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Every few years or so, you’ll see a bunch of “SEO is dead” posts. -But SEO is more than just the latest buzzword. On-page optimization or offsite marketing, SEO is one of the most powerful ways for a company to market its products and services. It’s been around at least since 1997, so the practice is well over 20 years old.
Fast forward to 2023 and the world of SEO can feel like a daunting place. You’ll hear about a lot of different things – on-page optimization, content creation, link building, metadata, and the list goes on and on. And, let’s be real, every article you read makes it seem like that particular aspect of SEO is the be-all and end-all.
SEO involves techniques such as keyword research and link building, as well as making sure that all elements of the website—including content, structure, URLs, images, titles, and metadata—are optimized for search engine results. So, where do you even start?
Well, that’s a great question. Every optimizer has their favorite area of SEO, and they’ll sing its praises like it’s the second coming. But, when it comes down to it, what’s the most important part of SEO for a company?
On-page optimization is all about making sure your website’s pages are the best they can be for both search engines and users. The goal is to create pages that are relevant, valuable, and easy to use. It’s like giving your website a makeover, but instead of choosing a new outfit, you’re choosing the right words, descriptions, and tags to show search engines what your page is all about.
So, how do you make all of this happen? Well, my friend, that’s where the magic of on-page optimization comes in.
Keywords, Research, and Analysis
The keywords and phrases you use are the basis of your entire SEO campaign.
Get them wrong, and no matter how much work you do, you can miss out on a lot of potential customers. This is, quite simply, the most fundamental part of on-page optimization. Targeting the wrong key terms might bring you traffic, but it won’t bring you quality traffic – and really, quality traffic (i.e. interested, converting traffic) is what you want, right?
Keyword research allows you to find out how your visitors find information and gain a better understanding of how to focus your content.
Here are a few basic ideas to understand before starting research and analysis:
Geo-Targeting, Location-Based SEO, Local SEO
“Geo-targeting” simply means targeting specific areas. If you choose to geo-target, you must also decide where you want to (such as zip code, city, state, or country).
Example: If you are targeting people in the U.K., you might use British English instead of American English and idioms (i.e. color vs colour). You might want to provide translations for various countries or content specific to a location.
But geo-targeting goes beyond different countries. A perfect example is the popular submarine sandwich. Depending on where one lives in the U.S., it could simply be a “sub”. In New England, however, the name of this fabulous sandwich changes depending on the city, state, and sometimes simply a suburb.
This article from New England Today shows how granular you can get with your local SEO (spukie, anyone?), and also how far you can miss your target market without the right terms for your chosen location.
When researching keywords, pay attention to which version has more people searching for it. However, don’t forget to look at whether you can naturally use the form you chose.
Example: “Specialist” may be used more often than “specialists,” but the singular version may not fit the content.
Although this point has been argued about, the order of words in the search term does matter. Lesson 1.5 of Google’s “Power Searching with Google” course tells users that word order matters in the results they receive.
If it matters what users see, it matters what marketers use. The closer to the beginning of a title, description, or heading, the more prominence (or weight) a word will have to the search engines.
Example: “SEO professional” brings back different results than “professional SEO”.
Keywords, Phrases, and Long-Tail
Keywords, key phrases, and long tail keywords are three entirely different terms:
- Keywords – generally one or two words with a high search volume. The problem with using only keywords is that the wider the term, the less chance of getting targeted traffic.
Example: Someone searching for “golf” may be looking for courses, clubs, shoes, or clothes.
- Key phrases – generally two or three words that help narrow down the overall search term.
Example: “golf courses, California” or “golf clubs, California”
- Long tail keywords – multiple keyword strings of at least four or five words with an extremely tight focus on your specific product.
Example: “high-quality golf clubs in California”
- The long tail keywords not only include the long tail but also can be broken down into several other quality search terms.
Example: the long tail keyword example has “high-quality golf clubs”, “golf clubs”, “golf clubs in California”
The easy part of keyword research is creating a list of possible, relevant keywords to use. You know your industry, or should, and you know what your site will be about, or should. The hard part comes when you start researching to find out what terms the visitors use. Remember, most are laymen – that’s why they’re looking for you.
As an example, we dithered back and forth over whether to use “organic SEO” as one of our key terms. We know what it means, but what does it mean to people searching for SEO providers? Is it a positive addition or a negative one? These are things you’ll also need to consider while researching.
The best place to start is with a keyword. Ask yourself, “What is my industry?” Then, ask yourself what visitors might call your industry. Develop keyword clusters, or groups, about a topic or subject using the answers. The main keyword in each group becomes the main keyword for your site’s high-level directories.
Using Search Engines for Research
How do you do the research? If you’re on a tight budget, look to Google and Bing.
For instance, say you have a keyword you’re sure will bring in traffic, but you don’t know how much traffic. Pull up the Google Keyword Tool and search for your term. You’ll get an average monthly search amount.
Google Trends can tell you which terms are trending up and down for a specific city, state, country, etc. As a place to start, this is an excellent choice.
Google Search Console + Bing Webmaster Tools let you see what terms are already bringing people to the site. There is a wealth of data, and you might be surprised. We’ve uncovered several terms for clients throughout the years that they’d never thought of targeting, but that made absolute sense when it was brought to light.
URLs, Meta Titles, and Descriptions
Ah, beautiful, beautiful SERPS. You get the chance to have an attention-grabbing title. Your potential visitors can save the page to come back to. You’re also allowed a nice little description of what they’ll find on the page. So, what you’re now looking at is a full ad, which shows the URL, search title, and meta description.
These three make up your search snippet:
URLs – Using keywords in URLs is a fairly easy concept to understand. Not only does this help the search engines get an idea of what the page is about, but it also helps the visitors. Which would you be able to understand better, example.com/1234/5678 or example.com/golf/clubs? If possible, include the main keyword for the page as the page’s URL.
Search Titles – Search titles are important to the visitor. You see this part at the top of each search snippet. Using keywords in the title is all well and good, but make sure the title is enticing to visitors and relates to the search term they used, not necessarily the search term you think they should use.
Don’t sacrifice the reading quality just to make the search engines happy. Lastly, never use the same title tag on more than one page.
Meta Descriptions – Description tags must be informative, enticing, and clickable. The first view visitors will have of your site, the description is your business card. The worst mistake you could ever do is stuff it full of keywords. This is marketing at its most powerful: don’t waste it on search engines that can’t buy anything.
This is a basic introduction to titles and descriptions. We highly recommend a more in-depth article, 10 Building Blocks of Great Meta Tags.
When looking at your content structure with an eye toward on-page optimization, you’re looking at how well your content provides the information your readers are looking for on all levels:
Header Tags – Your content should be organized into logical sections. Make proper use of your headers (h1, h2, h3) to give your text hierarchy and make it easier to scan.
Keywords – Incorporate your keywords into your content, but don’t force it. The rule of thumb for content optimization is this: If you’re forcing your keywords to fit the content, either change the content or change the keywords.
Content – Your content should be high quality and at least 300 words. Before you push “Publish”, ask yourself – did I cover this topic fully?
Media – For longer content, images or videos are often a great way to give the reader additional context. When using images, use descriptive file names and alt tags. Not only do the alt tags help search engines understand what the image is about, it also helps blind readers “see” the image.
Internal Linking – If you have additional content elsewhere on your site that can help improve the reader’s knowledge of the topic, absolutely link to that content. Internal links to other relevant pages on your website helps users and search engines navigate your site better.
What does the lifeline of your site look like? How well do the pages work on your server? Do you have 404 (page not found) errors? Are you using too many redirects? Does it take forever to load your site?
Technical SEO covers things that don’t deal with content, such as those listed above. Before you ever go off-site for any optimization campaign, you have to make sure your site is ready for visits. Don’t ignore the recommendations your professional SEO provider passes along. Every little bit counts, and this includes the technical bits.
Further reading on this topic:
At the end of these “steps”, you’ll have a tightly focused, optimized, clean, fast site. Then, you can start looking at the actual outreach programs, such as link building, guest blogging, and so on.
There is no single part of optimization more important than keyword research and analysis, and there’s no one section of optimization more important than the on-page. Not only will on-page optimization give you strong relevance but, done right, it will also give you a site that people want to visit.
In conclusion, remember that good SEO takes time, patience, and basic knowledge (and good advice!). It’s trial and error, even for the best of us. You may find yourself with #1 ranking for a search term that no one searches for, which doesn’t do you any good. If something goes wrong, take a deep breath and dig into research again. SEO isn’t magic; it’s science. The answers are there!
If you’re struggling with your SEO campaigns, contact Level343. We offer many levels of service, including consultation, campaign support, campaign creation, and implementation. We come in where you need us most.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for clarity, and for the most recent information about on-page optimization.