Every page on your website should serve one of two purposes. It’s either intended to rank in organic search results or be found through other content and not through Google. If you intend to help a page rank, you need to leverage on-page SEO.
In order to optimize your on-page efforts, you should follow a series of best practices.
10 On-Page SEO Best Practices
1. Ensure content is useful
A 2016 study by Backlinko revealed that the average word count of a Google first page result is 1,890 words. While this is worth noting, you shouldn’t focus your blogging strategy around hitting this threshold. Instead, worry about user intent and understanding.
Ideally, you want to educate your site visitors about their pain points. You can hold the top ranking, but if you don’t provide value to consumers, you won’t gain any ground. Writing a post that succinctly helps readers learn more about their challenges and move towards a solution will be far more effective than writing a 2000 word blog for the sake of it.
The lesson to be learned is that often the content Google deems first-page worthy is thorough, so aim to completely solve your visitors’ problems.
2. Focus on a specific keyword
Here at New Breed, we always attempt to align our on-page efforts with our keyword strategy, optimizing each page to focus on a single keyword.
Choosing one keyword per blog is imperative. You don’t want to dilute your efforts by trying to optimize a page around multiple terms. Make it as clear as possible for Google and your audience what a page will discuss and then stick to that. Once again, this relates to providing value for your audience.
Always make sure to include the keyword you are optimizing a post for in both the URL and title. Also, reference the term throughout the post, but don’t force it into your material. Mention the term naturally as it comes up in your explanation and discussion.
3. Avoid duplicate content
When multiple URLs host the same content, search engines aren’t likely to highlight both of them. Such an action would not provide a good user experience. As a result, Moz states, “This dilutes the visibility of each of the duplicates.”
Additionally, it can dilute the authority of each page as any external links are likely to be split between the pages.
4. Create a relevant page title and URL
We just mentioned your page’s URL and title should include your keyword of focus. Without it, your audience won’t know what your post is about. Including the keyword in every SEO element will also signal to Google that the term is vital to the post, leaving no question about your page’s topic.
Besides that, your title and URL should also remain succinct. Google typically only displays the first 50–60 characters of a title tag, so shortening your titles to fit in this range will help ensure everything displays properly on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Additionally, having a short URL makes it more shareable. In the absence of a link preview, long URLs are confusing to consume on social media, in an email or on a Slack channel. Like concise titles, short URLs allow both readers and Google to quickly gather what a post is about.
Finally, if you plan on updating your posts in the future (which is a best practice), you should avoid including numbers and years in your URL. For example, here at New Breed when we posted, “55 Key Marketing Terms You Should Know in 2020,” we published it under the URL, “https://www.newbreedmarketing.com/blog/marketing-terms”. If we wanted to add 3 terms and republish the post in 2021, it wouldn’t make sense to have a URL that mentioned 55 terms and 2020 when the new title of the post would be, “58 Key Marketing Terms You Should Know in 2021.”
5. Structure your post with headers
It’s wise to only use one H1 on any given page, so you can communicate to Google and your intended audience what the page is about. If you are writing a blog, your visitors will expect a one-to-one match between the title they see in search results and the H1 on your page. Making your H1 identical to your title tag isn’t always necessary on other pages of your site, though.
Additionally, if you are optimizing a page to rank for a given keyword, your H1 should include that term.
Beyond that, other headers (like H2s or H3s) can be used to help your visitors navigate your content, enhancing user experience.
6. Increase click-through-rate with a meta description
Meta descriptions do not have any impact over a page’s ranking on a SERP. However, they can greatly influence whether or not searchers click on a post.
If individuals aren’t convinced to visit your site based on the title alone, a meta description is your opportunity to convince them that the material is relevant. When you discuss an important concept in the post that’s not mentioned in the title, your meta description could be a good place to mention it.
While the content you put in the description can technically be any length, Google only displays around the first 155 to 160 characters. Making sure your description falls below this range is critical to maximizing user experience. You don’t want someone to try to read about what your post is about and get cut off in the process. On the other hand, your post should be sufficiently descriptive, so you want to write enough copy to sum it up.
7. Promote accessibility with alt text
The most important thing to remember about alt text is that it’s not an SEO tool; it’s a tool to enhance your website’s accessibility for all users. Alt text is what appears in place of images when they fail to load on web pages. It’s also what screen readers use to help visually-impaired visitors consume your content.
Ensuring alt text describes everything in sufficient detail is important. You want all of your visitors to get value from your posts.
From a technical perspective, it’s best to keep your alt text under 125 characters as that is where most screen readers stop reading.
8. Create a network of content with internal links
You want your content to be a resource for consumers. Linking your pages together can add value to each page and create a network of content, boosting your site’s authority. It signals to Google that people can come to your site and learn everything they need to about a particular topic.
The concept of pillar pages and topic clusters highlights the importance of internal linking. Pillar pages create a one-stop-shop for consumers as they seek information about a core topic. Visitors can access a pillar page and find a wealth of information about a high-level concept. From there, internal links to supporting pages, known as cluster content, allow users to dig deeper into the specific subtopics surrounding the core, creating comprehensive coverage of a subject.
Such a method not only creates a logical structure for visitors but for Google as well. Internal linking helps Google’s web crawlers as they scan a site, allowing them to find and index new pages faster.
Ultimately, internal linking spreads page views and boosts visitor time on page across your site. It can also be the means that you get traffic to pages that don’t rank organically.
9. Provide trustmarks with outbound links
There is often debate over whether outbound links help or hurt your on-page SEO strategy. Some people believe that including links off your site is a bad idea because it gives visitors the opportunity to leave your page and never return.
While this idea is certainly something to keep in mind, it could overlook the potential benefits of outbound linking. If you were reading a scholarly article, you would probably expect to see citations at the end of it. And, if you didn’t see those citations, you might question the authority and accuracy of the piece. Couldn’t the same be said of a blog post? If you see a page that doesn’t link to other external sources, might you question the content?
Whatever the case, outbound linking does allow you to strengthen your off-page, backlinking efforts. When you reach out to other sites asking for return links, you make a better proposal if you already have a link to their website from one of your pages.
There are a few other aspects to keep in mind as well. To avoid allowing visitors to easily exit your site, it’s wise to ensure links open in new tabs, leaving your page up in their browser.
You should also be careful with your anchor text. If you are trying to rank for a given keyword, providing an outbound link using that keyword as your anchor is probably unwise. It could signal to Google that you are not a true authority on the topic and are seeking outside knowledge to supplement your post as opposed to pointing to an outside source to reinforce your point. Linking to other posts about similar topics is perfectly fine. In fact, you should ensure all links are relevant. But, make sure you do so with anchor text that doesn’t overlap with the term you are targeting.
Finally, outbound links can also be a good way to identify gaps in your content strategy. If you find yourself linking out to a topic that you should be an authority on, it might be time to write about that topic so you can link to yourself in the future.
If you’d like to learn what other experts in the SEO space have to say, then there are a number of resources that discuss it. Moz talked about this way back in 2011, and in both 2016 and 2019, a marketing firm named Reboot conducted an experiment testing if outbound linking boosted SERP rank.
10. Enhance user experience with publish dates
Another on-page SEO element that prompts debate is whether or not to include the date that a post was published or last updated on your site. Some marketers insist that removing the date is a wise idea because they don’t want the date to influence someone’s opinion on the post. On the other hand, some marketers insist that the date is a necessary element of a post, ensuring a reader knows when content was written because it could influence their perceived value of it.
In reality, there are pros and cons of including or not including a date. If you include the date and don’t regularly update the content on your site, you risk having many posts with old timestamps on them. While you should consistently update your content to remain relevant and provide value to visitors, sometimes old content is still relevant and doesn’t require updating. However, old publish dates can make it feel irrelevant to consumers.
On the other hand, not including the date might cause users to avoid one of your pages because they can’t evaluate how old your content is. In such a scenario, visitors might end up avoiding new posts just because they question whether they’re outdated or not.
Overall, here at New Breed, we include dates on our blog posts because we believe they are a valuable aspect of user experience and allow visitors to appraise the value of our posts.
The on-page SEO tactics listed above essentially provide a checklist of the tasks you need to complete to help a post rank. Once you get a post to rank, however, your job isn’t over.
You need to ensure your pages maintain their strong standing and continue providing value for visitors. To do this, it’s wise to track your blog’s performance, monitoring if any pages have a dip in views, conversions or any other metrics.
From there, you need to optimize your content over time, updating and improving your posts to help them grow. If you keep on-page SEO factors and content optimization efforts at the forefront of your strategy, you’ll be able to maintain an exceptional website.
With such a gameplan, you’ll create strong net new content and revitalize old content, expanding your content library to speak to a wealth of consumer pain points and challenges. Overall, this will help you build authority, climb SERP rankings and provide more value to contacts.
Isaac is an Inbound Specialist at New Breed. His passion for the inbound philosophy of giving value to customers before extracting it brought him to New Breed. In his free time, he's an avid outdoorsman.