On-Page Search Engine Optimisation in 2020

On Page SEO Checklist 2020

What is On Page SEO Optimisation

After crawling your website, search engines analyse various elements of your content in order to interpret it and decide whether it is relevant for certain search queries. On Page SEO Optimisation is one of the three core pillars of SEO (The other two being Technical SEO Optimisation and Link Profile Optimisation) and it basically involves ensuring that the content on your web pages is suitably optimised so that search engines understand exactly what it is about and what queries it is relevant to.

Are Keywords Still Relevant for SEO in 2020

What sparked the idea to write this blog post initially was a declaration from a client that they had read online that keywords are no longer important for SEO (I forget specifically who asked me this – if it was you, my apologies for ratting you out publicly like this).

Whilst Google’s algorithm, and those of other search engines are continually growing more advanced and using multiple different data points to feed into machine-learned, relevance-based rankings, keywords very much still ARE important. Though in my opinion, the term “keyword” is a little misleading – I prefer to use the word “topic” as Google is getting much better at recognising synonyms and words/phrases which relate to the same topic.

On Page SEO - Keywords are still important - Trump knows

Google’s own documentation on How Search Algorithms Work states:

“The most basic signal that information is relevant is when a webpage contains the same keywords as your search query. If those keywords appear on the page, or if they appear in the headings or body of the text, the information is more likely to be relevant. Beyond simple keyword matching, we use aggregated and anonymized interaction data to assess whether search results are relevant to queries. We transform that data into signals that help our machine-learned systems better estimate relevance.”

Whilst the word “keyword” is used here, I believe that this can implicitly limit marketers’ mindset due to the connotations with old school SEO practices like keyword stuffing – for that reason, and to encourage thinking more broadly in terms of topical focus, synonyms and subjects – I will use the term “topic” throughout the rest of this post.

The Golden Rule: One Page – One Topic

An single web page should be laser focused on one specific topic e.g. a specific product or service. If you mix two or more different topics on a page it becomes incredibly difficult to optimise the page for all topics and ensure that it ranks in a high position for queries relevant to all those topics.

On Page SEO - There Can Be Only One (topic per page)

The topic of the given web page should be the focus of (in order of priority):

  • your page title tag
  • the opening 100 words of your content (and throughout)
  • your meta description
  • your image alt text tags

The fact that each single page has only one meta description, one page title and one URL is part of the reason that it is so difficult to rank well for multiple topics with a single page.

For each page, you should decide on one topic for which you want to rank. And if your target market is in a specific location use a “location modifier” to help you to rank for longer tail searches specific to that area without negatively effecting shorter tail searches for the specific term.

You can also use modifiers like “best”, guide”, “checklist”, “review”, etc. – anything that adds specificity without alienating broader searches at the same time. e.g. the title of this page: On Page SEO Optimisation Checklist 2020

If you are having difficulty choosing between two different related terms that you would like to rank for, you could simply create a seperate page for each, but if they are so closely related that content would essentially be duplicated if you chose that approach, you can use tools like Google Ads Keyword Planner (free), MOZ Keyword Explorer (paid) or SEMrush Keyword Magic Tool (paid) to compare metrics like monthly search volume and competition. However, you should always balance demand for a phrase / term with the actual relevance of that term to your audience, your offering and your brand tone.

Title tags

A title tag is an HTML element that specifies the title of a web page. Title tags are displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs) as the clickable headline for a given result, and are important for usability, SEO, and social sharing. The title tag of a web page is meant to be an accurate and concise description of a page’s content. All web pages on your site should have a unique title tag.

Title tags not only help search engine algorithms to contextualize your web page and decide if it is relevant to a particular query, but also:

A. are displayed on search engine results pages as the main clickable headline

On Page SEO - Page Titles on the SERP

B. appear in your browser tabs to identify the pages content

On Page SEO - Page Titles in browser tab

C. are displayed by default when your content is shared on social media

On Page SEO - Page Titles in Social Shares

You should optimise your title tags to reference your topic to tell users and search engines what the main content on the page is. Ensure there are no missing, duplicate, long or short title tags. Google typically displays the first 50–60 characters of a title tag so try to keep your tag withing that character range.

Content

First things first – when it comes to your on page content you should do two simple things:

  1. Ensure that your chosen topic is mentioned early in the copy – i.e. in the first 100 words where possible. Google puts more weight on terms that appear early in your page.
  2. Where possible, in order to rank for Paragraph Featured Snippets, try to lead your content with a short introductory paragraph that summarises the entire page succintly – following an “inverted pyramid” style of writing.

Now, for the more detailed, theoretical stuff… As I’ve alluded to, the days of stuffing a page full of keywords and expecting to rank are gone. Google’s algorithm is complex – really complex. But without getting into specific details – in order to rank well you need to write really high quality, unique content about topics that your audience want to know about.

EAT

On Page SEO - EAT (Garfield EAT-ing)

Nowadays, a common buzzword used in the SEO and wider digital marketing community is EAT – which stands for Expertise, Authority, Trust. In it’s How Search Works guide, Google described EAT as a key ranking factor:

“Beyond matching the words in your query with relevant documents on the web, Search algorithms also aim to prioritize the most reliable sources available. To do this, our systems are designed to identify signals that can help determine which pages demonstrate expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness on a given topic.”

So in order to partially meet this EAT requirement, you must have unique, factual, useful content. But… that’s not all – because in order to be deemed trustworthy and authoritative in the eyes of Google, your content must be linkable (this is where our where we see the crossover between two key pillars of SEO – On Page Optimisation and Link Profile Optimisation). As per Google’s How Search Works guide:

“We look for sites that many users seem to value for similar queries. For example, if other prominent websites link to the page (what is known as PageRank), that has proven to be a good sign that the information is well trusted. Aggregated feedback from our Search quality evaluation process is used to further refine how our systems discern the quality of information.”

AbraKadabra?

On Page SEO - Abra? Kadabra? Alakazam?

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula when it comes to writing linkable content – broadly speaking, it generally comes down to the genuine expertise of the writer, the relevance of the topic to your audience and a mixture of outreach and luck to get the ball rolling in terms of link building. Unfortunately the Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams approach doesn’t always work for everybody immediately – it can take time and effort. But without unique content tailored to your audience written by a genuine expert – your chances of gaining links and, consequently, trust diminish drastically.

Tip: just because your keyword research shows that your audience is interested in Topic X and it is relevant to your brand, does not mean you should write about it…

First ask yourself “Do I consider myself an expert on this subject”?

If the answer is “No”, ask yourself “Is another member of my team an expert on this subject?”

If the answer, again, is “No”, ask yourself “Do I have the means to outsource this content writing to a subject matter expert who will be able to write this content for me whilst staying true to our brand tone?”

If the answer is “No” again – don’t bother.

To increase the linkability of your content further:

  • Make sure you make it easy for users to share – e.g. via social media sharing buttons on article / product content
  • Avoid presenting your content in AJAX powered slide shows only (these are not easily shareable – if you must use this type of technology, try to include supporting transcripts)
  • Avoid putting core content behind a log-in or a paywall – not only will it’s “linkability” suffer, there’s also a good chance Google will have difficulties indexing it

Meta Descriptions

A meta description is a HTML attribute that ggives an overview of the web pages content. Very often, the meta description is displayed under the Page Title in Google and other SERPs as the main body of text in a search result.

Whilst not a major ranking factor, a well optimised meta description is important to give search engines extra information on the page content. More importantly, a well optimised meta description increases the likelihood of click through from SERP. Also, if a phrase in a search query matches a phrase in your meta description, that phrase will appear in bold in the description on the SERP.

On Page SEO - Meta Descriptions

You should optimise your meta descriptions to encourage click through and accurately describe page content, making sure to mention your key topic. Make sure each page has a unique meta description that is not too long or short. Meta descriptions should be between 400 and 930 pixesl (approx 70 and 156 characters).

Whilst Google sometimes chooses other content from your page to display, it’s best practice to fill them out yourself as “you know your content best”.

URLs

It’s probably up for debate whether URLs are categorically “on page” but from an SEO perspective I consider them to be – and regardless, they are manageable via your CMS in most cases and are actually quite important for SEO and often overlooked.

A well-crafted, logical, human-readable URL allows both humans and search engines to easily understand what the page will be about. This means that it can help that content to rank for relevant terms. Additionally, a logical URL with human readable path names will result in a logical, human readable breadcrumb in Google search results that makes it clear to users what content they will see when they click the link.

On Page SEO - effect of logical, human-readable URLs on breadcrumbs in SERP

Image Alt Text Tags

Alt text tags are pieces of HTML code that describe an image on a page. The original purpose (and still the main purpose) of alt text tags was to improve accessibility of web pages. Alt text tags are displayed in place of an image if the image file, for whatever reason, can’t be loaded. More importantly, visually impaired users using screen readers are able to understand images within page content thanks to alt text tags.

An additional benefit in terms of SEO is that alt text tags offer a further clue to search engine crawlers with regard to image context and consequently overall page content context.

On Page SEO - Image Alt Text Tags

You should set descriptive alt text tags for all your images and where possible they should refer to the topic you are trying to rank for with that page. Many screen readers cut off alt text at around 125 characters so you should stay within that limit where possible.

So.. that’s that, right?

Whilst I’ve done my best here to give an overview of the key On Page SEO considerations that you should focus on in 2020, this is not an exhaustive list. Consider it a starter pack – over time, I will hopefully get around to writing more about other On Page and On Site factors, in particular schema.org markup, page speed and canonicalisation.

So keep an eye out on the blog or sign up for my newsletter if you feel like it. No pressure. Please subscribe. I’m begging you.

If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to contact me at darren@google-analytics.ie 

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