We talked about site structure in the last chapter of our local SEO guide. If the site structure is the body of your website, then your on-page SEO is the engine that makes it rank.
Why is on-page SEO important?
For two main reasons:
- On-page SEO helps search engines understand your website, where it’s located, and what queries it’s supposed to rank for.
- On-Page SEO can make or break how highly search engines regard your site, thus affecting where it ranks for the desired queries.
Understand that there are enough SEO ranking factors to make even a seasoned SEO expert’s head spin. In fact, there are over 200 of them. Luckily for you, we’re going to keep things simple and break down the top 10 on-page ranking factors you need to be aware of to maximize your rankings and dominate your local market.
Optimize Your Homepage
Whether you like it or not, your homepage is going to do most of the heavy lifting on behalf of your site.
An optimized homepage will accomplish five things:
- Rank for your main keyword
- Pass link juice to other pages on your site, specifically, your location & service pages
- Display social proof like testimonials, your portfolio, and case studies
- Move “not” ready-to-go leads into your marketing funnel
- Convert ready-to-go leads
This may seem like a lot, which is why it’s important you take the time to make sure your homepage can accomplish all of these elements without looking like an eyesore or dragging down rankings.
When it comes to on-page SEO, #2 has a huge impact on how your service pages and location pages rank.
Your homepage will always be the most authoritative page on your site. The majority of your inbound links (backlinks) will be pointing towards your homepage. More, this is the first page that a lot of your traffic will visit. Not just from organic search, but also from social media, referrals, and other marketing campaigns.
Through internal linking, your homepage can pass that authority off to other pages on your site.
This is why we recommend linking towards the main pages on your site from your homepage to improve the user experience and pass of link juice.
Perform Keyword Research
This is one of the most basic SEO concepts. The content on your website is how search engines determine what your site is about.
Search engines crawl the internet 24/7 scanning websites to determine what they’re about by reading the content. Ranking for your desired keywords really is as simple as including them on your site.
- Ahrefs: This is my favorite keyword research tool because of its easy-to-read interface and detailed reports. I use the gap analysis to plug in my competitors’ sites and quickly get a report on the keywords they’re ranking for that I’m not yet.
- SEMRush: Like Ahrefs, SEMRush allows you to perform keyword research, find out what terms your competitors are ranking for, and analyze where you currently rank.
Create Detailed Service & Location Pages
Earlier, I mentioned that your homepage is almost always the most authoritative page on your site. Because of this, you should try to rank it for your money keyword.
For example, if you’re a painter in Houston, you’ll rank your homepage for “Painters in Houston” and any variation of that keyword.
However, your business probably isn’t one dimensional like that. What I mean is that the Houston painter can probably break down their painting service into multiple sub-services. Also, Houston is a big city, but they may also service customers in the surrounding areas of Houston.
So what do they do?
Simple, create service and location pages. These pages allow you to rank for “long-tail keywords”, which are phrases that are longer and more specific than your money keyword. If your money keyword is “Houston Painters”, a few examples of a long-tail keyword may be “Houston Interior Painters” or “Houston Cabinet Painters”.
Creating service pages allows you to competitively rank for more keywords that your homepage won’t have the authority or relevance to rank for.
If service pages allow you to rank for keywords that your homepage won’t have the authority to rank for, then location pages do the same thing for different cities instead of services. A good city page talks about your service and how it applies to customers in a specific market.
Site speed is important for two reasons
- The slower your site is, the worse the user experience will be. Think about it… How likely are you to stay if you visit a site and it takes forever to load? Especially when you can just find the exact same solution on someone else’s site. In our time-starved world, people don’t have time to nor want to wait any longer than they deem necessary.
- Search engines like Google realize how important user experience is to SEO so they add site speed to their list of ranking factors. Remember, search engines want to serve searchers with the best possible solution to their queries. This is how they get people to come back and eventually click on their ads so they can generate revenue.
Tools To Check Your Site Speed
When installed on your web server, an SSL certificate activates the padlock on your site + the https protocal, and most importantly allows secure connections from a web server to the browser.
Google has confirmed that HTTPS is an important ranking factor.
Let’s think about why.
Consumers are more conscious than ever about their security online. When you visit a website that doesn’t have an SSL certificate, your search engine will let you know that this site may be susceptible to attacks.
Remember, Google’s #1 goal is to create the best user experience as possible for their searchers. The more people who use their free search engine, the more money they can make by serving ads.
This means Google has to be on top of their game when it comes to serving users with sites that benefit their lives.
Every page can have multiple headings.
- The H1 tag is usually used for the title of the page.
- The H2, H3, and H4 tags are basically subheadings.
Your H1 tag does the most work to tell Google what your site is about. Search engines crawl through millions of pages every hour and they have to quickly determine what the page is about. The H1 tag is one of the first places the crawlers will look.
What this means is your H1 tag should be something similar to or the exact keyword you want that page to rank for.
Title Tags & Meta Descriptions
Not to be confused with the H1 tag, a title tag is the little snippet that search engines feature in the SERPs. Directly below the title tag, you can find the meta description.
A common question we get is, “how long should our content be on our homepage, service pages, blog posts, etc.?”
500 words, 1,000 words, 10,000 words?
When it comes to SEO, people want to know the “sweet spot” so they can maximize their rankings without doing any unnecessary work. When it comes to content length (and SEO as a whole), we look at things a little bit differently. We ask ourselves this question, “Who are we trying to please, searchers or search engines?”
Here’s the deal…
You have to understand that search engines want to please users’ search intent, so if you please the end-user, you will also please the search engines. It’s a slight difference, and you may even say that doing the opposite will achieve the same thing. However, there’s one thing you have to keep in mind…
Search engines will send traffic to your site, but how is it going to convert?
This is why our answer to the “how long should our content be” question is, “however long it needs to be to answer all of the searchers’ questions and convert them into a lead/customer.”
When you do this, you can knock out two birds with one stone by focusing on both SEO and user experience.
Take my word for it.
99.9% of your competitors do not take this approach. How do I know? Just do a Google search for any service and take a look at the pages ranking on the 1st page. They’ll almost always have thin content in the 300-500 range. This is what we call “low-hanging fruit”.
Write content that answers all of the searchers’ questions and you’ll have more content than and rank higher than your competition.
Image optimization is an often overlooked SEO ranking factor. According to Moz, image search accounts for 27% of all search queries. This is the first reason why you want to optimize the images on your site.
Because it can help you rank higher in organic search, and not just an image search.
Image Optimization Checklist:
- Less Than 100kb: The larger the images on your site, the longer it will take to load. This will repel people from your site and signal to search engines that your site doesn’t offer the best experience. We like to use free online image compressors to get the job done. If you use WordPress, you can also install a free plugin called Smush to automatically compress images.
- Correct File Name: You’ll want to name the files of your images correctly. For example, the default file name may be IMG_0075.jpeg. You’ll want to rename that file to the exact topic of the photo. If you’re painting a chair, name the file, chair-painting.jpeg. Two more things to keep in mind when title images are to avoid using stop words like (and, it, too, a, in and of) and to use hyphens ( – ) between words. When it comes to reading file names, search engine crawlers signify a hyphen as a space.
- Add Alt-Text: Alt-text allows you to add more context to the topic of your photos for search engines and also visually-impaired users. Search engine bots cannot physically look at a photo with eyes like we can to determine the topic. Instead, they look at the file name and alt-text.
Bulk-optimizing your images can be a pain if you have a larger site. To make the job easier, we use Screaming Frog to quickly scan a site and determine the size, title, and alt-text for all images. You can also use this tool to review your title tags and meta descriptions.
Showcasing Your NAP
In chapter three, we talked about about the importance of having a consistant NAP so you can rank on Google Maps. There are tons of citation sources you can tap into to expand your digital footprint, but the first place you should start is with your own website. Make sure your service area and NAP is clearly showcased for search engines and users on your homepage.
We like to embed a Google Map pointing towards a physical location or service area and additionally insert the address somewhere on the homepage.
We did it!
We just took over 200 ranking factors and compressed them down into the 10 most critical ones for on-page SEO.
Since this article is only about on-page SEO ranking factors, we didn’t talk about an important ranking factor, backlinks. Stay tuned for our next article where we’ll discuss what a backlink is and everything else you’ll want to know about them.