When we explore SEO at a macro level, there are two parts every SEO campaign should include to give it the best chance of increasing rankings, traffic, and conversions. These two parts are on-site or on-page SEO, and offsite SEO. In this post, we are going to explain the basics of on-page SEO and the on-site strategies that can provide the biggest impact on SEO rankings.
What Is On-page or On-site SEO?
We approach the definition of on-site SEO from a few different perspectives; these include who’s in control, impact points, who it’s for, and the amount of SEO impact.
Website Control: On-site SEO includes the SEO ranking factors that a site owner has control over.
Impact Points: On-site SEO consists of those activities that directly affect the content, pages and architecture of the site – in other words, all the internal factors that make a site useful for the visitor.
Who It’s For: On-site SEO begins and ends with the user. We don’t build a website for search engines (or at least we shouldn’t). We create websites with the intention that people will come to our website, interact with its content, and complete a defined goal.
The Amount of SEO Impact: In theory, on-site SEO factors play less of a role in Google’s overall ranking algorithm (because a website owner can easily optimize/change these factors), compared to their SEO counterpart, off-site ranking factors, which at their core includes inbound links. With that said, like with most search engine optimization, there are caveats to most theories. Two of these primary caveats are:
With that said, like with most search engine optimization, there are caveats to most theories. Two of these primary caveats are:
- If your foundational SEO elements are not optimized, any off-site SEO can/will have much less of a rankings impact.
- It is widely accepted that without a strong SEO foundation, the ability to truly earn external ranking factors such as links will be nearly impossible.
The Most Impactful On-site SEO Factors
There are hundreds of on-site ranking factors that may impact rankings within the search engines – some have more impact than others. Below you will find a checklist of on-page ranking factors that we feel have the most impact, and therefore should be audited and addressed first.
On-site SEO Factor #1: Website Design Experience
We have written numerous articles that explain why a great design and website experience are essential for having a successful SEO campaign. Having a great design and website experience for users helps build trust, authority, and contributes to brand building – all of which impact organic rankings.
On-site SEO Best Practices: Here are a few articles for further exploration of the topic of website design’s impact on SEO.
- Why Your SEO Firm Might Recommend A Website Redesign (A Godaddy Article)
- The Biggest SEO Mistakes Small Businesses Make (Epik Interactive)
- Why Your Website’s SEO Isn’t Working
On-site SEO Factor #2: Information Architecture
Having a well thought out IA has positive benefits for both users and search engines. Defining your IA based on user expectations will help content discovery and consumption by users. Having a solid information architecture aids in topic modeling, optimizes search engine crawl budget and indexation – all positively impacting on-page SEO.
On-site SEO Best Practices: To learn more about IA, we have written a beginners guide titled Information Architecture Basics.
On-site SEO Factor #3: Content Quality and Value
It’s no secret that over the past 3 to 4 years, Google has become strict on what it considers great content. In our opinion, there have been three evolutions of content grading by the search engines.
- When Google first launched, the mantra was creating “unique content” – this resulted in tactics such as article spinning to ensure a certain percentage of uniqueness to each article.
- The next evolution of content grading was focused on “content quality” – this was soon equated to creating content of a particular length.
- The most recent evolution of content puts the user at the center and is about creating content that is valuable. Valuable content includes the first two iterations of content creation (unique and quality), but also includes user engagement metrics for scoring content.
On-site SEO Best Practices: Make sure your content is valuable to users, bu first understanding what your users will find useful. Then make sure it offers a unique slant on the topic and is long enough to cover the topic thoroughly.
On-site SEO Factor #4: Topics and Keywords
SEO is rooted in a website’s keyword selection. Ranking and driving traffic and conversions for these keywords is the strategic core of SEO.
Choosing the best keywords can be difficult due to the vast number of options, and is a strategy in itself. Once you have defined your priority keywords, it’s time to become strategic with your on-site placement and content creation. There are three parts to targeting keywords:
- Keyword Research: This involves understanding your users enough to know what they want information about.
- Content Creation: Understanding your current content inventory, where gaps exist, and creating targeted/optimized content to fill those gaps.
- Iteration: Refining your content based on data and feedback.
On-site SEO Factor #5: SEO Title Tags
Many tags are used in the header of a website providing Google insight into a piece of content. These include meta tags, verification tags, social tags, and arguably the most important, title tags. There are four main parts to a title tag these include:
- Keyword Target: What keywords are you targeting?
- Keyword Placement: Where to place the keyword? The old SEO thought processes said to put it at the beginning; new research shows that might not be as important.
- Brand Name Placement: Where to place your brand name in the title tag? At the beginning or the end of the title tag?
- Structure/Length: How do you present your title tag content, and how much space do you have to include your messaging?
On-site SEO Best Practices: These factors equate to a title tag that earns high click through rates and has a positive impact on on-site SEO. If you’d like to dive more into SEO tags, you can read our post about SEO tagging best practices.
On-site SEO Factor #6: Scanability and Content Hierarchy
Most people probably don’t think that on-site SEO includes content structure – when in fact it plays a huge role in the experience a user has when landing on your web page. A study by Jacob Nielsen indicated that less than 20% of content is read.
So how do scannability and a well-defined content hierarchy impact on-site SEO? Think about it this way.
- If your blog post structure is not well defined, you could frustrate users who are trying to scan your content to find information.
- This frustration could cause them to leave your website.
- If users are frequently bouncing from your website, it has the potential to give Google negative user data about your content’s value.
- This negative user feedback data could impact your rankings within the search engines. Learn more about Google using user data for rankings here.
Still not convinced? Let’s explain it in terms of ROI on effort, another study by Nielson Norman Group demonstrated that by improving the scannability and readability of text led it to a 124% improvement in content capture. Content capture can result in a better recall, and thus better branding.
On-site SEO Factor #7: Internal Links
Internal links are any link that takes a user to another page within your website. For a user, the goal of internal links is to help them discover information that will help expand their knowledge about a topic. For a search engine, an internal link gives them access to new content and helps distribute ranking power throughout a website.
A strong internal link structure can amplify SEO efforts by creating a strong on-site foundation for discovering and ranking new pages.
On-site SEO Best Practices: Want more information about this topic? Read our post “How Internal Links Impact SEO“.
On-site SEO Factor #8: URL Structure
The structure of your URL can impact a multitude of things that contribute to your SEO.
For Search Engines: A poorly structured URL can confuse search engines or cause them to think you’re trying to keyword stuff the URL.
For Users: A poorly structured URL can make it difficult for users to understand page content and make social sharing difficult.
On-site SEO Best Practices: If you’d like to learn more about creating URLs that are best for SEO and users, you can read our URL Guide for SEO and Users.
Once these primary on-site SEO ranking factors have been audited and optimized and the results measured, a website owner can focus on the slight SEO nuances of each page to try to improve their rankings further.
Even though on-site SEO may not have the impact of strategies such as link building, it is a necessity for any website who wants to build a strong foundation and get the most out of their link building and social campaigns.