Sunday, 2 December 2012

On-Page SEO Guide for Beginners



On-page SEO refers to the changes made – aka. optimization – of different elements of your blog or website for better search engine visibility, higher SERP, better rankings and of course, not only more traffic, but a loyal, returning visitor-base that grows with the passage of time.

Before we begin, I should tell you that most of the on-page elements in discussion here can easily be created/edited/changed in Wordpress. If Wordpress doesn’t allow you to change these, get either this plugin or this one (use one of these, which one you use is up to you), and you’ll be able to do so easily every time you make a new post or a page. Theme frameworks such as Genesis or Thesis provide this functionality by default.

Right, moving on. Here is a simple and easy-to-understand guide on different element of on-page SEO:

1. Page Titles

By far the most important aspect of on-page optimization. Page titles, also referred to as title tags or meta titles, are essential because they define the title of the document (the page), and tell search engines as well as your visitors about the page. It appears in 3 places: (i) on top of your browser, right in front of the name of a website, (ii) in the SERP, whenever you website shows up in the results, and (iii) on another/external website, whenever someone links to you (and on social media as well) as link anchor text.

From an SEO perspective, title tags need to be short (should never exceed 60 characters at max), while being as relevant and descriptive to the contents of the page as possible. In addition (and this is essential), they should also include all major keywords relevant to your blog, in a natural manner (remember: no stuffing!).

2. Meta Descriptions

Anyone who’s ever used Google will instantly know what meta description is. Let me explain: meta titles are often accompanied with a text-snippet, which is essentially a few lines of text under the title itself. That is what a meta description is. Think of meta descriptions as a summary of sorts for any page. It, like titles, tells search engines and human visitors what a page is about, but unlike titles, meta descriptions can be longer in length.

Use meta descriptions to provide a brief overview of a page (avoid exceeding 160 characters) to your visitors and of course the search-engine crawlers. Include relevant keywords (especially the main keyword), write naturally, avoid using too many irrelevant words, and leverage the power of 160 characters to craft an enticing, attractive and interesting summary of the page, so that anyone who stumbles upon it is forced to click on your page and visit your blog.

3. URLs

Links are an important aspect of on-page SEO. URLs, like titles, also describe the site, as well as a page, provide an idea about its content to search engines and visitors. A URL that says ‘www.phonereviews.com’ tells me that this site is about cellphone reviews. Similarly, a URL like ‘www.SEO.com/on-page-seo-best-practices’ tells me that this website is about search engine optimization, and the page that I’m about to view is about best practices on on-site optimization.

As with other elements of on-page SEO, there are a few important things to consider when it comes to optimizing URLs and links. For starters, URLs should be descriptive of the page that they lead to. They should always include relevant keywords (refer to the second example in the paragraph above). They should give a clear idea about site structure and hierarchy to their visitors if your website is split into different pages or categories (e.g. ‘www.photographybasics.com/photography-tips/dslr-lens-guide’). And like titles, URLs need to be short (like in the second example in the paragraph above). URLs should also be relevant and/or closely related to the title of the page.

4. Images

Image optimization often gets overlooked, but the fact is that it is an essential part of on-page optimization. If your blog has images on it, any kind of images, they need to be optimized for search engines as well as human traffic.

For starters, make sure you fill out the information for all images properly – which includes the title, description, caption and above all, the ‘alt’ attribute. Use these fields to ‘describe’ the image, as it will allow Google to ‘see’ the image and rank it appropriately. Alt information in particular, is important, do your best to describe what the image is about, in as less words as possible. Doing so will allow you to get traffic from image search engines, such as Google Images.

5. Internal Linking

An essential cog in the on-page optimization machinery, internal linking refers to linking to posts within your own blog. While this can also be accomplished automatically using Wordpress plugins such as SEO Smart Links, I personally recommend linking to one or two of your blog’s relevant pages in every post, for instance.

Internal linking keeps link juice inside your blog (as opposed to external linking which transfers link juice to the external website).

6. Content

Goes without saying, but this is perhaps the most important aspect of your on-page SEO strategy. Think of it like this: if titles, meta information, URLs, alt information, etc are important aspects of on-page SEO, the content is its life and soul! Without high-quality, optimized content, your on-page SEO is as good as worthless.

Before I say anything about content, it is essential to know that Google HATES over-optimization, especially overly-optimized content. Having said that, produce well-written content that looks naturally-produced, and is aimed at solving the problems of the people in your niche; it should be appealing to them. This is essential.

Not only does good content serve a purpose, it also has the ability to be shared and spread over the internet. Social shares, Facebook ‘likes’, Twitter retweets, etc. are actually quite important. In addition, quality content will have the natural ability to be linked to from other blogs and websites, all on its own self.

As much as Google hates over-optimized content – and the recent algorithm update Panda even went as far as penalizing websites which stuffed keywords in their content – it is still essential to include important relevant keywords in your copy, as naturally as possible.  

(N/B: The words ‘website’ and ‘blog’ have been used interchangeably in this article, but they refer to the same thing wherever they have been used)

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