On page SEO is a big topic, so this article is long. Here are some quick links to specific sections:
This Is All About On Page SEO for Content Creators
Why On Page SEO Is Important
Keywords & Search Ranking
On Page SEO Is Not About Outsmarting Google
The Snippet Preview in WordPress SEO
Step 1 – Establish the Focus of Your Page
Step 2 – Write Great Content
Step 3 – Set the SEO Title & Primary Headline for Your Page
Step 4 – Change the Page Slug To Reflect Its Focus
Step 5 – Write a Unique Meta Description To Attract Searchers
Step 6 – Optimize Your Images
Putting It All Together
This Is All About On Page SEO For Content Creators
In its article covering on page factors, respected SEO authority Moz.com identifies on page factors as “the aspects of a given web page that influence search engine ranking.” These factors are specific to a single page as opposed to being a characteristic of an entire site. Search Engine Optimation, or SEO, involves optimizing a broad range of factors, many of which are site related. Moz’s Beginner’s Guide To SEO is a comprehensive guide for SEO newcomers, but our focus is narrower here. We’re going to explore on page SEO in WordPress using the WordPress SEO plugin. Our primary interest lies in the settings you can make while creating content to effectively present it to a search engine.
For most wpPERFORM sites, we recommend using the WordPress SEO plugin to handle SEO, so our examples in this post use that plugin to solve our on page SEO needs. The plugin was developed by Joost de Valk (aka Yoast), a recognized SEO authority. The screenshots and some of the specific terms will vary if you’re using a different SEO plugin or using the built-in SEO features of the Genesis framework, but the concepts will remain the same.
While we’re going to cover on page SEO in some depth, we’re not going to discuss every detail. For example, page load speed is page specific and a search ranking factor, but performance optimization and content creation are better addressed separately. Further, in August 2014 Google announced that it’s using secure SSL/HTTPS as a page-specific ranking signal, but the decision to implement HTTPS is made separate from the day-to-day task of creating content, so we won’t cover it here.
Why On Page SEO Is Important
On page SEO is important because it plays a big role in ranking on a Search Engine Results Page, or SERP. In turn, that rank drives traffic from organic search.
On Page SEO Considered 2nd Most Important Search Ranking Factor
In Moz’s June 2013 visual guide to on page optimization, it summarized the views of 128 top SEO professionals on the topic of search ranking factors. Moz divided search ranking factors into 9 thematic clusters. We’ve combined those 9 clusters into 5, along with the combined weight from Moz’s survey of industry pros:
- Links – 40.09%
- On page factors, including content quality – 24.74%
- Domain factors – 20.78%
- Usage & traffic data – 8.06%
- Social metrics – 7.24%
On page SEO factors are the 2nd most important cluster, ahead of domain factors and over than 3 times more important than social metrics. While on page SEO is not considered as important as inbound links, it has a big advantage over links and over all of the other ranking clusters: on page SEO is entirely within your control as a webmaster. In effect, on page factors are the low hanging fruit of SEO and are probably the first things you should pick when optimizing your site.
SERP Ranking Controls Search Traffic
SEO professionals consider on page factors to be important ranking signals, but rank matters because it controls search traffic.
Search Engine Watch reported on a 2013 study that showed the 1st result in a SERP got 33% of the clicks and the second got 18%. That’s a big drop-off to the 2nd position, and it gets much worse from there. The number 6 result gets fewer than 5% of the clicks on that SERP. Quicksprout’s data shows a bigger gap between the #1 and #2 SERP positions – 42.30% vs 11.92%, respectively.
Ranking is critically important to generating traffic from search engines, and on page factors help drive that ranking.
Keywords & Search Ranking
On page SEO requires a basic understanding of keywords and search ranking. A keyword is a single word or phrase that represents the focus of the page. Keywords are also sometimes described as search terms or keyphrases, but many writers use the term keyword (either singular or plural) to refer to multi-word phrases, so that’s how we’ll use it here.
A search engine user enters a keyword, hoping to find content that matches a search need. The search engine wants to satisfy its user, so it returns content that represents the best match for that keyword. Search marketer WordStream observed that “search engines are looking for high-quality content that benefits the searcher, not keyword-stuffed spam or pages full of ads that only benefit you.”
High quality content has some recognizable characteristics:
- a relatively narrow focus;
- a reasonably comprehensive, though not necessarily complete, coverage of a topic.
For example, in this article, we’re focused on one of many aspects of search ranking, on page SEO as it applies when creating content. We’ll cover that in some detail but have intentionally excluded certain areas that deserve their own treatment.
In his discussion of cornerstone content, Yoast, the author of the WordPress SEO plugin, reminds us that:
You see, sites don’t rank: pages rank. If you want to rank for a keyword, you’ll need to determine which page is going to be the page ranking for that keyword.
On page SEO is optimizing a page to rank well for a keyword and present well on a SERP.
On Page SEO Is Not About Outsmarting Google
Pause and re-read the boldfaced statement in the previous paragraph. Our goal here is to accurately and attractively present our content on a SERP. As a content creator, you should have the same goal for your content. It’s not about outsmarting or tricking Google to rank content for characteristics it doesn’t have.
We think this is a very good overview of on page SEO, and we’re proud of it. We’d like others who have an interest in this topic to be able to easily discover it. The best way to do that is to spend some time making sure that we’ve provided Google with the right ranking signals so that it earns the place on a SERP that it deserves. Similarly, once a link to our page lands on a SERP, we want it to look good because that makes a web searcher more likely to click on our link in a SERP. After all, what’s the point of making an appearance on a SERP only to have searchers ignore our content?
If you try to use on page SEO to present your content for something it’s not and think you can outsmart Google, we’ll give you the bad news right now: Google is smarter than you are, so you won’t succeed in the long run. Google makes hundreds of adjustments to its algorithms each year, estimated at 500-600 times per year, and those algorithm updates often impact those who insist on laying claim to the title of “smartest kid on the block.”
The Snippet Preview In WordPress SEO
To consider specific optimizing steps for on page SEO, we always want to think about how a page presents itself on a SERP.
The WordPress SEO snippet preview is the single biggest reason why we recommend using the plugin. It provides a preview of how your post or page is likely to be presented in a Google SERP directly in your WordPress editor. That eliminates most of the guesswork of how content might appear or the need to frequently switch to other previewing tools, allowing you to complete the task of on page SEO directly in the WordPress editor.
The WordPress SEO metabox for this completed post appears below, and the red arrow draws your attention to the snippet preview. We’ll refer to the snippet preview in this post, because it’s a simple yet powerful way to see the combination of all of your optimization efforts.
The WordPress SEO snippet preview is only a representation of how your content most likely will appear on a SERP, so don’t rely on it exclusively. The Moz.com article on the 7 result SERP shows that not all SERP’s look alike. Conduct searches for your content on real search engines to evaluate how your content actually appears on a SERP and adjust your on page factors accordingly.
With that, we’re now ready to cover the steps of on page SEO.
Step 1 – Establish the Focus of Your Page
The first step in optimizing a page is to establish its primary focus or subject matter and then choose the keyword that best describes that focus. And remember, a keyword can be a single word or a phrase of multiple words.
Yoast has adopted the term of Focus Keyword to describe the topic of a single post or page. In Yoast’s explanation of the Focus Keyword, he argues that:
A good post doesn’t have multiple topics, it explores one topic. If you enter a focus keyword, the Page Analysis functionality will use that as input for its analysis of your post. It can only do this for one focus keyword at a time.
In simple terms, the Focus Keyword should be the highest traffic word or phrase that a web searcher is likely to use to find the content of your page.
Keyword research involves finding the best Focus Keyword, and it’s an important part of serious SEO. There are paid services such as WordStream and Wordtracker to help you do just that. Google’s own AdWords Keyword Planner is also a great tool for keyword research. For routine posts that aren’t the cornerstones of your site, basic keyword research will do just fine.
WordPress SEO includes a tool directly in the WordPress editor to allow you to do basic keyword research. As you type more than a few characters in the Focus Keyword text box, it automatically shows terms suggested by Google based on popularity. When performing a search, most Google searchers will see a list of suggested keywords as they type in Google’s search box. The WordPress SEO text box mimics this behavior directly in the WordPress editor, without requiring you to conduct a separate search or switch to another tool.
The screenshots below show that the keywords returned by WordPress SEO don’t exactly match those done in an separate incognito search in the Chrome browser, but they’re very close and perfectly acceptable for our purposes.
Since this post covers on page SEO, we started typing that phrase as our good guess. By the time we’ve entered “on pa”, the phrase “on page seo” appeared, which is a pretty good indication that this is a common search phrase. We could explore other alternatives to find phrases that fit better with the content we intend to provide in this article, but since it’s a very apt description for what we’re covering here, we’ll set our Focus Keyword to on page seo.
If we wanted to consider alternative keywords, Google’s own SERP can sometimes provide useful suggestions. At the bottom of the first page of a SERP, Google will provide suggestions for related searches. One of those terms might better fit the content you plan to create.
Meta Keywords Aren’t Important
Before forging ahead, let’s pause to address an area that causes a lot of confusion among SEO newcomers. In the old days, search engines made use of meta keywords added to the markup of a page, but meta keywords are no longer used by search engines as a ranking factor. Google’s Matt Cutts makes that clear in his YouTube video on meta keywords.
Keywords are important, but meta keywords are not, and that confuses a lot of people. In an effort to address that confusion, Yoast refers to the important one as the Focus Keyword. The Focus Keyword itself is not a ranking factor; instead, it memorializes the focus of your content against which ranking factors are measured.
By default, WordPress SEO doesn’t include meta keywords and there’s really no reason for you to include them. But if you opt to do so, there’s a Use meta keywords tag? setting on the SEO->Titles & Metas menu. If you enable this setting, you’ll be able to add meta keywords to each page in the WordPress SEO metabox in the WordPress editor, but again, there’s no reason to do so.
Step 2 – Write Great Content
Now that we’ve established the focus of our article, we want to create great content that’s consistent with that focus. Of course, as you write an article, the focus may shift over time, and that’s part of the normal drafting process. Just prior to publication, it’s important to re-check that optimizations done on previous drafts are appropriate for the final version and adjust them if necessary.
WordPress SEO Page Analysis
On the Page Analysis tab of the WordPress SEO metabox, Yoast reviews your content against some common quality standards, including:
- content length
- keyword density
- use of both external and internal links
- use of images in the content
Here’s the Page Analysis for this page shortly before publication:
All analyzed factors are combined to 1 of 6 possible colors that represent an SEO score for the page, which is shown on both the WordPress editor and post list. The 6 colors are:
- grey = no Focus Keyword
- blue = page is set to
noindex, so SEO doesn’t matter
- red = bad
- orange = poor
- yellow = ok
- green = good
Here’s the Publish metabox just prior to publication showing our SEO score. Hooray! Yoast thinks we did a good job!
For most content quality standards, there aren’t hard and fast rules that require you to exactly hit a specific number to be considered high quality content. Instead, they’re factors that taken together impact how the quality of your content is assessed by search engines. Let’s consider several quality measures.
For content length, Yoast’s Page Analysis targets a minimum of 300 words, but WordStream believes that “the size of your document matters” and recommends at least 500 words. Backlinko goes even further: “Aim for at least 1500 words when targeting competitive keywords.”
Whatever the length of your content, remember that a SERP will only include your page if the search term exists on the page. Thus, your content needs to be long enough to include in natural language all of the terms that a searcher might use to discover your content.
Long form content can offer another path to get to the first page of a SERP: in depth articles. Search Engine Land discussed their introduction in August 2013. In depth articles are 3 links at the bottom of the first page of a SERP that explore a topic in a detailed way. They’re sometimes seen on SERP’s for short, broad searches (ie, 1 to 2 words), but they’re not shown for all searches. Shortly after in depth articles appeared, Moz.com observed that the New York Times site (nytimes.com) accounted for over 20% of all in depth article links. With only 3 slots available on only a portion of all queries and big news sites grabbing a big share of those opportunities, it might be difficult to break into these ranks. Still, the in depth article ranking opportunity is another incentive to create long form content.
Let’s briefly touch on Panda. If you’re new to SEO, you may think we’re about to launch into a discussion of cute bears. Sadly, at least for cute bear fans, we’re sticking to our focus of on page SEO.
Panda is the name for Google’s algorithmic focus on content quality, and Panda 4.0 was launched in May 2014. No matter the algorithm’s name, Google and other search engines will continue to push quality content higher on a SERP.
In its article on the launch of Panda 4.0, Search Engine Watch reminded that Panda:
… which was designed to help boost great-quality content sites while pushing down thin or low-quality content sites in the search results, has always targeted scraper sites and low-quality content sites in order to provide searchers with the best search results possible.
Among other things, Panda looks for thin content. Search Engine Watch offered cautionary words on thin content:
Pages that are too brief to convey any useful information could be seen as ‘thin.’ So pages that are less than a few hundred words could be problematic. Now, I’m not saying it’s all about word count, since there are instances where you can deliver value in a few hundred words. But that’s generally not the case. So if you’re taking inventory, low word count is a key indicator to note for locating potential trouble spots across your site.
autosave is triggered, so this is an easy metric to track. But don’t focus only on length, because Panda is on the lookout for duplicate content, poorly written content, stale or expired content, and content that returns a 404 error.
There are many ways to gauge how search engines and web searchers evaluate a page’s content quality. Here are 2 methods.
Check Google Webmaster Tools For Content Not Indexed
If you submit an XML Sitemap to Google, you can visit the Crawl->Sitemaps menu in Google Webmaster Tools and see the number of submitted and indexed URL’s. A difference between the 2 numbers indicates Google crawled the content but decided not to include it in its index. If Google is choosing not to index a URL, that’s a hint that it might have a quality issue. If your site has a big share of URL’s that Google declines to index, that’s a hint that the quality issue may have become (to borrow Search Engine Watch’s term) “toxic” to your overall site. At such a point, it’s time to do a content quality audit. Moz.com’s tutorial on how to do a content audit and Search Engine Watch’s tips to prepare for a content audit are great resources when it’s time to give your content a check up.
Check the Page’s Bounce Rate In Google Analytics
Bounce rate is the share of visitors who leave a page in a short period of time (usually under 30 seconds) without clicking on any other link on your site. If visitors are reaching your page but bouncing away quickly, that can be – but is not always – an indicator of poor quality.
If bouncing visitors came from a search engine, these bounces can turn into pogo sticking. A quick return to a search engine only to click on another link in a SERP sends a message to the search engine that your content failed to satisfy the searcher. The searcher is the search engine’s customer, and search engines don’t like unhappy customers.
One of Search Engine Watch’s most popular articles covers 20 things to consider about bounce rates. One big takeaway: don’t rush to judgment about bounce rates. If a click to one page on your site completely satisfies a searcher’s need, there’s no need to click to another link. You’ll end up with a high bounce rate but satisfied visitors. A page promising organizational phone numbers with a very small share of mobile traffic might have a high bounce rate because visitors want the information to make a phone call, not a click. However, in most cases, a high bounce rate indicates that a visitor was disappointed after a visit to the page. In turn, that should trigger an investigation in Google Analytics to identify underlying causes (e. g., comparing bounce rates and session duration across pages and traffic segments, comparing page load times across pages, etc).
Keyword density, expressed as a percentage, refers to the frequency of your Focus Keyword compared to all of the words in your content. Very high keyword density is a common characteristic of spam content. Your goal is to write using natural language and not force your Focus Keyword into your content to try to win the heart of a search engine.
This metric is more important at extreme values. If you’ve failed to use your Focus Keyword at all in your content, you’ll have a keyword density of 0%, and that should be remedied. If you’ve created a 300 word article by copying and pasting your single word keyword 300 times, it’s probably time to scroll back to the top of this article and start over from the beginning. The Page Analysis screenshot above shows that this article didn’t get a top grade for keyword density, but we think we’ve used our keyword with sufficient frequency to accurately reflect our topic; our low score here is due to the fact that this article is very long. We’re not going to force a phrase into the text where it would seem awkward or out of place, and you shouldn’t do that in your content.
Use of External and Internal Links
Great content informs a reader. It makes it easy for an interested reader to dig deeper into some aspect of the current topic that isn’t fully covered on the page. The web is about links; to encourage exploration content creators have to provide both external and internal links.
Page Analysis provides a count of the external links on the page, but not internal links. That’s an oversight, because both external and internal links are important. Based on content length of 300-500 words, we think most articles should contain at least 1-2 external links and 2-3 internal links in the body of the content.
External links help to establish authority. Moz’s Cyrus Shepard observed that external links are friendly and convey authority by referencing other sources, much like academic works. If your referenced source gets pinged when you link, external links also create opportunities to extend the reach of your site.
Internal links help to keep visitors on your site by providing additional points of interest. If your article contains no internal links, you’re taking an all-or-nothing approach to satisfying your visitor’s interest in the topic. Internal links represent new opportunities to engage a reader and keep him on your site.
For both link types, we think anchor text and location are important. We’re focused on links with relevant anchor text in the body of the content. Most pages on sites powered by WordPress include many links, especially internal links, such as those in navigation menus, sidebars, and footer. For these links, the anchor text (ie, the text that is actually linked) isn’t specific to the current article, and they’re located away from your reader’s focus – the body of your article. Links with general anchor text that are outside your visitor’s focus are far less likely to earn a click. Orbit Media Solutions outlines some internal linking best practices that can lower bounce rates and increase the length of time visitors spend on your site.
Use of Images
In the screenshot above, the WordPress SEO Page Analysis reported that this post doesn’t contain images, but it clearly does. The Page Analysis function only recognizes images added from the WordPress Media Library, so if you add images using another plugin, you’ll get an incorrect warning here.
This is an important point, not a dig on a great plugin. Page Analysis is extremely useful, but it’s just a tool. No tool can perfectly fit all circumstances. As a content creator, it’s up to you to thoughtfully weigh the findings shown on the Page Analysis report and act accordingly when the report has identified legitimate issues.
Step 3 – Set the SEO Title & Primary Headline for Your Page
One of the most important on page SEO factors is largely invisible in most modern browsers: the SEO Title.
A WordPress Post Title Is Really a Primary Headline
At the top of the WordPress post or page editor, there’s a text box for what most users refer to as the post or page title. Title is an unspecific term, and it leads to some confusion in the context of SEO.
For clarity, let’s refer to the text box at the top of the WordPress editor as the Primary Headline. The Primary Headline serves as a reading title, and its purpose is to engage your reader. In HTML markup, the Primary Headline is wrapped in
H1 tags. In this post, we’ve also made use of additional headlines such as
H3 to add structure. You can carry that headline structure all the way to
H6 if it fits your content.
Your Primary Headline serves your reader, and therefore in most themes it gets top billing with a prominent display at the start of your post or page. Write a Primary Headline to attract your reader’s interest.
In its article on titles, Mashable put it succinctly:
To a writer, a headline is a one-shot first impression that stops a mouse-moving, page-scrolling, attention-deprived user in his pixels and makes him wonder, ‘What is this?’
A good Primary Headline takes full advantage of that first impression.
Search Engines Are Focused On a Different Title: The SEO Title
Despite the prominence of your Primary Headline, search engines are focused on a title that’s more hidden: the SEO Title. The SEO Title is a string of about 70 characters that is linked to your post or page on a SERP, but there is no absolute number. We’ll dig a little deeper into the approximate nature of this character limit in a bit. Wrapped in
title tags, the SEO Title is probably the single most important on page SEO ranking factor.
Since the Primary Headline and the SEO Title serve different purposes, they probably should be unique but they don’t have to be. What matters is that each serve its intended purpose.
Yoast’s WordPress SEO builds the default SEO Title for each content type on your site from a template that is specified on the SEO->Titles & Metas menu, but you can – and probably should – change the SEO Title on a per post basis. At a minimum, you should review the SEO Title to make sure it’s not too long.
To change the SEO Title, simply type in the SEO Title text box. The fact that the text box is greyed out leads some to incorrectly conclude that the SEO Title can’t be changed, but typing a single character dispels that notion. At the same time, that single character clears the default SEO Title, forcing you to re-create the SEO Title from scratch. Not ready to build an SEO Title from scratch without a little help from a template? Let’s take a look at title templates.
The Default SEO Title Was Built From a Template
Before typing an entirely new SEO Title, it’s a good idea to understand your default template for the current content type. This content is a post (as opposed to a page or a custom post type), so the post template applies. Here’s our post title template:
The template is built from a series of template tags, which are essentially variables that are replaced with actual data from your site settings or the current page.
Our template uses some specific text (the
%%title%%), followed by a separator (the
%%sep%%) wrapped in spaces, and then the site name (the
%%sitename%%, which is managed on Settings->General->Site Title in your dashboard). There’s a template tag thrown in to cover the case of paginated pages. By default, the specific text grabbed by the
%%title%% tag is the Primary Headline, so if you don’t manually change your SEO Title, both your Primary Headline and SEO Title will be the same text. That’s a missed optimization opportunity.
This template puts the specific title text as opposed to the site name closest to the left in the SEO Title. Since English is a left-to-right language, more important words normally appear on the left. Our placement gives more weight to the specific title text compared to our company name. But for content that relates more to your organization, such as a contact page, reversing that order and putting your organization name on the left side of the separator is a better choice.
The choice of separator isn’t a ranking factor, but WordPress SEO makes it easy for you to suit your personal taste. As of version 1.5.5 of the plugin, you can choose your separator using a clickable bar that displays popular separator options. If you prefer a separator not shown, you’ll need to enter it in place of the
%%sep%% template tag.
Write a Content-Specific SEO Title and Include Template Items
Since WordPress SEO requires a user to re-create the SEO Title from scratch, it’s important to include elements from your template (such as the site name and separator) ordered in a manner appropriate to your content.
If your SEO Title is too long, WordPress SEO will display a warning. For this post, our initial SEO Title was populated from a template based on the Primary Headline, but unfortunately it was too long.
We shortened it to pull our Focus Keyword furthest to the left. Since this post is focused on explaining the basics of on page SEO, our SEO Title matches our content. We left our organization on the less-important right side of the SEO Title, after the separator wrapped in spaces.
There’s No Absolute Maximum Length for SEO Title
We mentioned above that the 70 character guideline for SEO Title length is approximate, and let’s circle back to explain why, as Moz.com succinctly expressed, “there’s no magic number.”
In March 2014, Google re-designed its SERP’s to use a proportional font. With a proportional font, the width of each character varies. Therefore, the number of characters that will fit in the space Google allots to an SEO Title will vary based on the characters that make up the title.
Your goal is to create an SEO Title that will convey a complete thought and won’t be truncated on a SERP. Truncated titles don’t present well and reduce the chance that a searcher considers your link a good match for his search need. Yoast’s snippet preview in the WordPress editor is 1 guide to checking the length of your SEO Title. Moz’s Title Tag Preview Tool is another handy tool.
If You Care To Look, Here’s How To See the SEO Title
Browsers typically refer to the SEO Title as the Title Bar (after all, it is wrapped in
title tags). As shown in the nearby screenshot, in Firefox 31, you can toggle the Title Bar on or off by visiting View->Toolbars->Customize… and clicking the Title Bar button in the lower left. By default, it’s off and out of sight.
Step 4 – Change the Page Slug To Reflect Its Focus
Out of the gate, the URL for a WordPress post or page is built from a setting found on Settings->Permalinks in your WordPress dashboard. For this discussion, we’re assuming our recommended setting (shown below) is used.
With this setting, the URL is initially built from the page’s Primary Headline. But the Primary Headline can be long and serves a different purpose, so the URL should be shortened changed to reflect the page’s focus, which we’ve described in the Focus Keyword.
Thus, the Focus Keyword should be included in the URL. Since English is a left to right language, it should be included as close to the left as possible. In practical terms, this means editing the page’s slug.
In our discussion of relative URL’s, we broke down a URL into its component parts. The slug is the rightmost part of the URL, and in WordPress, it’s usually sandwiched between forward slashes. Only lower case characters are used in a slug, and all punctuation is removed, except that dashes replace space characters. The slug for this page is
There are 2 ways to edit the slug in WordPress. The easiest method is to click the Edit button next to the slug at the top of the WordPress editor. Alternately, if the Slug metabox is visible in the WordPress editor, you can simply change the slug as needed and save your change. See our article on WordPress screen options if the Slug metabox isn’t visible.
A discussion of slug editing for SEO often leads to recommendations to remove stop words. Stop words are typically very short, common words (e. g, as, a, and, or, the). In fact, if you took a careful look at the Page Analysis from WordPress SEO for this page, the plugin identified on as a stop word and suggested removing it. WordPress SEO has a setting Remove stop words from slugs under SEO->Permalinks to make this an automatic process when the slug is first generated.
In general, we enable the setting to automatically remove stop words because we believe that shorter URL’s are better. Beyond that, we let natural language be our guide when deciding to remove stop words. For this post, the slug of
on-page-seo better fits the natural language description of our topic compared to
page-seo, so we kept the stop word.
While old Google algorithms ignored stop words, many have observed changes in its approach. As far back as 2008, Bill Slawski observed that “I’m not seeing Google ignoring stop words any more” and years later BKV noted that “Google’s treatment of stop words evolved over time to account for phrases.” In other words, the old rule of “remove all stop words” probably doesn’t apply any more.
We’re after a URL expressed in natural language that is a concise reflection of our content as described by our Focus Keyword, without unnecessary words or filler. If that includes a stop word, we’re comfortable we’ve crafted a properly optimized URL.
Step 5 – Write a Unique Meta Description To Attract Searchers
The meta description is the block of text that appears below the linked SEO Title that appears on a SERP. While it’s included in the markup of a page, it’s not shown on the public facing side of your site. It only appears on a SERP. When writing a meta description, your goal is to express a complete thought that’s not truncated and effectively encourages a searcher to click your link over others.
By itself, a page’s meta description is not a ranking factor for search. Instead, the meta description helps to persuade a searcher to select your link on a SERP from among the choices presented by the search engine. Many SEO professionals believe that usage metrics, such as the click through rate on a SERP or pogo sticking, are ranking factors for search, so a meta description that successfully attracts a click may indirectly contribute to a higher rank. At a minimum, good meta descriptions help to attract visitors, and that’s the purpose of on page SEO.
As of version 1.5.5, WordPress SEO counts the characters of the meta description against a guideline of 156 characters. Others suggest that limit is too high. For example, marketing agency SwellPath suggests a guideline of 115 characters.
Because of Google’s March 2014 SERP redesign, there’s no magic length for a meta description, just as there is no magic length for an SEO Title. The closer you get to the limit suggested by WordPress SEO, the more likely you’ll need to double-check how your meta description appears on a SERP.
Step 6 – Optimize Your Images
Optimizing page content includes images on the page. All images should be modified so that:
- you consistently use detailed, informative filenames
- every image has an
alttag that provides useful information about the image
- every image has a
titletag that’s different from its
For image filenames, we recommend that you use only lowercase letters and that dashes replace spaces between words. For example, if you have a picture of a zebra taken on a sidewalk in Boston, MA, a filename of
zebra-sidewalk-boston-ma.jpg is much better than either
IMG_1234.JPG because the filename itself helps to explain and identify what is likely a unique image.
Alt text, the shortened form of alternative text, is the text displayed in a browser when a user has turned off image display or is using a screen reader, perhaps because of visual impairment. Matt Cutts of Google has some tips on using alt attributes smartly.
Images have a
title tag, just like a post or page itself. Image title tags offer an additional way to accurately describe an image. When you hover over an image with a
title tag in a browser, the browser will display the image title tag to provide additional information to your visitor. We’ve assigned
title tags to all of the images in this post, so hover away! Search Engine Journal has some tips on using both
alt and image
title attributes together.
In WordPress the image
title attribute is optimized less frequently than the
alt tag, for reasons we’ll discuss below. It’s great if you make effective use of both tags, but if you’re only going to take the time to optimize one, we’d prefer to see you optimize
alt tags because of their role in improving accessibility.
Image optimization helps on page SEO in 2 ways. First, it helps to better describe your content to a search engine, so that your content is more likely to show up on a SERP where it’s relevant. Second, images are gaining increased presence on SERP’s, so they’re another way to attract visitors. Search Engine Journal observed that “the SERP is moving to be more image focused.”
Putting It All Together
With a good understanding of on page SEO, let’s put it all together and look at a Google SERP for the keyword on page SEO.
There’s a lot to notice on this SERP.
First, the keyword is boldfaced in the SEO Title, the URL, and the meta description. This is typical for a SERP, and it helps a searcher to identify content related to the search phrase. That’s why you want to be sure to incorporate your Focus Keyword into the SEO Title, the URL, and the meta description.
Second, ignoring the ad that sits on top of the organic results, this SERP shows 4 results followed by a news link. A searcher would have to scroll down the page to even see the 5th result. For this query, the top 4 results are probably capturing the lion’s share of the traffic. That’s why rank is important.
Third, not everyone that made it to the top 4 paid attention to how their links would appear on a SERP. Forbes, in the 3rd position, has a truncated meta description, and Search Engine Journal has both a truncated SEO Title and meta description. Ooops. At a minimum, those glitches don’t convey complete thoughts and create a less than polished appearance on a SERP.
Fourth, all of the top 4 have a mix of external and internal links in the body of the content. In fact, in this article we link to 3 of the sites in the top 4 positions, and we link to the first result in our opening paragraph. Even advertising-dependent Forbes includes a healthy dose of external links on its article. Those links help to build the page’s content quality, which in turn enhances its rank, which improves traffic. Top ranked sites have confidence in their content; they’re not afraid that external links will siphon traffic away.
Finally, all of the top 4 results include multiple images in the article content. All of the images we checked across all sites used optimized file names and
alt tags, but the image
title tag was not used consistently or frequently. For example, the WordPress-powered Forbes site didn’t use the image
title tag at all. Then again, its article didn’t mention using image title tags, so maybe we need to send them a link to our article.
Successful on page SEO is about first creating focused, informative content and then setting other on page factors so that content earns the search visibility it deserves and looks good on a SERP. The order of those steps is critically important. If you skip the all-important first step of creating great content and devote all of your energies to the latest SEO fad, you’ll fail. You’ll end up with over-optimized content that can’t capture and hold the attention of visitors, especially those from search engines. In time, search traffic to your site will dry up.
While creating great content and optimizing other on page factors are separate steps, they’re both parts of the same process. Content quality is the single most important on page SEO factor.
Creating great content takes time and hard work. Proofreading, revising, and drafting are time consuming. Measurable results of on page SEO efforts take time usually counted in months, especially for improvements to already published content. If you’ve already published content on the web and decide to apply these on page SEO techniques on Monday, don’t check a SERP on Tuesday to count the number of ranking spots you gained. After you’ve boosted your content quality and adjusted on page factors, be patient and store up your energy for the next round of adjustments. Optimization is a continuous and ongoing process, not a “one and done” task.
Finally, whether from a click through on a SERP or a direct visit, what actual visitors experience on the public facing side of your site is more important than a snippet on a SERP. Take the time to preview your draft content prior to publication and regularly re-check it once it’s live on your site.
In the long run, both you and your visitors will enjoy the benefits of your hard work.