On-Page and Off-Page SEO are very different tools that share essentially the same purpose. At heart, strong digital marketing is about delivering the best content to the greatest audience in the most accessible way. As San Francisco’s only B Corp-certified digital marketing company, we use these tools every day, so, as part of our ongoing series on SEO for digital marketing, we’ve put together this guide to show you how each of these tools works, and how you can use these tools together to enhance your website, broaden the reach of your content, and improve your business.
As part of our ongoing series on SEO for Digital Marketing, we’re taking an in-depth look at On- and Off-Page SEO. Today, in Part One, we’re looking specifically at On-Page SEO, the more diverse of the two, and, in Part Two, we’ll explore Off-Page SEO and the relationship between the two.
On-Page SEO refers to the set of practices and tools that, in broad figures, helps your site get indexed by crawlers and allows your site to appear in the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages). On-Page SEO is the more technical of the two, but it can also describe the practices that make your site more engaging and more valuable for users. We’ve talked before about the interplay between human users and search crawlers (another type of “user”) in our piece on XML Sitemapping, so suffice it to say that to optimize content for one is usually the same as optimizing for the other.
Since On-Page SEO deals with how effectively your content is presented to users, the core principles you’ll be focusing on are:
- Structure and Markup
- Clarity of Purpose
- Clarity of Topic and Meaning
- Readability and Accessibility
But before we get into the finer details, it’s important to talk about content.
In the digital marketing industry, as we’re fond of saying, Content is Queen. The very first step for On-Page SEO, or for creating a digital presence in general, is to offer unique, engaging, original content. There is absolutely no long-term benefit in providing something unengaging, repetitive, vapid, or pointless, and all the SEO best-practices in the world won’t be able to drive traffic to bad content for long.
Digital Marketing isn’t appropriate if there isn’t something there worth marketing, so before you look at how to provide it be sure that your content is something that you’d be proud to show the world. We can’t stress enough that this is the single most important part.
Now, with that out of the way, onto the technical details!
Here’s where On-Page SEO really shines. When we talk about markup, we refer to the elements of the coding of your site, not always plainly visible to users, that help identify, to a crawler, what your site does and what questions your content can answer.
For instance, the header for this subsection, “markup,” would tell a crawler that we’re talking about site markup in particular, and, since the rest of the page deals in SEO, there’s a good chance that this blog post would rank for a search like “SEO markup.” It isn’t always so straightforward, and it has only gotten more complex and intricate as Google’s and other search algorithms have evolved over the years, but that’s the basic gist.
To take full advantage of the markup options available to you, you’ll need to consider the following:
Title Tags and Meta Descriptions
The title tags are the more important of the two, but you’ll want to be sure to use your focus keyword prominently in each of these places. Since you’re limited to 60 characters for a title tag, and 170 for a meta-description, you’ll want to keep these short and sweet.
Your keywords should be used in the following order, for prominence. Primary / Focus, followed by Secondary, followed by Branded. Avoid elaborate punctuation (exclamation marks can lower your DA if you abuse them) but use a bar or hyphen to delineate sections within your tags.
Meta descriptions, though they should also include your focus keywords, should be used as an expositional description for a user to tell them, in plain language, what to expect from your page. Meta descriptions are still crawled, for indexing, but no longer carry the same weight as metadata (their precursor) did, for calculating SERP standing, since the field was so often abused for keyword-stuffing, which is considered “black hat” or bad practice SEO.
This does not mean your meta descriptions should be discounted. Since they’re directed at users, a misleading or unhelpful description can turn away traffic, and an unfaithful one can skyrocket your bounce rate and ultimately, by impacting user behavior, lower your site’s Domain Authority.
Paragraph headers, or subtitles, are given greater weight by crawlers, when indexing content, than body text. Technically, you can nest subheaders up to six layers deep (h1, h2, … h6) but try to stick to just one or two layers. If you find yourself edging 3 or 4, odds are that there’s a more efficient way to arrange your page to improve readability, which is vastly more helpful to your rankings than subheaders are.
Your content may follow one of several accepted standard formats, following the markup templates from Schema.org. These are now being used by Google to extract content for the Featured Snippet sections you will likely have seen in the SERPs.
These markup templates immediately identify your content to crawlers, giving it context and category much more efficiently and more directly than is otherwise possible. If your content fits any of Schema’s formats, (addresses, recipes, contact information, lists, etc.) be sure that you’re taking full advantage of the markup templates.
This is another type of On-Page SEO that seriously enhances your site’s DA. By cross-linking your own content (other pages within the same root domain), with keyword-rich, natural-language (so unforced) anchor text, you help crawlers find related content, you improve user experience, you increase your domain and page authority, and you can often improve the rankings for the linked content as well.
Be sure not to abuse this feature. Under most systems, your page’s link authority is shared between the pages you link to. So, if you link to ten of your other pages, you give each of those pages less of a boost than if you’d only linked to two or three. A good rule of thumb: if you’re reaching for a link, or if it feels forced, don’t link it. Make sure your links are crisp, relevant, and helpful.
A follow-up tip, don’t expect a sidebar (related content) section to do the work for you. The links should be embedded in the content for best results, and, as Google and others push for better natural language recognition, this approach will only take on greater importance for the foreseeable future.
That’s it for our digital marketing breakdown of On-Page SEO. Stay tuned for Part Two, coming soon, in which we’ll take a look at Off-Page SEO, and we’ll compare and contrast the two. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for updates!
Colibri Digital Marketing
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