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On-Page SEO Techniques

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KEY WORDS. In a post-Hummingbird, AI search engine world, keywords and keyword placement are more important than ever. Why? The answer is less complex and dramatic than you might think. Far from being endowed with any quasi-mystical tech-properties that draw people and web crawlers to your web pages like moths to the flame, in a post-Hummingbird AI search engine world, the power of keywords lies in their very definition as “key words,” i.e. words and phrases that are really key – or important/relevant – to user intent.

As search engines begin to think more like humans, they are getting better at empathizing with or “understanding” what you are looking for when performing a search query, and then finding the web-based content that best resolves your query.

To do this as efficiently as possible, search engines rely on what they deem to be the most relevant factors (i.e. ranking factors), gauging the popularity of your web-based content with other users by tracking things like the number of backlinks to and social shares of your content. Increasingly, engines are also able to make their own judgment about the quality of the content itself, a judgment which can be positively influenced by various on-page SEO techniques.

The Goal of On-Page Optimization

Given the technical nature of on-page SEO, it is easy to get sucked into the minutia and forget about the big picture. As its name suggests, the goal of on-page SEO is to optimize your content – to help searchers and search engines a) understand what your content is about b) recognize its value or usefulness to the searcher’s query.

As SEO expert Rand Fishkin writes, on-page SEO helps your brand

  • Have the best opportunity to rank highly in Google and Bing.
  • Earn traffic from social networks like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.
  • Be worthy of links and shares from across the web.
  • Build your brand’s perception, trust, and potential to convert visitors.

According to data from Searchmetrics 2014 list of SEO ranking factors, social signals and backlinks (other sites linking to your content) remain the most powerful SEO ranking factors in 2014. However, certain on-page elements, like the use of relevant terms or “keyword” phrases, along with internal links to supportive content within your website, still carry a lot of weight in search engine page rankings.

While the best approach to SEO in a post Panda/Hummingbird world is to produce quality, topical content that resolves the wants and needs of your target audience, employing the following on-page techniques will increase the likelihood your content will be found by search engines.

The New Keyword Optimization

In the past, marketers and SEOs would pick a list of top keywords and write content around them. This more technical, less “organic” approach was useful when trying to optimize for less-advanced search engine algorithms that were unable to recognize entities or understand semantic context. Now the opposite is true. Advancements in search engine technology reflected in algorithm changes like Google Hummingbird allow for a more direct interface between the search engine user and the brand.

In an excellent Search Engine Land post on the topic, Tom Schmitz sums up the correct way to think about keywords in a post-Hummingbird search era:

“Keyword research is not going anywhere and is still the foundation of all on-site SEO. The difference is, after the Hummingbird update, we are discussing the role of entities, where topics take the place of keywords in the result pages…My advice is to make sure each page stands on its own as a topic.

Do not create multiple pages about the same exact thing in order to optimize for different keywords. Instead, stick to single, well-written, citation-worthy, topic pages and optimize them for multiple keywords.”

In other words, focus on the content first and the keywords second.

On-Page SEO Architecture

As any SEO will tell you, site architecture is the beginning and end of effective SEO. Here is a list of the most important on-page elements to focus your attention on.

Readable URLS

One of the more useful advancements search engine functionality is the ability to type in search queries directly into the URL pane of your web browser. This has trained all of us to expect clear content identifiers in URL strings, or readable URLs. With this new functionality, many users are more likely to read your URLs than your title tags.

A well-crafted URL should include your company’s web domain and your content piece’s leading keyword. Quoting Rand Fiskin once more:

“A good URL has a few key aspects, but one of those is keyword use. Not only does it help with search engine relevancy directly, but URLs often get used as anchor text around the web (mostly through copying and pasting). For example, if I link to this post using its URL, e.g. http://moz.com/blog/visual-guide-to-keyword-targeting-onpage-optimization, the phrases “keyword targeting” and “onpage optimization” appear right in the text.”

Given the importance of custom URLs to on-page optimization, make sure to use a content management system (CMS) that allows you to create custom URLs.

Title (Header) Tags

A title tag is the main text that describes an online document. Given their appearance in multiple places (in browser URLs, SERP pages, and external websites), title headers have long been considered a highly important on-page ranking factor. To help search engines and readers understand what your content piece is about, you want to place your best keyword in the title tag, ideally close to the front of the title.

Another thing to keep in mind: title tags are especially important because many people will use the title tag as anchor text when linking to your content on external websites or social sites.

EXAMPLE:
<head>
<title>On Page SEO</title>
</head>

Body Text

As you might expect, it is important to use primary and secondary keyword phrases within the body of your content PROVIDED you do so organically. Keyword stuffing is a big no-no in today’s on-page SEO. To avoid this risk, it’s best to write your content first and optimize leading keywords second. Remember, it’s all about creating content that is useful and relevant to your target audience. By taking this more transparent approach to keyword optimization, you’ll give readers and search engines exactly what they are looking for.

Internal and External Links

According to generally accepted SEO best practices, a well-optimized webpage should be accessible through no more than a few (three or four) clicks from any other page on a site and should provide useful internal (within the website) or external links to relevant information discussed. Doing so will improve the user experience and potentially even please search engine crawlers (there is inconclusive evidence on this latter point).

Meta Description

A meta description is the snippet of information below the link of a search result that describes the contents of the web page to the searcher. Meta descriptions are important because, though they aren’t used directly in search engine ranking algorithms, they are an element of consideration for users when deciding whether to click on a piece of content in the search engine results pages.

EXAMPLE:
<head>
<meta name=”description” content=”This is an example of a meta description. This will often show up in search results.”>
</head>

Structured Data (Schema) Markup

An important tool for on-page SEO is structured data or schema markup. Schema markup is a form of microdata used to embed structured HTML metadata (“data about data”) within existing web page content in order to provide a richer browsing experience for end users. Schema markup uses a standard process and underlying vocabulary to add internal detail to the external content of web pages to help search engines more easily read and “understand” web-based content. Schema markup gives search engines the structured information needed to improve search result quality, which means that searchers end up with more detailed and accurate search results.

One of the best descriptions of schema markup comes from Neil Patel of Kissmetrics: “schema markup tells search engines what your data means, not just what it says.”

In an effort to streamline the HTML markup process, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and Yandex have come together to create a common markup scheme. The fruit of their collective labor is the schema.org website with its expressed goal of improving the functionality of the Internet by creating a uniform structured data markup “schema” mutually supported by all of their search engines.

With efforts like the schema.org site, along with increasingly bullish comments from executives like Matt Cutts of Google, it’s clear that the leading search engine providers are clearly supportive of schema markup:

“In general, the more markup there is – schema, video or whatever – the easier it is for search engines to be able to interpret what really matters on a page,” Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team.

A Quick Word on What Not to Do

In addition to all of the good things you can do to improve your on-page SEO, there are a number of naughty, or “black hat” practices that you’ll want to steer clear of at all times, as they can have a negative impact on your page rank.

For example, try to avoid thin content or no content on your pages, as it gives your reader little information about your product or service. In addition, keyword stuffing, hidden keywords, and URL cloaking are some of the more common black hat SEO techniques that should be avoided at all costs.

Don’t do these things; it’s really not worth it.

As a final word, although various on-page SEO factors – including judicious keyword optimization, on-page architecture, and schema markup – can have a positive impact on your search engine rankings, remember to pay heed to Searchmetric’s ranking factors and take a holistic approach to search engine optimization, one that factors in the importance of social shares, brand mentions, links, and website authority.

Questions

  1. To what extent has the move to HTTPs encryption on the part of the major search engines impacted keyword optimization strategies for marketers?
  2. Why has structured data (schema) markup become so important to on-page SEO?
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