On-Page SEO Basics

On-Page SEO Basics

Do you want to know how to optimize your web pages perfectly? You’re in the right place.

You’ve got a keyword in mind for which you want to rank.

You may even already have a GREAT piece of content.

Now how do you ‘optimize’ that page so that Google not only understands what the heck it’s about but also realises that it deserves a place on the first page of the search results?

It’s easier than you might think. What follows is some practical advice for doing just that.

But first, let’s make sure we fully understand what on-page SEO is all about

What is On-Page SEO?

On-page SEO refers to the practice of ‘optimizing’ web pages to help them rank higher in the search engines. The end goal of this is to increase organic traffic to your site.

But what exactly does this ‘optimization’ process involve?

The majority of on-page SEO advice seems to focus almost exclusively on the strategic placement of exact‐match keywords on your page—a keyword in the title, keyword in the meta description, keyword in H1, etc.

Unfortunately, this kind of advice is MASSIVELY outdated.

In 2018, Google is smart enough to understand synonyms and semantically related keywords (more on those later!), meaning that you no longer have to obsess about the strategic placement of exact‐match keywords on your web pages.

Don’t believe us? Take a look at the top results for “best apple computer.”

SERP Overview for “best apple computer” via Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer

Out of the top 10 results, only ONE has the word “computer” in the title tag or URL.

The rest of the pages talk about things like:

Best MacBooks;

Mac buying guide;

Which Mac should you buy?

Google understands that when you search for “best apple computer,” what you’re really looking for is information geared towards purchasing a new Mac.

Ready to stop optimizing your web pages like it’s 1999?

Follow these 8 on-page SEO tips.

1. Get in the game by optimizing for ‘search intent’

You can’t win the game if you’re not even a player.

Let me explain:

I’d love to be a professional basketball player.

Unluckily for me, however, I’m 5’3” (160cm).

Now, I’m all for the “if you want something, go get it!” mindset…

… but I can’t help but feel that no matter how much I practice and ‘optimize’ my skills, LeBron is always going to have an ever so slight edge over me at 6’8”. I mean, I’ve just about got the hairline down, but that’s about it for similarities.

LeBron hairline

Here’s my point:

Me + basketball = an unlikely match. I don’t have what most coaches are looking for. So I’ll probably never even be picked for the team, let alone have a chance to win the game.

How does that relate to SEO?

Think of Google as the coach picking players (web pages) for its team (top rankings for a particular search query). If your content isn’t player material—i.e., happens to be what searchers are looking for—you won’t even be in the game, let alone have the chance to win (rank #1).

So how do you figure out what searchers want?

Well, it’s not rocket science.

For example, it’s pretty obvious that someone who types “buy protein powder” into Google wants to see product pages like this…

eCommerce product page

… or product category pages like this:

eCommerce category page

But there’s no reason to rely on guesses here.

Google’s entire business model relies on them serving the most appropriate result in the top spot. You can use that fact to your advantage by checking your gut instinct against what currently ranks for your target keyword.

Let’s do that for “buy protein powder.”

Top‐ranking pages in Google “buy protein powder,” via the SERP Overview in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer

Gut instinct = confirmed.

Product and category pages are EXACTLY what Google returns, showing that this is what searchers want to see.

SIDENOTE.Not an Ahrefs user? Analyze search intent by checking the search results directly in Google.

This “trick” is especially useful for less obvious queries where “search intent” isn’t so clear.

Case in point: “how to promote your website.”

It’s clear right off the bat that this is an informational query, but what exactly do searchers want to see? Do they want a step‐by‐step walkthrough? Do they want a list of various promotional tactics? Or do they want something entirely different?

Let’s check the top‐ranking pages.

how to promote your website serp

You can see that Google overwhelmingly favors lists of website promotion tactics.

If you wanted to rank for this keyword/topic, that’s exactly what you should create. Google is literally telling you what searcher wants to see.

Actionable takeaway: Look at the current top‐ranking pages to better understand search intent, then act on it. That’s the only way you stand a chance at winning the game. Stop trying to shoehorn pages where they don’t belong.

2. Make sure your page loads FAST

Have you ever clicked a result in Google and had the page take AGES to load?

If you’re anything like me, then you probably do the same thing every single time this happens: hit the back button and choose a different result.

Google knows that people do this, because slow‐loading pages are annoying, right?

That’s why page speed is a ranking factor as of 2010.

Having said that, when we conducted our large-scale on-page SEO study back in 2016, we found that there is a very small correlation between page load time and rankings.

03-page speed

There are two things that I’d say about that:

Firstly, that study was conducted a couple of years ago. Things change all the time. Google also recently began rolling out their mobile‐first index, and they have confirmed that mobile page speed will be a ranking factor going forward.

Secondly, even if we forget about search engines, it’s clear that slow‐loading pages are bad for user experience. People will be quick to hit the back button on pages that take too long to load, meaning that they will never see or visit your page… even if you rank #1.

To improve page speed, start by checking your web page in Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. That will analyze your page and give some optimization suggestions.


You can only check page speed for one page at a time using Google Pagespeed Insights.

That makes the whole process laborious and time‐consuming.

To speed things up, consider using a professional site auditing tool like Ahrefs’ Site Audit (also known as SEO Analyzer.) Such tools will scan all of your pages at once and highlight the pages with issues.

site audit ahrefs slow

Learn more about using Ahrefs’ Site Audit in this video:

Here are two tips for improving page speed on a page‐by‐page basis.

Reduce image sizes. Use a plugin like Shortpixel in WordPress (free up to 100 images/month) to optimize and compress images automatically, on the fly.

Minimize useless HTML. Every character of HTML has to load. If you’re using WordPress, aim to use the text editor rather than the visual editor. This will minimize the amount of useless HTML that ends up on your pages. Learn more WordPress SEO.

You should also work to improve your site speed as a whole.

Still, try not to get obsessive over page speed. Chances are that once you reach a certain point, working tirelessly to shave off extra milliseconds here and there will have little to no noticeable effect on rankings.

Google states that 53% of users will abandon a page if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. So we would suggest aiming for 2 seconds or under as a general rule.

Actionable takeaway: Make sure your pages load as fast as possible by reducing image sizes and eliminating unnecessary HTML.

3. Strategically place your target keyword in the title, meta description, and H1 tags

I know what you’re thinking:

You just said that this DOESN’T matter in 2018! Why are you now recommending this?

Skeptical (and possibly slightly annoyed) reader

Skeptical (and possibly slightly annoyed) reader

Here’s the thing:

I didn’t say that the strategic placement of keywords is a bad idea. It’s just not the be and end all of on-page SEO. Nor is it as important as it used to be.

But it still makes sense to include your target keyword here… if it makes sense to do so.

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