How ON PAGE OPTIMIZATION Can Ease Your Pain
As I mentioned in the introduction, there are essentially two parts to any SEO effort: on-page optimization and off-page optimization. We begin with an overview and deep dive covering on-page optimization because it creates the foundation for your SEO and is pretty easy to understand. Basically, on-page optimization is what you do on your web pages that can have a positive or negative impact on search engine results — where your site is ranked on Google for a particular search term or phrase.
WHAT IS ON-PAGE OPTIMIZATION?
Defined in its most simple form, on-page optimization is what you do on your website to help or hurt your search engine result page (SERPs). From my perspective, on-page optimization also refers to critical planning steps like understanding your niche, keyword research, and website strategy.
The best part of on-page optimization is that it’s fully in your control. If done correctly it can improve how search engines see your website, weigh your relevant content (keywords), and place your website within search results for a given term. This is especially true for local and mobile search results.
Many Internet marketers debate the importance of on-page optimization when it comes to Google. I believe the effects of on-page optimization are paramount given the latest changes to the Google algorithm which are looking for natural language and targeted content. Any serious Google optimization effort cannot be effective unless on-page optimization is thoroughly addressed at the start of any search engine optimization campaign.
What I’m referring to when I speak about specific on-page optimization factors is the proper use of meta tags , website URLs , formatting, internal linking and friendly URLs , keyword development
- and on-page placement. Let’s review each item in detail after you learn about the importance of keyword research. I’ll show you step-by-step what you need to know to ensure that your web pages are 100 percent optimized for Google.
Warning: Once you update your site with the proper on-pageoptimization tactics, you might very quickly find yourself starting to improve ranking for a variety of keywords.
KEYWORD RESEARCH Is A Great Way To Increase Your SEO
The more I learn about search engine optimization, the more I’ve come to rely on effective keyword research. Finding the search phrases that your website or blog should be optimized for is essential to any search engine optimization campaign. The goal is to find relevant, high traffic keywords that will be less competitive from an optimization perspective. Less competition means that you’ll have a much better chance of achieving number one rankings for your chosen keyword phrase. Doing this takes a little work but is well worth it.
The value of selecting keywords strategically is very high. The “right” keywords allow your optimization efforts to happen quicker and produce the best organic result. Many of the companies I’ve consulted for over the past few years didn’t pay much attention to keyword research. As a result, they were either trying to optimize websites for keywords they could never achieve number one rankings for, because an authority site like Amazon held the top position, or for keywords that had next to no search volume.
Not too long ago I had a conversation with a potential client. We were introduced through a mutual friend and sat down to dinner to discuss his online marketing needs. I started to ask him questions about his online marketing strategy, website, and so on. About thirty minutes into the conversation, he said, “I don’t need SEO. I’m already ranked number one.” When I asked him what keyword he was ranking for, I looked it up on my mobile web browser. I wanted to see how much search volume this particular keyword phrase had on a monthly basis.
Not surprisingly, the keyword that he was so enthusiastic about was getting less than thirty searches per month. That’s it! It’s pretty
difficult to build a multi-million dollar business on only thirty searches a month, especially considering that not all the clicks go to the top ranked result, only about 30%. He was surprised and said, “But in my industry that’s how everyone refers to our service.” I responded with, “That’s clearly not the case given the low search volume.”
After we started working together, I showed him the proper way to do keyword research and find the actual keyword phrases that people in his industry were typing into Google to find services like the ones he was offering. With thorough research we found keywords his website could realistically rank well for in a short amount of time and also had enough traffic to sustain and grow his business.
KEYWORD DEVELOPMENT AND PLACEMENT
Keyword development is one of the most important optimization factors you’ll learn about and can make or break your website’s ranking. But don’t let that scare you. I’ll be showing you the best way to find the right keywords and determine whether or not you can rank well for them.
Why are keywords so important? Because search engine algorithms are largely based on keywords and keyword phrases—keywords on your web page, keywords in your code, keywords in the links within and pointing to your website or blog. I guess you could say that Google has keywords on the brain. Their goal is to return websites and other digital assets that most closely align with a user’s search query. This is why keywords are so important to get right.
A keyword is any word or phrase that describes your website and/or web page content. Another way to think about it is in the form of a search term. What a user enters into the Google search box is considered a keyword or keyword phrase .
A number of years ago, Google started helping searchers by implementing Google Suggest – still in effect today. Google Suggest is the feature producing suggested search terms as you begin typing into the search engine’s search bar. Enter a query like, “kitten” and you’re likely to see suggested terms including, “kitten for sale”, “kitten near me”, and “kitten adoption”. Additionally, Google Suggest will offer up some local terms you may want to consider as well. Google Suggest is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to
SEO. Using Google Suggest to help find frequently searched keywords can be a valuable part of your optimization strategy.
Before get too deep into keyword research, let me begin by saying that choosing a keyword phrase is more art than science. However, your selection of a keyword can be greatly simplified if you follow these steps:
- Define the content of your site in general terms. Whatis my site about? Tennis shoes? Photography? Business services? Desserts? Once you’ve identified a general topic, it’s time to start your keyword research.
- Identify keywords/keyword phrases related to your topic. To do so, visit Google Adwords. If you don’t havean Adwords account, you will need to sign up for one at: https://ads.google.com/home . It’s free and will begin to get you familiar with a variety of Google ad tools. In the Tools & Settings area, located on the top navigation, you’ll find the Keyword Planner tool.
You may be asking why we would use an Adwords tool for SEO, but you’ll quickly discover the power of this free resource that provides search volumes and suggested keyword phrases.
3. Select Discover New Keywords. Enter your product orservice, the website URL, or a product category and press Get Results . The list of ad groups and keywords showncontain all of the search terms and search counts—the number of searches using that keyword or keyword phrase performed during a given month on Google. Results are sorted by relevance but can also be sorted by search volume or competition.
Personally I like to start with the URL search under the “Start with a website” tab. I enter the website of the three biggest competitors in my space and download all of Google’s suggested keywords.
4. Select anywhere from ten to thirty keyword phrases to research further. OK, here is where the rubber meets theroad. Look at your list and choose a few keyword phrases (not an individual word because, in most instances, it will be way too competitive with many sites trying to rank high for that particular keyword) that accurately represent your website. Make sure your phrases have a search volume of at least seven hundred monthly searches unless you are in a very small niche. Keep in mind that the more searches on a given keyword, the more competitive it may be. Eliminate keywords with 10,000 or more searches per month.
Now you might be asking, “Why NOT pick the phrase with the greatest number of searches?” It stands to reason that the greater the number of searches, the greater number of visitors to your website. However, there are other factors to consider such as how competitive it will be to rank well for the given search term.
When I conduct keyword research I usually generate a short list by eliminating anything over ten thousand searches per month unless supporting a recognized brand and anything less than seven or eight hundred searches per month. I also eliminate phrases that appear unnatural or may be difficult to use in a sentence. This simple method usually gets my list down to about thirty keywords or so. Then I go to the next step to refine my search further.
5. SEO Competitiveness. Your ability to rank well is not justdependent on search volume for specific keywords. In fact, it’s even more important to find keywords that drive qualified traffic to your website or blog and are not extremely competitive. I’ve had a number of clients over the years who did their own keyword research only to struggle for page one rankings. Where they went wrong was choosing keywords based on search volume alone.
When using the Google Adwords Keyword Planner tool you’ll see a “Competition” column. What this refers to is the advertising competition for a keyword. Over the years, I have found that low competition on Adwords generally reflects less competition in organic search but not always. Remember, you’re looking for well trafficked keywords that are easy to rank for – at least easier than some of the more competitive search phrases others are trying to rank for.
Take your list of thirty or so keyword phrases and evaluate their SEO competitiveness either by looking at the Adwords competition or, more effectively, by using the Moz SEO keyword research tool or plugin. There are other resources available such as SEMrush that can help you in this regard. If you do not have access to these tools, start with a free trial or search for an online coupon. Don’t be afraid to try them. Mastering these tools gets easier by the day as they continue to develop new features. There are always new tools coming on the market to give you this type of information at a lower cost, so don’t hesitate to experiment with free tools that offer SEO competition information as well as on page insights.
Keywords that have high SEO competition aren’t there by happenstance. As more websites build content around certain terms, they become more competitive. This means ranking well for a particular keyword may take time, website authority, and lots of optimization to achieve. Your best bet is to choose keywords most closely aligned to your website with the least amount of SEO competition.
I also like to look at the number of competing sites/pages simply by searching for your keyword phrase in Google and looking at the total number of results noted in the upper left-hand corner of the search results page under the search box.
For example, if we were to choose the keyword phrase womens tennis shoes and do a search in Google, we wouldsee that 917,410,000 web pages (at time of publication) contain the phrase womens tennis shoes . Not only that, but
looking at the results, I see all of the major shoe brands from NIKE to Zappos. Looks like I’d need to expand my keyword search to find something less competitive.
Depending on my initial research, I may choose to look at expanded phrases or phrases related more specifically to what I’m selling. “Popular tennis shoes for women”, “Green tennis shoes for women”, etc. By having more specific phrases that are less competitive, I stand a much better chance of top rankings. Add in local search intent and your chances of generating organic traffic go up exponentially.
One great way to do this is with the “People also ask” feature that appears for a number of Google Searches. It’s always a good idea to type your target keywords into an actual Google Search to see what else is popular via the Google Suggest tool and the “People also ask” accordion if one is available in
- Research the competition. Regardless of which tool youuse to generate or research keyword phrases, you’ll need to size up your competition. This is the final step in keyword research and definitely one of the most important when it comes to developing a strong list of potential keywords to optimize for. Remember that Google is a voting machine. The question you need to ask yourself is whether or not you can optimize your website (both on-page and off) better than your competition and attract more votes! If you can, you’ll quickly find yourself at the top of search engine results. This step is extremely important so we’ll take a deeper dive on the most effective way to research your competition. Again, I like to use SEMrush or the Moz plugin to automate a lot of this work and confirm my research with actual data.
Don’t skip this step. As I mentioned previously, achieving your SEO goals is more about beating out the competition than being perfect when it comes to implementing SEO techniques. The more you know about your competitors, the
more you learn about your own business and how you should be attacking your SEO.
RESEARCHING THE COMPETITION
Researching the top-performing websites for final selection of your keyword phrase is the most important step in keyword selection and it takes a little work. The good news is that Firefox and Google Chrome have a variety of plugins or add-ons you can use to make your final analysis a lot easier. Plugins like Moz and SEOquake provide much of the on-page analysis quickly, as opposed to doing all of your research manually—thank goodness!
After you’ve narrowed down your keyword list to just a handful of terms, the next step is researching the competition. I will now show you how to research the competition using a real-world example so you can do it for your own website. You should learn how to research your competition on your own to better understand this process of choosing keywords before using some of the automated tools previously mentioned. Doing so is analogous to learning division longhand before you start using a calculator!
Picking up on our earlier example, assume you’ve selected a primary keyword phrase and have decided to begin researching the competitors (ex: womens tennis shoes ).
- Visit Google and enter the first keyword phrase you are researching. Search the keyword phrase “womens tennisshoes” .
- Identify the natural search results versus the paid search results. The natural results will appear below any paidresults.
Write down the URLs of the first set of organic search results .The URLs will appear in green beneath each description. In this example, let’s imagine the first few natural results are:
Before going any further, I like to do a quick look-see to determine the overall competitiveness in search results of the keyword I’m researching. If you’re using one of the plugins noted above, all you have to do is look at the domain strength, page authority, or other stat relating to the overall site ranking to determine how your site compares – each tool provides a slightly different authority metric. If sites listed in the top few positions are highly authoritative, then your chances of top rankings for your particular keyword are slim. You’ll learn more about these metrics throughout this guide.
Here are a few things to look for as your review the top listings with or without a competitive plugin: Are the search result listings from competitive sites like “Amazon”, “Facebook”, “Sneaker.com”, etc.? Are the sites appearing in the top positions strong brand names? Are the results to root domains (ex: www.womanstennisshoes.com ) or are they from pages that reside lower on a domain? What I’m looking for is what I call “authority factors”. If sites ranking for the keywords are large, authoritative, well promoted websites, your chances of ranking for that particular keyword are less than ideal.
3. Now you’re ready to begin your site-by-site analysis.
Begin by installing an SEO browser add-on. As mentioned previously, this could be the Moz plugin on Chrome, the SEOquake plugin on Firefox or a free resource like https://www.seoptimer.com . If none of these options work for
you, search for an SEO tool using Google and simply choose one. The goal is to use a free tool to evaluate not only your website (which we’ll do later), but your primary competitors. Without a goal, it’s hard to know what you should be focusing your SEO effort on when it comes time for optimizing your own website.
For this example, I’m going to use the SEOquake plugin. What we need to do is analyze the following for each site to determine if you can outrank them. I can show you how to do the first one— then simply repeat the same steps for sites two, three, four, and five. For each site, begin by recording the following:
Website authority (Domain authority)
Number of sites linking in
On page factors
These are just a few of the items to consider but let’s do this for first result, tennis warehouse. Keep in mind that your browsing results may differ slightly.
Begin by recording the URL of this site. I like to use an excel spreadsheet. Remember, I’m showing you how to do this manually so you fully understand the process. But you only have to do this once. Moving forward, we’ll let our automated tools do the work for us. The next step is to identify the authority of the website or webpage being listed in search results (using Moz, or SEOquake, or free SEO crawler, etc.). According to my tool, looks like Tennis Warehouse has a Domain Score of 34 and a Trust Score of 40. Not bad! Even though the metrics are slightly lower than the number 2 and number 3 results, they’re strong enough to justify a top ranking.
The second thing we need to do is evaluate other factors such as age and size of site (pages indexed). This particular listing has been around since 1998. It partly explains why they maintain the top spot. The older and larger the website, the more authority it commands.
As sites become authoritative, they have more meaning to Google and will rank for a broader set of keywords. For example, if you are trying to rank your new blog for “women’s tennis shoes” and the number one ranking is Amazon, don’t bother. You could never build enough site authority to outrank Amazon.com. Rather, focus on other keywords that Amazon is not competing for. Perhaps something like “classic Nike tennis shoes size 8”. Not only will you do better organically, but you will receive more targeted traffic with purchase intent.
I also see 3.9k inbound links to this particular webpage. Wow, talk about a vote of confidence. Google doesn’t have to look far to determine just how the voting audience of the world wide web feels about Tennis Warehouse. Maybe I need to stop buying my shoes off of Amazon.
Other on-page optimization factors, like the ones we discuss in the on-page optimization section such as meta tags, use of <h1> tags, keyword use, and so on, influence organic rankings. If your site is on par with others in search results from an age, authority, inbound link perspective, and overall website size, consider additional on page factors that can help to differentiate your site and help you rank better in Google.
For example, I recommend looking at on-page factors like keyword usage – is the keyword found in the meta data (meta title, description, and keywords), on the page in a header such as an <h1>, <h2>, and <h3> tag, does it appear in content, does the keyword phrase appear in towards the beginning, do alt image tags include your keyword? By thoroughly evaluating all of these factors, and more we’ll cover, you can determine just how well optimized a particular competitor may be. If sites are not well optimized, it may be an opportunity for you to compete effectively on the chose keyword.
So what have we learned about this site? Based on my analysis,it appears as though Tennis Warehouse is extremely authoritative but not the most authoritative site on the topic of women’s tennis shoes. Yet they command the top spot for this keyword search. How
can that be? I use this particular website as an early example to illustrate that SEO is based on a variety of factors, but top rankings may come down to just a few. I know from deep research on this particular site that due to the site’s age, click-through rates (from search results to website), and referring websites, they have a distinct advantage over the big boys like Nike and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Said another way, you don’t have to be a brand name to score big with SEO. Tennis Warehouse was one of the first sites to sell women’s tennis shoes online and has been benefiting from their early entry for the last couple of decades. In addition, their site is highly responsive and passes many of the technical SEO checks that others do not.
Now you might be thinking, “I’ve got a new website how can I compete?” Well, that’s the benefit of keyword and competitor research. The more you investigate those in the top positions, the more you learn about developing an effective SEO strategy. Choosing the right keywords can mean the difference between success and failure. Add the proper application of optimization techniques and you could very quickly find yourself showing up for a variety of competitive keyword phrases.
KEYWORD RESEARCH SHORTCUT
Now that you’ve seen the step-by-step process for keyword research, I’d like to share with you another example for determining keyword competitiveness that’s easy to do. Just like any good search engine optimization expert, my methods for reviewing and optimizing websites is constantly changing and improving. However, the same basic fundamentals still apply. Here is another method to quickly determine the competitiveness of a particular keyword. I like to call it a ‘snap shot’ view of your competition.
This method simply asks you to do a Google Search for your keyword phrase and view the search result listings from the perspective of Universal Search and Authority . In the following example the keyword phrase being analyzed is “things to do in lima peru”. Our goal is to look at the results to determine the type of listings, such as websites, answer box, videos, images, press releases, etc., and the authority of each site. This gives us a much better understanding of all the ways we could show up in search results. So often we think in basic ways that we limit ourselves.
In this example, these listings look pretty solid – Google answer boxes, ads, and top websites like Tripadvisor.com, TripSavvy, etc. Now, let’s compare this to a popular destination in Peru like the “Pisac Market”.
In this example, we see a dynamic set of results for our target keyword. This list, which is a combination of websites, blogs, videos, rating sites, answer boxes, etc., would be slightly easier to rank for as it’s a true combination of different types of websites and digital assets which are less authoritative. The dynamic nature, and lack of
as many authority sites in our example, means that you’ll have an easier time ranking for the second keyword phrase “Pisa market” than you would the first.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list based on your understanding of the market, search volumes, intent, and competitiveness, do the final and easiest step, taking a snap-shot view of your competitors via the search result listings (SERPs) using SEOquake or the Moz plugin. If results are dynamic in nature and you see few authoritative sites, then you’ve found the perfect keyword to optimize for.
One of the questions I frequently get is, “What if all of the results are authoritative? What should I do then?” The answer is to keep looking. You can obviously try to optimize for a competitive keyword phrase that has strong competition but why? There are billions of keyword phrases, maybe even trillions available. And you won’t know unless you do the research. If you’ve hit a roadblock, go back to Google Adwords to find additional phrases or a combination of a branded term (including the name of your company or website) and non-branded terms. Doing the proper research up front, finding and optimizing for a phrase that is less competitive, will put you ahead of 99.9% of other websites and improve your organic results.
Now that you understand the fundamentals of keyword research, let’s focus on creating a well optimized site from an on-page optimization perspective using your target keywords. That’s why we start with keyword research and then on-page optimization. Optimizing your “on page” factors without knowing what keywords you’re targeting is never productive.
Bonus: After searching for your keyword phrase, scroll all the way to the bottom of search results and consider related search terms lists.