SEO is a complicated game, we all know that, and getting great links is where the smart money is at. But the story doesn’t end there. We might spend the majority of our time and efforts on offsite work, but on page SEO still matters, and here’s why:

Search Engines Are Smart

Imagine you work in a shop that sells books, DVDs and CDs. A customer comes to you asking for the 7th Harry Potter movie, but you bring them the 7th Harry Potter book. They look at you confused, “the book’s much better” you reply, “everyone says so”. You’ve made your choice based on everything you’ve seen, read and heard – but the potential customer leaves. You didn’t give them what they asked for.

Now imagine you’re Google, you have a huge number of quality signals in place to figure out exactly what the “best” pages and sites are on the web. But, when it comes down to it and a user has typed in their search query what are you going to do? Do you give them the page that refers directly to what they’ve asked for – or do you give them another page that’s kind of along those lines, just because all your signals say it’s better?

Google is a business. If it doesn’t give their customers exactly what they are searching for, they will go elsewhere – to a search engine that will find the content they need.

Search Engines Are Dumb

What’s the difference between a car and an automobile? The spelling, right? But the truth is, there’s a whole lot more to it than that.

Google has a sophisticated understanding of the relationships between words – it knows that a car is an automobile is a vehicle – but it also knows that it’s users don’t care. Automobile is an American term, so many UK users simply won’t click on an “Automobile Reviews site” if they wanted a “Car Reviews site”.

These differences can mean the world of difference to a user, the subtle nuances in semantics can completely change the site a person expects to see and their feeling about that site. So why would a search engine act smart by delivering a potentially better result that its users don’t want?

To rank highly for your chosen keyword, you’ve got to prove to Google et al that your content is the best to be found on a given topic. On page SEO is still the easiest and most direct way to tell search engines and people what your page is about – and that’s why it matters.

What Do We Mean By “On Page SEO”?

When we’re talking about on page factors we’re looking directly at items on your website. These factors should all be things that you as a site owner control: It’s the text on your webpage, the images, the coding. Everything about the specific page you want to rank should be saying, loud and clear “hey, this awesome page here is all about <insert keyword here>”.

Perfecting Your On Page Optimisation

Repeat after me “I understand that running off to stuff keywords into my pages is not the way to do on page SEO”. It’s an old skool, black hat, spammy trick and it does not work.

That said, your perfectly optimised page does need to make use of your keywords in specific places:

  • Title Tag
  • Meta Description*
  • URL
  • Heading – <h1> tag
  • Bold text
  • Subheadings – <h2> and <h3> tags
  • Optimised images (or video, or PDF, or… you get the point, optimise all media that you are going to embed on a page)

*Strictly speaking, this isn’t for search engines, it’s for potential visitors: Meta Descriptions can appear in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) – and if they contain keywords users are more likely to click on them.

And the result may look something like this simple diagram showing a structured and well-optimised page:

Diagram of great on page SEO

You’ll notice that the keyword doesn’t actually appear that many times in the copy – you want to make use of all the phrases relating to your keyword in the rest of the text. Synonyms, variations on the stem word (e.g. you want to rank for “cars”? Use the word “car” too) and semantically linked terms should all come into play too.

Don’t obsess too much about the “right” number of times a word should appear in your body copy – a lot will depend on the length of the page. Simply go with what feels natural and try not to crowbar your keyword into a sentence just to improve your on page SEO.

Do you want to know more about on page factors in search engine optimisation? These resources will give you even more juicy detail to help you understand the fine art of SEO:

  • SEOmoz’s post on perfecting keyword targeting gives super in depth information about all the elements that affect your SEO. They adopt a scientific approach and through careful testing have discovered gems such as you are more likely to rank for a keyword if it is further to the right of your Title Tag.
  • Search Engine Journal put together a great post on understanding semantic search. This explains how search engines view relationships between words – and what that means for you when you come to creating copy for your website.
  • 15 Title Tag Optimizations for Usability and SEO is a very thorough guide to the impact of the humble Title Tag on both on page optimisation and on the behaviour of your visitors.
  • Copyblogger offers a great report on SEO Copywriting to download for free that looks at the wider impact of SEO for businesses as well as delving into the nitty gritty of writing well-optimised content.
  • Advice from Google on writing good meta descriptions.

Have you enjoyed this post? Please leave us a comment or tweet it to your followers.