On page SEO techniques … I think this is the part where I tell you that “content is king” and if you create “high-quality content,” Google is going to love you and magically rocket your site to the top of the rankings without any additional effort on your part.
Unfortunately, in the real world, creating great content alone isn’t a ticket to the top of the SERPs – you also need to optimize that content using on page SEO techniques that you’re going to learn in this post.
According to a survey of SEO pros (originally done by HubSpot), most experts think on page SEO techniques account for about 25% of what impacts your spot in Google’s rankings. Not a lot, right?
Basically, on-page SEO provides the foundation upon which all of your other SEO techniques, like link building, grow. If you have a weak foundation, it’s going to be a lot harder for your off-page SEO efforts to take root.
So what goes into nailing your on page SEO?
On page SEO techniques to rank higher in Google
I’m going to divide it into four broad categories:
Let’s go through some do’s and don’ts to help you nail each category…
Work on your SEO titles and meta descriptions
Your SEO title and meta description roughly control how your site appears in Google search results, as well as a few other spots.
Let me give you an example. Here’s one of our posts and its listing in Google:
The texts you see there have been set by us. Those texts are your SEO title and meta description.
Here’s what it looks like to set your titles and meta descriptions in Yoast SEO:
And here are some do’s and don’ts for optimizing your SEO title and meta description:
Do … try to naturally include your target keyword
Whenever possible, you want to include your target keyword one time in your SEO title and one time in your meta description.
Not only does this signal to Google what your page is about, but it also helps human visitors assess whether your content matches what they’re looking for in Google’s search results.
Don’t … make them too long
Google typically displays around ~50-60 characters from your SEO title and ~160 characters from your meta description in its search results.
But when it comes to your SEO title, you might be better off keeping things well under Google’s limits.
Based on the data, the sweet spot seems to be around 15-40 characters for your SEO title. Pages with titles inside this range had an 8.6% higher CTR in Google’s search results than those outside that range.
Do … add modifiers
Modifiers are little additions like “best”, “2020”, “top”, “free”, etc. They help you rank for long-tail versions of your core keywords by capturing more queries and intent.
For example, if someone is searching for a “WordPress RSS plugin”, there’s a good chance they’ll plug in something like “best WordPress RSS plugin 2020”. By adding those modifiers to your SEO titles and descriptions, you can give your site a chance to capture that long-tail traffic.
In fact, that’s exactly what we did in our collection of the best WordPress RSS plugins here.
Don’t … forget about organic CTR
Beyond helping with on-page SEO, your SEO titles and descriptions are usually (but not always) what Google shows in the SERPs.
So remember that you’re not just trying to stuff in keywords, you’re trying to get people to click on your site once they see your listing among other results. That’s your organic CTR, and a well-written, click-enticing headline can make you stand out in the SERPs…even more than people ranking above you.
You wouldn’t place a Google ad with an unoptimized, keyword-stuffed title, so why wouldn’t you apply that same standard to your organic titles?
So, how can you boost your organic CTR? Here are some data-backed suggestions:
- Consider skipping “power words” because titles with “power words” had a 13.9% lower CTR.
- Add some positive or negative emotions. Titles with emotions in either direction had a ~7% higher CTR.
- Do questions improve organic CTR? You betcha! Titles with a question had a ~14% higher CTR. See what I did there?
Do … include your keyword near the beginning
According to UX experts Nielsen Norman Group, users typically see about the first two words in list items (like a list of websites in Google’s SERPs).
In order to communicate to your visitors that your website matches their search intent, you want to try and get your keywords as close to those first two words as possible so that searchers see relevant keywords when they’re scanning.
Here’s an example of how this can work (the focus keyword highlighted):
Don’t … forget your meta description
A lot of these tips have focused on your SEO title, but it’s important to write a unique meta description, too. Search results with a unique meta description get ~6% more clicks than those without – so don’t skimp on your meta description!
Once you optimize your SEO title and meta description, it’s time to move on to the meat of these on page SEO techniques – your content.
Here are the do’s and don’ts to optimize your content itself…
Do … include your target keyword multiple times
The days of stuffing your content with keywords are long gone, but it’s still important to include your target keyword multiple times in your content.
So what’s the perfect keyword density for your content? Well, Google is always careful to point out that there’s no ideal keyword density, with John Mueller of Google stating that “Keyword density, in general, is something I wouldn’t focus on. Search engines have kind of moved on from there.”
However, most webmasters and SEO’s would probably disagree with John’s statement.
In general, for your average piece of ~1,000-1,500 content, you probably want to include your keyword somewhere around ~5-7 times.
In addition to including those keywords in the body of your content, you should also try to add your keyword to one of your
Finally, don’t go overboard and stuff your keyword in as many times as possible. After a certain point, adding more exact match keywords isn’t going to help you, and it might even hurt you if you go too crazy.
Thankfully, you don’t have to worry too much about striking the right number of keyword mentions. SEO plugins like Yoast SEO will let you know what the keyword density of your content is.
Do … include your keyword in the first 100 words
While you want to sprinkle your keyword throughout your content, it’s especially important to include your keyword at least once near the beginning. Specifically, within the first ~100 words.
Beyond helping with search engines, doing this also helps human visitors understand that your content is going to deliver on what you promised in your SEO title.
This early mention of your target keyword should come fairly naturally. After all, if your content really is about what you’re promising in the headline then mentioning the keyword shouldn’t be a challenge, right?
Do … include related keywords
Over the years, Google has gotten a lot smarter about understanding the topic of a piece of content. Now, in addition to including your target keyword, Google also wants to see keywords related to your main topic/keyword.
People often call these LSI keywords.
Now, if you’re writing good content and avoiding keyword stuffing, you’re naturally going to include a lot of related keywords and synonyms.
But if you want to be thorough, you can use a tool like LSIGraph to generate a list of related keywords and try to include as many of those as possible in your content.
Do … include relevant internal links
Building backlinks to your site from other websites is one of the most important off-page SEO factors. But other websites are not the only source of contextual links – you can also build links from your own site.
Including internal links in your content accomplishes two things:
- It gives Google context about the content of the destination page, even if Google doesn’t apply as much weight as it would to a link from a high-authority external site.
- It keeps visitors on your website and reduces your bounce rate, which provides additional signals to Google about the quality of your content.
Don’t … forget about images
With all this focus on text content and keywords, it’s easy to forget about other types of content. Namely, images.
On average, pages with at least one image significantly outperformed pages without any images in Google, and more than 97% of all results on the first page in Google feature at least one image.
When you add an image, make sure to add the alt text as well – this can help your images rank in Google Images.
You can set alt texts in the WordPress UI when adding an image to the page, like so:
Do … add structured data/schema markup
Structured data, often referred to as schema markup, helps you get rich snippets in Google’s search results. Here’s an example of what such a snippet can look like:
While structured data won’t help you rank higher by itself, there is data that suggests getting rich snippets can boost your organic CTR in Google’s search results. Additionally, John Mueller of Google has hinted that Google might use structured data as a ranking factor at some point in the future.
In WordPress, you can edit the URL slug of any piece of content on your site. Do that from the Permalink section in the Document sidebar in the WordPress editor:
You can also control the overall structure of your WordPress site’s URLs from your permalink settings.
Here’s how to take advantage of those settings and optimize your URLs:
Do … include your keyword in your URL slug
Including your target keyword in your content’s URL is important for two reasons:
- Google uses the words in your URL as a ranking factor, so using your keyword helps Google understand that it should rank your content for that keyword.
- URLs that include a keyword in them have a 45% higher organic CTR than those without, perhaps because it signals to humans that the content matches what they’re looking for.
Do … keep your URLs short and sweet
Keep your URLs short and to the point – about 3-5 words if possible.
Why? Because there’s a clear correlation between shorter URLs and higher rankings.
On average, the URL from a site in the first position was 50 characters total, while the average for sites in the tenth position was over 62 characters, with a clear trend in between:
|Position in Google||Av. no. of characters|
(Chart by Visualizer.)
In practice, this means that your URL should just generally be your target keyword and maybe a modifier – nothing else.
Don’t … change your URL slugs willy-nilly
Once you choose your URL slug, it’s important not to change it carelessly in the future. If you change a URL without taking proper precautions, you’ll lose all your rankings for that page as well as the internal and external links that you’ve built to that page.
If you absolutely must change a URL, make sure to set up a 301 redirect to tell Google and visitors’ browsers that you’ve moved the page.
Site-wide optimizations for improved SEO
Finally, there are some general site-wide improvements/decisions that can improve your site’s on page SEO right after you’ve finished making your WordPress website.
Do … make sure your site loads wicked fast
Since 2018, your site’s speed is a ranking factor in both Google’s desktop and mobile results.
So if you don’t want all the other on page SEO techniques in this post to go to waste, you need to make sure your site loads fast. Or at least has respectable page load times, even if it’s not “wicked” fast.
Learning how to speed up your site requires a whole post of its own, so check out our full guide on how to speed up WordPress.
Do … use an SEO plugin to help you remember everything
Finally, remembering all of these on page SEO techniques for each piece of content can be tough.
If you want some assistance to help you optimize your content’s on-page SEO, you can use a WordPress SEO plugin like Yoast SEO.
Yoast SEO’s analysis feature will help you implement many of the tactics we’ve discussed in this post, like including your keyword in your SEO title, optimizing your keyword density, adding images and alt text, and more:
Implement these on page SEO techniques today
On-page SEO is not enough to rank your site by itself. But if you implement these handful of on page SEO techniques we talked about above, you’ll set your content up with a strong foundation to rank in Google.
Don’t forget to join our crash course on speeding up your WordPress site. With some simple fixes, you can reduce your loading time by even 50-80%: