in mind are to keep your URL from being overly long without sacrificing descriptiveness, ensure your URL includes the primary keyword your page is targeting and use hyphens as opposed to underscores to separate words.