A Beginner's Guide to On-Page SEO

The starting point for ANY website is the on-page SEO, in particular the content.
If you don't have time to read the entire post, take note of these two most important points.
1 Your keywords (business and location) MUST be within the first couple of paragraphs. They MUST be there at least once, preferably 2-3 times.
2 Use synonyms (for example, website design, web design, site design, site layout etc).

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On-Site SEO: A VERY Important Starting Point

On-site or on-page SEO refers to everything that is actually ON your website – the words on your page, the coding of the pages, the name of the pages and the domain name itself.

1 Keyword Research

This should be your starting point for all websites.

1a Consider What Keywords People Might Use to Find Your Site.  Consider both how often a search term is searched for AND how competitive it is. The main keyword/s that your pages target should be achievable AND useful. There is no point in targetting a highly competitive term (eg websites) that you will not be found for; equally, there is little point in devoting a website to a term that no-one is ever likely to search for (eg “website design in my tiny hamlet”).

How Often Terms are Searched for: Google Trends is a free, useful tool that provides information on how frequently terms are searched for. 

How competitive a search term is: type it into Google and see how many sites match it. Also use Google Adwords (Keyword Planner) and also Moz Keyword Explorer to see how competitive a term is. (Google Adwords tells you how competitive a term is for Google Ad campaigns, NOT Google searches, but the two may well be similar. The Moz tool can be limited to UK searches and gives some idea as to some local search terms – mainly at the county level.)

Note: Click the “Start Using Keyword Planner” link to start.

Alternative Search Terms that People Might UseGoogle Adwords (Keyword Planner) and Moz Keyword Explorer give you ideas as to alternative terms that people could use to search for your service. (It also tells you how competitive these keywords are.) Use these in your pages whenever relevant.

1b Consider What Keywords Google’s Algorithms Expect to See on Your Site.

Use Keywords that Top Competitors Use – Googles algorithm’s work out what content SHOULD be on a page for any given type of website by analysing what content IS on web pages. Use Sem Rush to see what keywords the home pages of competitors target; then write a good chunky section on each keyword for YOUR home page. Ideally, do the same for your other main landing pages. This is a great tool that will give you ONE free analysis of keywords. Some SEOs claim that this technique can significantly improve search engine rankings.

Note that you can also try some of the free online keyword density checker tools to analyse the keywords that your top competitors use.  For example,  webconfs.com/seo-tools/keyword-density-checker,  www.webconfs.com/keyword-density-checker.php and smallseotools.com/keyword-density-checker.

Use synonyms – use an online synonym generator, as well as research of competitor’s websites, to find out what possible synonyms are. Use them throughout your website. (This helps to stop your website appearing spammy to readers and search engine algorithms by repeating the same keyword over and over; it also helps your site to be found if people search for a synonym.)

2 Unique, High-Quality Content

Google’s perception of the quality of your site as a whole now has a major impact on how any page within your site will rank. Google is thought by some SEOs to give each site a secret “quality score” – sites with a low score may do badly even if the content for a specific page is good. For those used to old-style SEO, this is a major shift.

Unique Content: Your content must NOT be a duplicate of that found elsewhere on the net (either on your own site or on someone else’s site). EACH page MUST have unique content. Note that search engines also dislike “spun” content – for example, this sentence could be rewritten as “it should be noted that search engines are also known not to like spun content”.

Warning: duplicate or thin content can affect your WHOLE site, not just a specific page. If you have an old site that is full of duplicate or spun content, the general advice is either to delete those pages or else to rewrite and create high-quality content.

Tip 1: A useful tool to check for duplicate content (and broken links) within the pages of your own site is www.siteliner.com.

Tip 2: A useful tool to check if your content is unique is www.copyscape.com. This can tell you within seconds which paragraphs, sentences and even clauses on your page are similar to other websites; obviously, search engines have their own methods of detection.

Useful Content: Ensure that your content is USEFUL to the reader and gives ALL the information the reader needs to answer his/her search query – this helps website conversion as well as SEO.

Detailed Content: Superficial or thin content is thought to be a negative factor for SEO and also gives no benefit from long-tailed keyword searches. Avoid thin content on any page. (If one page just has a few lines of text, de-index it or merge it with another page.)

Example: a page about bathrooms in Bury St Edmunds (a town) could use very “thin” content such as “we install bathrooms in Bury St Edmunds; please contact us for more information”. This is unlikely to do well in Google as it does not answer the hundred-and-one questions a user might need to know when searching for a local plumber. A few of these types of “thin content” pages could drag down your rankings for the entire site.

A more useful type of page could focus on both the type or work done AND the company’s relation with the local area.

Information about the type of work done might include information on bathroom design, bathroom installation, shower-room design, bathroom design for disabled customers, typical prices, typical lead times, opening times (including whether you visit customers at weekends or evenings), professional membership and whether the work is done by the owner or a contractor.

The company’s relation with the local area should state whether the company is based in Bury St Edmunds. If not, how far away from the town is the company based and will future call-out rates include a mileage component? It should also give examples of work done in and around Bury St Edmunds and testimonials from local customers. Examples of areas covered (how far the company is willing to travel) may also be useful.

Covering all of this information on one page gives nice “meaty” content and gives the potential customer all of the information that they might require to make a decision on whether to contact you.

Longer meatier pages avoid a penalty for “thin” content AND give you more opportunity to rank well for long-tailed keywords. In the example above, long-tailed keywords might include “bathroom design in Bury St Edmunds”, “washroom installation in Bury St Edmunds”, “tiled shower-rooms Bury St Edmunds” etc – rather than just the shorter keyword “bathrooms Bury St Edmunds”. Traffic from long-tailed keywords can mount up and should not be overlooked.

Correct grammar, correct spellings and good punctuation: Get a friend to check your copy if necessary and run that spell-checker! Typos, spelling errors and bad grammar can hinder your website conversions – not everyone will trust a company with their money if they see lots of typos. They can also provide a negative quality signal to Google. Try one of the numerous online spellcheckers and grammar checkers. For example,  app.grammarly.com is a free app. Free tools such as SEMrush’s Writing Assistant give you additional advice on the readability of your content = www.semrush.com/swa.

Different content mediums: not everyone likes reading screens of unbroken text. Text IS necessary on most pages as it gives the search engines something to index (pages with all of the useful information tucked away in an image that the search engines cannot crawl are unlikely to do well). Pages that combine high-quality text with good images and/or video links are generally preferable, however.

Disclaimer: when I have the time, I will add some visuals to this post and follow my own advice!

Useful Further Reading on What Makes Quality Content:

Google’s pointers as to what makes a quality site – a list of questions you should not ignore


3 Decide Which Pages You Will Have – 1 “Topic” Per Page

It’s now time to take all that keyword research that you did in Section 1 and break your keywords up into topics. Make each page cover 1 group of keywords (1 topic).

Tip 1: your Home page (the most powerful page on your site) should generally tackle your most important keyword/s.

Tip 2:  an About Our Company / About Me page targeting traffic for your company name frees up your home page to tackle your most important keywords. This also makes more sense to the user (your home page tells them what services/products you can offer to them and, if they want more information about the company or the person, they go to that page).

Tip 3: for each of your main services or products, cover this service or product IN DEPTH in its own page. A page that covers”kitchen design in town x” in great detail is likely to rank better for the term “kitchen design in town x” than a page that covers kitchen design and kitchen fitting in lesser detail.

Tip 4: to tackle more than one location, it is sometimes best to give each location its own page. For example, if your company has offices in Suffolk, Birmingham and Manchester, it is obviously appropriate to have a different page covering each location. Each page MUST, however, have its own unique content to make it relevant to customers in that area and should NOT just be a paraphrasing of your home page.

Note: your physical business location is VERY important for local searches. It is possible to rank for towns that you are not physically based in, but it is not as easy as ranking for your hometown. Further, future Google algorithm changes might impact your rankings. Therefore, when choosing which locations to target, it is generally best to stick to the local market. Note that Google+ Local Business pages (the pages that appear as the pins on the Google map that accompanies some local searches) are VERY geared towards your physical location.

Important warning:  too many location pages could invite a penalty – so use these pages with caution. They could also make you vulnerable to future algorithm changes. Search engines do not want a national company creating hundreds of different similar-content location pages for each town with the intent of “tricking” search engines into ranking them for local searches.

If using different location pages, there are different ways of making content unique for each location – use as many of them as is appropriate.

If you have offices in the location, then give a Google map, your address and directions to your offices. Alternatively, give directions (and an approximate number of miles and travelling time) from that location to your offices. Maybe give additional information such as photos of your office, how long you have been there, how many staff are based there, whether it is your head-office (larger companies) or whether the owner of the business is based there (smaller companies).

Focus on customers within the area who you have worked for, together with a description of different projects you have done within the area. Use village names where relevant – eg “new kitchen installed in Village X”.

Testimonials from customers in the area – putting relevant testimonials on each page helps with unique content and is more relevant to the reader than a testimonial page; people are more likely to take in a few testimonials rather than wade through a whole page of them.

Description of the location, focusing on how this is relevant to your company.

Example: a driving school instructor tackling the Ipswich area could state that there is a driving test centre in Ipswich and pupils have experience of driving on local roads before the test.

Areas covered – it helps the customer to know that you travel out to their area. Maybe list a few villages around the town – or a few key towns in the county; be wary of just making this a list of spammy keywords. Be especially wary of just repeating keywords used elsewhere (see duplicate content above).

4 Get the Basics Right: Ensure Keywords are on Your Page in the Right Places

Now that you have researched the market and decided what pages you need, you are now ready to write the content for each page. Ensure you incorporate all the keywords and their synonyms and variations into your content in a way that is helpful to the customer.

This easy step is ABSOLUTELY VITAL but is often overlooked. If you want to be found for “plumbers Suffolk” and yet you have neither the word plumbers nor the word Suffolk on your page, how are your readers – let alone the search engines – meant to know what your page is meant to be about?

Tip: When writing content, include synonyms. For example, many website designers tend to use synonyms such as web designer, web design company, website design agency, web development and website developer. This reduces the keyword density of any one term (thus making you less likely to trip a spam filter) whilst still making your content about a particular topic. It is also thought that Google now determines page relevancy by looking at connected keywords that typically occur for pages on a given topic.

Make sure that the keywords – and their synonyms – are in your:

page heading – (Heading1 in WordPress)

first paragraph or two – this is VERY important as Google takes more notice of keywords at the top of the page (where readers are likely to read) than small text tucked away in the footer. Ideally use your keyword combinations 2-3 times in these paragraphs.

Tip: if you begin by stating who you are, what you do, where you are based and which areas you mainly cover then this tends to work your keywords into your content in a pretty natural way.

Important note: if you want to be found for a keyword term such as “Hadleigh builders”, then using these two words next to each other helps you more than using them far apart.

Example of helpful content: “We are established Hadleigh builders based just outside this historic Suffolk town. Our Hadleigh building service offers  … Whether you want a complete new build, or would like us to build a loft conversion or conservatory ….”

Example of less helpful content: “ABC Construction company is based in Hadleigh. We have been established for 20 years and have many satisfied customers. We are a family run company. We offer many services …  As builders, we ….”

Example of very unhelpful content: “ABC Construction company has been established for 20 years and have many satisfied customers. We are a family run company. Our service is second to none. We have won many awards …  “

rest of content  – use them occasionally throughout the page (sub-headings and content) as relevant and helpful to the reader, using variations and synonyms as appropriate.  Do NOT overdo the keywords or you could trigger a penalty.

Tip: for local SEO, an Areas Covered section can be a useful way of working in the local towns and counties again.

Tip: one way of working your business keywords into a page – whilst giving customers the in-depth useful information that Google wishes – is to have a heading such as “My Method of Service X” with information (preferably detailed) about how you provide this service.

Example Heading: “My Method of CBT Counselling”

Example content: “During your CBT counselling …”

Tip: a Services Offered section can also be a useful way of working your main keywords into your home page. It also tells the reader up-front what the rest of the website is about. It is also helpful for long-tailed keyword searches (eg “gutter cleaning in Suffolk” rather than just “gutters Suffolk”.)

Tip: whilst SEO has definitely moved away from keyword stuffing, one of the keyword density cloud tools mentioned in Section 1 above can be used on YOUR site to tell you at a glance whether your website content is really about the type of keywords that you want it to be about. More importantly, they could also tell you if you have used your keywords too many times and therefore should replace keywords with synonyms. (Google Webmaster Tools gives you similar information but obviously only works after indexing.)  Possible tools include webconfs.com/seo-tools/keyword-density-checker,  www.webconfs.com/keyword-density-checker.php and smallseotools.com/keyword-density-checker.

Related Tip: Use this type of tool BEFORE your website (or page) is indexed. In my experience, Google has an algorithm that detects whether changes to an already indexed page are primarily designed to increase a set of keywords – if the algorithm detects that you are just adding keywords, then you are likely to attract a MASSIVE penalty that will remain until you remove those keywords again. If you realise that an already indexed page is not written to focus sufficiently on your primary keywords, then it is best to COMPLETELY rewrite a large section (preferably all) of this page, maybe adding a couple of additional paragraphs in.

Link out to high-quality, trusted sites if relevant. Obviously, avoid links to low quality or irrelevant sites.

5 User Experience

Website bounce rate (how long customers stay on your site and how many pages they visit) – Google wants to give its users websites that they like. If 90% of people click on your site and then immediately leave it and visit a competitor’s site, this sends a signal that your website is not a good match for the search query OR that your website is not of a very high quality. Your website should be designed to be attractive to look at, to tell people what you offer and to enable people to find the information that they are searching for easily. As said above, it should also have high-quality, useful content. Keep an eye on your bounce rate within your Google Analytics – if individual pages have a higher than average bounce rate, then redesign or restructure them. Pay attention to visuals as well as text.

Tip 1:  – make prominent links to other relevant pages within your site to encourage users to click through.

Tip 2: if you have a single page that users are likely to land on when searching in Google (and there are no other relevant pages that users are likely to click through to), consider dividing the page into two and expanding each page into a more complete version.

Loading time – no-one likes waiting forever for a site to load and Google knows this. Mobiles often load websites more slowly than PCs. Ensure your site loads reasonably fast.

Tip 1: Some useful tools for checking the loading time of your site include pingdom.com, Yahoo’s yslow.org and Google’s PageSpeed Insights.

Freshness of new content – if a website hasn’t been updated for years, this does not inspire confidence in users – or search engines – and may well decrease your ranking. For some queries (such as news or topical queries), fresher content well be displayed above content that is days/weeks/months old. How frequently content should be updated, probably depends upon the type of website you have.

Note: some people try to trick search engines by having a clock or visitor count give ever-changing data. This is unlikely to get you the same brownie points as having a new page describing a new service you are offering or adding genuine value to an existing page (for example, add a video or some additional pointers).

Tip 1: Whilst this post is about SEO without a blog, a blog does give you the ability to give fresh content to your site by adding useful articles; describing the latest article on selected pages also adds fresh content to pages that may otherwise be fairly static.

Responsive design – the non-PC market (mobiles, tablets, iPads, Kindles) is becoming increasingly important. Google has stated that, for searches on a mobile, it will give higher rankings to mobile-friendly sites.

6 Get the Coding Right (WordPress Customers Only – for Those with a Brochure Site, your Website Designer Should Do This for You)

If you are doing your own coding, or if you are using a content management system such as Wordpress or Joomla, ensure your main keywords are in:

title tag (main keywords first) – essential (this appears underlined in Google searches)

H1 (sometimes called Heading1) tag – essential

page url – very useful

Avoid a spam flag: whilst your keywords should be in your Title tag, H1 and page URL, Google is thought to be moving towards a more natural-seeming method of SEO. They want you to write for the reader rather than for the search engines and there have been reported cases of websites being penalized for having an exact match of keywords between the title tag, H1 and url. In today’s world, this could now send a spam flag. Mix things up a bit.

h2-h6 tags (heading2-6 tags in WordPress), the image names (image 1d4fgt66.jpg tells no-one what the image is about), the image alt and title text and caption (if used) – use keywords as and when relevant. Obviously, avoid overdoing this and tripping a spam filter. Ensure the menu structure has links (that search engines can crawl) to all of your major pages.

structured data markup – for some types of websites, structured data markup enables you to advise search engines which additional data should be displayed in your search engine listings.

Note: the meta description (which appears underneath the underlined title tag in Google searches) should be attractive to readers to increase click-through rate.

Useful Reading on Basic SEO for Beginners

Google’s Guide to SEO for Beginners

7 Other Website Content

NAP (business name, address and phone number) – these must be on your site. They reassure your readers (and the search engines) that you are a legitimate company at a legitimate address; for local searches, they are one factor that tells the search engines that your company is based in the area that you are targeting. Obviously, the phone code should match your address; an additional mobile number is fine, but your land-line number should be on the site. For local SEO, having the NAP on your site is becoming important. Putting the NAP on each page of your site (for example in the footer) might be one way of naturally including location keywords for each page.

Tip 1: Ensure that you have the same NAP on your address as EVERYWHERE else on the internet (Google+ page, social media sites, directories etc).

Social sharing buttons: having buttons such as the ones to the side of this article encourages shares across different social media. Many social sharing buttons do take time to load (although the better systems load after the rest of the page content has loaded); consider whether to put them on every page or just on your blog pages.

Terms and Conditions page and Privacy page – these are thought to send signals of site trustworthiness; obviously, ensure your content is unique and not a paraphrase of someone else’s hard work. As said, copyscape.com can detect copied content within seconds.

Link to your Google+ Page.

8 Domain name

If you are tackling the national market, then a country-specific domain extension (for example .co.uk) gives the search engines an important pointer as to your intended audience. If you are tackling an international market, a .com extension is best.

A few best practices for domain names:

Make them the same as your company name.

Make them short and memorable.

Possibly give an indication, with keywords, of what your company does in the domain name (as a web designer, uniquewebsites.co.uk tells the user what to expect more than bananacustard.co.uk).

Avoid hypens.

Avoid domains such as bestsuffolkwebsites.co.uk – genuinely good web designers don’t generally advertise themselves in this way and this type of domain name does not build confidence.

Avoid domains (and company names) that do not inspire confidence – sillyfools.com will generally not inspire people to purchase a product or service from that company.

Look at the letters of the words together and ensure they cannot be read in an undesirable way. For example, an after-dinner speaker might want a domain name of Sally’s Talks; however, sallystalks.co.uk could also be read Sally Stalks!

Before buying a domain name, check Google to see if there is a great deal of competition. A generic domain such as goodbuilders.com will make your site very difficult to find for existing customers.

In the past, having a domain name that exactly matched a likely search query (websitedesigntowna.com matches a query for Website Design Town A) was effective in increasing your rankings for that exact search query. In September 2012, Google launched an algorithm change to make these exact match domains (EMDs) less effective – but many feel that they do still boost rankings for that exact match keyword search. Future algorithm changes might negatively impact EMDs.

Against this, imagine a customer searching for a website designer in Town A and coming across a list of similar-sounding impersonal sites: webdesignertowna.com, webdesignertowna.org, webdesigntowna.com, townawebdesign.com, webdesigntowna.net. There is nothing to distinguish one from the other and many feel that this does not give a good impression for your business. Further, if Google continues its fight against web spam, these EMDs may be a spam flag. Further, in the here and now, Google’s Penguin algorithm (which penalises websites whose backlinks have a lot of exact match anchor text) also means that EMDs could make it difficult to link back to your website using your company name (Web Design TownA) as this could trigger a lethal Penguin penalty (now or in a future Penguin roll-out).

One possible compromise is to have a partial match domain name – such as starrywebdesign.co.uk. This avoids the spammy feel of EMDs whilst enabling your content to naturally contain your keywords:

About Starry Web Design

Starry Web Design are a small website design company.

Further, as most of your backlinks should link to your site using your company name, this also means that backlinks come into your website with some keywords worked in a natural way.

Important disclaimer: no-one knows how strict the search engines will become in the future in their fight against spam (the trend is that they are getting stricter all of the time). Therefore, some might feel that starrywebsites.co.uk might be less spammy (and therefore less risky) than starrywebdesign.co.uk. Against this, starrywebdesign.co.uk might help that little bit more in the here and now.

The Dangers of Bad On-Page SEO: Google’s Panda Algorithm Can Eat Your Rankings for Dinner!

Beware of the Google Peanda

Beware of the Google Panda: it eats more than just bamboo!

Google’s Panda algorithm was introduced in February 2011. It aims to penalise sites with “thin” content or poor-quality content.

If your page is deemed to fall below a certain quality threshold, it will be held down in the rankings. Worse, a few pages of poorly written or thin content can affect the rankings of your entire site.

Once hit by Panda, your site will have to wait for the next Panda refresh to be allowed to rise again. Although the updates were initially monthly, they are now more like every few months. So beware – recovering from Panda can take months (even once the problems are fixed).

To avoid a Panda penalty, follow the guidelines above.

Avoid duplicate or spun content. Do not duplicate/spin content from other sites. Do not have several pages of your site all tackling the same topic or all containing similar information. Be wary of a large amount of duplicate boilerplate content (large amounts of sidebar or footer content duplicated across each page.) Be wary of pages with little useful content that pad out the number of words by repeating lists of keywords several times over (duplicate or spun content within a page).

See Google’s guidelines on avoiding duplicate content.

Avoid having too many adverts.

Avoid linking out to lots of low quality sites.

Avoid lots of sloppy grammar and typos.

NEVER use black hat techniques to try to fool the search engines (the old white text on a white background trick is an example).

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