There are a lot of ways to do search engine optimization, but it all starts with on-page SEO. With search engines changing their algorithms in an effort to make artificial link building less effective, having things right on site is becoming more important. In addition, if things are not done properly on the site pages, anything that is done off page to boost a site may not make a noticeable difference. Furthermore, it is one factor that the webmaster has virtually total control over and can usually change relatively easily. By starting with the right on-page SEO techniques, the whole process of raising a site’s rankings becomes considerably faster.
The times they are a-changin
In the past, this article would have started with meta tags, keywords and the like. However, everything has been turned upside down with changes in search engine algorithms aimed at making it more difficult to deliberately optimize for selected keywords. While placing the keyword phrase in the article the right way was a must in the past, it is not even necessary to even include the phrase to make it to the top page now.
The goal of the search engines is to deliver the best content for readers in searches and not that which has been optimized to make it to the top of searches. While this makes on-page SEO more difficult, it still can be done. However, while the right content always did make a difference, now it simply must take center stage. Do everything with the reader in mind. When this is done, the other SEO tips can provide the added boost to break through the competition.
Good content has always been what engages readers and provides solutions to problems. In part, this comes from careful writing and knowledge of the niche. However, LSI, as described below and more thoroughly in latent semantic indexing, is a great tool that helps create more complete articles that appeal to BOTH readers and search engines.
Latent semantic indexing
Usually referred to as LSI, it is the process of looking for themed keywords to include in the article when used in SEO. If one examines the top sites for keyword phrases, it is usually possible to find common words used in these sites. By using these keywords, writers can produce more themed articles that contain words related to the keyword phrase and cover the topic very thoroughly. This will help it rank high in search results while also giving users a better experience at the same time.
One can find these keywords and phrases using software (see LSI) or through more manual methods. If LSI is not used, it is advisable to at least make sure there are variations of the targeted keyword in the article when possible. In addition, use keyword research tools to find long tail keywords to base at least some articles on.
While many did not think of as part of on-page SEO in the past, content is clearly king now. As a general rule, search engines like lengthier articles since they are an indication that the author is informed about the topic, and the article contains a lot of information. Therefore, writer longer articles of 700-800 words or more where practical. Try to keep articles at a minimum of 500 words. While it is not clear if writing styles such as point-of-view makes a difference, the search engines do look at the quality of the writing so be careful with grammar and the like.
Article keyword density
It is never a good idea to overuse keywords, and the article body is no exception. Search engines penalize this, and it creates articles that do not read naturally. Having the keywords at varied intervals throughout the article is ok ONLY if it is natural. Those deliberately adding keywords should do it no more than once or twice.
Having internal links pointing to other pages within the site can also help with on-page SEO. The links need to contain the targeted keywords in the anchor text (again, keep it natural). Anchors within a page (that only point to another part of the same page) will help with navigation and may have SEO value.
Including keywords in the URL can help with rankings. However, there also are advantages to keeping the URL short. In other words, use keywords in the URL but do not overdo it. In addition, use the principles covered in domain names to choose a name that will help with SEO.
Images & infographics
Without an alt tag, the image will not have any SEO value. These tags need to be included to describe what the images are about and to add keywords (remember to vary them) where appropriate. Of course, pictures also make a site more attractive.
The best type of image to add is usually an infographic as they are easily shared, appealiing and summarize articles well.
Keep content current
Search engines favor sites that are changing. Try to add new pages regularly. Existing content should be updated periodically for the visitors as well as the search engines. When updating all the pages on a large site is not practical, update those pages that get the most traffic.
Structure and categorize
Plan sites out so that they are organized and easy to navigate for search engines and people. Try to make every page reachable with a few clicks from the main page of the site.
The best way to lay a site out is by following the principles of categorizing and siloing. Content should be organized so that related articles are grouped together. Doing this also helps webmasters keep track of what they have on their sites.
Finally, an organized site will help in avoiding duplicate content. While there is some debate as to whether having duplicate content within a site is actually penalized, the value of any content is certainly diluted when it is repeated in a site on different pages, or if the same page can be accessed through different URLs.
Search engines want to deliver sites that offer the best user experience and having a slow site certainly subtracts from it. Having a faster site will help with rankings and reduce the risk of people giving up before the page can be downloaded (as WordPress is kind of a bandwidth hog, see ways to speed up WordPress). When choosing hosting, make sure it has the kinds of services that will deliver pages quickly (hosting costs are reasonable, so it is one thing that shouldn’t be skimped on). Use http://gtmetrix.com/ to measure the speed of the site and the tools below to find ways to optimize it.
Keep it clean
It is also important to avoiding errors so the pages remain friendly to the bots that the search engines send out to index the web. Keep the code as clean as possible. Tools to include http://validator.w3.org/, Webmaster Tools and those at SEO checkers can be used to find bad code or other errors in a website.
Tagging it for on-page SEO
While these tags have certainly dropped in SEO importance, they still can help. However, it is now more important to try to use variations of the keywords.
The first of these is the title tag. This tag can be seen on the top of the search browser whenever a page is accessed and on the search engine results page. Therefore, it should be optimized both for the search engines and the visitors. It needs to attract the visitor, be to the point (kept under 70 characters), descriptive and contain the keywords the page is optimized for (one time). To avoid unnecessary words, use pipes and dashes. For example, the title of this page is: On Page SEO | Rank with Search Engines.
The title tag of the article is the first thing a visitor to a page is likely to look at. It also should be to the point, attractive and include the keywords of the article. However, do not try to stuff in keywords and sacrifice readability. The visitor needs to come first, and search engines will penalize for keyword stuffing (this goes for all tags).
The next tag is the meta description tag. This tag too needs to be optimized for both the visitors and the search engines. If it has not been included, the search engines will use a snippet of what they think the page is about to display on the results page. Make it a brief (under 170 characters), attractive description of what the page is about and include the keyword phrase. All tags, regardless of the type, need to be unique on every page.
The meta keyword tags are not seen by the visitor and now count for little to nothing with search engines. However, it certainly does not hurt to add the main and some other keywords to each page. More on all these tags can be found in understanding meta tags.
H1, H2 and perhaps H3 tags should be used to highlight keywords and show the visitor what the page is about. Use H1 for the main keywords and the smaller tags for the secondary keywords where appropriate (see using header tags).
Finally, using bold and italicized text to highlight words helps to show the search engines what the page is about and gives them a bit more weight.
Over time, creating quality, accurate, useful content, be it articles or other things, is the best way to do off-page SEO too since it will attractive more visitors and links naturally. Website writing gives some pointers on how to create the kind of content users are looking for.
Comments attract visitors, keep them on your site longer, show search engines your site is active and are free content to boot. To encourage comments, you might want to allow visitors to use their social media accounts to automatically login and post. WordPress comments for Facebook is an example of this.
Along the same lines, the Disqus system makes it easy for people to automatically login and comment on all sites it is installed on. An added benefit of this system is that it keeps out most spam.
Another option for WordPress users are plugins designed to encourage comments with incentives for commentators. CommentLuv and Top Commentators are the most popular. The drawback of these tools is that they tend to attract people who only make very quick comments to get backlinks.
Writing on controversial topics, asking for help, attacking someone and similar strategies also increases the chances of people leaving comments.
Finally, paid services can be used to get commenting started. Synnd offers comments as part of its wide selection of social signals tools
Some things not to do
One should know what to avoid when doing on-page SEO. Trying to trick the system with things to include hidden text and separate pages for visitors and search engines might work for a while, but always runs the risk of getting a site dropped from the results page.
Search engines are in the business of providing people with the information they are looking for. Although there are ways to cheat the system, as a long-term strategy, the goal of on-page SEO should always be to make pages with content that people will value. The algorithms used to determine search engine results are geared to find the best content to the extent the technology permits. In the future, this is likely to grow in importance.