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Your 2020 Guide to On-Page SEO

The term “SEO” or search engine optimization sometimes gets a bad rep. Some people hear it and immediately think of content created for robots (Google’s algorithms) rather than content designed for a helpful experience or to fulfill a specific need. 

In reality, however, SEO has evolved as a practice and continues to be a crucial element to any successful content strategy. You can’t have the goal of attracting a new or broader audience on the internet without it. 

With that, we’d like to introduce to you (if you’re not already familiar): SEO content strategy – the practice of strategically developing high-quality content that adds value and speaks to your potential customers’ buying intent. This practice takes into consideration your key topics and their relevant search terms from the very beginning of your content and brand strategies and then carries them throughout your entire marketing funnel

Are you still wondering if SEO at its core actually works? The answer is “oh yeah”. Google’s own “How Search Works” report states that:

on-page seo 1

Speaking from our own experiences, we’ve seen direct positive results from on-page SEO work for our clients. For example, Austin Women’s Health Center saw a 40% increase in calls and direction requests from Google local search results. Red Nose Day saw an 80% increase in website visitors year over year from on-page SEO work. 

But SEO is just a piece of the content equation. For SEO to be effective you need to get these three content strategy bits right first:

  1. Know who your audience is
  2. Know what the goals of your content are
  3. Know what kind of content your audience wants

Below, we walk you through what on-page SEO is, along with why and how to incorporate it into your entire content strategy.  

An Overview of SEO types 

There are two main types of SEO. On-page SEO, speaking broadly, is the use of relevant keywords in your copy, meta description, headers, site index, and image naming conventions, as well as the use of relevant internal and external links throughout your content. 

The other is technical SEO, which takes into consideration factors that more directly impact the user/visitor experience. These include elements such as site load time, site maps, 404 errors, rich snippets, title tags, and more. Don’t worry, these elements are covered in detail in part two of this guide.  

Quality Content First, Search Engines Second

When creating content, two factors must be considered: humans and search engines—ideally in that order. You’ll need to create content for humans that’ll satisfy buying intent while keeping search engines in mind. 

Whether you’re building an e-commerce site, a landing page to promote an event, or a blog, be thinking about your end-users first. Why are they there? What are they looking for? Are you delivering on what you’ve promised in your keyword usage? 

Don’t trick people into visiting your site who are looking for something you don’t offer. Both Google and humans catch onto this very quickly. And Google’s algorithms consider your bounce rate (how quickly someone closes your webpage) when determining where your site will rank, or if it will rank at all. Tricking them is a sure-fire way to make them bounce. 

If you want to keep your visitors on your site until they’ve made a purchase, subscribed to a newsletter, or are convinced they need to return, quality, relevant content is an effective way of doing so. 

Why On-Page SEO Matters 

Applying on-page SEO best practices to your website helps it rank high in search results for relevant keywords on search engines like Google. Meaning, if implemented effectively, these tactics will help you be within the first few organic results when a potential customer searches for the solution you offer and therefore, more likely to be clicked on. 

Know Your Keywords 

We’ll dive into greater keyword depths in a later article, as they’re important and warrant their own space. But here is a brief overview. 

The sweet spot is finding terms that are: 

  • relevant to what you offer, 
  • competitive in your market (what terms are your organic search competitors ranking for and how well?), and 
  • should speak to the buyer or visitor intent (what search terms are your potential customers using?). 

For example, if you sell ethically-sourced beauty products, you want your website to be one of the first results when someone searches “sustainable beauty brands,” “ethical beauty products,” or maybe “small-batch beauty products,” if it’s relevant. 

We focus on these “long-tail keywords” – three or more words in a phrase – rather than just one-to-two-word phrases, also known as “head terms”  like “beauty” or “beauty products” because the competition is much lower, increasing the likelihood to be found by someone who’s looking for almost exactly what you offer. This is called “strong purchase intent.” 

They also more clearly mirror how people with purchase intent are searching, as shown in this graphic from Moz:

search demand curve

Understanding what terms and topics your organization needs to focus on (like the long-tail keywords above) will make building out the structure of your websites on-page SEO come much more naturally. And everything will be optimized from the get-go.

Without getting into the weeds on how to find your keywords, check out tools like Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, or Moz’s Keyword Explorer. And read Moz.

How to Use Your Keywords

Below, we walk through the optimal ways to use your target keywords and terms throughout your website copy and longer-form content. 

Keyword Targeting

Don’t make the ‘over-optimization’ mistake so many sites make. Optimize each page of your site for one focus keyword per page and use that exact phrase in the page title, meta description, headings, and in the first 100 words of body content for the best results. Don’t worry about density. Search engines have moved on from this concept.

Pro tip: This won’t be the last time we say this, but don’t overdo it. Your sentence should read like a sentence, not a string of search terms cobbled together. 

Optimizing URLs 

Your domain URLs (links that lead searchers to your website) should include your keyword for each page and also indicate the hierarchy between your pages. A page on your website should not take more than three clicks to reach from your homepage. This is an optimized site structure or information architecture and it looks something like this: 

on-page seo 3

Moz (which is an excellent resource for everything SEO) says, “URL structure is important because it helps the search engines to understand relative importance and adds a helpful relevancy metric to the given page. It is also helpful from an anchor text perspective because people are more likely to link with the relevant word or phrase if the keywords are included in the URL.” 

Optimizing Title Tags 

Moz   as “an HTML element that specifies the title of a web page. Title tags are displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs) as the clickable headline for a given result and are important for usability, SEO, and social sharing. The title tag of a web page is meant to be an accurate and concise description of a page’s content.” 

This is what a title tag looks like: 

on-page seo 4

In the backend of your site within the code, a title tag looks like this: 

<head>  <title>Example Title</title></head> 

Title tags are important because they’re the first thing people see when searching relevant keywords—that is, the first impression of your brand. They also tell search engines what your page is about when they crawl it. They’re used in three key places: search engine results pages (SERPs), web browsers, and on social networks if someone shares a link to your site.

Moz says the optimal format for title tags is: 

Primary Keyword – Secondary Keyword | Brand Name

We suggest focusing on your primary keyword, as character count matters and brands can go too far with keyword usage, appearing spammy. Remember, your brand reputation is an important factor here. Google typically displays the first 50–60 characters of a title tag, so try to keep yours within that range. 

Give each of your website’s pages its own unique title tag relevant to its target keyword and/or product. So if one of your beauty products is an African Clay Face Mask and you want to attract shoppers looking for that specific product, your title tag for that page would be: [African Clay Mask] – [Face Products] | [Brand Name]

Adding Meta Descriptions

Your meta description is what Google, other search engines, and social media sites display below your site title. Meta descriptions are also many people’s second impression of your brand and your first opportunity to explain what value your brand offers. They should tell them how your site solves for what they’re looking for and end with a call to action that makes the searcher want to click through to your site.

on-page seo 5

Stick to one focus keyword for each page’s meta description and not to overdo it on length. 

Pro tip: You can use an online character counter tool or put all of your meta copy into a spreadsheet and use the =LEN function to add character count to an assigned column and row so you don’t go over the visible limits. 

Use the keyword exactly as it appears in your keyword research tool. Don’t use a variation. This is called an “exact match keyword” and is especially important when you’re just starting out and badly need traffic. 

Where to do this will depend on what platform your site is built on (i.e. WordPress, Squarespace, Cargo) but every content management system should have a meta description option. 

Optimizing Your Page Content 

This part of the process is going to look different depending on the content type (product page vs. blog post, for example). Make sure to use your exact match keyword on the page, but use it organically so that it flows within the context and isn’t forced.

Your longer-form content, especially blog posts or special guides, allows you to incorporate a few secondary keywords as well. Believe it or not, Google understands the semantic relevance between terms. Blog posts are a great place to incorporate those. Just be sure you’re writing for humans, not algorithms. Use them moderately and appropriately to not compromise the quality of your content. 

Adding Internal & External Links

When you use keywords within your content and link them to another page relevant to that keyword, those terms are called anchor text. Use anchor text to link to relevant internal and external pages. 

For example, if you write a blog post about beauty regimens and mention African Clay Masks, that’s a great anchor text opportunity to link to your African Clay Mask product. Or, if you mention the importance of exfoliation but don’t want to dive too deep into the science behind it, you can link to an authoritative article that has a high search ranking. This boosts your reputation in the eyes of Google. 

Keep your user experience front and center on the page. Your visitors are there to learn something or find what they need. They’ll be turned off by something written by a robot. 

Optimizing Headers for Your Keyword

In terms of how well your page ranks, Google says that header tags don’t hold much weight within their algorithm today. However, headers are vital to readability and thus, the user experience whether we’re talking about a blog post, product page, or homepage. They create a structure and hierarchy to your information, allowing readers to scan and scroll to find what they need. 

Although Google says keywords in headers don’t play as big of an SEO role as they once did, they can’t hurt and most SEO tools will tell you to add one at least to your first header. So go ahead and put your primary keyword in your first header tag. In your backend, that’ll look like this:

<header> <h1>Most important heading here</h1> </header

Adding Alt-Text to Your Images

You’ll also want to name any images (photos, graphics, logos, diagrams, etc.) by their relevant keywords before uploading them into the backend of your website via your admin console. Then, add what’s called “alt text” in your content management system with the same relevant keywords or key terms. Consider this extra SEO juice to add to your rankings.

In WordPress, for example, when you add a new image to a page or post, you’re given the option to add alt text when you upload it onto your media library, which looks like this:

alt text


We know we just covered a lot but if you tackle each section of this post one by one, these activities are pretty simple and are highly effective for meeting your content KPI’s and keeping your users coming back If you have any questions or need any help, reach out any time via the comments below. 

If you’re looking to work with an SEO or content strategy specialist, get in touch. We’d love to learn more about what you’re working on and if we can help. 

Let’s build your audience.

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