Master On-Page SEO: Boost Your Rankings & User Experience

Working in the search engine optimization (SEO) industry comes with its own unique set of challenges. Updates, best practices, and guidance come fast and furious — what works well one year may cause your web page to drop in search rankings the next.

How can you filter through myriad myths to discern where to focus your SEO efforts and time?

Chelsea Alves, Mike Phillips

Having a firm understanding of what’s currently shaping success in SEO is pertinent, and leaning on SEO experts is a good place to start. So is having in-depth knowledge on the off- and on-page SEO tactics proven to boost search engine rankings.

As both off- and on-page SEO best practices deserve ample and equal attention, we will break this into two helpful guides, focusing first on on-page SEO. In this first guide we will discuss:

  1. How on-page SEO differs from off-page SEO.
  2. Why on-page SEO is important for user experience.
  3. How on-page SEO impacts search visibility.
  4. Where to focus your on-page SEO efforts.
  5. Helpful tips for on-page SEO.

How does on-page SEO differ from off-page SEO?

On-page SEO (also known as “on-site SEO”) refers to optimizing elements on a website for both search engines and your end users. For example, a few common on-page SEO optimizations might include writing a concise meta description within a certain character limit, including useful external links, and writing high-quality content.

As we’ve seen with Google’s recent Helpful Content Update, search engine algorithms favor well-written, relevant content and reward high content quality with higher search rankings.

Long gone are the days of keyword stuffing, duplicate content, and deceitful link building. Instead, every piece of content your business creates — from landing pages to social media posts – must be written for potential customers, first and foremost.

Off-page SEO, as the name suggests, focuses on elements off your web page. This may include your social media marketing, digital PR, online reviews, link building, and more.

Why is on-page SEO important for user experience?

Consider the last time you had a negative experience with a web page. Maybe the page loading time took too long, images weren’t properly optimized, or you clicked a broken link.

User experience (UX) is a key lever for driving sales, and even just one negative interaction with your brand can cause peril. An astounding 88% percent of consumers are less inclined to return to a site after a bad UX and 74% of businesses agree UX is vital for boosting sales. If you’re not creating valuable content or a positive UX, you’re failing to build your business.

Creating positive experiences with your business begins the moment a searcher finds your website. This experience continues through consideration and into the sale, and can come full circle with advocacy post-purchase.

Good on-page SEO makes it easy for searchers and search engines to understand how your web page solves its needs or matches the user’s search intent, and why your web page is superior to your competitors.

Why is on-page SEO important for search visibility?

On-page SEO impact on search visibility

Not only does on-page SEO help surface a target keyword and drive meaningful engagement with potential customers, it is also an important ranking factor. In theory, a quick search should point your ideal customers to your web page. Unfortunately, achieving search engine success isn’t that simple. There are a multitude of ranking factors that determine your place in the search rankings.

Each year, Whitespark surveys SEO experts to determine what factors Google might use to rank businesses in the local pack/finder/maps and local organic results.

The 2021 survey found on-page SEO accounts for an estimated 16% of your ability to rank in the local 3-pack (the third most common factor), and 34% for local organic results (the top factor).

Seeing how heavily SEO experts weighted on-page SEO in 2021 proves its importance isn’t fading any time soon. In fact, businesses would benefit by placing a stronger focus on this endeavor to drive more qualified organic traffic in the local pack and organic results.

What elements should I focus on for on-page SEO?

Now that you have a firm understanding of what on-page SEO is and why it’s important for both search algorithms and searchers alike, it’s time to focus on how to amplify your content creation to improve your search rankings. First, we’ll discuss content creation and determining search terms and topics that deserve your attention.

Content optimization

Keywords once were the most crucial component of search rankings. Writers would strategically insert the relevant keyword wherever possible. Brands would focus on writing content for search engines rather than the end user. Now, keyword density and low-quality content won’t win in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

Today, search engines are intelligent enough to determine if a web page will provide a meaningful experience. A search engine can gauge the difference between remarkable content and low-quality content tailored to simply hit a keyword quota.

This isn’t to say having a target keyword and leveraging keyword research tools has become obsolete, but dispersing a target keyword a specific number of times should no longer be your goal. Your goal is creating valuable content.

Content optimization also involves optimizes the images on your web pages. As search engines adapt to consumers’ needs and preferences, the search engine results pages has advertantly become more visual. With any search query you conduct, you’ll see more than just blue links and black text. You’ll also often see pictures, image carousels, and videos.

Sterling Sky sought to find out if images impact ranking on Google. A page received a decent amount of traffic but had a low-quality image. The image was pixelated and small. They tested adding a high-quality picture of a skunk since the content was related to animals digging holes in the lawn.

A couple weeks later, the page rank actually dropped. They then replaced the image of the skunk with a high-resolution image of lawn with holes in it. Within a week, the page rose to position one and achieved a featured snippet. The lesson to be learned is that Google cares as much about relevancy as it does about quantity when determining sarch rankings.

Images impact ranking

What is high-quality content?

Consider: will your ideal customers have to go to another web page to have their needs met after they read your content? If the answer to this question is yes, your content optimization efforts are lacking, and your conversion rate will likely be lacking too.

High-quality content is:

  • Unique. Fresh content brings a new perspective to even the most commonly discussed topics. Create original content rather than rehashed content – this will bring value to your ideal customers.
  • Useful. Content should provide value and be in-depth. Thin content, a concept brought to attention in Google’s Panda algorithm update, should be avoided. You should focus instead on providing thoroughly substantiated content for each topic discussed.
  • User-friendly. Your content should be easy to scan, free of intrusive interstitials, and seamless to navigate. This helps create a frictionless experience for desktop and mobile users, and can lead to improved bounce rates as well.
  • Authoritative and trustworthy. Reputable content has the ability to shape the perception of your business. Will you be seen as a subject matter expert in your field? Share original research findings, avoid discussing broad topics unless you have a unique perspective to share, and edit for simple mechanical errors prior to publishing.
  • Visually appealing. Most individuals are visual learners. Reading 1,000 or more words of strictly text likely won’t resonate with your ideal customers. Instead, incorporate visual content throughout your post to illustrate your findings and tips, such as videos, infographics, interactive tools, a visual gift guide, and more.
  • Categorized. Your website should have a structure in place to reduce the time users spend searching your site for a specific topic. Your categories can include popular search terms users leverage when finding your product or service, content for a specific persona, content for a specific service, and more.

Beyond content and keywords on-site SEO

We’ve discussed at length the importance of ongoing content optimization. However, there are many other critical on-site SEO factors that extend beyond content elements. These elements include:

  • Title tags. Title tags introduce searchers and search engines to the core topic that will be discussed on the web page. These should include the primary keyword used in your post.
  • Headers. Headers, such as <h1>, <h2>, <h3> are used to tell readers and search engine bots what each section of content will entail. They also help break up your content into a more digestible format, making it easier for the reader to consume.
  • Meta descriptions. Meta descriptions are a must in terms of your content optimization efforts. They are a short, 155-character or less description that summarize the web page, and should include your primary keywords and any long-tail keywords you’re trying to target within the page.
  • Links. Include both internal and outbound links in your content where applicable. Periodically check for broken links; free tools such as the Broken Link Checker Google Chrome extension or the Broken Link WordPress extension are a good place to start.
  • URL structure. Your URL structure should make it clear what a user can expect to read when they click that blue link.
  • Image optimization. Visual content is growing in importance for search optimization efforts. In fact, a study by Sterling Sky found that by replacing a low quality image on a landing page with a high quality photo that more closely matched the user’s search intent, within about a week the ranking of the page increased to position 1 and took over a featured snippet.
  • Mobile-friendly site. Mobile users should have the same experience with your page as desktop visitors. A few tips for mobile search engine success include improving loading time, responsive web design, and not blocking CSS, JavaScript, or images. You can find your site’s Core Web Vitals data in the “enhancements” section of your Google Search Console account to assess mobile friendliness and other key ranking factors.
  • Page speed. Fast-loading websites are crucial so that users don’t click away. When Google introduced Core Web Vitals a few years back, it enabled developers to measure website performance based on how well users interact with your website. This includes page load times, including the main content and other content elements (such as visual content).

Concluding thoughts

On-page SEO is constantly evolving and, in turn, requires consistent optimization and auditing. By following the aforementioned basic SEO practices, you’re one step closer to creating positive experiences for your end users. These meaningful moments can be measured with customer retention rates, time users spend on site, bounce rate, and more.

To close out this ultimate guide to on-page SEO, keep the following tips in mind.

  • Include internal links in your content.
  • Include external links in your content.
  • Avoid duplicate content.
  • Optimize content for people rather than search engine bots.
  • Add compelling, visual content to your blog posts.
  • Avoid spelling and mechanical errors.
  • Aim to be viewed as a subject matter expert in your field.
  • Check your URLs, headers, page titles, and meta descriptions.
  • Perform an image search to see where you can swap out low-quality images for high-quality images instead.
  • Reduce file sizes to keep load times faster.
  • Use descriptive image file names.
  • Consider how mobile users will engage with your web page.
  • Leverage tools such as Search Console and Google Analytics to identify opportunities to improve your search engine success.
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

Sign up for Latest Marketing Tips

If you have any questions, connect with me on my LinkedIn or Twitter