Focus on on-page SEO to improve search ranking

There are many SEO techniques to increase your ranking in Google search results, but some are better than others. In this article I focus on the on-page SEO techniques you can use to boost visitor numbers coming from search engines.

Every time Google changes its algorithm, which is its method of selecting where websites appear in search results, there is a cry from many website owners that they have fallen down the rankings. Their site has dropped from page 1 to 15 or some similar catastrophic demotion.

This can severely impact the numbers of people coming to your website via web search and it is not uncommon for website owners to complain that they have lost 20, 30 or even 50% of traffic after a Google algorithm update.

Of all the SEO (search engine optimisation) techniques, the most resistant to changes in Google’s algorithm is on-page SEO. In fact, algorithm changes often increase page ranking, resulting in more visitors because those around you in your niche may be penalised.

What is on-page SEO?

This simply means making sure a web page is easily understood by visitors to your site and by Google, Bing or other search bots that scour the web indexing the sites and pages they finds for their search results database.

Usually, what is good for people is good for a search engine, so anything you can do to make a web page more attractive, easier to read, and simpler to navigate is good for SEO and will help your Google ranking.

There is an old saying, “Explain it to me like I’m 5,” and it means make everything simple, obvious and easy to understand. Take this approach with articles on your blog or website – make them simple.

Use short descriptive titles for posts

Every post has a title and you cannot create a post without one. What is meant here is that the post should have an h1 title. This means that there is some text at the top of the age that is marked up with the <h1> tag in the HTML code. Every page should have one, otherwise people might be confused over what the title is.

Make sure your theme uses h1 titles by right clicking the title on a page and selecting Inspect in Chrome, other browsers may call this something else.

Use Chrome to inspect the code behind web pages
Inspect the code for a web page element

You should be able to see <h1>Some title</h1>. If you see h2, you need a new theme or to edit the current one. I doubt any modern WordPress theme does not have h1 headings, but it only takes a a few seconds to check.

Use Chrome to inspect the code behind web pages
Check your WordPress theme uses h1 tags for titles

When creating a post in WordPress, the title is in a box on its own at the top of the editor. Keep it short and place the most important words near the start rather than the end. The first 60 characters are the most important and they appear in search results. You could have a title that is 80 or 90 characters, but only the first 60 or so are visible, so make them count.

If you are targeting a keyword, like ‘apple pie recipe’, include it in the title. (Keywords can be short phrases.) Do not stuff keywords everywhere because it may have a the opposite effect of what you want and could look spammy. The title is one place you can put it though.

Use subtitles in the text

A web article should have subtitles and they can be used to break up the text and draw the reader’s eye to important points. They are also used by search engines when they scan the page and subtitles help them to understand the text.

Insert a subheading every couple of hundred words if possible. Don’t overdo it, too many is as bad as too few. Think about someone quickly scanning down a long web page and catch their eye with a subheading.

Structure your article like a book, which has a title (h1 tag) and chapters (h2 tags) and within each chapter may be subheadings (h3 and h4 tags). Web posts with an easy to follow structure are good for readers and for search engines.

Add alt tags to describe images

When selecting an image to insert into an article using the media library, there are several boxes on the right, such as Title, Caption, Alt Text and Description. Fill in those boxes. It is tedious and a nuisance, but they are really important. Search engines do not have eyes and cannot see, so the text you enter into these boxes tells them what the image contains.

Image meta tags in WordPress media library
Image meta tags in WordPress media library

Some of those image boxes are more important than others and the most important is the Alt Text. If there is only one box you fill in, make it this one. Describe the image to someone that cannot see it – imagine you are describing it to someone over a phone. For example, “Laguna beach at sunset”, “A black cat sat on a mat”, “Beautiful red rose” and so on.

Keep the description short and no more than a dozen words at most. It is not an opportunity to stuff keywords. It is a simple description of the image.

The Title is another way to describe the image, but it can be shorter and 5 words is fine. Try to make the image filename descriptive too. For example, If the image is a photo of a mountain lion, name it mountain-lion.jpg. It makes more sense than naming it pic052.jpg, which means nothing to search engines.

A caption is also useful and it should be used to describe the image. Although there is an alt meta tag with a description, also write a caption. You can say the same thing, but in a different way perhaps. It all helps Google and Bing to understand the image.

Get an SEO plugin

Extra information can be added to a web page that is hidden from a site’s visitors, but can be read by search engines and social media sites when links are shared. This information can contain titles, descriptions, keywords, and other things that help Google, Bing and other services to understand the page.

There is no way to manually add this information in WordPress and a plugin is required. Yoast, All-in-One SEO and RankMath are just three of many popular SEO plugins for WordPress which enable you to add extra information to web pages that is essential for search engines like Google, Bing and others.

At the bottom of the post editor is a section for these plugins and it is where you add the extra info. Every plugin has a different form to fill in and so your SEO plugin may not look exactly like this, but it has similar features.

Fill in the form fields provided by the All-in-One SEO plugin

Set a page title: This is the text the browser shows on tabs and it should be different to the heading on the page.

Set a meta description: This is a short description of the post, a summary in 160 characters or less. Google, Pinterest and others may use it when displaying your website in search results. It should always be filled in, but these days may be ignored in favor of Open Graph meta tags.

Set the keywords: This is not used much by search engines, but it helps to focus your attention. An SEO plugin will probably ask what the keyword is and check the post to make sure it is used. What one or two words would people type into a search engine to find this post?

Add open graph tags

Open Graph tags are special meta tags used by Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and others and they contain a description of the page, the title, the URL, the URL of a featured image and more. They are hidden in the code of a web page and are not seen by visitors viewing the page.

Open Graph tags in All-in-One SEO WordPress plugin
Creating Open Graph tags using a WordPress SEO plugin

Open Graph tags are entered using an SEO plugin and a form is usually displayed at the bottom of the page in the post editor. Some things are semi-automated and you can quickly add a title, use a post excerpt, set the image to the post featured image and so on.

Some plugins can create some Open Graph tags automatically, but it is always best to manually enter the information to make sure it is complete and correct. It is essential for social shares and they help Google and Bing understand the page content.

Action points

  • Make sure each post has a heading at the top of the page that uses the h1 tag.
  • Insert subtitles at appropriate points to break up the text and tell search engines what the next chunk of text is about
  • Fill in the Title, Caption, Alt Text and Description boxes when inserting an image into a post
  • Install an SEO plugin like Yoast or All-in-One SEO and fill in the form fields at the bottom of the post editor
  • Make sure Open Graph tags are inserted into each page’s HTML code. SEO plugins do this

SEO is a complex subject and is covered in much more detail in the course: Secrets to successful social media promotion.

Part 4: What to do after publishing a post

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