On-Page Optimisation with a View to the Off-Page
On-page SEO is a topic that is widely discussed and it seems that everyone has differing opinions upon what works and what doesn’t. I thought that I would share my experience from the SEO campaigns that I have worked on and found success with. As well as this, I have combined the comments of industry experts to provide you, my lovely reader, with a guide to the best practises of on-page optimisation.
Ever since the introduction of Google+ it seems that Google have went crazy over social signals. Facebook ‘Likes’, ‘Tweets’ and ‘+1s’ all play a huge part toward your website’s search ranking so it would be foolish not to take this into account when doing the on-page work. What I mean by this is that you need your website to be ‘social ready’ in order to encourage or at bear minimum, enable the user to share your content. This, amongst many other factors plays a huge part toward the success of your SEO campaign.
What is the Best Way to Optimise a Web Page?
This is a question that is asked again and again by anyone looking to get their website ranking well within the search engines. The answer to this question, however, is always changing due to the consistent evolution of search engines and the algorithms that they use to ‘rank’ webpages. Not only this but we have to take into account many external factors that have an effect on a website that in the past we would have not considered as part of the on-page SEO process. For example, the different markup languages that have an effect on how our webpages are displayed when they are shared on social sites or simply how they appear in the SERPs.
I must mention Rand Fishkin’s article on ‘the perfectly optimised page‘ back in 2009 which looked at the best way to perform your on-page work at the time. This article now looks to follow on from a lot of the points that Rand made with some new factors that need to be took into account.
The Webpage URL
The URL of the webpage can be one of the most important factors of on-page optimisation, espcially within large product-based e-commerce sites. From personal experience I’ve found that changing URLs retrospectively can be an absolute nightmare, so getting this right before your website is launched is essential. A quick (and very rough) example of how adding in your keyword into your URL can be beneficial to your SERP position can be seen below:
The website in position 10 has a very low domain authority yet is ranking on the first page of Google for a competitive keyword. Now, I know that domain authority is not a sole metric to base any argument on, however, a quick search of any popular keyword will backup the point I am making here. With the recent Google EMD (exact match domains) update there has been a slight drop in the importance of keywords in domain name, but it seems that the actual impact of this algorithm update hasn’t been as big as we first envisaged. Pete Meyers wrote a great blog on the SEOmoz blog that looked into the influence of EMDs, so if your looking for more information on them, check it out here.
The position of the keyword in the URL can make a slight difference as well. The closer that the keyword is positioned to the domain in the URL, the better. This is not going to be possible for all of your URLs though so, where you can, try to place your relevant keyword as close to the domain name in the URL as possible (i.e. www.domain.com/business-cards/).
The length of the URL is another important factor toward the on-page SEO. A study into organic search CTR carried out by Marketing Sherpa found that shorter URLs had a 250% increase in click-throughs than longer URLs. They stated in their report:
“What we discovered was that long URLs work as a deterrent and stop viewers from doing what they’re supposed to do (click!). Instead, viewers spend time trying to decypher what’s in the URL itself. Those viewing the listing with the long URL actually ended up clicking on the listing immediately after it 2.5 times more than those viewing the listing with the short URL.”
Avoid overly-dynamic URLs as they are not good practise for SEO. All of your URLs should be set up in a logical way that gives an idea to what the user can expect from the content of the page. For example, if you were to see www.domain.com/index.php?12345/ then it would be almost impossible for you to guess what that page was about. On the other hand, www.domain.com/green-plastic-bags/ is most likely to be about Green Plastic Bags. This will also help the search engines to understand exactly what the page content is related to and goes back to the point made above by Marketing Sherpa.
Search Metrics recently published their ‘UK SEO Ranking Factors 2012’ white paper which outlined some of the top factors affecting search result positions. Interestingly, the most important factors that they found were to do with social signals pointing to the webpage (i.e. Facebook ‘Likes’, Tweets, Google +1’s, etc). With this in mind, each of your webpages should be equipped with the functionality that enables a user to easily share the page. Adding a +1, Tweet and Facebook Share button to your page can pay dividends in the long-term and encourage more visits to the page. The more social signals point to the page the better!
Sort Your Head Out
The head section of your webpage should contain a variety of different lines of code that give the search engine spiders an idea of what your page will be about. This area will also contain information for the social graph in order to link your webpage to other social platforms.
Make sure you include your keywords within your webpage title. This is something that is always stressed as one of the most important parts of on-page SEO and it is something that I couldn’t agree with more. Placing your keywords closer to the beginning of your webpage title is another technique that has proven to provide substantial SEO benefits; for example, ‘Business Cards from the Company X’.
Make sure you are paying attention to the length of your webpage titles though because titles that are overly long may not be displayed correctly. Shaun Anderson from Hobo-Web mentioned in one of his blog articles that:
“Google will display as many characters as it can fit into ‘a block element that’s 512px wide and doesn’t exceed 1 line of text’.”
It is often stated that there is a maximum of 70 characters that will be displayed in the SERPs but this is no longer the case, so pay extra attention to those titles!
Ensure that each of your webpages has a rel=”canonical” tag to show that the content on the page is not duplicated. This is great when you have a large website where webpages are dynamically generated using the same bits of content. The canonical tag tells the search engines which page contains the original content and almost works like a kind of 301 redirect without all the hassle of editing your .htaccess file!
Next up is the meta description tag that is displayed in the search results under your webpage title and URL. Although this doesn’t give any direct benefits for the search rankings of your webpage, it can play a big part toward the click-through rate. Kristi Hines gave me some food for thought in an article she wrote on the KISS Metrics blog earlier this year. Kristi made the point of paying a bit less attention to SEO and placing more emphasis on click-through rates through optimising your meta descriptions. I would definitely recommend giving it a quick read.
Social-Ready Code – Open Graph Properties
I have been talking a lot recently about the importance that social signals have upon your website’s search engine rankings. By encouraging the sharing of your content will not only improve your rankings but it can expand your social following, help build online relationships and above all, give your brand more exposure. Preparing your website with ‘social-ready’ code should now be done as standard within your on-page SEO work.
There are various different mark-up languages that will help contact your webpages to the social graph, one of which is the Open Graph Protocol.Open Graph is based around the idea of mapping out a webpages connections and interactions online in order to create a ‘social graph’. Implementing this code into your webpages will mean that when a user shares or ‘Likes’ your page it will display in the way that you have specified. So when someone sees your webpage being posted on Facebook you can then have a relevant image, title, description and URL. You can see an example of this below:
As well as the Open Graph properties, there are other mark-up languages that can be recognised by search engines which can have SEO benefits as well as improved click-through rates. Adding rich snippets to your webpages can let the likes of Google, Bing and Yahoo! know extra information about the webpage content, which can then allow them to display these extra ‘snippets’ in the search results.
In the business cards example above, I have added some of the Schema markup code to the HTML in order to let the search engine know what the webpage is about. The first mark-up is the ‘itemtype=”http://schema.org/product”‘ line within the body tag. This indicates to the search engines that this is a webpage about a product. There are many different properties that, like the Open Graph protocol, can enable your webpages to be consumed and displayed in a specific way by the search engines. You can find out more information on how to use Schema mark-up language on the Google Developers website.
Google+ Profile and Page Authorship
An increasingly talked about topic is content authorship through the use of rel=”author” and rel=”publisher”. This can be used to link the content that you have created to your Google+ account which, as outlined in Cyrus Shepard’s blog post, can have a huge effect on click-through rates. You can see exactly how to link both your Google+ profile and Google+ business page to your website here; it only takes a few minutes. Once you have successfully linked up your profile/page, it can be displayed within the Google SERPs, as shown below:
The amount of times that your keyword is used within your webpage content is a factor that has many different opinions surrounding it. From my experience, the most important thing is that you do not overuse the keyword in the body content. For a long page, around 5-6 keyword repetitions will suffice and on a shorter page around 3-4 maximum should be used. But this really depends on the page content so just aim to make it relevant more than anything.
The H1 tag has proved to have a slightly positive effect toward keyword rankings (bear in mind that this is a very small benefit but is still worthwhile including). Using your keyword within the H1 tag can therefore be beneficial toward SEO; however, make sure that you only use one H1 tag per page.
From my experience I have not found the H2, H3, H4… tags to give any real SEO benefit, however, it is good practise to include these within your webpages where relevant.
One important aspect to include within your body content is semantically similar keywords. By this I mean to use words that are slight variations on your chosen keyword or are related in one way or another. For example, if your chosen keyword was ‘cats’ then using words such as ‘feline’ and ‘kitten’ amongst the body content can be beneficial toward search engine rankings. Aaron Wall of SEOBook wrote an interesting article looking deeper into the effects of semantically similar keywords and latent semantic indexing (LSI) technology and found some positive effects toward search rankings:
“Search engines such as Google do try to figure out phrase relationships when processing queries, improving the rankings of pages with related phrases even if those pages are not focused on the target term”
Image ALT tags should contain your chosen keyword as well as the actual file-name of the image itself, for example, business-cards.jpg (as long as the images are relevant, of course).
Text ‘above the fold’ has also been proven to carry more weight in terms of search rankings. The ‘fold’ of the website is normally around 600px from the top of the website and the content within this area is what is seen as soon as a user enters the webpage. Google have also been punishing webpages that have too many advertisements ‘above the fold’ so it is worth taking that into account if you run adverts on your site.
Another little thing that some SEOs have said to have a very slight positive effect upon the search listings is putting your keyword in bold or italics. I personally haven’t seen any positive effects from this but if it seems relevant then it could be worth a try!
Structure, Links and Architecture
Making your webpage as easy for the search engines to consume as possible should be pretty high on your priority list when it comes to your on-page SEO work. To do this, a solid structure to your webpage is needed.
Break down your content into clear sections, offering a header, page introduction, main body and footer so that it’s easy for the search engines to consume. Also, pay close attention to the way in which you have linked the different pages within your website as this has a real affect on how accessible your content becomes to search engine spiders. Take a look at this video from 2009 (don’t worry, the principles discussed are very much relevant) between Rand Fishkin and Pete Meyers where they discuss the importance of link architecture:
Internal linking is really important toward letting the search engines know which pages to look at and prioritise for indexing. In general, your most important pages should have the highest number of links going to them from other pages on the website. Note that sending multiple links from one page to another won’t do anything for you though because Google will only read the first link (in order of its chronological appearance in the source code) it sees to any specific webpage.
With all of the recent algorithmic changes that Google has been putting in place, most notably Penguin and Panda, the actual position of where you put your links is as important as ever. Avoid placing site-wide links in footer or sidebar areas and try, where possible, to place your links in amongst content that relates to the link itself. For example, placing a link to your ‘business cards’ page from within a paragraph of text that is talking all about business cards and has the anchor text ‘business cards’.
One major factor toward your webpage’s search engine ranking is the ‘depth’ of the page within your website. The further that the search engine’s spiders have to crawl, the less powerful that page is within your website. Pages that you value as a priority over others, for example, major product pages, key services pages, etc, it would be best practise to have these higher in the site architecture. Richard Baxter wrote a very informative article on the SEOGadget blog that showed how to solve site architecture issues and outlined the optimal structures for a number of different types of websites.
An Example of Poor Site Architecture:
The above example shows how deeper pages have reduced PageRank passed through them. If the search engine spiders have to crawl down through many levels just to get to some of your pages then they will definitely suffer.
An Example of an Effective Flat Structure:
In this example it shows a flat website architecture that links all the key pages across the website in structured tiers. This ensures that the search engine spiders can navigate through all the pages of the website with ease. For more information on site structure I would definitely recommend reading the original SEO Gadget article in full.
Getting the Best from your On-Page SEO
The advise that I have outlined should give you a good starting point for your on-page SEO work but there are always changes being made due to the rapid evolution of search algorithms. The most important take-away should be to get everything right at the start of your campaign so that it is just tweaks that you will need to do in the future. What you don’t want to be doing is restructuring the whole website a year down the line because you may as well be starting again from scratch.
As always, I would love to hear your feedback and especially any tips that you have found have given you some success. Hopefully you have at least picked up a few little bits that will help you out!