With the creation of search engines, an entirely new process (and industry) was born: search engine optimization. Known as SEO, search engine optimization is the way to improve your website’s visibility on search engines. These days, the practice of SEO can be broken down into two main parts: on-page SEO and off-page SEO. In this post, I’ll give you a basic guide to understanding and improving your on-page SEO.
For many people, I’m talking about the settings on their website that they never really use. You know, that “SEO” admin panel that maybe you’ve been hesitant to touch. But by taking just a little bit of time to implement the right behind-the-scenes tags and descriptions on your site, you’ll improve your SEO by leaps and bounds. In fact, of the five main factors that influence on-page SEO, four of them can be dealt with in just a few minutes.
First, a little background. “On-page” SEO refers to parts of your web page that influence how search engines see you. These factors include things like title tags, meta descriptions, header tags, alt tags, and the actual content of your pages. (If you don’t know what any of these terms mean yet, don’t worry, we’ll cover that.) “Off-page” SEO refers to factors that happen outside of your website that influence your search ranking, like inbound link building and social media sharing.
Ignore your on-page SEO, and you’re missing a prime chance to influence how search engines see your website.
On-page SEO starts with keywords
Before you can improve your on-page SEO, you need to know exactly what a given page is about and what the best keywords are to describe it. If you haven’t figured out what your keywords should be for a given web page, be sure to check out my post on how to do keyword research. Keyword research is always the first stop of any successful SEO campaign.
Once you’ve settled on your main keywords, you’ll want to optimize your various web pages. The first page you optimize will, in all likelihood, be your homepage. The associated keyword for that page should be the most relevant keyword for your business. From there, you can work through other pages on your site, and optimize each page for a different targeted keyword(s).
Here are the five main elements that you’ll want to focus on for each web page that you build:
1. Title tag
A “title tag” represents the actual title of a web page in your source code. The tag itself is also used by search engines when displaying search results. It’s meant to be a concise description of a web page’s content, but you can write this however you want. You’ve seen these all the time in the search results on Google (the large blue text is your title tag):
If you don’t update this information yourself, you’re missing your chance to tell Google and other search engines what to show visitors who are looking for your site. Fortunately, it’s very easy to fix.
Since the release of Google’s Hummingbird update, there seem to be two schools of thought on how to write title tags. Here is an example of each for Jimdo’s homepage:
Old-school version: Create a Free Website – Website Builder – Jimdo
New-school version: Create a Free Website with our Website Builder – Jimdo
The old-school version uses two different keywords phrases separated by a dash and then our brand name; the new-school version uses those same keyword phrases, but in a way that reads more naturally. Since there’s no definitive proof that one works better than the other at this time (in terms of rankings), it’s up to you to decide which version you use for your web pages. At Jimdo, we lean towards new-school, because we feel that a more natural, descriptive title tag is better for user experience.
Note: Remember to keep your title tags around 55-60 characters. Otherwise, they will be truncated in search results.
2. Meta description
A “meta description” provides even more explanation of a particular web page. While Google and other search engines have stated publicly that meta descriptions are not used to calculate website rankings, they can still be extremely valuable. Many marketers like to think of them as a web page’s call to action. They give people looking at search engine results a more detailed description of your web page, and can help them decide if they should click on your page or not. If you don’t update the meta description yourself, most search engines will just pull the first sentence on the page, which might not necessarily be the best page descriptor.
The recommended character limit for a meta description is 155-160 characters. Additionally, if you include a page’s main, targeted keyword in the meta description, Google will often bold that term in the search results—and this can often be a big boon to clickthrough rates.
Note: JimdoFree users can change the page title and meta tags for their homepage, whereas JimdoPro and JimdoBusiness customers can change these settings for every single page of their site (which I recommend). More information on changing these settings on Jimdo sites is available in our Support Center.
3. Header tags (H1, H2, and H3)
Header tags aren’t just for making your fonts different sizes—they are used to differentiate the various sections of a web page, and they help search engines figure out what your page is about. If you’re reading a web page, you won’t see “H1” or “H2” written anywhere, but these tags show up behind-the-scenes for search engines.
A big on-page SEO best practice is to include a page’s relevant keyword in the H1 tag. Most CMS platforms automatically add the page’s main title as the H1, but be sure to check your website’s code to ensure that this is actually the case. The H2 and H3 tags aren’t nearly as important to your SEO, but that doesn’t mean you should completely disregard them. If possible, I would suggest including a page’s targeted keyword in an H2 and/or H3 tag as well.
Note: You don’t want to overdo your on-page optimization, but as long as your page doesn’t look spammy (or stuffed with keywords), this will only help your search engine rankings. For more information on keyword stuffing and what not to do, visit Google’s page on irrelevant keywords.
4. Alt tags
Alt tags (or alternative tags) are the descriptions you write for the images on your website. Though they aren’t visible to your average visitor, they give search engines a basic idea of what each images is about. Since Google and other search engines can’t actually “crawl” an image, you need to be the one to help explain to them what you’re showing visitors.
Whenever you add an image to your website, the actual raw file should be saved with a targeted keyword. For instance, if your photo is of a men’s suit in black, then you should save that file as something like “mens_suit_black.png” rather than the default “image_0016.png” that your computer might have it saved as. More importantly, you should add the targeted keyword to the alt text of the image, once it’s been uploaded to your site. Using this same example, you would add “men’s suit in black” as the alternative text for the image.
Note: Before you start adding images to every page of your website, it’s good to know how to optimize images in other important ways. If you don’t, visit our blog post on web graphics for beginners for a quick tutorial.
5. The content of the page
Ok, you might not be able to fix this last one in five minutes, but the actual content of the page in the most important on-page SEO factor. If you implement the other four factors listed above but you forget to add actual content to your web page, it will never rank in search engines. But if you take the time to think about, research, and implement the right content for a given page, you should be able to bring in consistent traffic from search engines.
Always remember that you should focus on writing content for human beings, not search engines. If you write content and build pages with useful information that accurately describes your topic, then you’ll be able to attract new visitors and entice other websites to link to your content. If you do this, Google and other search engines will take notice and you’ll begin to see an improvement in your website’s rankings.
A tried-and-true SEO strategy
Sometimes search engines can seem like black boxes with mysterious inner workings. However, it’s not hard to learn from and implement what has worked for countless websites to date. If you look under the hood of your website and follow these on-page SEO tips described above, you’ll be one step closer to improving your search visibility.
Let me know if you have any questions about these on-page SEO recommendations in the comments section.