The most important and biggest part of SEO is what’s called On-Site or On-Page SEO.
On-Site SEO is when you optimize elements on a page (such as a blog article, your homepage, or a landing page) or within your website to try and improve your rankings and earn more organic traffic. It’s a huge term as the vast majority of SEO work is “on-site” work.
On-Site SEO includes all of the individual pages, as well as your website as a whole. It includes both the content on the pages, as well as the code that makes up your pages – but we’ll cover technical SEO in a later section.
Now let’s cover the main aspects of On-Site SEO and what to do for each.
1. Keyword Research
Before you even start writing, the most important part of your SEO strategy starts with keyword research. Choosing the right keywords to write about – which are both strategic for your website and ones you can reasonably rank well for – is the honest-to-goodness hardest part of running a website. Not the writing, editing, promoting, or anything else.
If you don’t do the keyword research right, the rest won’t make any difference to your success.
The best keywords are specific, make sense in your site strategy, and demonstrate your expertise in a topic.
If you do keyword research and find a keyword
(1) in your niche (area of expertise and authority)
(2) with decent volume/low difficulty (relative to your site)
(3) where websites like yours are already ranking, and
(4) you understand the intent behind the keyword
That sounds like a great contender to write content!
As I said – this is the most important and arguably hardest part of mastering SEO. If you choose the wrong words, you won’t rank, and no success will follow.
If, however, you choose the right words and start to win #1 or #2 positions, SEO will begin to pay off in big ways.
That’s just the first part of On-Site SEO – we haven’t even started writing or put anything on your site yet!
2. Content Optimization
Once you’ve identified a keyword and want to start writing an article, you need to incorporate that keyword into your content in specific ways to help maximize your chances of SEO success.
The SEO plugin you choose can help do this automatically, but the shortlist of “rules” is to put your keyword in:
- The title of your article/blog post
- The URL/slug
- The introductory paragraph
- Several of your subheadings
- Every 300-500 words in the content itself
- The concluding paragraph or CTA
However, it’s important to use the keyword naturally. If you try and insert the keyword in a way that makes the language unnatural, search engines can understand that and will not rank your content quality as highly. (Yep, Google has AI to help them understand the natural language!)
If you use Yoast or RankMath as I mentioned above, once you enter your primary keyword in the tool (for more on primary and secondary keywords, see the box below), it will help you optimize it in a very similar way to the list of places I mentioned above.
|Primary vs Secondary Keywords|
As you dive more into SEO, you might hear about primary vs secondary keywords. In general, and especially when you’re starting out, you only need to focus on a primary keyword.
A secondary keyword is typically a semantically similar or related keyword to your primary keyword – so many people use “secondary” keywords naturally when they write. You can have many secondary keywords in a post about a single primary keyword.
If you want to consciously incorporate secondary keywords into your article, I recommend using each 2-3 times total in the post.
If you’re doing SEO right, Google ranks you for thousands of keywords on every blog post, so you have more secondary keywords than you can strategically manage. (A good thing!)
As I mentioned already, Readability is super important. Both of the SEO plugins I recommend score you on it – and I just mentioned how “natural language” is a part of Google’s technology and critical for SEO success.
So what is Readability? And why does it matter for SEO?
Unlike books that can take more liberties with format and structure, readability is an important factor to keep in mind.
A post that has good readability is easy and enjoyable to read. This is especially important on the internet where most people skim instead of reading in-depth; if you create long blocks of text or use terms or phrases the reader can’t understand, they’ll likely navigate back to Google to find something that’s easier to understand.
This is the critical issue with Readability: if your content is unreadable, people will “bounce” from your site back to Google to find another result. Google can see these bounces in your Analytics data, and if your bounce rate is unreasonably high, they will move you down the results page.
To make your content more readable, here are some tips:
- Avoid long paragraphs. Aim for 2-4 sentences per paragraph.
- Avoid long sentences. Aim for 20 words or less per sentence.
- Break up your text with images. Nobody loves a full screen of text.
- Use lists, tables, charts, etc. to make your content more dynamic to skim – but also eye-catching.
- Use bold, italics, underline, links, and color to make important content more eye-catching too.
This is also why ad copywriters use tons of line breaks, formatting, and even emojis to draw you in and keep you reading until you want to buy whatever they’re selling.
I see too many bloggers ignore the readability scores of their SEO tools when writing, and then end up uncertain why they don’t rank better. Tools like Yoast and Rankmath give you that data because it really does affect SEO – not just human impressions of the content.
4. Site Navigation
So far we’ve discussed things you do specifically on your article or blog post to help it perform from an SEO standpoint. But there is so much more to On-Ste SEO!
First up, your site navigation. Did you know that your menu is critical for Google understanding what your site is about and what’s important on your site?
Here are some do’s and don’ts for designing your site navigation:
- Create a hierarchy of pages that cover your most important topics.
- Use your menu to show your readers what topics you cover.
- Add your most important pages to your main menu.
- Use secondary/footer menus for other less important pages people might still want to find.
- Add every single page or article to your main menu.
- Add pages or articles unrelated to your expertise to your menu.
- Have a bare-bones menu that doesn’t tell the reader (or Google) anything about the topics of your site.
- Use generic terms in your menu that people might not understand
Google uses your site navigation (or menu) to A) understand and B) navigate your site with its little crawler robots. If your site navigation is too complicated or too generic – or covers topics that aren’t related to your expertise – Google won’t have a good understanding of your site and know what to rank you highly for.
5. Categories, Tags & Archives
Another important part of your site’s structure and SEO is how you organize the categories, tags, and archive pages of your site.
Without getting too technical, these pages are automatically created by your CMS (like WordPress) and help organize your content. They help readers navigate to other similar or related content – whether that’s by topic (category/tag) or by date (archives).
In most cases, I recommend noindexing your category and tag pages (for more on what this means, see the box below). These auto-generated pages have basically no original content on them, and won’t rank well anyways. The same goes for your archive pages, but I would leave those indexed so Google can see everything in your complete website archive.
In terms of how you use these pages, that varies a lot based on the niche you’re in and the types of articles you write. For example, on my food site, I use Categories for “types of recipe” and Tags for “ingredients.” On my travel sites like London On My Mind, I use Categories for “type of travel resource” (itinerary, inspiration, travel tip, etc.) and Tags for “destinations.”
On Follow the Butterflies, I use Categories generally for “type of article” and Tags for “components of articles” so my Harry Potter site uses Categories like “Magical Journeys” and “Magical Experiences” and Tags like “Slytherin,” “Potions,” and “U.K.”
|What are Google Directives?|
There are some technical issues with SEO that are important to consider for every page on your site. Google calls these directives, and they are codes that “direct” the Google robot crawlers on how to treat the page.
The four main ones are:
Index – Google will put the page into its index to be served up in search results.
Noindex – Google will not put the page into the index and it will not be shown in search results.
Follow – Google will follow links from the page and use those links as ranking signals.
Nofollow – Google will not follow any links from the page.
You can use any combination of these two directives, so pages can be index/follow (the default setup), noindex/nofollow (the second-most common setup). The other two combinations (index/nofollow and follow/noindex) are less common but may make sense in certain strategic situations.
6. Internal Linking
We’ve already briefly touched on it in our discussion of site navigation, but linking is a massively important part of how Google understands the structure of the internet and what/how to rank each page.
We’ll come back to external links to your site shortly, but internal linking is equally important. It’s also the only link-building strategy you can completely control – you decide which links you put between pieces of content on your site.
Internal linking simply means linking from one piece of content to another. This could be because the content is related, or because one article mentions the topic of another. In any case, adding internal links from existing articles to new articles is a great – and important – way to help Google discover your new blogs and how they relate to the rest of your content. (An article or page with a ton of internal backlinks pointing to it signals you are an expert on that topic!)
If you don’t have an internal linking strategy currently, that changes now. Going forward, every time you publish a new piece of content, immediately go in and add a link to it in 3-5 existing pieces of content on your site (other articles, preferably). Do it right away; send those signals to Google as quickly as you can, and your content will get discovered more quickly – and hopefully rank more highly.
Have any questions about on-page SEO factors and how to incorporate them into your site strategy? Let me know in the comments!