Great content deserves to be found by readers. Learn how to improve on-page SEO for your blog so that search engines serve up your content to those who need it.
The internet is filled with pages and pages of content. Some useful, others not so much.
How do you get your content to stand out from the rest and be deemed worthy to be displayed in search results by search engines, especially Google?
It all starts with great content, but optimizing your content is crucial to get your content noticed.
On-page search engine optimization (SEO) refers to the process of optimizing the content and the source code of web pages for them to rank higher in search engines and earn more relevant traffic.
I’ve already discussed the basics of on-page SEO in an earlier article. In case you already know the basics or you’ve gone through my previous article, here are some tips that go a little further to improve on-page SEO.
Below are advanced tips to improve on-page SEO. Don’t bite off more than you can chew; if you’re overwhelmed, just cover the basics and take one or two of the more advanced tips here.
I’ve talked about how crucial title tags are for SEO, and that it should contain your target keyword, preferably near the beginning of the title.
But while that’s mainly for the search engines, users need to click on the title tags on the search engine result page (SERP) before your content can be read. Since this is the first (and likely the largest) thing they’ll see on the SERP, your title tag needs to be persuasive enough so users will click on it.
Include modifiers in your title tag. Modifiers are words that are added to a base keyword so that more relevant search results appear in the SERPs. Using modifiers the right way can help boost your SEO.
Numbers are one of the most common modifiers used in titles simply because they work, even if they’re used often. Plus, it gives the user an estimate of how long your article probably is.
Example: “Things You Need to Know About [keyword]” → “10 Things You Need to Know About [keyword]”
Another type of modifier you can use would be dates. It’s more common to see the year rather than the month + year, but it really depends on the topic. Google likes fresh content, but more importantly, so do your users. Given a choice between information from 2017 and information from 2018, users will more likely click on the most recent one.
Example: “[keyword] Trends” → “[keyword] Trends for 2017”
Action words are also modifiers that can grab the attention of users. It works like a call to action specifically for them to read your blog post. Below are some examples of action words:
Example: “[keyword] Techniques” → “Discover [keyword] Techniques”
One more modifier you can use would be adjectives. Aside from grabbing attention, adjectives speak of the quality of your content and what kind of information they can expect.
Clickbait titles usually have words like “shocking” and “outrageous,” and they do work, but you don’t have to be that dramatic. Here are some examples of adjectives that are appropriate for title tags for your blog posts:
Example: “Facts About [keyword]” → “Amazing Facts About [keyword]”
Work on elements that are slowing your site down.
Aside from the obvious benefit to your visitors and their experience in your site, site speed is a ranking factor for Google. Improving your site speed will help you get a small but important advantage over equally relevant but slower sites.
Use tools like PageSpeed Insights and GTmetrix to assess the current speed of your blog and see which elements are slowing down your blog. Some of them may be too complicated for you to handle, but there are still some aspects that you can do something about.
Review your plugins and only keep the ones you actually use. Each plugin requires processing power, and the more plugins you have, the more processing power they eat up and the slower they make your site.
Try to learn basic PHP and CSS so you can eliminate plugins that perform a simple task that can be achieved by typing in a simple code. If you don’t have the time or inclination to do that, try to at least find plugins that do the work of multiple plugins.
Optimize media (i.e., images, video, audio). Loading media files takes a significant amount of processing power, especially for mobile devices.
It’s possible to reduce image size without losing quality, so look into image compression tools to do just that. Video size can also be reduced while retaining the quality, and there are a number of video compression tools as well.
Upload with the right dimensions as well. Find out what the display width of your page is and try to limit the image or video dimensions to that width. For instance, if your display width is 800 pixels wide, there’s no point in uploading a 1600 pixel-wide image.
If you’re ready for more technical approaches to reduce page speed, this article from Search Engine Land is detailed and very helpful.
Create an organized site structure.
Think of your blog posts as goods in a supermarket. They’re classified into different groups, with labels on the aisles so customers can find the aisle that has what they want to buy and go straight to it.
Being able to find the content they want without having to jump through hoops contributes to a positive user experience on your site. If users have positive experiences, they’re more likely to come back, as well as recommend your blog to others.
While pleasing your readers, you’re pleasing search engines as well. Readers tend to stay and browse through your articles when navigating your blog is easy, and this sends a signal to search engines that your content is relevant and helpful.
In short, the more organized your site structure, the better your chances of ranking higher in search engine results.
Evaluate your categories every few months. You should already have categories in place from the time you start your blog, but if you haven’t, then now’s a good time to start. It’s entirely possible that you’ll have topics or categories that you write more often about than others. It makes sense to revisit those categories and see if you can divide them into separate categories.
For example, If you’re running a food blog and you already have a category named “pasta,” you might want to consider dividing that further into different types of pasta (e.g., “spaghetti,” “fettuccini,” and “lasagna”).
Use tags to add context to your blog posts. Tags can help give more context to a post than just having it under a general category. However, don’t go too crazy with using tags. If every article has yet another new tag, you’re not organizing anything. Aim for each tag to have at least five articles associated with it.
Also, make sure that you don’t have duplicate tags and categories. Following from our example, if you already have a category named “pasta,” don’t have a tag named “pasta” as well.
Link to the important articles in your site. I’ve already discussed internal links and how important they are to SEO, but you can benefit from being strategic about which article to link to.
Try to link to your longer, more in-depth articles if at all possible. If plenty of your blog posts link to these major articles, Google tends to see them as important too, and will tend to favor them in rankings.
Avoid linking to your top-level pages. Your homepage, About Me, and Contact Me pages are examples of top-level pages. Because of the nature of top-level pages, they are the ones most likely to already be deemed as important by search engines. Linking to them won’t do anything to boost the SEO of your blog. Instead, focus on showing Google your important blog posts that tend to be buried.
Deal with an outdated blog post properly. When you have an article that has outdated information but has a decent amount of traffic, try to salvage it first by updating the content.
If it really can’t be saved, try to find another article that’s related to the topic and set up a permanent redirect; that is, anyone who comes to the old link will automatically be redirected to the related article.
If you can’t update and you can’t redirect, set up a 410 error page (“content deleted”) for that blog post instead of displaying a 404 error page (“content not found”).
The difference between the two may not be apparent, but Google actually looks at 404 errors as a negative. Having too many 404 errors tells Google that your content is outdated and blog isn’t being maintained properly, and your site will be penalized in the rankings. A 410 error page, in contrast, tells Google that deleting that page was deliberate and that they should not index that URL anymore.
When deleting a page, remember that there will often be some collateral damage. Try to remove all internal links to the deleted page as much as possible. Also, try to contact webmasters and blog owners to inform them that the article is being deleted and they may want to remove the link from their page.
Use HTTPS instead of HTTP in your blog URL.
Google announced years ago that HTTPS is a ranking factor in their algorithms as part of their effort to promote a more secure web.
More recently, Google Chrome has started issuing “Not secure” warnings to users who enter data on an HTTP page, as well as all users in Incognito mode accessing HTTP pages.
Google Chrome isn’t alone in this (Mozilla has been displaying warnings about unsecure connections as well), but considering Google Chrome has a 55% market share globally, this is a big enough deal for you to do something about it.
Plus, when you want users to comment on your blog posts or sign up to your mailing list, for example, you do ask them for your email address, even if you don’t ask them for a password. Users want to feel that they can trust you to protect their information.
If you’re currently on HTTP, you can still change it to HTTPS. The details are too technical, but generally, the steps are as follows:
If your site is using WordPress, here’s a detailed step-by-step guide for moving HTTP to HTTPS.
Sprinkle related keywords throughout your blog post.
In the early days, Google used to only look at keywords that were an exact match to keywords that their users were using to search, because, at the time, this was the only way they could determine if a page was relevant. Google would count how many of that exact keyword was on a page and then divide it by the total word count. The higher this percentage (called keyword density), the higher they ranked the page.
However, this led to website owners abusing this metric and cramming their keyword everywhere in the page, whether they were contextually relevant or not. This practice is called keyword stuffing.
Nowadays, Google is much smarter and will penalize you for keyword stuffing. Instead, they look at keywords that are synonymous or strongly connected to the keyword instead of just the exact phrase.
Latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords is a term for this type of keywords. They can be synonymous, but not always. They’re words that are closely related to the keyword.
For example, if you’re creating content targeting the keyword “alfredo sauce,” you can expect to find phrases such as “creamy alfredo sauce,” “fettuccine alfredo,” or “alfredo sauce recipe” throughout the content, as well as words such as “parmesan cheese,” “milk,” “butter,” “heavy cream,” which are common ingredients used to make alfredo sauce.
Google will look for those related phrases in your content as well. If plenty of those contextually related phrases can be found throughout your content, then Google will think your page is relevant and will put it higher in the search results for the keyword “alfredo sauce.”
If you’re already writing high-quality content aimed at your readers, LSI keywords should naturally be found throughout your content. However, if you decide you want to boost the number of keywords in your content, you can actually have Google help you.
Scrolling down to the bottom of the first page of results will give you “Searches related to [your keyword].” You may get some ideas of keywords that you can use in your blog post.
Alternatively, you can type in your keyword in LSIGraph to get a list of related keywords to your target.
The best way to insert LSI keywords is after you’ve written the blog post. This way, you’re literally putting your readers first and search engines second.
Write longer blog posts.
Long blog posts have a higher chance of ranking well in SERPs, and there are a number of reasons for this.
First of all, more content on a page means there’s plenty of information, which both readers and search engines like. Readers appreciate the valuable information, while search engines have a lot of clues as to what your content is about and can therefore display your content in SERPs correctly.
Longer articles are usually well-researched, with ample data to back them up. Readers tend to trust this type of content and are more likely to go back to your blog.
Lengthier blog posts also benefit you in terms of your SEO efforts, because there are more elements you can optimize for your keyword. You’ll have more headings, more images, more opportunities to link internally or externally, and simply more text to mention your keywords.
However, writing this type of content presents a challenge; you need to keep your audience reading. You’ll need to master writing in an engaging way that sustains your readers’ attention all the way to the end of the post. I’ve talked about the basics of how to write content for your blog previously, and there are plenty of resources online to help you do that.
As a general rule, aim for a length of 1,200 to 1,500 words per blog post. You can go a bit shorter or longer, depending on your topic.
If you’re going shorter, make sure it’s not less than 500 words. Go as long as you want, but remember that the attention span of your readers isn’t infinite. It’s probably better to divide a 6,000-word post into four 1,500-word posts.
With some niches (e.g., DIY, makeup tutorial, fashion, content length is less important than high-quality images and step-by-step instructions, you can maybe get away with 500 to 1,000 words. But your image SEO should make up for that, and the text remaining should be high-quality as well.
Search engines constantly work to improve the results that they serve up to their users. The more relevant results they present, the more users they get.
If you want search engines to find your content relevant, you should be thinking of the user experience as well and whether you’re providing a positive one for them.
The thing is, search engines can’t exactly ask each and every visitor to a website how their experience was. So how do search engines know that users are having a great or not-so-great experience in your website?
To interpret your content and determine if it’s relevant to users, search engines rely on metadata to get information on how visitors interact with your website and pages. This gives them insight into the quality of your pages as well as the overall quality of your blog.
We’ve discussed some of this metadata above, such as your page speed and site structure. Aside from these, search engines also look at the behavioral patterns of users on your site. These include how often your users click on the link to your article and then back again to the SERP, time spent on your page, and how many other pages on your website they click.
You certainly can’t control your users, but you can control how your website is structured and how it looks so that users would want to stay on your site longer. Here are some tips to entice users to stay longer on your blog.
Establish a visual hierarchy. Draw your users’ eyes to the important parts on your page. The most important elements of your page (i.e., your content) should be at the center, and the lesser elements should be relegated to the sidebar and the footer.
Create a visual hierarchy within your content as well. Use headings and subheadings to organize your content, and have them in a larger or different font from the main text. Also, use text formatting (e.g., boldface, italics, underline) to stress significant words and phrases in the text.
Use a sticky navigation menu. A so-called “sticky” navigation menu stays on top of the browser even when you scroll down a page. Having a navigation menu like this makes it easier for your visitors to go elsewhere on your site without having to scroll all the way up again.
Make your forms easy to fill out. Your users might want to comment or join your mailing list. Simplify the process by making the fields as few as possible.
Never underestimate the role of great visual design. Great visual design doesn’t only mean that your site is nice to look at; it should also be functional in that it shouldn’t distract from your content.
Use professional-looking, easy-to-read fonts. If you’re using colors other than black, white, or gray, make sure the background color complements the foreground color nicely while contrasting elements stand out. Do some research about what your target audience will likely be visually attracted to.
Remember: Your visitors are only one click away from hundreds of other results. Try to make them stay on your blog.