Your website is live, you’re hyper excited about your brand, and you can’t wait to share your products, services or thoughts with the entire world. Yet, the needle isn’t moving. Except for your friends and family, there’s barely any traffic at all. You’re staring at your analytics dashboard trying to figure out why no traffic.
There are many ways to bring traffic to your website: social media, advertising, influencers, offline events, email marketing, PR and more. But the healthiest, most durable, and effective method in the long term is through Search Engine Optimization.
What is SEO
Search Engine Optimization or SEO has a few definitions, but it essentially all boils down to a set of marketing tactics that make your website more appealing to search engines. With SEO, the desired outcome is ranking #1 in search engines queries for specific sets of keywords. Please note, it’s a set of marketing tactics and not a marketing tactic.
Fortunately, nowadays, there’s more to SEO than stuffing your pages with dozens to hundreds of keywords.
How SEO works
Take a moment to reflect on Google’s mission statement: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Google and other search engines do that through complex algorithms and spider robots. These comb through websites looking at multiple things. Keywords are just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath are things like domain authority, content updates, bounce rate, on-page SEO, mobile optimization, inbound links, anchor texts, redirects, duplicate content, page speed, and unfortunately, the list doesn’t end here.
It is reported that Google has over 200 ranking factors. We don’t have an exact number because not all of these factors have actually been confirmed by Google itself. To make things worse, Google makes changes to its SEO algorithm several hundred times a year.
Moz estimates in its Google Algorithm Change History that there are around 500-600 minor changes per year. And yes, every now and then, they drop a bombshell that has search marketers and website owners all worked up. Like this one. And this one. Or this one.
SEO is all about good practices and a firm understanding of how search engines work.
There are two different areas of search engine optimization. One is on-page while the other one is off-page SEO.
Moz defines on-page SEO as “the practice of optimizing individual web pages in order to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic in search engines.” It focuses on both the content and HTML code of a page. Meanwhile, off-page SEO looks at things like the quality and number of inbound links.
It goes without saying, both are essential for a higher ranking.
What is on-page SEO
“Think of it this way. You wouldn’t set a bone-in ribeye and steak knife in front of a 4-year-old and expect him to have at it. You’d present the food in easily chewable bite-sized chunks with appropriate utensils.”
There are several on-page factors to take into account such as frequency of updates, quality of content, originality, keyword optimization, page titles, URLs, page description (meta description), image alt text, page speed, usability, crawlability, healthy links and mobile friendliness. Yes, it’s just as it sounds. A lot to take in.
5 on-page SEO ranking factors for beginners
If you don’t know where to start with your on-page search engine optimization, and/or are feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all, take small steps. The best way to learn is through practice.
The next time you create a page on your website, list a new product or publish a new blog post, keep in mind these 5 opportunities for on-page optimization:
#1 Page Title
Page title or title tags are a set of 60 characters of your choice that specify the title of a web page to search engines. Page titles will be displayed in search results and represent the first interaction an internet user will have with your website. They will also be displayed in web browsers and social networks.
- Keep your page title’s tags short. If a tag is longer than 60 characters, Google and other search engines will cut it short or even rewrite it.
- Keep it interesting and specific to the content on your page.
- Don’t overdo it with keywords, but use your important keywords in the first part of your title tag.
- Don’t use duplicated content (make it unique).
- Make sure your page title makes sense to a human being more than a robot.
#2 Page URL
Search engines (or more specific spider bots) love a logical URL structure. Just like titles, URLs are meant to indicate both to humans and bots what your page is all about. There is, however, one extra kick. URLs also indicate to search engines where to find a page on your website and how important it is on your domain.
- Don’t use underscores in your URLs. Use hyphens.
- Keep your URLs short. It’s advised to keep it around 3 to 5 words. Short URLs for internet users to memorize.
- Make sure your URL makes sense. You’re only using 3 words, but are those the best words to explain what that page is all about?
- Avoid duplicating URLs and differentiating them with a letter or a number.
#3 Page Meta Description
With meta description, you have a great opportunity to “sell” your content. Put your best piece of copy here to make your content appealing to internet users. It’s a lot more important than you’d imagine. A study by SurveyMonkey and iAcquire found that 43.2% of people select the page they click on based on what they read in the meta description.
- Keep your meta description under 160 characters.
- Again, do not stuff keywords in this text, but make sure you’re using those important keywords from the title and URL.
- Avoid reusing the same meta description for different pages.
#4 Image ALT Text
Did you know you can index your website through images too? But if you’re not using image alt texts, then you’re missing out on a great opportunity to include important keywords on a page. The thing is that spider bots only read text and code. They cannot decipher the content of an image, if you don’t help them.
Alt text, alt attributes, alt descriptions, and alt tags are how search engines index images and assign them proper labels. This text will also be displayed instead of your image in cases where image files can’t be loaded. At the same time, alt text is what screen readers need to “display” results when used by visually impaired users.
Please note that alt text isn’t the same thing as filename.
- Be as specific as you can when describing the content of your image. Here’s an example from Moz:
- Add your important keywords in image ALT text.
- Keep this text under 125 characters.
- Avoid stuffing image ALT texts with keywords.
Here’s Matt Cutts from Google discussing the alt attribute.
Spider bots will also look at links on your website and how those are structured. Remember what you read about the second on-page SEO ranking factor, page URL? Internal links create a content hierarchy on your site and tell bots what is the relationship between different pages, posts, and content on your website. They also indicate pages’ relevance and value.
- Link new pages to older ones. Let’s say you just wrote a blog post on on-page SEO, but it’s not the only one on your website. Add a link to the keyword “on-page SEO” linking to an older one. This is called anchor text, and it shows search engines that there is a relationship between the two blog posts.
- Go to your Analytics account and look for your most popular website pages and blog posts. Include links from those pages to related content and your most important pages (e.g., how to buy, request a consultation, resources page, shop, etc.)
- Create cornerstone pages on related content. Take this post for instance, about on-page SEO. If you have SEO on your website and several blog posts and pages about it, then you can create a page dedicated to this content. Include snippets of your pages and blog posts with links to the original content.
- Link from your blog posts to blog categories or labels. Use them as links in your blog menu.
Fortunately for us, popular website builders are preset to help you create optimized pages. They give you the possibility to structure information in your pages, just how search engines like it. Logically. However, they neither create content for you, nor do they sell for you.
Setting up best practices for your content is the best way to start. Create a document for every page on your website and draw out the essentials to make sure you’re not going to forget about adding alt text to images or proper meta descriptions on your pages.
In platforms like Shopify and Squarespace, the 4 factors are pre-built.
Shopify search engine optimization dashboard
Here’s what Shopify’s built-in search engine optimization dashboard looks like.
This search engine listing preview is built into every page you create, and it will even draw out the content for you. While that makes it easy, you should always remember to double-check the fields below to ensure the data you’re highlighting to search engine makes sense.
Squarespace’s search engine optimization dashboard
Squarespace takes a slightly different approach to this, but you’ll get the hang of it with a bit of practice. Unlike Shopify, Squarespace doesn’t automatically populate URLs and page descriptions.
Squarespace’s page dashboard for SEO fields
Adding alt text to an image on Squarespace is a bit different than Shopify. For a blog post, you have to edit the image and use the caption option to mark that image with an alt text.
For galleries, you need to open the Gallery Page in the Pages panel, select the desired image, click the little gear and add your alt text to the Image Title box in the Content tab.
Image via Squarespace Support.
Bottom line: SEO is an ongoing process
When you’re new to this exciting world of ecommerce, everything feels a bit overwhelming. As a solo entrepreneur, you are probably already navigating dozens of tasks and taking on multiple business roles throughout the day. Not to mention, it’s already a challenge to find time to learn new things, implement strategies, develop your business, and well, enjoy life. Fortunately, some things can be outsourced to professionals who can handle them for you.
One important thing to remember is that SEO is an ongoing process. It doesn’t stop at one page, and it is not limited to one tactic. The factors listed above are only scratching the surface, but are essential to a healthy SEO strategy. Combine these with unique, original, and insightful content. Post often, share your links through social media or email marketing and keep learning. Through smart and constant effort, you’ll get there.
If you feel overwhelmed or confused about starting with on-page SEO, leave your question in the dedicated Qreuz section right here.
About the author:
Monica Badiu is a solo entrepreneur and a marketing consultant. She has been dwelling with SEO for 6 years now, both for clients and personal websites, testing, testing and constantly optimizing content for increased traffic and higher rankings. She is currently sharing her marketing knowledge and own entrepreneurial stories on her website at www.monicabadiu.com.