In the past several years, it seems that on-page SEO factors have taken a back-seat to off-page factors like link-building when talking about the most important SEO strategies and techniques. Despite all that, more and more SEO experts are claiming that on page SEO is back, and Google is looking at it more than ever before. Here at Emineer, we happen to agree.
Google is on a constant quest to improve the quality of its search results, and so quality content and tight onpage SEO are once again being mentioned alongside link-building as crucial search engine optimization factors to keep in mind.
In this post, we’ll go over 29 of the most important on-page SEO factors you can implement right now, all completely free of cost, all completely white hat SEO. I will be listing them in random order and highlighting those that we think Google is paying extra close attention to.
On-Page SEO Factors Checklist
1. Ensure Cross-Browser Compatibility
Utter the words “cross-browser compatibility” to any web designer and you’ll probably see them cringe just a little bit. I can’t count how many times I’ve optimized a page perfectly only to discover that it looks awful on a different browser (usually Internet Explorer) or OS (usually Windows). Firefox, Chrome, and Safari also have their own little design kinks that must be sorted through and reconciled before you can say your website is “complete.”
Although its heyday may be in the past, Internet Explorer still claims nearly half of all internet users. You don’t want visitors to your site to think that your services are amateur because your site design looks amateur. Optimize your site for the top five most common browsers and you’ll have all your bases covered.
2. Link to Trusted Sites
Google PageRank gets all the attention these days, but just as important is another on-page search engine optimization metric that many are calling TrustRank (more on that metric here). If PageRank is a measure of how popular a site is on the web, TrustRank is a measure of how trusted a site is on the web. Google is thought to calculate TrustRank primarily by looking at two factors: who links to you, and who you link out to. If they find that you are routinely linking to spammy sites and most of your links come from spammy sites, your PageRank might be high but your TrustRank will be low because of your lack of authority links.
What does all this mean to you? Although you can’t always control who links to you, you can control who you link out to. Routinely link out to trusted sites and avoid linking to non-trusted, spammy sites as much as possible. Or at least, if you must link out to a site that is questionable, apply the nofollow tag.
3. Canonicalize Your URLs
…canoniwhat? Fancy word, important consequences. What canonicalization means, basically, is deciding whether you want your site to contain a “www” or not. Although Googlebot has gotten more advanced over the years, it’s still a smart idea to stick to one or the other in all your link building, both internally and externally. Neither one has any advantage over the other; what matters is consistency.
If you’re using WordPress, canonicalizing your URLs is simple. Head over to your General Settings and type in how you want your site URLs to look like. We like to keep the “www” in front of our name, and anytime we link out to other pages on our site, we always keep the “www” in the link URL. Here’s an image of what your WordPress settings might look like:
4. Repeat Your Keywords
One of the easiest steps to implement on this on-page SEO checklist is keyword density. If you’re trying to rank your page for “cool video games,” it’s a good idea to repeat the phrase “cool video games” plenty of times throughout your page (and the rest of your site). Think about it: if your page never mentions the phrase, why should Google assume that’s what your page is about? Luckily for you, this is an extremely easy technique to take advantage of.
A lot of sites will tell you to keep your keyword density between 2% and 6% of your total word count, but there’s no need to overthink it. Use your common sense. If your page contains 4000 words, you know that 2 keyword repetitions is too little. If your page contains 50 words, you know that 10 keyword repetitions is too much. Don’t go crazy over the exact amount–just repeat your keywords as many times as you see fit, and that will greatly help your page rank for that term.
5. Give Your Photos a Name
Not too long ago, the people over at SEOmoz made the surprising discovery that using images with optimized ALT tags was remarkably well-correlated with search engine rankings. Not just image rankings, but actual page rankings, too. Whether this is correlation or causation is not known, but still, it definitely can’t hurt to give your images keyword-rich ALT tags.
On top of that, your image filenames should also be closely matched with your targeted keywords (e.g. coolactionvideogames.png). Google may not be able to fully read what is contained within images, but they certainly can read the names you give them, so don’t neglect them!
6. More Adsense = Lower Rankings
Here’s a relatively new development in the SEO world: the more Adsense you have on your site, the lower you’re likely to rank. At least that’s the result that came out of a recent SEOmoz study. Granted, the correlation isn’t very large, but there is still no reason to crowd your page with nothing but Adsense.
What Google really wants to see on your site is compelling, well-structured content. What your audience wants to see is compelling, well-structured content. Having boatloads of Adsense is not only a poor onpage search engine optimization strategy, it’s a poor strategy all around.
7. Interlink Your Inner Pages
Interlinking your inner pages is important because it accomplishes two main things.
First, it helps all of your pages rank for their target keywords. By interlinking your inner pages, you’re sharing all the link juice that your entire site has earned and letting all your pages benefit from your site’s popularity. Google pays attention to internal links as well as external links, so when you’re busy linking to trusted sites around the web, don’t forget to link to your own!
Second, interlinking all your inner pages is a great benefit to users. Someone reading your latest blog post would probably be interested in reading all the related blog posts on your site. Make it easy for them to find them and link directly to them in the content of your post.
8. Don’t Use Sneaky Links
If you have to ask yourself whether you’re using a sneaky link, it’s probably not a good idea to use it. I’m talking about things like:
- One-pixel links
- Link-stuffing at the bottom of the page
- Links that blend into the background
- Links that are moved 9999px to the left
- You get the idea
9. Optimize Your Meta Description
No, I don’t mean those keywords you secretly stuff in the <head> section of your webpage; those were discarded a long time ago. What I’m talking about is this:
Many people don’t realize that they can sometimes directly control what Google displays as their description for their website. Although the terms you include in your meta description don’t actually help you rank for those terms, writing a well thought out, creative meta description can help you gain more clicks than your competitors, even if they happen to rank above you in Google.
10. Feel the Need for Speed
Here’s another new development that we’re personally very happy to see: Google is now rewarding quicker sites with better rankings. Alright, so it’s only one of 200 different search ranking factors that Google pays attention to, but it’s one of the easiest to fix. A quick analysis on Pingdom will show you how fast your site loads, and importantly, which of your files is taking up the greatest amount of time.
These are some of the most helpful on-page SEO tools we’ve found to speed up your website:
- Photoshop: Images tend to take up more space than any other kind of file, so using Photoshop’s “Save for Web” tool is absolutely invaluable when trying to speed up your site.
- Firebug with Page Speed: Not only will this tool put a magnifying glass to your HTML code, it will give you suggestions as to how you can speed up your site. And it’s free of cost!
- W3 Total Cache: If your sites runs WordPress and you notice it might be running a little slow, the W3 Total Cache plugin just might be your solution. It’s by far the most popular plugin of its kind.
- Thesis Theme for WordPress: This is the theme Emineer is built on and the only WordPress theme we recommend. It’s by far the fastest loading WordPress theme and it’s infinitely customizable. Best of all, there is a helpful Support Forum if you should ever run into trouble.
11. Vary Your Keywords
We know it’s tempting to seek out the most searched-for keyword in your niche and optimizing the heck out of it, but the fact remains that over half of your traffic will probably come from keywords other than your target keyword. “Video games,” might be your prized keyword, but most people will probably find your site with keywords like, “cool new video games,” “role-player video games,” and “video games 2011.” SEO is all about getting more traffic, and varying your keywords will help you do just that. Although it’s a classic, the Google Keyword Tool is still the single best keyword research tool online, and it’s one of the many free on-page SEO tools.
Over half of your traffic will probably come from keywords other than your target keyword.
So while everyone else is fighting it out for the #1 keyword in your industry, you should be busy targeting those long-tailed keywords that, when added all together, get more than twice as many searches as the primary one. Not only that, but you’ll be receiving traffic from a much wider array of visitors. This will enhance the sense of community on your site and also point you to keywords and topics that you would have never given a second thought. When you start to see that you’re getting as many visitors from “video games” as you from “video game t-shirts,” you’ll begin find brand new ways to monetize your website.
12. Validate Your Code
This one won’t necessarily improve your Google ranking, but it will make your site a lot easier to read by the Googlebot and it will help you keep a more consistent design across browsers and computers. Insert your website URL into the W3C Validator and it will tell you exactly what code you need to change in order to have an error-free, clean, W3C-compliant HTML source code. In fact, you should make sure your code is valid before you make any web design modifications to your site.
13. Carefully Place Your Keywords
SEO isn’t just about which keywords you use on your website, but it’s just as much about where you place them. It’s an accepted fact that placing your target keywords near the beginning of your text will have a greater impact than placing them randomly. For example, if you’re trying to rank for “cool video games,” you could title your home page as:
An even better title, though, would be something more like this:
They both say the same thing, but your target keyword is in a more optimal position–at the beginning.
The same concept applies with regards to the content of the web page itself. Placing your target keywords near the top of the page will have a greater effect than stuffing them at the bottom.
And speaking of which…
14. Use Header Tags
Header tags (e.g. H1, H2, H3, etc.) are a great way to organize the content on your page, and they’re also a useful on-page SEO factor. It tells the search engines, “This content is important.” Try your best to include your targeted keyphrases within H1 and H2 tags. If you don’t like the default formatting of your header tags, it’s OK to modify them using CSS. You can spruce them up any way you want, but as long as your important titles are within header tags, Google will interpret them as important and indicative of the rest of your page.
15. Don’t Overdo the Flash, Video, and Images
This one is three on page SEO tips rolled into one. The first deals with Flash.
Web designers love Flash. And understandably so: Flash is pretty, it’s colorful, it’s widely-available, and it’s just downright cool. Just one problem:
It’s largely unreadable by search engines.
Well, at least it used to be. In recent years Google has come lightyears ahead of where it used to be, and now it can actually say it has learned to read Flash.
Of course, though, learning how to read isn’t the same as reading properly, and sites based on Flash are still at a disadvantage compared to HTML-based websites. So, if you must use Flash, make sure to use it with your less important content, or at least, transcribe your Flash content into plain HTML so that Google has an easier time picking up its content.
The same concept goes for Video and Images.
Video and images are even harder for Google to encode since they do not have any corresponding code that informs Google of its contents. Again, stick to HTML for your important information, and if you must include your key information in a video or image, have corresponding text with all the relevant keyphrases contained in it. It’s not that Google is completely blind to these forms of media–they just haven’t yet come up with technologically-advanced enough solutions to encode them properly.
16. Write Unique, High-Quality Content
This is one of the most important on-page SEO factors on this checklist. Google has seriously cracked down on duplicate content in the past several months after their infamous Panda update. A lot of big-time sites with questionable content have felt the impact of Panda and it’s not hard to see why. The internet is being filled up with duplicate content that serves no added value to the reader than its original source. Not only that, these sites are actually outranking the originals through various search engine optimization tactics. Due to all this, Google has pulled the cord on duplicate content.
Far from being bad news, this is a great opportunity for legit webmasters. Real content is more highly valued than ever before, and real sites are more highly rewarded than ever before. Although we understand that not all site-owners have the time or the man-power to add unique, high-quality content to their websites, it’s important to know it is becoming more and more difficult to compete in today’s marketplace without it. If you or your in-house team are unable to provide high quality content on a regular basis, it pays to hire a team of outsourced writers to provide it for you.
And on a related note…
17. Update Your Site Frequently
Google spiders are quick. When your site grows stale for more than a few weeks, they’re quick to notice. And if your site ever becomes too stale, they’re quick to drop your ranking, too. Google likes to return a fresh set of results, so the more often you update your site, the more relevant your site will seem. That isn’t to say that stale sites can’t rank (they can), or that sites that are updated every 30 minutes will automatically rank highly (they won’t), but adding fresh, new content to your site at least once a week will definitely make your site seem more relevant in Google’s eyes.
Google likes to return a fresh set of results, so the more often you update your site, the more relevant your site will seem.
You might say to yourself, “But my site is complete. I’ve added everything I need…now what?” Well, the best way to keep your site regularly updated without having to “force it” is by writing a blog. Although the products and services you offer won’t change, there is always bound to be news and updates about your company or website. Maybe you’ve added someone to your staff or heard something on the radio that would interest your audience. To Google, it doesn’t much matter as long as you’ve written something new.
18. Emphasize Your Important Keywords
This is goes hand-in-hand with using Header tags (#13): when you want to rank a page for a particular keyword, it’s a good idea to bold it, italicize it, underline it, or add any other effect that emphasizes the word or phrase. It hasn’t been proven that these effects actually help for SEO purposes, but Google definitely knows when you’ve emphasized certain words and given that search engines are always trying to determine the subject matter of web pages they crawl, it wouldn’t be surprising to find out that they take bolding and italicizing into account. Don’t overdo it, of course, but a few healthy emphases here and there wouldn’t hurt from an SEO standpoint, and it is probably even beneficial for users, as well.
19. Take Advantage of Social Media
Although the data is inconclusive as to whether social signals directly affect rankings, it would be a safe bet to say that months or years into the future, they definitely will. The internet is starting to represent the universe as a whole–a blanket of nothingness with tiny specks of genuine matter sprinkled in between. And given the sheer amount of useless content on the web right now, social metrics are bound to become more and more important as time rolls on.
A common misconception is that you have to be some kind of marketing expert in order to take full advantage of social media. But it’s actually a lot simpler than that.
See the floating little bar to your left? It’s called Sharebar, and it’s a free plugin for WordPress. Install it, make a few customizations and voilà, you have an instant way for your audience to share your content via the vast reach of social networking. It’s really not much more complicated than that.
Once you become familiar with how Facebook and Twitter work, you can begin to branch out into other social networking platforms like StumbleUpon, Reddit, Digg, Delicious, and by the time you read this post there will surely be another big player in the social media market.
Most internet marketing experts say that social media is only going to get bigger. And you know what, they’re probably right.
20. Dofollow All Your Trusted Links
PageRank scupting is a thing of the past, so says Google’s Matt Cutts, so don’t even bother trying to “hoard” all your PageRank to your inner links. It’s more trouble than its worth and it’s just not the right thing to do in the first place. There’s a site out there that you deem valuable to the rest of the web, but by nofollowing it, you’re basically telling search engines, “Don’t pay any attention to it.” For example, the page I just linked to is an extremely valuable page for anyone who searches for “PageRank sculpting” and so I reward it with a dofollow link.
21. Nofollow All Your Untrusted Links
Now, if you’re linking out to an untrusted site, it makes sense to nofollow it. You don’t want search engines thinking that you approve of that site (therefore putting you in bad company) and you don’t want to reward it with link juice, either. A good example is when the New York Times linked to some spammy pages that got JCPenney in big trouble. Those links were all nofollowed, but the rest of the links in the article were not.
Another common example is blog comments. If you’re going to allow readers to leave a link to their site, you don’t want to have to constantly monitor whether or not the sites are trusted. So here it also makes sense to nofollow all of them by default. (Remove the nofollow tag to your blog comments and brace yourself for an onslaught of spam like you’ve never seen.)
The general rule when it comes to dofollow/nofollow is this: forget PageRank sculpting and focus on doing what makes sense. Good links deserve to be followed, untrusted links don’t. It’s as simple as that.
22. Optimize Your Title Tags
I can’t stress this one enough. Optimize your title tags.
Heck, I’ll say it again.
If I were only able to optimize a single on-page SEO factor, title tags would be it.
Optimize your title tags. I challenge you to search for any keyword whatsoever and try to find a single site on the first page that doesn’t have the keyword (or some derivation) in the title tag. I’ll save you the trouble: they all do. Google has an almost-irrational faith in title tags, and if I were only able to optimize a single on-page SEO factor, title tags would be it.
There is no formula for what makes a great title tag, but here are some general guidelines to follow:
- Include all of your target keywords
- Place your keywords near the beginning of your title, not the end
- Keep your title under 70 characters
- Create a title with click-through rate in mind; would YOU click on your own title?
- Avoid ALL-CAPS. It just makes your site look desperate for clicks and unprofessional
23. Learn How to Use Your Robots.txt File
Every webmaster has the option to create a very important (and publicly available) text file named “robots.txt.” What this text file basically does is give a set of instructions to search engine spiders that crawl your site. For example, you can tell search engines not to crawl particular pages or directories on your site. I’ll let Matt Cutts tell the rest of the story:
24. Use Varied Media
Look right above this paragraph: what do you see?
A video. A block of text. A list. Text highlighting. A quote. A logo.
These are the kinds of things that your users like to see and one day into the not-so-distant future, Google might as well. All signs seem to predict that Google will soon begin to penalize sites that are nothing more than big blocks of unreadable text and Adsense. Looked at another way, what this means is that Google may begin to reward complex content. That is, multimedia.
I know I mentioned not to overdo video and images, and that you should use them as decorations. But think: what’s a house without any decorations? Probably not any fun to walk into, and websites are much the same. Users can already tell what a quality site looks like, and Google is building the technology to be able to algorithmically do the same thing.
25. Install Web Analytics
One of the most important questions a webmaster can ask is, “How are people finding my site?” Now only should you know how people stumble upon your website, but you also need to see what people do once they get there.
There are tons of web analytics services out there today, the most popular being Google Analytics. This free on-page SEO tool will tell you, well…practically everything you need to know and even some things you don’t exactly need to know but are still cool to know, anyway. Here are some of the most important pieces of information Google Analytics can teach you:
- The keywords visitors search for to find you
- How long your visitors stay on your website
- Your bounce rate
- What links your visitors click on
- What pages your visitors exit your site from
- New vs. Repeat visitors
- What location your visitors come from (down to the city!)
…yes, it’s addicting.
Another great web analytics service is Clicky. The great thing about Clicky is that you can track your visitors in real time. If this is something you’d be interested in or if you don’t feel comfortable giving Google all your website information, Clicky is probably the best web analytics tool for you. It does practically everything Google Analytics does, so there isn’t much sacrifice in quality.
In the end, it’s not nearly as important which web analytics tool you use, so long as you actually use one. The information you’ll receive is pure gold.
26. Link to All Your Important Pages from the Homepage
This one isn’t as obvious, but if you have a deep website (you do, don’t you?), it’s very important you link to your most important pages from your homepage.
Well, three main reasons:
- Googlebot: Since most of your external links will point at your homepage, that is likely the page that Googlebot will land on when it finds your site. Because of this, you don’t want your important pages to be hidden from Googlebot’s all-seeing eye. Since you know Googlebot will arrive at your homepage, give it easy access to your important pages by giving it links to all of them. A simple way to accomplish this is by placing them in the footer, as we did on our homepage.
- PageRank: Whenever someone searches for a keyword your site is related to, Google will usually show your homepage in its search results. But don’t think there is anything special about your homepage…there isn’t. Google shows your homepage because that is probably where 99% of your link juice resides (because that is the page other sites link to when they want to reference your site). Because of this link juice “imbalance” between your homepage and the rest of your site, you’re going to want to spread the love, so to speak. Give your important sub-pages the link juice they deserve and insert a link to them from the homepage.
- Users: This one isn’t related to SEO per se but it’s important nonetheless. People surfing on the web have the attention span of a housefly. Seriously, if you don’t impress your audience right away and give them something useful to see, do, or read, they’re going to leave. So catch them where you know they’ll be–your homepage. If you hide your important pages too deep within your site, you have no hope of anyone ever finding them. This is the age of YouTube. Give people what they need–fast.
27. Optimize Your 404 Page
It might seem strange to optimize a page that you don’t want anyone to land on, but the fact is that people will always land on your 404 page.
There isn’t anything special you need to do with your 404 page; just make sure that anyone who lands on it doesn’t feel the sudden urge to leave your site.
You can include a search function so that visitors can search for the content they were looking for. List your most popular posts. Include an huge picture of something funny. It doesn’t really matter, as long as people just click the big red X in the corner of their screen.
And if you really can’t think of anything, get inspired.
28. Optimize Your URLs
This one is probably one of the most important on page SEO factors you need to optimize. If you’re trying to rank a page for “fast cars,” you’ll have a lot easier time if your URL is:
than if it was:
Google puts a lot of stock into your URL because it’s hard to fake. If your site is about gardening, you wouldn’t have your URL as, “/auto-insurance.php.” Because of this importance, you can’t rely on your CMS to name your URLs for you; you need to take matters into your own hands.
For example, on WordPress there is a simple option in your “Settings” tab called “Permalinks.”
By changing your permalinks to Custom Structure and typing in /%postname%/ in the field provided, your URLs will match the title of all your posts. So if you write a post called, “The 25 Fastest Cars of 2011,” your URL will automatically be converted to something like, “/25-fastest-cars-2011.”
If you really want to take matters into your own hands, you can download a WordPress plugin called Custom Permalinks. This plugin is like pure magic. It will let you completely dictate what you want your URLs to look like–even the filetype (.htm, .php, .html, etc.).
29. Don’t Overoptimize
Yeah, I know.
I just took you through 29 different on-page SEO techniques and now I’m telling you not to optimize too much. But it’s true. Especially in recent years, Google has grown very suspicious of pages that are optimized to the last drop for a single high-volume keyword. Don’t try to rank your page for “fast cars” by:
- Naming your image “fast-cars.png”
- Naming your image ALT tag ,”Fast Cars”
- Setting your URL “fast-cars.html
- Including the phrase “fast cars” four times per paragraph
- Naming your page title “Fast Cars”
You get the point. It’s OK to do any of these things, just not all of them for the same page. It might trip a Google over-optimization filter and your site won’t rank for your keyword until you tone it down a bit.
Optimizing your on-page SEO is time consuming, and it’s an ongoing process that you’ll need to take care of for as long as you run your website. And although what happens off your site may be more important to SEO than what happens on it, you simply can’t hope to rank for competitive keywords with off-page SEO alone. Take the time to fix up your SEO on the home front and your off-page SEO will take care of itself.