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Home » What is on-page SEO; Everything you need to know

What is on-page SEO; Everything you need to know

In this article on search-pilot we will discuss on-page SEO and everything there is to know about it.

If you haven’t read the introduction to SEO article and the elements of SEO, then I highly recommend you read those first.

They’ll help you get the foundational knowledge you’ll need to get the most out of this article.

Alright, so what is on-page SEO?  It’s simply the practice of optimizing web pages to rank higher in search engines.

And it revolves heavily around optimizing pages for search intent. But on-page optimizations also involve creating and optimizing HTML tags like titles and meta descriptions.

If you’ve been exposed to the practice of on-page SEO, then it’s quite likely that You’ve heard conflicting advice. And for that reason, we’re going to discuss both what on-page SEO is and what it is not.

Let’s talk about common advice you might see on on-page SEO best practices which just aren’t true today and while there are many old-school tactics that are still being recommended, I want to focus on just 3 points to help you navigate the noise.

Three points to note

1. On-page SEO is not about stuffing exact match keywords.

It used to be common practice to include the exact keyword you wanted to rank for in your title, URL, and content.

For example, if you wanted to rank for “Dog training” you would stuff that keyword throughout your page despite the fact it doesn’t make sense – grammatically speaking.

Google is smart enough to understand things like connecting words, synonyms, and closely Related words and phrases.

In fact, for all of these queries, the top 10 pages are nearly identical. Unfortunately, stuffing exact match keywords is still being practiced today which can lead to poor user experience and poor readability; all things that on-page SEO should not do.

2. The second thing is that on-page SEO is not about using your keyword a specific number of times on the page.

In a research of 3 million search queries, it was discovered that on average, the top-ranking page ranks for around 1,000 other relevant keywords in the top 10.

Now, can you imagine what it would be like if a top-ranking page had to mention all 1,000 of those keywords at least three times? It makes no sense. The content would be unnecessarily lengthy and create an awful user experience for visitors..

3. The third point is that on-page SEO isn’t about meeting a minimum word count.

Some studies have shown that the average content length of the top 10 results is over 2,000 words. As a result, many SEOs have recommended that you create pages that are at least that length. But that isn’t exactly a sound advice.

For example, Ahref backlink checker is 628 words

minimum content length for seo

yet it rank #1 for the target keyword and the page generates around 130,000 monthly visits from Google search alone.

google organic visit to Ahref backlink checker

Here’s another example.

on-page seo

This page only has 76 words on it. The majority of content are images. According to Ahrefs Site Explorer, the page gets over 170,000 monthly search visits.

organic page visits from google

Let’s talk about what on-page SEO is today in 2022 and beyond.

Looking at the definition again, on-page SEO is the practice of optimizing web pages to rank higher in search engines.

And as I mentioned, this revolves heavily around optimizing pages for search intent. The keyword here is “search intent.”

Translation: the goal of your pages should be to satisfy the searcher’s intent. How?  Well, we talked about the 3 C’s of search intent which should help you get the basic stuff down like the content type, format, and angle.

In addition to this, your content needs to address the things people expect to see. You’ll also want to nail the more “tangible” items like;

  • Titles
  •  Subheadings
  •  Internal linking
  • Readability and
  • The content itself.

These are the things we’ll be answering in part 2 of this on-page SEO article, where we’ll get more tactical and talk about how you can create content that’s optimized for search.

On-page SEO Part 2: How to Optimize a Page for a Keyword

In this section, i’m going to show you how to create a page that is optimized for search.

Let’s get started.

So as I showed you in the earlier part of this article

the average number of keyword that is top 20 ranking pages also rank top 10

on average, the top ranking page ranks for nearly 1,000 keywords.

For example, Healthline page is clearly targeting the query, “how to lose weight fast.” And sure enough, they’re ranking in the top spot.

search intent

Now, the traffic to this page doesn’t come from just their target keyword. It comes from the combined effect of ranking for thousands of queries. And when we sum up the traffic from all keywords, it makes up well over 100,000 monthly search visits just from the US

healthline top ranking page on search engine

In fact, if we look at the page’s keyword rankings from the image below

healthline top ranking page on search engine

you’ll see that the target query “how to lose weight fast” only sends them a small percentage of the total monthly search traffic.

In order to rank for a ton of keywords and get a ton of search traffic you need two things.

  1. The first is a page that is optimized to rank and
  2. The second are backlinks.

In this lesson, we’ll cover how to create an optimized page and we’ll tackle links in the next part.

With on-page SEO, there are two main things we need to cover.

The first is arguably the most important and that’s to ensure your page satisfies searcher intent. We’ve already covered the 3 C’s of search intent which again will give you very basic Guidance on the type of content to create, the format to use, and the angle to go with.

But the actual content itself is what will leave your visitors satisfied or dissatisfied. So you might be wondering what exactly do I write about in order to satisfy searchers? The short answer is to learn from your competitors.

The top-ranking pages are ranking at the top for a reason. Google and other search engines deem them as the best candidates to satisfy a searcher’s query.

So they’re clearly doing something right, at least from the perspective of a search engine.

Now, while the content will vary from topic to topic, the way you research your competitors’ content will be more or less the same.

Let’s go through an example. So let’s say that we want to create content that targets the query “best golf club sets.” To start, I’ll go to Keywords Explorer and search for the query.

seo keyword explorer

Then, I’ll scroll down to the SERP overview to see the top-ranking pages.

Alright, so looking at the SERP, we want to pick out the top 3 or so relevant ranking results.

And by relevant, I’m talking about pages that match the dominant search intent based on the 3 C’s we’ve discussed so many times now.

So in this case, the majority of pages are blog posts in the listicle format with freshness as the content angle. So that means, we wouldn’t look at pages from Golf Galaxy because these pages are clearly ecommerce category pages and are therefore outliers to the dominant search intent.

We’ll also exclude the pages from Golf Digest and Business Insider, since it doesn’t look like they’re intentionally targeting our query.

search intent

So I’ll open up these three pages marked with green color in new tabs as shown in the image below

search intent

and what we’re going to look for are similarities in their content – specifically in the subtopics. And we’ll also look to deepen our understanding of content format and content angle.

Looking at the first page, you’ll see that they’ve created a list of categories for the best golf club sets.

So there’s best selling, best game improving irons, and so on.

Looking further down, they have a subheading

on-page seo

which is the make and model of the golf club set followed by a brief review of the clubs.

The next page also has a summary based on more broad categories like best value, premium pick, and best choice.

on-page optimization for seo

And based on the table of contents

on-page optimization for seo

you’ll see that they followed a similar structure where the make and model of the clubs are used as subheadings.

They also add a brief description of the clubs, as well as some skimmable bullet points.

Now, unless you’re a golfer, you may not have caught this minor, but perhaps important detail. All of the pages talk about sets that would appeal more to beginners.

For example, they all talk about Callaway’s Strata set. And they all include sets from Wilson Staff. In my opinion, these wouldn’t appeal to an intermediate or advanced level golfer.

 Alright, so at this point, we know that we should create a listicle blog post with freshness as the angle. We also know that the content should likely be targeted at beginners.

A couple common sets that were mentioned in all posts were the Callaway Stratas as well as a set from Wilson Staff.  Now, it’s important to note that you don’t have to include these in your post, but it’s simply an observation I had made.

We also saw that the top 2 out of 3 pages had top picks for categories like “best game improvement clubs” as well as “best clubs for the money.”

Finally, we know that the subheadings should be the name of the club set. Another thing I recommend before you start writing is to do a content gap analysis at the page level.

A content gap analysis at the page level will show you common keywords that the top pages are ranking for where your page isn’t.

These are all things you should consider as you craft your content.

Alright, so armed with this information, you should be able to create a great post with the searcher in mind.

And while the content is the most important part, there are also a few more “technical” on-page optimizations you should do. Let’s go through a few of the most important ones.

First is to include your target keyword in your title when it makes sense. Adding your target keyword to your title should come naturally.

For example, our title for this post is “10 On-Page Elements for SEO Success in 2022”

include target keyword in page title

And “On-page elements” is our target keyword.

Now, there will be times when it makes more sense to use a close variant of your target keyword.

The next thing you can do is to use a short and descriptive URL slug.

short and descriptive URL slug

Short and descriptive URLs help people immediately understand what the page is about before even visiting them. Just look at these two URLs. They’re on the exact same topic, but one is much more descriptive than the other.

And the easiest way to choose your slug is to use your target keyword where spaces will be replaced with hyphens. Again, you should only do this when it makes sense, so you don’t need to worry About forcing it.

Now, if you’re wondering if you should use sub folders to describe categories, that’s entirely up to you.

meta description

The meta description is HTML code that’s meant to briefly summarize your post as shown in the image below

meta description for on-page seo

And search engines often use this text right within the SERP.

To my best knowledge, meta descriptions aren’t used as a ranking signal, but they can influence click-through rates. And for that reason, I think it’s important to add to your pages.

it’s important to note that according to our study of 192,000 pages, we found that Google rewrote meta descriptions nearly 63% of the time.

google rewrites meta description

So I wouldn’t spend a ton of time on them, but you should still include them.

Alright, next up is to add internal links to and from your pages.

Internal links

Internal links are links from one page on the same domain to another. And they’re super-powerful because they can pass link authority to other relevant pages and they also help search engines better understand a page’s contents.

For example, if I had a site in the careers niche, and I was writing a post about how to write a cover letter, then I’d definitely want to add internal links from other relevant pages like one on how to write a resume.

More importantly, visitors who want to learn how to write a resume would probably want to know how to write a cover letter and vice versa. To find opportunities, you can go to Google and search for site:yourdomain.com and then add the topic you’re writing about.

Then visit relevant pages and see if there’s an opportunity to add an internal link to Your new post.

Next up is to optimize your images.

optimize content images

Optimizing your images for SEO is in 3-fold

1. Name your image files appropriately.

For example, if you have picture of a puppy and If you took the photo yourself, then chances are, your smartphone or camera named it something like IMG_ and then a million numbers.

Instead, change the filename to something like “puppy.” Not exactly rocket science, but according to Google, filenames can give Google clues about the subject matter of the image.

2. Use descriptive alt text.

Alt text, short for “alternative text” is an HTML attribute that goes in your image tag.

Alt text helps improve accessibility for those who are using screen readers or if the image fails to load, visitors will be shown the alt text instead.

Google recommends “creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and is in context of the content of the page.”

use of descriptive alt text

Yes, Google explicitly says to use keywords, but they also say to avoid stuffing keywords as it results in a negative user experience and may cause your site to be seen as spam.

3. The third thing you’ll want to do is compress your images.

Compressing images makes your image file sizes smaller, leading to faster load times and PageSpeed is a Google ranking signal.

There’s a free tool for compressing images called “ShortPixel” which has both a web interface as well as a WordPress plugin.

The last thing I highly recommend is to optimize for readability.

Here are 5 simple but effective tips you can use to improve readability.

  • Write in short sentences and short paragraphs because no one wants to land on a page with a huge wall of text.
  • Use descriptive subheadings so people who are skimming the article can easily find the things that are important to them.
  • Use a large enough font that’s easily readable on both desktop and mobile.
  • Avoid using big words. It’s more important that people understand your content.
  • Write as you speak. Your content will be more conversational and entertaining to read.

Now, there are other on-page optimizations you can do like adding open graph meta tags or OG tags for short. These will allow you to customize the titles, descriptions, images, and other information when your pages are shared on social media networks.

There’s also Schema markup, which is code that helps search engines understand your content and better represent it in the search results.

If you have a WordPress site, then you can add OG tags and schema with plugins like RankMath or Yoast.

Again, the most important part of your content is that you’re striving to satisfy searcher intent.

Yes, the technical things are important too, but they’re more like the icing on the cake.

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4 thoughts on “What is on-page SEO; Everything you need to know”

  1. You can definitely see your expertise within the article
    you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to
    say how they believe. All the time follow your heart.

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