So, What Is On-Page SEO?
On-Page SEO refers to the practice of making sure your site and all of its content are fully optimized. This means doing things that make your site look good in the eyes of google. This should be item number one on your SEO list.
Basically, On-Page SEO is just all of the things that YOU as the creator and maintainer of your website, have full control over. It encompasses the full scope of all the ranking factors of a site that are directly ON the site itself.
Setting The Groundwork
There’s a lot of stuff to learn and cover when it comes to On-Page SEO best practices. We’re going to go over some of the easiest, and most basic things you can do to set the groundwork for good SEO.
Don’t Try To Cheat
Big search engines like google, bing, and pinterest spend an unfathomable amount of money to make sure that they catch people who try to game the system, and they’re constantly getting better at it. So, needless to say it’s pretty useless to try and find *hacks* that will help you grow your rankings. Making good content is the best SEO tool you’ve got.
Consistency Is King
Let’s be honest, SEO is tedious and fixing SEO issues is a giant pain in the ass. I dare say it’s the least fun part of running a website of any kind. The best way to have your site as optimized as possible at all times is to use best practices from the start, and to audit your site often. It’s like having a pet, if you don’t feed it a proper diet on a consistent schedule, it’ll die.
SEO Tool Conspiracy Theory Time
We’re off to a good start. Ok, so this isn’t actually a conspiracy theory, but it’s still interesting. So after I published the first post in this series I noticed something strange in my last site audit. The link to Screaming Frog‘s website was being read as a broken link (403 error) when I crawled my site with Ahrefs tool. At first I couldn’t figure out why this was.
It had me wondering “Would the website of one of the most popular SEO tools really make such a simple mistake? Do they know that their site can’t be crawled? Am I missing something?”. It turns out that SEO tools may block each others’ sites from being crawled by rival tools so that they can’t steal each others trade secrets. While this doesn’t apply to anyone who isn’t making SEO related content, it’s still an interesting nugget of information. Moving on.
A site audit is when you go over every detail of your site and see where you can improve. One of the biggest parts of this is using an SEO tool called a Crawler (a bot that looks at your whole site) to see any and all SEO errors. Every search engine has it’s own crawler, and that’s how they find and organize information on the web.
Audits include other important things that SEO tools may miss, or be inaccurate with like content quality, and information architecture. These topics are a little more advanced and we wont cover them here. For now we’ll focus on things that are easily quantifiable.
Automate Your Audits
I personally have Ahrefs set to audit my site each week. This way I can quickly catch any errors that may pop up. I also have rank tracking set up so that I can see how my rankings are for both my targeted and accidental keywords.
This helps me catch things like:
- Sitemap Errors
- Broken & Redirected Links
- Orphan Pages
- Opengraph Tag Errors
- Meta Title & Description Errors
- All other Misc. stuff I break while making new content and updating my site
Use Multiple SEO Tools
Ok, so all SEO tools are not created equal, but they all have their uses. I’d recommend trying out a variety of different tools for a number of reasons. First off, sometimes one tool wont catch an SEO error but another will. Some tools are better at certain tasks, and you’ll even get a broader sense of what experts look for when auditing a site.
Here are some commonly used SEO tools (in no particular order):
Google can tell if your website functions properly on mobile, and they rank sites higher if they do. Even if this weren’t the case, half of all web traffic comes from mobile devices anyway so you need to make sure that your site works on all screen sizes.
Make sure that you not only check your site on your phone to make sure it looks ok, but check Google’s Search Console to see if Google thinks your site is good to go on mobile.
URLs And URL Structure
So right off the bat, you’ll want to make sure that all of your pages and posts have a URL structure that makes sense and helps keep your content organized. The URL structure of a site refers to the naming conventions that you use for pages, posts, and any other content with a dedicated URL.
In WordPress you can customize your URL structure under Settings > Permalinks. The basics dos and don’ts are:
DO make sure that you’re naming things in a uniform fashion throughout your entire site. You don’t want content of the same type to have different URL structures.
If one of your URL’s looks like http://yourdomain.com/posts/example-post you shouldn’t have any posts with the URL structure http://yourdomain.com/posts/2018/06/20/example-post or http://yourdomain.com/blog-post/example-post. All URLs of the same type should be formatted the same way.
Also note that unless you’re running a news site, it’s not recommended to add the date a post/page was published to it’s URL.
DONT use overly complex URL structures. Keep things as simple as possible. If your URLs are confusing to humans they’ll also be confusing to search engines.
http://www.example.com/cat/sub-cat/1099430772102946816 is bad and should be avoided.
If you want to read more about this, you can check out this article on URL Best Practices.
A sitemap is a document that tells search engines all of the pages that your site includes and how they’re organized. It’s written in a language called XML and can be viewed the same way you view any other page on your site.
Your sitemap needs to stay up to date. If you use a tool like Yoast your sitemap will be updated automatically. This is also the document that you need to submit to google so that they can find your site in the first place.
You can submit your sitemap to google and track any errors in your sitemap through Google’s Search Console.
Get An SSL Certificate
What is an SSL Certificate? It’s a security measure that keeps users information secure. It stands for Secure Sockets Layer. It’s a type of encryption that protects the information a site may collect about its users. There are even different types of SSL. Google sees this security measure as an important ranking factor, and a way to verify that a site is taking proper measures to be secure and safe to users.
You need an SSL certificate. They’re cheap, and most domain registries & hosting platforms offer simple setup tools.
Alt Attributes On Images
Let’s start off with what Alt Attributes even are. If you’re not familiar with HTML, then this might be a foreign concept to you. But basically, all of the images on your site look like this in code-form:
<img src="pic_trulli.jpg" alt="Photograph of an Italian Trulli house">
And that code would display on your website as a normal image like this:
As you can see, there’s two parts of the code. Part one is the src=” . . . “ which is basically like the url of the image. Part two of the code is the alt=” . . . “ which is a descriptive piece of text about the contents of the image. This isn’t a caption. It’s not a blurb about the picture, it’s purely descriptive and not meant to even be seen by most users on the front-end.
Alt text has a few important purposes:
- If for whatever reason, your image fails to load when someone visits your page, the alt text will be displayed in it’s place so that users know that A. An image was meant to load there, and B. what that image was supposed to be of.
- For visually impaired users who rely on screen readers to audibly read content, alt attributes are how they can know what your images contain.
- Search engines use alt text to organize image results.
In WordPress, and other CMS’s you can easily add alt text by editing the image. When writing the alt text for your images, just imagine you’re describing what’s in the image to someone who can’t see it. They should be about a sentence long, and written in natural language like the example above.
If you want more clarity and in-depth info about this, check out Moz’s article on alt text.
All Of Your Images Need Alt Text
It doesn’t matter what kind of image, or where it’s displayed. Every single image on your site needs to have accurate and descriptive alt text. This includes icons, blog thumbnails, your logo, etc. . . .
The only images that you don’t need to worry about are the ones displayed as background images (because they’re displayed by CSS not HTML and search engines can’t see them).
The Gravatar Issue & Fix
On WordPress, if you display Gravatar images the alt tags aren’t automatically added. If you’re doing something like adding a little avatar of the author of a post on every post, or even using Gravatar for things like comments sections then this could be a big issue.
Thankfully though, there’s a simple fix. Just install this plugin.
Broken & Redirected Links
This one’s pretty simple and self explanatory. Make sure that all the links on your site work. Any SEO audit tool will be able to tell you if you’ve got any broken links, and where they are in your site.
Even though this is simple, it’s very important and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Meta Titles & Descriptions
Metadata is information about information. It is information embedded on each page of your site that is read by machines but it’s not displayed to users. Metadata is used to define the title, description, author, and publisher data for search engines. It also has a bunch of other cool uses, but we’ll focus on Metadata in terms of SEO.
First off, I’d like to clarify that Keyword Metadata is no longer used for SEO. They do still have obscure uses, but all major search engines publicly stopped using them as a ranking factor in 2009 as illustrated in this Yoast article.
This is due to the fact that modern day search engines don’t need them. Back when the internet was new, search engines relied on Meta Keywords to tell them what content should rank for what. Now because of advancements in AI, and the fact that people would abuse the system, they’re no longer a useful way to sort the vast amount of information on the web.
How To Use Metadata
Now-a-days, Metadata titles, urls, and descriptions are displayed as search results. This is what your users will likely see when you pop up in a search result. I say likely, because sometimes search engines will ignore your Metadata and display whatever they deem fit instead.
Your Metadata doesn’t need to exactly match your content. Think of it almost as a Call To Action, but one that people need to also be able to search for. To construct a good Meta title and description, you should put yourself in the mindset of someone searching for your content. What could you write that would let users know that you have the information that they’re looking for? It’s the same logic as Alt text. Describe your content accurately to someone who hasn’t seen it.
Length is important. Meta info should never be longer than what Google will display in a search result. Yoast’s plugin is a really good way to make sure that you’re not going over. You also need to make sure that your description is long enough that Google deems it a useful and descriptive piece of information.
Metadata And Social Media
Metadata is also what you use to define those little snippets that show up when you post a link to social media. You can use slightly different information for each social platform to serve your needs. Yoast also lets you customize this. If you want to learn more about Metadata and Social Media you can check out Open Graph.
In Conclusion: This Is Just The Basics
While these things are the major factors an SEO professional would look at first, they’re not the whole picture. There’s a lot that can go wrong with a site in terms of On Page SEO, but those topics will be covered later.