Nothing’s more frustrating than seeing a competitor outranking your site. But it gets even more annoying if you don’t fully understand how they did it…right? After all, how could you even try to compete if you don’t know where to start.
So we decided to help you a little.
We compiled a list of 12 essential on-page SEO elements that will help you optimize content to rock the search engine results. Awesome, right? Before we start though…
What Exactly is On-Page SEO?
The term on-page SEO refers to set of practices you can take directly on a page to improve its search engine rankings. Working on on-page SEO ensures that your content and code follow Google’s best practices. It also helps you include the most important ranking factors search engines use to rank content. In other words, on-page factors make or break your rankings.
With that off the way, let’s look at the most important on-page factors you need to focus your efforts on.
12 Essential On-Page SEO Elements for Beginners
1. Include keyword in the title tag
The title meta tag is by far the most important on-page ranking factor. It sends Google a strong relevancy signal. It helps the search engine to understand the topic of the page and assess its relevancy to the search query. Search engines also use the title tag to display your search listing’s title.
Including the main keyword in the title tag will help Google establish the topic of a page and what queries to display it for. When optimizing the title tag, make sure that you include the keyword at the start. According to a research by CPC Strategy, Google weighs keywords from left to right, meaning that the search engine gives more value to words on the left of the title.
2. Include keywords in meta description
The description meta tag sends Google another relevancy signal. Although not as strong as the title tag, description still carries some importance as a ranking factor.
Plus, Google uses it to display the search listing’s description. And thus, including the main keyword could help achieve higher rankings. Adding your product’s benefits or USP could help increase your listing’s click-through rate.
3. Wrap page title with the <h1> headline
Just like the title tag, the <h1> headline sends a strong relevancy signal to Google. It helps the search engine determine what the page is about and what search queries it relates to. Most CMSes (content management systems) would automatically wrap page title in a H1 headline. However, check if your theme / platform doesn’t override this setting. If so, correct it to ensure every page’s title gets wrapped in the <h1> headline tag.
4. Include the Keyword in the URL
Many SEOs believe that including keyword in the URL helps send another relevancy signal to Google and improve a page’s rankings. When constructing the URL, add the most important words at the start of the slug (the part after .com/ i.e. http://www.semrush.com/features/organic-research/). Speaking at Pubcon in 2008, Matt Cutts stated that Google weighs the first couple of words in the URL and puts less focus on the others. So make sure that your URL is short and starts with the keyword.
5. Include the keyword at the start of the copy
You could also send another relevancy signal to the search engine by including keyword in the first paragraph. But of course, when you do, make sure that it reads naturally. If including it in the first paragraph makes the copy sound artificial, skip this step in lieu of better copy quality.
6. Include related keywords in the copy
You shouldn’t focus on more than 1-2 keywords per page. That said, you could increase the number of queries a page could rank for by including the main keyword’s synonyms and variations.
Also, to make the most of semantic search, add companion words that would help Google define the context of your keywords. For instance, using the word computer or laptop in connection with “Apple” will help it understand that you refer to the technology firm and not a fruit.
7. Include keyword in image ALT tag
ALT tag is a little text that appears when a cursor hovers over an image. It resides within the image’s HTML code and is used to describe the image to users. But it also sends Google a relevancy signal. And thus, including the keyword in ALT tag is said to help improve your page’s optimization. Most CMS systems do automatically add ALT tag to images. In most cases you may have to download dedicated plugins to facilitate use of this feature.
8. Link to other relevant pages on the site
Interlinking pages passes Page Rank between them. But apart from that, it also provides a good user experience and keeps readers engaged longer. Google uses time people spend on site as a quality signal. And thus increasing the length of stay on a page may have a positive effect on your rankings.
9. Reference and link to authoritative resources
Referencing and linking to other resources on a topic indicates Google your interest in helping a visitor to learn more on the subject. It sends the search engine strong trust and quality signals.
Plus, Google might also use the content of pages you link to to establish what your page is about (i.e. linking to pages about Apple’s computers might tell the search engine that your page about Yosemite is in fact related to the operating system and not a National Park).
10. Write lengthy content
The length of your content could affect its rankings. Longer content indicates a more in-depth take on the topic and thus, better quality information. Given the search engines strive to serve the highest quality results, it makes sense that it puts greater emphasis on longer content.
11. Use canonical tag to avoid duplicate content issue
Like it or not, at some point you will have to deal with a duplicate content issue. Your e-commerce platform or CMS might create a number of URLs pointing to the same page, for instance. Or it adds session IDs to URLs. From SEO point of view, duplicate content could result in the search engine not knowing which version to display in rankings, including the wrong one or even demoting the entire page from SERPs. To overcome it, add a canonical tag to the page’s code, to tell the search engine which is the original version of the content to include in search results.
Many CMSes add canonical tag by default. Others however might require you to install dedicated plugins. Therefore, check if your pages feature a canonical tag. And if not, install appropriate extensions so that your system creates them for every page by default.
12. Improve page loading time
The speed at which your page loads is an important ranking factor, too. If a page takes longer than 3 seconds to load, you should investigate the issue and try to reduce the load time. Use Pingdom Tools or our own SEO Audit tool to investigate page load time and get recommendations for how to improve it.
Seeing a competitor winning in search results could irritate anyone. Right now however you should know what to do to start competing with them for those rankings.
For more hints, use SEMrush’s brand new SEO Ideas tool.
SEO Ideas gives you a complete, structured list of on-page SEO elements you can implement on a particular webpage. The SEO Ideas tool utilizes your competitors’ SEO tactics and data from other powerful SEMrush tools and reports. If you’d like to learn more about this tool, sign up for our webinar.