This will be the first installment of our SEOlutions Guide series.
Today we are going to fill you in on the basics of on-page SEO. To make things easier for you, we will cover all the work we put into our own site(s) before we start any link building campaigns. Now, it may look like a lot, but the steps are absolutely vital if you are building a long-term (brand) website. Let’s get to it…
Table of Contents
- 1 What is on-page optimization
- 2 Why on-page SEO is important
- 3 Basic Site Setup
- 3.1 Use WordPress
- 3.2 Get a good hosting provider
- 3.3 Use a reliable WordPress Theme
- 3.4 Get a SSL Certificate
- 3.5 WordPress Plugins
- 3.6 Mandatory Pages
- 4 Content Hubs
- 5 Most important on-page SEO factors
- 6 Optimize The Speed Of Your Site
- 7 Final Thoughts
What is on-page optimization
What is on-page optimization?
To give you a quick definition:
On-page optimization (also known as on-page SEO) refers to the practice of optimizing your website (literally on the website) for better rankings in the search engines. This includes optimizing your site for speed, optimizing your content for your desired target keywords and adding relevant meta data (title tags, schema, meta description etc.) and internal links to your posts and pages and much more (we get into that later).
Why on-page SEO is important
Ranking well in the search engines has become a rather complex endeavour and many SEOs started to focus too much on the off-page part of SEO (aka link building), leaving the on-page counterpart trailing in the dust.
But many don’t see the correlation.
You will see SO MUCH better results from your links when you have a well-optimized website.
Google and all the other big search engines are always crawling and re-crawling the world wide web to find new relevant pages that they can show for specific search queries. Topical relevance is one key factors, along with search intent.
In order for Google et al. to identify your website as a relevant source on a specific topic you need to optimize your pages for those keywords.
We’ll show you exactly how to do that in this guide.
Basic Site Setup
Let’s give you a quick run-down of what we would consider a good site setup for SEO.
For your CMS you should probably stick to WordPress. After all, it is the most used website platform in the world.
It’s free to use and comes with a lot of customization options right out of the box.
In addition, most hosting providers offer free 1-click installations for WordPress, which makes setup a breeze.
Get a good hosting provider
The first step to have a well-optimized and FAST site is to choose a good hosting provider.
We’ve tried a lot of them in the past and they all have their advantages and disadvantages.
But after carefully evaluating all providers, we shortlisted which we believe are the top thosting providers.
For really large brand sites or e-commerce sites with custom scripts and the works, we generally recommend a dedicated server. We always choose great speed and impeccable customer service over the price – it goes without saying that you need to pay accordingly for a great service.
We can recommend (and actually use for this site):
- Nexcess (WordPress Install Guide – but they can help you out – that’s the beauty of a managed server)
For smaller business sites, local sites or affiliate sites (this will apply to most of you) we would advise to go with cloud hosting, as they offer individual cloud droplets all around the world with automated backups and one-click wordpress apps (or whatever else CMS you choose to use).
- Cloudways (managed cloud hosting – WordPress installation guide)
- Digital Ocean (WordPress Install Guide)
- Vultr (WordPress Install Guide)
We go into great detail on the pros of cloud hosting and how we set up our sites in our PBN guide. Please read it to find out how exactly we set up our sites.
Use a reliable WordPress Theme
Once your hosting server is set up and you’ve installed the basic version of WordPress, you want to install a fast and reliable theme.
Just browse through the top-selling themes on Themeforest and we are sure you’ll find a theme that you will love. Most of these will provide you with basic on page settings already, but we get into that a bit later.
We can recommend Avada, Flatsome (for Woocommerce) and ReHub.
Of course these two are premium themes and you have to spend a few bucks to purchase them – but the investment is well worth it. If you really don’t want to shell out $50-75 for a premium responsive theme, then you can find a lot more (free) responsive themes that might fit your preferences on https://wordpress.org/themes/browse/featured/ – most of them work very well and require no additional coding.
After you found a theme that you like, installing it on your (WordPress) site is a trivial matter. Additionally, you should go and buy a simple and minimalistic logo that makes you stand out as a ‘real’ brand – you can find cheap and quality logos at Fiverr.
Whatever theme you go for, you want to make sure that you use a responsive theme, as mobile organic traffic is growing larger by the day and you really don’t want to pass on mobile searches as a viable organic traffic source.
Get a SSL Certificate
HTTPS or otherwise known as Secure HTTP is an advanced method of encryption to secure the connection between any visitor of your website and your server. These days it is absolutely vital to keep personal data secure (especially considering the new GDPR guidelines).
In addition, Google announced, that sites with secure encryptions (SSL) will see on page SEO benefits. However small these benefits may be, they are still +EV.
So we definitely recommend that you look into securing your website with a SSL certificate.
To make your site secure (https://yoursite.com) you need a so called “SSL certificate” that is issued individually for each and every website. If the certificate and the issued website don’t match, the connection will be blocked by the browser and it will issue a warning, that the connection may not be secure.
Now, what you possibly didnt know: You can get a SSL certificate for free – just head over to https://letsencrypt.org/ and follow their guide. If you want, donate to them, because they are doing an awesome job at making the internet safer. If you go with Cloudways (from our hosting recommendation) you can install it for free with a few easy clicks.
While this is not the biggest on-page SEO factors, it certainly can play a part as privacy becomes more and more of a concern.
Once your theme is installed, we can proceed to install a few plugins that will help drastically with on-page SEO.
Below is a list of the plugins we use and what’s sufficient for nearly all websites:
This is an all-in-one on-page SEO plugin that will streamline the on-page SEO of your site.
It will help you to optimize the on-page of all the web pages on your site, your content, images, meta description, title tag, schema markup and other important on page SEO factors.
They have a detailed guide on their website on how to set it up.
Fairly easy to install and provides a lot of useful information on the visitors coming to your site from the search engines.
One of the easiest ways is to use GA on your wordpress site is to use the free MonsterInsights Plugin. With it you can easily add your GA code and get the traffic data overview for your website directly in your admin dashboard.
The new editor is unbearable (at list in the current version).
We recommend to install this plugin if you are used to the old wordpress post editor.
Automatically forwards your entire site to https.
Works flawlessly and without any hiccups.
Basic firewall and malware scanner to keep unwanted guests out.
We recommend the premium version, as it is really worth it for the support alone.
Don’t forget to activate all WordPress plugins in your WordPress interface and install necessary updates where needed.
You might have to shell out a few bucks for the premium versions, but they are all worth it.
Now that framework of your site is complete, you need to add a few mandatory pages.
If you have read the (leaked) “Google Quality Guidelines” from March 2013 (a Google search away), then you should be aware that every site must have the following web pages:
- Contact page
- Terms of service page
The contact page should include a simple form that forwards messages to your email. This is important because your visitors need the opportunity to contact you at any given time. Furthermore, you should add your full address to the contact page if possible (especially important if you plan to sell something on your site). Including a real phone number is also recommended. You can get a cheap or toll free number at Google Voice, Skype or several other services.
It’s advisable to noindex this page to prevent it from showing up in Google search results, unless you want to be spammed to death by bots. You can also list your address and phone number in a small embedded image on the page. This will prevent this information from being scraped by any bots.
A good way to add a contact form to your site is the free WPForms plugin. Make sure to keep their GDPR guidelines in mind. They also have a paid option, which offers way more features and is quite nice.
These pages are absolutely necessary.
Aside from needing these as a legal requirement, having these pages on your site will make you look like a real brand that people can trust. We recommend to no-index these pages, as you don’t really need them to be in the search index.
Fortunately, it is very easy to set up the pages by using a dedicated service like Iubenda.
What is Iubenda?
Attorney-level solutions to make your websites and apps compliant with the law across multiple countries and legislations
It’s basically a one-off solution for
- Privacy policies
- Cookie policies
- Cookie solutions
- Terms and conditions
- Consent solutions
Obviously, it’s not free, but we highly recommend to use them, as they take all the guess work out of the equation.
In addition, their policies are easy to customize and completely GDPR and CCPA compliant.
We definitely recommend to shell out a few bucks for it, instead of going with free plugins which can (and probably will) leave legal loopholes.
Here are their guide on how to get started:
- Iubenda – How to create a terms and conditions page
They also have a wordpress plugin that you can use for the cookie banner.
If you want to achieve and retain high search engine rankings in competitive niches then you need engaging, interesting and well-written content.
It goes without saying that the content should be well-optimized for higher rankings, but still provide value to your visitors/readers.
As the now famous, but often incorrectly used, saying goes, “Content Is King!”.
Now, let us start by saying that it is incredibly time consuming to write engaging content.
As a webmaster and/or a business owner, your time is better spent elsewhere. You should strive to outsource all of your content creation.
Finding a talented writer that can consistently provide you with well-written articles is also not easy, but time well spent.
Once you have found the right writer (or a whole team of them), he (they) will be an invaluable asset to your site’s success.
Here are a few things which you need to look for in a competent content provider/writer:
- Quality: It’s imperative to find a writer that knows how to write engaging content that compels your visitors to keep reading. Articles solely meant for search robots have no place on your site if you want to develop a brand.
- Frequency: Your writer(s) need to be able to meet your demands when it comes to volume. Nothing is worse than being left hanging, waiting for your articles to be delivered.
- Consistency: This goes without saying. Consistency is crucial. Many times writers produce great initial content when they first acquire you as a client, only to deliver poorly written (sometimes even spun) content later on, either because they have become too comfortable with you or cannot meet your volume demands. So make sure to have proper quality control checks in place to ensure you are not being duped by your writer(s). A great tool to check whether the content your writer(s) produce is unique or not is Copyscape.com.
- Guidelines: Be as specific as possible with your writers when it comes to the type of content you want from them. Failing to be precise often results in useless fluff content which provides no informational value whatsoever. Instruct, instruct, and then instruct some more until they get it right.
As you can see the amount of work and research involved in finding good writers is quite considerable.
One piece of advice we can give you is to try out different content providers and power through the pain and stress until you find the perfect writer(s). The effort spent will be well worth your while.
Once you’ve found your writer, you can create a content strategy.
On a new website, which you plan to turn into a big brand, we usually recommend to focus on so-called content hubs (or also known as topical content clusters).
A content hub is a way to connect relevant articles and interlink them. They usually consist of apillar page on a short tail keyword (for instance a “Guide to Web Design”) and several supporting sub-pages on relevant long tail keywords (for example: “Best Software for Web Design”, “Best Web Design Practices” etc.).
From your evergreen pillar articles you want to link to all of your supporting pages using exact match anchors. The internal links should flow naturally within the context of the article. Vice versa, you want to link from all of your supporting pages to your pillar pages using exact match anchors as well. If you implement these links correctly, you can pass link juice from one page to another and let it flow through your whole site-structure.
In addition, using internal links helps search engines to determine what your site is about and create a natural flow for the user.
Rank Math has their own link suggestions feature that can help you to improve your internal linking.
To start with, we typically recommend the following baseline content:
- Pillar Pages – Start with at least 3 pillar articles (2500-5000+ words each) optimized with SurferSEO. We usually target 2-3 primary and mid-sized traffic keywords and 5-7 additional heavy long tail keywords with these articles. Make sure you link out to all supporting pages from your pillar page.
- Supporting Pages – you want at least 3 or better yet 5 supporting pages for each pillar page you’ve created. We keep these around 1000-2000 words targeting a few longtails each. Make sure to link back to your pillar page from each of these.
- Homepage Content – Add relevant branded content to your homepage. As most of us don’t try to rank the homepage itself, it is up to you on what and how much you want to publish. We still recommend at least 500-700 words of branded new content on the homepage itself.
After this you can repeat the cycle with a new batch of articles / keywords.
Gauging your current income from the site once all of the original articles have been published and traffic begins to find its way (following some link building campaigns of course) to your site, as well as making future income projections, will help you decide whether the site is worth updating with more content.
In short, always be mindful of your (potential) return on investment (ROI) before committing more resources to a site.
These are purely recommendations based on our vast experience in this field. You are encouraged to deviate and experiment in this area to find an optimal approach that works for you.
Most important on-page SEO factors
At this point, your site should be shaping up nicely.
The homepage has some content, all of the mandatory pages have been created, the plugins are installed and several articles (Pillars + supporting pages) have been published.
Now it’s time to optimize these pages for the search engines aka the real on-page optimization.
This important, yet often overlooked, part of on page SEO can be the difference between a site climbing to the top of search engine results for its choice of keywords and one slumming around in the dumps of the search results.
Fortunately for us we can do most of it with Rank Math and SurferSEO.
Using Rank Math for Basic On-Page Optimization
Since we are using Rank Math as our SEO plugin, the optimization of the meta data for certain keywords will be quite easy and straight forward.
Rank Math will give you specific suggestions on what to add to your article, your meta description and meta title (meta tags and title tags) and so on. J
Just enter your main focus keyword(s) (you can enter up to 5 keywords) and the plugin will give you an internal rating of your on-page SEO factors between 0 and 100.
We usually try to aim for at least 85 / 100 points.
Here are the most Important On Page SEO factors that you need to keep in mind.
- Add your focus keyword to the SEO title (title tags) and SEO meta description
- Use positive sentiments or power words in your title
- Use a number in your title (the year is usually a good one)
- Use the keyword in your URL (keep the URL short)
- Use the keyword in the first paragraph AND last paragraph of your article
- Use the keyword throughout the content (use SurferSEO for keyword density – see next step).
- Use the keyword in your main header (h1) and your sub-headers (h2-h4)
- Use the keywords in your image alt-attributes
- Use Internal Linking
- Use External Linking (to authority resources in your niche)
- Try to use a short URL structure for better results (we usually ignore this – haven’t seen any correlation to better rankings)
- Use a Table Of Contents Plugin to make navigation easier.
- Add enhanced media (images, videos, gifs etc.)
- Use Schema markup (where applicable)
If you added all these things correctly, Rank Math will give you a “green light” so to speak.
It will look similar to this:
As you can see from the image above, we got a 92 rating for this article.
Which is not bad at all, but it could be a bit better.
That’s when the next step comes in: using SurferSEO as a complementary tool to optimize the content even further for our target keywords.
Using Surfer SEO for advanced On-Page Optimization
SurferSEO is a relatively new tool, that came out in 2019 and has been an absolute game changer for keywords research, on-page SEO optimization and search results analysis.
While their SERP analyzer is great for competitor analysis, their content editor is even greater for on page optimization.
What is it?
According to them:
With Surfer’s Content Editor you get auto-generated guidelines you can adjust and send directly to a copywriter. It takes one moment to get a recipe for a perfectly optimized page that readers (and search engines) will love. Based on top organic competitors, you get reliable information about length, prominent words, common phrases, and more. No so-called “good practices”. Just pure data on what’s working right now for your specific keyword.
It’s also very intuitive to use.
You simply enter the keyword of your desire into the keyword field.
For example “on-page optimization”.
Then you simply paste your content into the left editor field and SurferSEO will provide you with hard data driving SEO factors based on the current SERPS that are missing or have to be adjusted in your content, thus improving your on page SEO drastically.
- Content Structure (e.g. content length, amount of headings to use, paragraphs to use, bolded words to include and images to add)
- Important terms to use (these are terms that you should include in your content)
- Topics and questions (optional questions you could tackle in an article)
- Other relevant terms (these terms should be included at least once or twice in your article – obviously only if they make sense)
You can simply edit the content right within their interface and once you’re done it’s a simple copy + paste back to your site.
We use it to for every article we write. Example:
As you can see, the basic on-page optimization of your articles (meta description, title tag, content, images etc.) has become quite easy thanks to advanced plugins and SEO tools like SurferSEO and Rank Math.
But we are not done. Now that you have a fully functional website with a lot of well-optimized content (with regards to on page SEO factors), we can push things a bit further by making sure that your website is fast as f#%k.
Optimize The Speed Of Your Site
Now that your site is practically ready to be launched, there is one more thing to finetune: The website speed.
Do you hate slow loading pages as much as us? You probably are.
A slow loading website is a pain in the butt for user experience and will result in a very high bounce rate, which is obviously not something you want when ranking your website.
A fast-loading site on the other hand is a pleasure to browse and helps to keep your bounce rates low and visitor retention rates high while improving your on page SEO
Run A PingDom / GTMetrix Speed Test
Go to the Pingdom website, enter your root URL and run the test. In the settings tab you can choose from several datacenters, pick the one that’s the closest to you. After the test you will see a result like the one below:
Let us shortly explain the different results:
- Performance Grade – Pretty straight forward. The better your grade, the faster your site. The better the on-page optimization.
- Requests – This is the number of request by your site. The perfect range would be something lower than 25, unless you have a lot of scripts running that require more requests.
- Load Time – Anything above 800ms is not acceptable for a blog/simple website. For e-commerce sites, the loading time may vary, but should not exceed a few seconds either.
- Page Size – Try to reduce your page size to a bare minimum. The lower your page size, the faster your site and the better the overall performance and on page SEO.
The Pingdom or GTMetrix test will give you a rough idea on what needs to be optimized and how to improve your on-page speed.
If you have a slow loading site, you need to optimize it. Barring some critical improvements suggested by Pingdom, in most cases it is usually enough to install a caching plugin to significantly increase the speed of your site
To do that we use WP Rocket.
Optimize Speed with WP Rocket
We recommend WP ROCKET as your main caching and speed optimization plugin.
It’s pretty much set & forget, since you don’t need much of a technical background to configure it.
It also enables you to use a CDN (e.g. Stackpath (previous MaxCDN)) for further optimization – and we recommend you do to that.
The combination of WP Rocket + a CDN delivery system should significantly improve your website’s speed and thus your overall ranking.
Optimize Images with Imagify
Another great way to optimize the speed of your site is to optimize your images.
First of all, it’s always good to use JPG as opposed to PNG to improve your on-page optimization. The former image type is a lot smaller and the quality loss is only marginal to the human eye. If you don’t want to use JPG’s at all, then using the PNG-8 format is also a good option.
In addition, we recommend using Imagify to optimize your images either in bulk, or individually.
Their plugins is straight forward and makes it easy to optimize your images in bulk with an option to restore the original image (in case you don’t like the optimized version).
We use rather aggressive compressing settings and were able to save almost 1 second on loading time. This results in better usability on-page and an overall better user experience.
Once you’ve configured WP Rocket and Imagify, run the Pingdom and GTmetrix tests again and see how much the performance has improved.
If your site is still not above the aforementioned performance ratings, then it’s time to optimize things further.
If you followed our on-page optimization guide, you should now have a fast, highly optimized website with all the right big brand signals: a beautiful theme, all the mandatory pages, vast amounts of engaging and well-optimized content (via surferSEO with proper title tag, meta tag, etc.) and perfect performance ratings. Hope you could take some pointers to get your website well-optimized for the big search engines.
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