What is on-page SEO? How to be relevant enough to seduce Google.
Google has a type. To fit that type, your on-page SEO has to be on fleek. So, what is on-page SEO, and how can you improve yours to rank on Google’s first page?
Google decides who sees you. And Google only gives you action if you’re its type. It looks for three traits in a website, one of them being relevance.
On-page SEO means improving the relevance of your website to make Google rank it higher. This includes content length, titles, keywords, images, links, etc. SEO means search engine optimization—improving your website to rank higher on search engines. Add on-page to it, and the term becomes focused on the content of your website.
Besides relevance, Google cares about authority and technological performance.
Google’s goal is to deliver the best website for each search query. Google, being a machine, follows specific rules to determine which content is the most relevant.
If you follow the algorithm’s rules, your website will climb the ranks to Google’s first page. That’s where on-page optimization comes in.
What’s the difference between on-page SEO and off-page SEO?
For Google to like your website, it needs to score high on three traits. Performance, relevance, and authority.
Performance is about technology. How quickly your website loads, how easy it is to navigate, how well it’s internally linked, etc. To improve that trait, you do technical SEO.
Relevance is about content. How well you answer the search query, if people even click on your website in the search results, how long people stay engaged, etc. To improve that trait, you do on-page SEO.
Authority is about backlinks. The only thing that really matters here is how many other websites (and what kind of websites) link to yours. To improve that trait, you do off-page SEO.
This is fairly simplified. But it’s all we need to know to climb Mount Google.
Which 5 on-page SEO ranking factors matter most in 2021?
Google doesn’t exactly tell us what it looks for in a website. It only gives hints. Based on those hints, my experience, and the tools I use, I compiled this list. Here are, in no particular order, the five most relevant on-page SEO factors in 2021.
On-page ranking factor #1: Keyword usage.
In the golden old days, you could stuff your web pages full of your keyword and land on top of the search results. Today, Google would chain you up and whip your ass.
I like Google’s example of keyword stuffing.
Repeating the same words or phrases so often that it sounds unnatural, for example:
“We sell custom cigar humidors. Our custom cigar humidors are handmade. If you're thinking of buying a custom cigar humidor, please contact our custom cigar humidor specialists at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
If you do it, Google will penalize your website, and that seriously hurts your ranking. But you still have to let Google know what the web page is about. Keyword usage is all about balance.
A good rule of thumb is to use your keyword in close to—but not more than—3% of your text.
Not just frequency matters. Use your keyword in various places like titles, subtitles, meta descriptions, and links.
On-page ranking factor #2: High quality content (length & usefulness).
I’ve seen it often. A client has an 800-word article that’s not even in Google’s top 20. I write a new one with 3000 words and land on Google’s first page within a week.
If all else is equal, long content always outperforms short content.
Don’t write your blog posts like the essays in school, trying to hit a certain word count and mutilating “He went to school” into “The person in question moved his self from his present location to the education facility.”
Expand in a relevant way. Add more valuable information for the reader. Think about what else they could want to know.
Remember Google’s goal: delivering the best websites for each search query.
Check out the first three web pages of a search query you want to rank for. Do you have any questions left? Could you provide more value than those web pages? If you can, you can outrank them.
On-page ranking factor #3: User experience.
Your site should be easy to navigate, easy to read, and accessible to everyone. The better the user experience, the longer your visitors stay and the more likely they are to come back. Google loves returning visitors.
On-page ranking factor #4: Media use.
If people land on your website and see nothing but a fat block of text, they click the back button faster than Lucky Luke shoots his shadow.
Google knows this. Add supporting images, graphics, and videos to keep people engaged.
Make sure you add alt text to all your media.
On-page ranking factor #5: Readability.
The internet is home to many. Even if you think you’re writing for the Jimmy Neutrons of our society, keep your texts simple.
I rarely publish anything with a Flesch-readability score below 70, which is 7th-grade reading level. Readability also means paying attention to your structure. Use titles, subtitles, and paragraphs to build the skeleton of your content.
Good writing is always simple, clear, brief, and human. Stick to those principles, and you’re golden.
So many rules...
If you’ve worked with me, you know I like simplicity.
(If you haven’t worked with me, it’s about damn time you do.)
You COULD learn all those rules by heart. The SEO virtuosos wrote gigantic guides you read every night before bed. If you want to go into the quantum-sized details, read this 7000-word post by Backlinko just on on-page optimization.
OR you could use a tool that chews through your website and spits out what you need to change. Ta-daa, you’re an expert now! Congratulations!
I don’t care about the exact mechanics. I just want to be on Google’s first page. If you’re like me and you just want to make Google fall in love with you without becoming the next SEO overlord, read on.
The only on-page SEO tool you need.
The glorious on-page SEO checker by SEMrush.
Once you set it up, it automatically keeps track of your website and provides you with suggestions on how to improve your content.
Here’s what the dashboard looks like. Those are just the ideas for this article you’re reading right now. If you run the tool on your whole website, you’ll get more suggestions than you can ever implement.
How to set up SEMrush’s on-page SEO checker.
SEMrush isn’t free. Actually, it’s gonna cost you an arm and a leg. But if you’re serious about improving your search engine optimization, it’s the best investment you can make.
Get SEMrush here (yes, it’s an affiliate link).
Set up your target location.
Your location influences your search results. To get in front of the right eyes, adjust the country targeting and the language you’re writing in.
Set up your pages and keywords.
Choose what page you want to optimize for which keyword. Only optimize each page for one keyword.
Schedule your report (if you want).
You can schedule a weekly report. You can also re-run the tool any time you want.
All done? Good. Click the pretty green button and let SEMrush do the heavy lifting.
Look at the report and make the changes.
A report is useless if you don’t take action. SEMrush suggested I avoid keyword stuffing and gave me some additional words to integrate under its semantic section. If you go through this article, you’ll see that I used the suggested words.
This tool goes a step further and suggests off-page SEO and even technical SEO improvements.
If you don’t want to spend the money, use Google’s Lighthouse.
Lighthouse is a cool, free tool made by Google. It also features an SEO checker. It’s nowhere as thorough as SEMrush, but it’s better than nothing.
Step 1: Open your website in chrome.
Step 2: Open developer tools.
Step 3: Choose Lighthouse and tick the boxes.
You can choose what you want Lighthouse to audit. Check SEO and all the other categories you want to test for while you’re at it.
Step 4: Run the report.
Click “Generate Report” and let Lighthouse work its magic.
Step 5: Read the report (correctly) and get to work.
You can extend the report with this toggle. If you click the “Learn more” link, you go to web.dev where you find a detailed explanation of what the metric means and how you can improve it.
But if you do want to get that detailed report, use SEMrush. They offer a free trial anyway.
That’s it. I’m out.