How Do I Start On-Page SEO?

The Elements of SEO — Search Engine Optimization

I must admit, I love Quora. It’s hard to do what I do and be as old as I am, and not have a lot of information I can share that others find useful. The ego boost of an “upvote” and a few thousand views is intoxicating.

Working with beginners is fun. That’s probably part of the reason my agency focuses on early-stage and growing businesses. There’s just so much opportunity to use our knowledge to help beginners make oodles of dough. So when I saw this question last October, I jumped on it. The full question:

How do I start ON page SEO as I am beginner to this field?

There were several good answers but many really focused on old-school techniques and not what is currently going on or what techniques are really evergreen. My answer is useful for many so I’m reposting it here:

My answer:

The site itself needs to meet technical SEO best practices first. Then you move onto the on-page specifics.

  • These days on your Top of the list is mobile friendly. A responsive design is handy but there’s new technology out there called AMP — Accelerated Mobile Pages which I have seen work in days. In a nutshell, it simplifies the code on your site/page and makes it load faster.
  • Yes, you should have Google Analytics, Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools hooked up. All are free and offer a lot of helpful information. However, I have never looked at someone’s Google Analytics account and found it had been set up completely. There is both an art and science to getting the best information from Google Analytics. Pay someone. Alternatively you can start with the free Analytics courses Google offers. It’s not the same as having experience, but it will at least help you understand what is possible and what to ask for when you have it integrated.
  • So the first question is what is your site built on? Was it coded by scratch? Is it on Wordpress? Is it a SAAS shopping cart? The answer to these questions will tell you what you can and can’t do with a sitemap, robots.txt, file, etc. If you’re on Wordpress, you can add YOAST SEO and get quite a bit of great advice for improving your pages.
  • You site needs to be fast. Every page needs to have one, and only one URL. If you have multiple paths to the same page, you can end up with multiple URLs. Fixing this so all version point to the main URL for the page is the canonical link. How you set that is determined by your platform.
  • How did you organize your navigation? Did you use keywords in your navigation? ALWAYS design for the end user/site visitor. Keep in mind fewer clicks to the destination usually means a higher conversion rate. Keeping this in mind, you can and should use keywords as part of your navigational scheme.
  • Your site needs to load quickly. If you’re using a SAAS you may not have a ton of control here with one major exception — your images. Use photos as large as they need to be to be viewed on a large, high res screen, but also compress the file size as much as you can without losing too much quality. It is also very common to load smaller images for mobile use. Really large image files can slow down a site. Keep this in mind if you’re using an image slider — 4 very large images will load a lot slower than 1.

Now on to ON PAGE SEO:

Google is looking to deliver the most relevant result for the query (which is really a question — does your page answer that question better than your competition). Keep this in mind as you write.

  • The first thing you ACTUALLY do to create ON PAGE SEO is to write for your customer/reader. High quality, usable content is a win for the reader and is EXACTLY what Google is looking for.
  • Your content for each page should be unique. You don’t want nearly identical pages in multiple locations on your site and you don’t want to cut and paste from another site. This can be a challenge on ecommerce sites but it is possible to be unique.
  • When you write for the customer, the language you use supports the CONTEXT of the keyword you are optimizing for. The fancy name for this is Latent Semantic Index. The words you would use to describe a pet mouse is very different than a computer mouse. Be sure you’re using that language and even synonyms.
  • Be aware of the reading level of your content. If your writing requires a college-degree to understand, that can hurt you. There are some great tools out there to check — Improve your writing and your website marketing with . Aim for 6–8th grade reading level unless your target audience is definitely well above that.
  • It is good practice to have your keyword in your page title tag AND the H1 for that page. — Towards the beginning is best.
  • Your meta description should give anyone reading it a great reason to want to click through — that’s is it’s primary purpose. If you can include your keyword that is helpful but it isn’t a major SEO signal.
  • Don’t use meta keywords. They don’t help and tip off your competitors to where your focus is.
  • Try to have at least 300 words on the page. Longer does help rankings.
  • Using the same keyword over and over on the page can get you penalized. While some tools talk about an ideal keyword density, I haven’t found that to be particularly valuable.
  • LINK within your page to relevant content on your site. This is called cross-linking.
  • Linking out to other authority sites is also helpful but use this carefully, especially on ecommerce as you do not wish to stop the conversion funnel.
  • Use the Alt Image tag to describe your images — note this is for those who cannot see so make this content useful and descriptive. It IS a good place to use your keyword or variations of your keyword. Just don’t stuff your keyword in all of them.
  • Keyword stuffing (defined as overusing the word to try to rank) is bad and can actually hurt your ranking. Google has been clear, thanks to their new knowledge graph, you can actually rank well for words not even on the page. Remember, the quality of your content is key.
  • If appropriate, add the ability to create user generated content — this is often comments or reviews. That adds fresh, relevant content to your pages.

Over the past fifteen years, I have found that providing GREAT content has worked reliably and is rarely hit with penalties during the assorted Google updates. If you try to game Google, they will slap you hard sooner or later.

So SEO friends, did I miss anything? What would you share with a rookie?