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8 Elements of On-Page Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

on-page search engine optimizationOn-page search engine optimization is still an important step in your content marketing strategy despite the many SEO “experts” who say it is a waste of your time. No one knows exactly what it takes to get your web page on the first page of search engine results—not even the analysts who work for Google. The algorithm that is used to determine placement is constantly changing so what may work one day may not the next.

The best content marketing strategy involves both on-page search engine optimization tactics and off-page with the primary focus always on the actual content of the page. In this article, we will focus on the on-page items you need to optimize.

6 Web Page Elements to Optimize

1. Title Tag

The title tag is what is displayed on the tab in your browser usually alongside your favicon. It is also the bold, hyperlinked text you see in the search engine results. Since it is the first thing a visitor sees in the search engine, it is important to use your keyword phrase here. It should grab their attention and answer their query.

The title tag for a default installation of WordPress is the title of the page or post as you have entered it into the WordPress Editor, followed by “—“ and the title of your site as entered in Settings > General. Your theme may handle this differently. For example, the Genesis Sample theme displays just the page or post title.

IWD recommends the use of Yoast SEO to assist with on-page search engine optimization. With this plugin, you have the option to create a template for the title tag. A common template would be %%title%% %%sep%% %%sitename%%. The Yoast SEO plugin provides the following symbols to separate the post/page title from the site name: hyphen (-), n-dash (–), m-dash (—), mid-dot (·), bullet (•), asterisk (*), star (★), vertical bar (|), tilde (~), double left arrows («), double right arrows (»), left angle bracket (<), or right angle bracket (>). You should take advantage of this automation in case you forget to manually change it. Ideally, you will manually change this within the Yoast SEO Meta box on the Editor screen. The plugin will let you know if your title is too short, too long, or doesn’t contain your focus keyword phrase.

2. Meta Description

The next item that is displayed on the search engine results page (SERP) is the meta description. If you do not supply one, the search engines will grab the first content it can find on the page. Since you want to encourage searchers to click on your entry on the SERP, you will want to craft this content also. Again, Yoast SEO will let you know if it is too short, too long or doesn’t contain your focus keyword phrase. Don’t stuff this with multiple uses of it, however, or the search engines will penalize you for this, too. You may use variations of the keyword phrase. It is important that the description is real content and not bait-and-switch!

3. Heading

The next important piece of the on-page SEO puzzle is your actual post or page title. If your theme is properly coded, it will surround it with <h1> tags. It should be the only H1 tag on your page, however, so don’t use the WordPress toolbar and format other content within your article as a heading 1. Your heading/title should also include your keyword phrase or a variation of it. Yoast SEO will also tell you if your heading is too short, too long, or doesn’t contain your keyword phrase. When someone shares your post or page to social media, this will be the content that is usually suggested as the shared content. You may adjust this on the Yoast SEO Social tab. You may provide a custom title, description and image for Facebook and Twitter.

4. URL

The URL displayed for WordPress sites is largely dependent upon what you have selected in the Permalinks section of the WordPress Settings. Older installations defaulted to the ID, e.g., sitename.com/?p=123. Newer installations default to the post name, e.g., sitename.com/name-of-post/. Other options use the category or date the page is published to organize posts. Unless you have a very large site, IWD recommends you stick with the default post name.

With the Yoast SEO plugin, you have the option to automatically remove “stop” words from the URL when you save your page or post, i.e., the, and, a, etc. It usually does a good job of shortening the URL to just the few key words that make a good URL. You have the option to override the suggested “slug” in the Yoast SEO meta box on the Editor screen.

5. Body Copy

This is actually the best place to do on-page search engine optimization. While the other items above are important, if you provide your readers with good information, they will share it with others or link to it from their websites or social media. External links to your site (backlinks) are very important for good results in the SERPs. Yoast SEO will let you know if your body copy contains too little or too much use of your keyword phrase.

The best way to write good copy is to just write—don’t worry about SEO while you are writing. Once you have drafted your page or post, you can review it for improvement. Have you used subheadings (H2 and H3) to divide up your content into chunks? Not only does it make it easier to read, it also makes it easier to skim, which is all some people have time to do these days!

You should also make good use of lists either bulleted or numbered where feasible. These are also easy to read and digest. Do not underline text but you can make use of italics and bold to make specific content stand out.

Make use of internal links (cross-linking) to other related content on your site. Aim for two to three internal links. You can also include external links but only if they are directly related. If they are from non-authoritative sources, I’d make the “no follow” links so that you don’t lose any “Google juice.”

Yoast SEO recommends that articles contain at least 300 words. This is just a guide; shorter articles can rank if they contain good, solid content such as a definition or answer to a specific question. Longer form articles ranging from 1,000 – 2,000 words are best.

6. Image Alt Tag

Another item often forgotten when composing a new page or post is an appropriate image. Whether you use stock photography or provide your own, it is important to give the image and “alt” description. Whenever you add an image to a WordPress post, you have the option to add/change the image title, caption and/or alt text. While the caption will be displayed for the reader of the post, the image title and alt text are only displayed in the code that makes up the page. Google and the other search engines do not “see” the images that you publish on your site. They read the title and alt text of those images. For people with disabilities, if they have a screen reader, it will use the alt text to tell them what is displayed on the page. Use your keyword phrase here in a way that makes sense.

2 Blog Elements to Optimize

7. Social Sharing

Make good use of the Featured image or the custom images you create for Facebook and/or Twitter to increase your reach. Use tools like Canva or Pixlr to add text to your image with your post tile. Make sure your social title and/or description has keyword hashtags for Twitter.

Create variations of your original status update. While the first one may have had the direct headline, in your next status update include an indirect headline. Ask a question perhaps related to the article. Another status update could include a different image with a quote from your article while a fourth could contain an infographic from data in your article.

8. Freshness

There are 2.7 million posts every single day. That’s a lot to compete against! Google uses the Query Deserves Freshness (QEF) for queries like:

  • upcoming events in Richmond, VA
  • NFL scores (during the season)
  • Arnold Palmer (recently passed)

Google favors posts that feature content for “today”. This includes your evergreen posts. Go to your Google Analytics and find a top performer (Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels – change channel to Organic Search and in the bottom change primary dimension to Landing Page). Next perform on-page SEO (above 6 steps). Third, update the post by correcting inaccuracies, adding clarity, examples, screenshots, video, infographics, and/or a Slideshare deck. Finally, share it across your social media platforms and send it to your email list.

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