7 Easy Steps to Proper On-Page SEO

7 Easy Steps to Proper On-Page SEO

checklist for proper on-page optimizationOn-page optimization sounds scary. If you’re a new website owner, trying to figure out what meta tags are and how to optimize your pages correctly can seem overwhelming. Heck, even experienced webmasters occasionally get caught up in the “latest and greatest” optimization schemes that pull them away from the defined principles of on-page SEO that work now and in the future.

So in order to clear up any confusion, I want to share the 7-step process I use to optimize the content on my websites. Hope you find it helpful – now, let’s get started!

Step 1 – Choose a Good Keyword

The concept of choosing good keywords and basing your websites on them (instead of the other way around) is such a basic thing, but it’s something that took me years to understand. Here’s the thing…

The internet runs on keywords. People who are looking for information type specific queries into the search engines and they evaluate the results based on their relevance to the keyword phrase they entered. The search engines, in turn, return the results they feel are the best options for the keyword entered, based on a number of different factors that we’ll get into in a minute.

Do you see the common theme here? Everyone – from the searchers to the search engines – rely on keywords to power online information gathering. The implications of this are that it’s incredibly important that you focus on the right keywords and integrate them into your site in a way that will help the search engines index your content appropriately for these phrases.

So what makes a good keyword? Well, there are a couple of different factors…

First, it’s important to note that I like to target two different types of keywords – overall site keywords and sub-page keywords.

An overall site keyword represents the general niche or market I’m targeting. For example, if I wanted to put up a website reviewing cameras as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, my overall site keyword might be “digital camera reviews”. Ideally, I’d like this main keyword to get at least 2,000-3,000 exact searches a month to ensure that there’s sufficient interest in my niche to make my site profitable.

Sub-page keywords, on the other hand, are the keywords I’ll target in each article or review I post to the site. For example, on my camera site, I might have a page dedicated to the keyword, “Nikon 3500 digital camera”. Because this keyword is supplementing my main site keyword and because I’m hoping to pick up highly targeted visitors with it, I only look for a minimum of 500 exact match monthly searches for these keywords.

Of course, in addition to reviewing the search volume of these keywords, I also look at the competition of the Top 10 results for each potential keyword in Google. In addition to looking at the number of exact match competing pages, I also look at how strong the top results are. Is the Top 10 full of high PageRank sites? Are the results that come up targeting my keyword specifically or are they there by virtue of size (for example, eHow or Amazon page results)?

I’ll be getting into the process of choosing a good keyword in much, much more detail on Friday (mark your calendars!), but for now, it’s enough for you to know that this first step is a critical part of optimizing your pages correctly.

Step 2 – Add the Keyword to Your Title Tag

Once you’ve got your target keywords chosen (and remember, you’ll need both an overall niche keyword and a few sub-page keywords to target), it’s time to start integrating them correctly into your site. And the first step to doing this is to add your target keyword to the title tag of your page. Not only is this important from a search engine optimization (SEO) standpoint, the title tag also plays a role in forming the “snippet” that appears in the SERPs when your site gets ranked.

Because of this, there are a few important guidelines to keep in mind when creating title tags:

• Keep it to 65 characters or less, as this is all that will be displayed in the snippet of some search engines’ results pages.

• Make it engaging. While it’s important to include your target keyword at least once, it’s also important that you make this tag as appealing to human visitors as it is to the search engines in order to boost your click-through rate from the SERPs.

• Keep it focused. Use the vertical bar symbol (“|”) to break up phrases instead of wasting valuable characters on unnecessary words.

If you run your site on HTML, you’ll add your title tag to each page by including the following code into the “head” section of your document:

<title>Your Super-Awesome Title Goes Here</title>

If your site is based on the WordPress platform (which I highly recommend), you can add your title tags on a per-page or per-post basis by installing a plugin like the “All in One SEO Pack” or the “Yoast SEO Plugin”, both of which are great options for performing on-page optimization.

Step 3 – Draft “Good” Description & Keyword Tags

Next up on your on-page SEO checklist are your description and keyword meta tags. And I say that they should be “good” because the role these elements play is often misunderstood.

In the past, including your target keywords here was a vital ranking factor in the search engine’s algorithms. Basically, you put your keywords here and that was all it took for the engines to index your page correctly. However, as you might suspect, this system has the potential to be gamed by people “keyword stuffing” nonsense phrases just to achieve higher rankings – which is what happened back in the late 1990s.

Today, the weight these two elements carry in the ranking algorithms is minimal, if anything (their exact role is currently disputed) – but that doesn’t mean that they should be ignored.

Like your title tag, your meta description tag is used as the snippet that’s displayed in the SERPs in most cases, which makes it an important part of your on-page optimization process. In addition, information contained in your meta keywords can help inform the search engine spiders as to what your page is about, which makes it worthwhile to add, even if it isn’t weighted highly in the ranking algorithms.

As with your title tags, there are some specific criteria you should follow here as well:

• Your meta description tags should be kept to around 165 characters and should be custom written for each page in order to attract users (don’t just copy the first sentence or two of your article…).

• Include – at most – four or five highly targeted, page-specific keywords in your meta keyword tags. Don’t stuff the same keywords into each page’s tags unless they’re relevant.

If your site is run on WordPress, you’ll include this information in the same plugin area as your title tags (both of the plugins listed above add a separate data area to each post or page you create to allow you to specify this data). If you run an HTML site, add the following tags to the “head” section of your page:

<meta name=”description” content=”Your super awesome, custom-written meta description tag that will display as the snippet in the search engines.”>

<meta name=”keywords” content=”keyword 1, keyword 2, keyword 3, etc.”>

Step 4 – Use the Keyword in Your Heading Tags and Body Content

Now that our descriptive tags are out of the way, it’s time to add our target keywords to our body content. Both of the elements we’ll discuss in this section – heading tags and body text – occur within the “body” section of our pages, which means that we’re done entering elements into our page “head” sections or the custom fields generated by our SEO plugins.

As with the tips discussed in the title and description tag sections above, the most important thing about integrating your keywords into your body content is to do it naturally and in a way that makes sense for both readers and search engines. Don’t include your keyword at 10% frequency, just because some SEO blog told you that you have to do so in order to get ranked.

Instead, I like to include my target keyword once in the <h1> headline tag and 2-3 times throughout the text of the article, depending on how it makes sense. I do try to take advantage of “latent semantic indexing (LSI)” which – theoretically – gives you some benefit for including relevant keywords.

For example, in my digital camera article, I might use the target keyword phrase, “Nikon 3500 digital camera” a few times, but I might also try to include related keywords like, “Nikon 3500 camera,” “Nikon digital cameras” and “Nikon 3500 review.” Again, the idea is to have your keyword integration sound as natural as possible while still clueing the search engines in to the topic of your content.

To add heading tags to your HTML page, simply add the tag <h1>to the beginning of your heading phrase and close the sentence with the </h1> tag. You can do the same within the HTML editor section of WordPress, or – if you’re using the visual editor – highlight the text you want to turn into a heading and then select “Heading 1” from the text styles menu.

Step 5 – Include Keyword-Rich Image ALT Text

Once I’ve successfully integrated my keyword into the above-listed elements, I’ll also try to include it in the ALT text of at least one image on my page.

If you aren’t familiar with what “ALT Text” is, it’s a tag that allows you to add information to your page about what content is included in your image. This serves a number of different purposes, including improving functionality for visually impaired readers who are accessing your site via “text-to-speech” programs, helping readers understand your intent if your image is broken for any reason and informing the search engines as to what your content is about.

Basically, these tags *weren’t* added so that you can take advantage of them to artificially boost your search engine rankings. They serve a valuable, legitimate purpose, and – therefore – should be constructed with care.

So by all means, include your target keyword phrase, but do it in a way that serves all of the different functions listed above. Going back to my digital camera example above, say you include a product image on your Nikon 3500 review page (which you definitely, definitely should do!). Instead of structuring your image ALT tag as, “Nikon 3500, Nikon 3500 review, Nikon 3500 digital camera” – which wouldn’t help visually impaired readers understand what content they’re missing – consider the following:

“The Nikon 3500 digital camera pictured here is a great choice for beginning photographers.”

See – everybody wins when you structure your ALT tags correctly 🙂

Step 6 – Write a Strong Article

This one should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyways. As an internet marketer, you aren’t just writing for the search engines (although your ability to optimize your pages correctly will play a role in your success in attracting visitors to your pages). It’s just as important to write for the people who wind up on your pages in order to maximize your conversions and actually make sales.

So, what constitutes a “strong” article? The following are some of the things that I’ve found to be important in the on-page content creation process, though your results may vary:

• Unique content – In my opinion, this is non-negotiable. Yes, I occasionally use spun articles in my backlinking work, but when it comes to the content that’s posted on my sites, it’s got to be unique.

• Good length – Again, sorry for those of you who are looking for an easy way out, but I’ve found that these unique articles need to be at least 500 words in length (although 1,000-1,200 words is even better). If you don’t want to write this content yourself, you can always outsource it (and might I suggest you check out my content writing service for this need?).

• Substantive – What this means is that the content you post to your site shouldn’t just be the same old, regurgitated crap that everyone else is putting up on their sites. Take the time to research the products you’re selling, share valuable information and back up your opinions. Not only will this help improve your on-page conversion rates, it’ll increase the likelihood of your content being shared virally as well.

• Well-supported – Whenever possible, quote authority sources in your articles and be sure to link back to these sites. This demonstrates to readers and the search engines that you’ve taken the time to put together well-researched, quality content for their benefit.

When writing your content, it’s a good idea to review the 23 questions Amit Singhal of Google laid out as guidelines in a May 2011 post on the Google Webmaster Blog. The Panda Update and other algorithm changes that have occurred since then demonstrate the search engines’ interest in promoting high quality pages, so it’s a good idea to review these criteria to ensure that your content meets Google’s expectations.

Step 7 – Add Internal Links to Other Articles

The final step that I take when it comes to on-page optimization is to add 2-3 internal links to every article I publish. This serves a number of different purposes, including:

• Improving the user experience by helping readers navigate to other articles they might find interesting,

• Getting my new pages indexed sooner, as the search engine spiders discover new pages through links like these, and

• Creating additional keyword-rich anchor text linking opportunities that can improve my on-page SEO.

When creating these internal links, I try to base them around target keywords when I can, but I’ll also add them wherever it makes sense to do so (for example, if I’m referencing another article on the site within my new content) – keyword-rich text or not. Typically, I structure internal links to open in the same window and external links to open in new windows, but that might just be personal preference 🙂

One final note I want to make…

All of the guidelines listed above are important elements when it comes to on-page SEO, but succeeding with internet business requires so much more than simply following these steps on every article you publish. In fact, some estimates put the relative weight of on-page SEO at only 20%, compared with much more influential inbound links, which contribute 80% of your site’s ranking weight.

So while it’s important to follow these guidelines, it’s also important not to stress out about them too much. Don’t over-optimize, and don’t think that you can simply address these elements and be done with your SEO work. Instead, integrate these guidelines into your site-building efforts in a way that makes sense for you in order to obtain the maximum benefit from both a reader standpoint and a search engine rankings standpoint.

Any questions on how to optimize your pages properly?  If so, ask them in the comments below!

Image: Rob Warde

12 Responses to 7 Easy Steps to Proper On-Page SEO

  1. Sarah,

    It is funny how you say it has taken you years to get this. I am just starting to realize how important just a few SEO steps can be to an amazing post or article. Great SEO will get it higher in the search results. But with bad SEO that same post may get lost in the block hole of Internet blog posts. And everyone loses.

    I am relearning SEO. I tried last year and just didn’t get it. Now I am starting to understand it. So what do I need to do? Go back to my great posts and redo the SEO. What a pain in the butt! I didn’t realize I would need to be doing this.

    Thanks for the tips. I’ll be reading this again.

    Actually, I am writing some posts on what I have done wrong and I’ll include a link to this post for what to do right as a reference. THX!

    ~Allie

    • Sarah says:

      Totally agree. SEO is one of those goofy things that you really have to actually try and experiment with in order to understand it. It’s one thing to read about it, but it’s another thing entirely to put advice like the article into practice.

      Best of luck getting all your pages optimized!

  2. Mike says:

    Great post Sarah!

    If I could add a couple things…

    The meta description will be what people see in the search engines, do your best to make it pop. I’d want to make the description text make people feel like they need to click.

    To continue with the Nikon 3500 example, I’d probably do something like:
    ‘An in depth review of the Nikon 3500. We discover something shocking that will make you reconsider your next camera purchase.’

    Of course, that shocking result needs to be backed up in the content.

    Just wanted to add that because so many don’t really think too hard about their descriptions. Many, like you said, just copy the first couple of lines from the article.

    On meta keywords – I’ve actually stopped using them and have seen either no change in rankings or a small uptick. Might be worth a small case study on your end?

    Last thing, use heading tags for their intended purpose- headings. I’ve seen many people nestling in keywords in their header tags with bogus content. Google is wise to that, however, they love pages that properly use header tags. Here’s how I would place header tags, again following the Nikon 3500 example:

    Digital Camera Reviews (I typically make this the name of my site or primary keyword I’m targeting, only use 1 h1)
    Nikon 3500 review (Title of page, try to use only once per page)
    Nikon 3500 features
    Nikon 3500 metering
    Nikon 3500 video
    Nikon 3500 cost
    Nikon 3500 conclusion

    As you can see I recommend using the h1 and h2 only once, but from h3 to h6 can be used multiple times. Overall, a good rule of thumb is if you extracted all your heading tags would they provide a great outline for your page?

    Whenever I outline an article prior to writing my bullet points typically become my header tags.

    • Mike says:

      Ha, whoops, it extracted the header tags. Here’s what I intended the header tags to look like:

      H1 Digital Camera Reviews H1 (I typically make this the name of my site or primary keyword I’m targeting, only use 1 h1)
      H2Nikon 3500 reviewH2 (Title of page, try to use only once per page)
      H3 Nikon 3500 features H3
      H2 Nikon 3500 metering H2
      H2 Nikon 3500 video H2
      H3 Nikon 3500 cost H3
      H3 Nikon 3500 conclusion H3

  3. Ryan says:

    Hello Sarah!
    These are excellent tips for starting out SEO basics. They are really helpful with users who have HTML based sites. However, if on the WordPress platform, one of the great plugins that allows you to put in meta tags, generate a SEO title tag, meta descriptions and keywords is WordPress SEO by Yoast. It’s helped me get more exposure. Keywords was once so much easier to get exposure until the big bad panda update… I just wanted to add my two cents but the keyword tool by Google is an excellent free tool for frugalists out there. Then there’s Market Samurai for in depth analysis of keywords/competitions. Thanks for the great article!
    Until next time, all the best and adieu!

    • Sarah says:

      Hi Ryan – Definitely agree, Yoast’s SEO plugin is great. I usually use either that or All in One SEO to integrate these tips on a post level.

      Thanks for sharing!

  4. Justin Mazza says:

    Hi Sarah,
    I have been blogging full time for a year now and I still have much to learn about SEO. There is a lot of good information in your post here, I think I need to read it a second time.

    take care…

  5. Rochelle says:

    Excellent post Sarah. I look forward to more, just came across your page and will definitely be back! 🙂 Keep well.

  6. […] 7 Easy Steps to Proper On-Page SEO by Common Sense Marketing […]

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