A Beginner’s Guide to On-Page SEO & Keyword Optimization
While good rankings on the search engine results page (SERP) heavily rely on providing quality content, there are still some steps you need to take to help Google know what your page is about. This is where on-page SEO techniques come in.
On-page SEO relates to things like your keyword research and optimization, external links, and search intent. These apply to any pages on your website as well as your blog posts.
What are those things? There are different kinds of SEO?
Don’t let your head go into a spiral just yet! In fact, many of them are quick, easy tricks that have a significant impact on your page performance.
Read on to get the basics on how to optimize your content for SEO purposes.
What is On-Page SEO?
Before we dive in, let’s take a look at a few essential definitions:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO): The process of getting website traffic from organic (i.e., free) search results generated by search engines, such as Google and Bing
Keyword: In SEO terms, a word or phrase that helps search engines determine the topic of a specific web page
On-page SEO: A set of techniques performed directly on web page content to optimize it for search engine visibility and build authority. Techniques include optimizing title tags, content, URLs, internal links, and meta descriptions with keywords.
Next, we’ll take a look at basic on-page SEO techniques you can use to boost your web pages and blog posts in the search results.
Where to Begin
As you plan your content for a particular page of website copy or blog post, one of the first things you should be doing is keyword research. Start by considering what words people use to search for information on your topic. This is where the following tools come in handy:
While the Keyword Planner is always free, the other three options include limited free versions with different paid subscription options to get access to more data and tools.
After your keyword research, you will choose one to two primary keywords to focus on in your content. Keep note of other relevant search terms that perform well—you can sprinkle them throughout your content (where they fit naturally) to give search engines an even better picture of how your page helps searchers.
Identifying the Right Keywords
So, how do you read the keyword data and select your focus keyword? The primary metrics to focus on when searching for organic (not paid) purposes include:
Volume: Number of searches a keyword has per month
Cost Per Click (CPC): Average cost per click to pay Google to be seen as an ad. You may not be running paid campaigns, but this is good insight because a higher CPC typically indicates a more valuable keyword.
Search Density/Keyword Difficulty: Estimated competition in organic search. The higher the number, the more competitive and more difficult it will be to outrank competitors in organic search results.
While it may seem like a given to simply choose the term with the highest volume, that’s not necessarily the best tactic. Some keywords with very high search volume are also highly competitive—meaning it will be harder to rank highly for them because a lot of the competition is already ranking for them.
Look at all of these numbers as a whole. If you see a keyword with decent volume, but low search density, there is likely an opportunity for you to create quality content around that term to answer searcher queries.
Long-tail keywords, or search phrases of at least three to four words, are also an SEO goldmine. These terms are more specific and better target searcher intent than seed terms (basic one- to two-word phrases). Search Engine Journal also notes that long-tail keywords are effective with voice search (think, conversational).
You can still incorporate those high-volume intro search terms in your content to help. But focusing on less competitive, long-tail keywords can help you rank better and bring more qualified visitors to your site.
When performing your keyword research and selecting your primary keywords, consider what your audience is searching for and how they are phrasing it. This is known as “search intent” or “user intent” and it is Google’s primary concern.
The four types of user intent are:
Informational: “How to increase Instagram engagement” or “Tips for organizing a tiny apartment”
Navigational: “Chewy contact” or “Amazon”
Commercial: “Office chairs” or “Yoga classes in Portsmouth”
Transactional: “Pizza delivery” or “Driveway paving quotes”
Make sure the content on your page delivers what searchers are, well, searching for. If it doesn’t, searchers will bounce and your page will not rank well.
You should check search intent for your main keyword before you begin writing any content to ensure it will be in line with what your audience is looking for. Look at the pages currently ranking on page 1 for your target keyword. They’re there for a reason, so your web page or blog post should be similar to those pages (with your unique take, of course).
This is an intriguing and vital part of SEO and understanding the consumer thought process. If you’re interested in learning more about it, check out this Backlinko article on search intent.
Learn more about delivering quality content on every page of your website in this blog post.
You’ve performed all that research and found your target search term, so how and where do you use it? Let’s look at some guidelines.
Use Your Target Keyword Early
First, make sure you use your primary keyword in the first 100-150 words of your page. Shoot for the first sentence or two.
Placing your keyword early on helps Google identify what your page is about immediately. Plus, it focuses more heavily on terms that show up early on your page.
Place It in the Title and Headings
Use your primary keyword in your page or blog post title (H1) to help “Google understand the structure of the page” (advice directly from the Big G). Most platforms, like WordPress, Wix, and Squarespace, automatically add the H1 tag to your title, so you’re all set.
To double-check that the title is wrapped in an H1 in your site’s code, simply right-click on the title of your page from the frontend (user view) of your site, then click “Inspect.” It should look like this:
Also, be sure to include your target keyword in at least one subheading using an H2 tag. Neither of these steps is absolutely crucial, but using your keyword in headings can still help (and certainly won’t hurt) your on-page SEO.
Use It in Your URL
Your website platform will auto-generate a URL for every page and article, but you can edit it—so make sure you optimize it.
SEO expert Brian Dean recommends a simple yet effective approach to URL structure:
Keep it short.
Include a keyword in each URL.
Put It at the Beginning of Your Title Tag
You’ve probably heard this one: Use your keyword at the front of your title tag. That’s the title that shows up in the SERP, like this:
If you’re wondering how the distance of a few words can make a difference with search engines, listen to Brian: He says your title tag is the most important on-page SEO factor! So use it immediately to tell search engines what’s up as they crawl your site.
Optimize Your Meta Descriptions
Your meta description is the little blurb that appears in the SERP to tell readers what your page is about:
First of all, make sure you write your own meta description. If you don’t, your website platform will autofill it from the first paragraph of your page and that’s what Google will display.
Next, be sure to include your focus keyword in your meta description. This is an old yet tried and tested step that, according to Google, is still best practice. Plus, have you noticed that Google bolds phrases that match your search?
Keyword frequency, also known as keyword density, is how many times your keyword appears in your content.
So, how many times is enough?
This partly depends on the length of your content. As long as you use your keyword several times, it will be a stronger signal to Google of your page’s topic. This includes close versions of your keyword.
According to WordStream, many SEO experts agree that a keyword should be used, at most, once every 200 words of copy. Keep this in mind to avoid keyword stuffing, or overusing your keyword and related terms on one page. Make sure your keywords fit organically into the flow of your content.
Even More Ways to Optimize
Link to External Sources
Specifically, link to other reliable, high-quality, high-ranking pages. This is another way to tell Google what your page is about. It also shows the search engine that your page provides a plethora of other great information.
You’ll see that I always link to other reputable websites throughout my blog posts, such as Neil Patel, HubSpot, and Search Engine Journal. I do this to both verify the information I’m sharing and to give readers awesome resources if they’re interested in doing further research.
Use Title Tag Modifiers
Brian Dean recommends using words like “best”, “guide”, “checklist”, “fast”, and “review” in your title to help rank for long-tail versions of your target keyword.
Searchers also love this kind of content. It tells them your article is complete, thorough, and packed with information. So these kinds of words catch the eye.
Be more descriptive and strategic with modifier use so people know what your article is about and it shows up for other related terms.
Search engines like photos and videos, particularly those of high quality. And so do your readers. It’s a win-win! Quality photos and video can add even more value to searchers, which is why Google loves them.
You can also optimize content like photos by Alt Tag, Title, and filename (more places to include your keyword!). While you can’t always do this with, say, a YouTube video you’ve embedded in your blog post, Google still appreciates it—especially when you use a popular video.
Check out more ways to create blog posts that people love to read.
Create an Off-the-Charts On-Page SEO Strategy
Focusing on your on-page SEO strategy is a solid start to creating optimized content. Keep this list of tricks handy and run through it every time you write a new web page or blog post. Create a routine for your keyword research and optimization strategy, as well as a review process to ensure your page is optimized.
If you’d rather a professional take charge of your content and ensure that it is SEO-friendly, let’s chat! I will not only write your content but optimize it for you, so you don’t have to worry about a thing. Book a free discovery call today to learn more!