In this tutorial, I’ll show you the exact on-page SEO techniques you can use to outrank your competitors.
Although Google is getting smarter, you still need to optimize your pages if you want to show up as the most relevant result.
I have a few competitors in my niches who are not optimizing their site at all. They have a much stronger link profile than me, and have amassed links for years before my site was even created. But my site is optimized much better, and I outrank them.
Want to learn how? Let’s dive in.
On-Page SEO VS Off-Page SEO
On-page SEO refers to the optimization of your HTML source code and content to rank higher in search engines for your targeted keywords.
Off-page SEO refers to increasing positive external signals pointing to your site such as backlinks.
Back in the day when I used to work with SEO clients, clients who had on-page SEO issues were my favorite to work with.
Why? Because they were the easiest to fix!
On-page SEO is totally under our control. We can fix issues instantly.
Off-page SEO, on the other hand, takes longer. You need to go out and “build” links on other websites that you don’t own, and the process is more complex and time consuming.
There are a LOT of websites out there with huge backlink profiles that don’t get a lot of search traffic.
The reason? Their on-site SEO sucks.
Just a few tweaks to your content and HTML source code can drastically increase their rankings and traffic.
Let’s go through what a perfectly optimized SEO article looks like.
It all starts with search intent
Before we start optimizing anything, we have to make sure that we’re not fighting a losing battle. Google is getting better and better at understanding search intent – what users are specifically looking to do when they make a search query.
If Google sees that searchers for a keyword are looking for ecommerce content, your informational content is not going to rank no matter what you try. And even if you do, it won’t last long. Your horrendous bounce rate will tell Google your page is not relevant for that keyword anyways.
It only makes sense that this is the very first place you start when optimizing any page for a keyword. Always try and maximize your understanding of what the search intent behind that keyword is before you create something around it.
Is the searcher looking to buy something or are they looking for information? Are they looking for quick or in-depth information? What pages are ranking already? Why are they ranking? What type of content would help the searcher answer their question fully and in the best way?
Once you understand that, we can begin the optimization process.
Have your keyword in your title tag and make it compelling
A page has many HTML tags, but the title tag is the most important one. Your title tag is the most important on-page SEO factor. It’s what tells Google what your page is about, and it’s also what shows up in the Google search result.
It’s still surprising to me when I browse the web, and see a website with a super strong link profile. They should be ranking #1, no competitor should even come close to outranking them. But the title of their page is something like: “Main” and they’re nowhere to be found.
Keyword in title tag: If you want to rank for a keyword, the first and most important step is to have the keyword in the title tag.
Title tag character limit: Make your title tag too long, and it will be cut off by Google with ellipses. Today, there isn’t a total character limit. It’s totally user and device dependant. Ideally though, your title tag should be 60 to 70 characters in length.
Creating your title: Just because having the keyword in your title is important, doesn’t mean you should create title tags with JUST your keyword. You want to make it interesting so that people want to click through to your page rather than the others.
Here’s what you shouldn’t do:
Instead, go for something like this:
The second one is much more interesting and detailed, and also accomplishes another very important thing…
Optimizing for related keywords: If you have room for more characters in your title, target another keyword that’s closely related. In the example above, I fit in “Create Articles That Rank” alongside my main keyword.
If I can get this page to rank for “on-page SEO” then I have a high chance of ranking for the other one as well.
This is something I do a lot, and it makes a big difference in how many keywords your article ranks for, and drives more long-tail traffic to your page. Don’t go overboard though. It has to be very closely related to your main keyword.
Entice a click with your meta description
What’s a meta description?
It’s the snippet of text in each Google search result that describes what the page is about.
The meta description isn’t a direct ranking factor, so it’s not a huge issue if you don’t optimize it. However, it can help increase your CTR in the search engine results.
The best method of writing a meta description is to try and convince the searcher why they should click on your page rather than the others. Think of it like you’re writing an ad description. The more enticing it is to the reader, the higher your CTR is likely to be.
NOTE: Even if you write the perfect meta description, Google often shows other content from your page within the description depending on what the user is searching for.
Keep URL’s short and simple
Shorter is better. Try to keep your URL’s short and concise, and try not to bury content deep in multiple directories.
Just keep in your main keywords, and cut out everything else.
You can edit your URL’s in WordPress here:
As you can see, my title is really long, but my URL has been edited to be short, and contain only the main keywords.
*This isn’t a major issue. Having reasonably long URL’s are not going to hurt your Google rankings. However, it’s just good practice to get into the habit of creating clean, keyword-focused URL’s.
You can read more about good URL structures for SEO here.
Use header tags to tell search engines what your subtopics are
Headers are simple. Whatever you put into your title tag should be wrapped in an H1 tag on the page. If you’re using WordPress, your title will automatically be used as your h1 tag in most cases. But you could still change it up a little bit using an SEO plugin like Yoast.
The rest of your headers should be H2, H3, H4, H5, H6.
Personally, I usually never use anything beyond H2. I only use H3’s when I need to expand further on a topic within the H2 subtopic.
As you can see above, the H3 subtopic is still within the H2 subtopic of goals. Header tags are also a great way to improve your user experience on the page. Headers give your page depth and organization. They guide the user through the article.
Few things to note:
1. There should only be one H1 tag on a page.
2. Don’t skip header tags. Don’t use H1 and then H4’s throughout the page. Go in order of importance/significance.
3. It’s not essential to use multiple header tags in a page, but don’t forget the H1.
No keyword stuffing for h2 and h3 tags – keep it simple
Use Wikipedia, one of the best examples of a website that does on-site SEO correctly, as an example. They don’t use the the main keyword in their h2 and h3 header tags.
It’s not: “SEO history” OR “SEO as a marketing strategy” OR “White hat SEO vs black hat SEO techniques”.
I see a lot of people excessively stuffing keywords into all their header tags. There was a time when this worked, and it was recommended to do so. Today, especially after Hummingbird, there’s really no need to do this kind of stuff.
If you have too high a keyword density, it can hurt your rankings.
Sometimes, you can’t help but use the keyword all throughout the page. If you’re writing naturally, that’s fine. But if you’re excessively stuffing keywords into all your header tags just because you hope that it gives you a rankings boost, you’re potentially putting your rankings at risk.
Should you focus on keyword density at all?
No… but not entirely.
What I like to do is to write naturally first and don’t focus on keyword density at all. When I’m outsourcing content, I’ll tell the writer to ignore keyword density.
After the article is completed, I’ll either replace synonyms with keywords and LSI keywords if the density is too low, or I’ll remove them and add synonyms if it’s too high.
If you’re unfamiliar with LSI keywords, Ankit does a great job of explaining them in this article.
Don’t forget image alt tags
Using images makes the article have a better user experience. It’s much more enjoyable to read content that has images than it is to read hundreds of lines of pure text.
But a lot of people forget to optimize their images with proper alt tags.
Setting alt tags to images gives Google another indication of what your page is about.
How to use the alt tags: For the first/feature image of a blog post, I’ll put in my keyword as my alt tag. All other alt tags should be used for describing the image. Don’t stuff them with keywords.
Use LSI keywords: Using images to add LSI keywords is one of my favorite on-site SEO strategies. Don’t stuff your main keyword into every alt tag. Instead, use it as an opportunity to add even more LSI keywords into your page.
For example, for the image I used earlier:
I set the alt tag as “wikipedia use of header tags”:
It clearly describes the image while using an LSI keyword that isn’t my main keyword.
Use your main keyword early on in your article
Go through any of Wikipedia’s articles, and you’ll notice that they always have their main keyword as the first word, and that it’s bolded.
You don’t need to go that far, but you shouldn’t be 1000 words deep into your content before you bring up your main keyword for the first time.
For best results, use it as early on as you can. For me, I always try to use the keyword in my first sentence.
Make your content long and thorough, but understand search intent
Longer content ranks better.
Based on studies by Moz and BuzzSumo, longer articles tend to get more links and shares.
And this study by SerpIQ analyzed the top 10 search results for over 20,000 keywords and noticed that on average, content ranking on the first page of Google had over 2000 words.
While optimum content length varies depending on keyword difficulty, and type of keyword, it’s fair to conclude that long form content is the way to go if you’re serious about ranking for anything (especially informational keywords).
For standard blog posts, I try to keep my articles between 1800 to 2500 words in length.
The type (and length) of content you create depends on search intent. It largely depends on the scope of the topic, and keyword. For some topics, it just doesn’t make sense to have so many words.
What’s one of the biggest signs of unnatural linking? Having all your links pointed at just your homepage.
One of the keys to building a long-term blog these days is to make sure that your links are spread out throughout your domain.
It’s just natural.
Don’t just build links to your homepage. Build links to your internal pages as well.
It’s a tough concept for people new to SEO to understand why building links to page X helps increase rankings for page Y.
His infographics attract a lot of links and shares.
But these links usually point only at the page the infographic is on, not other pages he’s trying to rank.
So how does that help rankings for other pages?
Your domain authority increases and you build more trust to your site overall. This in turn increases rankings across the board for your entire domain.
Of course, make sure to set up your internal links on those pages so that they pass this link juice to the pages you want to rank higher.
Link flow through internal links
You should be interlinking your blog posts whenever possible.
Proper internal linking is probably one of the easiest (and fastest) ways to improve your site’s SEO.
- Internal links helps improve your link flow to individual pages on your site, helping them to rank better.
- The anchor text of links helps Google to understand the context of a webpage and to rank better.
- Internal links help Google Bots crawl and access different parts of your site.
- Internal links also improve user experience by providing them with more information on certain topics. That in turn increases your user metrics such as bounce rate and time on site which are all ranking factors.
When you publish new articles, link to your older articles wherever you can. And you should also make it a habit to go back to older articles and link to your newer articles.
Use a lot of sources / external links
When I’m onboarding new writers, one of my criteria is to use and link to as many sources as they can.
Linking out to helpful external sites is just a better user experience overall.
So you should do it more often. You won’t lose your rankings by linking out to a helpful resource. If anything, it will make your own content more credible and trustworthy.
For instance, I love reading content like this articles by Forbes because there are links everywhere.
When I read a sentence that intrigues me, and I want to learn more, there’s usually a link to another page which extensively covered that story.
Now, that’s a helpful external link!
Know what I’m thinking after reading it?
Forbes really did their research and covered this story thoroughly. I trust this site.
When you write an article, you’re NOT the only authority on every single sub-topic within the article. There are other places where people can go to learn more.
Link to them.
Don’t be a dead end on the internet. Link out to helpful sites. Credit sources where you got your information. Outbound links in relation to your rankings is pretty well explained in this video by Moz.
Should you nofollow external links? Ever know somebody who’s super cheap? Don’t be that guy. Nofollowing every external link in fear of sharing link juice is pretty much like being the cheap friend who is stingy about spending a dollar more than their fair share.
Share the link love! You won’t lose rankings for linking out to helpful sources on the internet.
In-page links for easy navigation
One of my favorite things about a Wikipedia article is how they organize their content with in-page links.
I’m talking about this thing at the top of every article.
It’s a great user experience because it allows you to preview all the major sub-topics within the content, and then jump straight to the section you’re interested in.
It’s the perfect way to format organize really long pieces of content.
For example, I created in-page links for my outreach link building guide because it’s over 10,000 words long.
Creating in-page links is really easy to do.
All you need to do is create links and ID’s throughout the page by following this guide.
NOTE: Creating in-page links is probably not the best thing to do on pages with less than 1500 words. It’s short enough that people can just easily scroll through everything. But if you have pages that are over 2000 words long, it’s a nice feature to add on.
Don’t write for search engines. Write for people, then optimize for search engines afterwards by going through the techniques we just learned.
Don’t pay too much attention to keyword density. Sometimes, your keyword density will be higher than others. That’s just due to the nature of the keyword. There isn’t a “perfect” keyword density you should be shooting for.
Instead, check to see how it reads after right before you publish it. If it sounds weird because you’re stuffing keywords everywhere, then use pronouns or LSI keywords to remove some of your keywords.
If you notice your keyword isn’t mentioned enough, then sprinkle it in a bit more.
As long as it reads naturally, you’ll be fine. Focusing on keyword density will hurt most people more than it helps them.
And lastly, page speed. If your page takes forever to load, you’re going to have a really high bounce rate.
Even a one second delay in page load time can decrease your page views and conversions by a significant amount.
On a mobile device, Google recently reported that on a mobile site, as page load time goes from one second to five seconds, the probability of bounce increases by 90%.
The fastest way to increase your page load time is to switch to a high end hosting company.
If you don’t want to increase your hosting budget by hundreds of dollars per year, you can also use Cloudflare (free) combined with a caching plugin.
Here were my results when I implemented CloudFlare with a caching plugin:
Only took 10 minutes of work, and it was compeltely free.
Read this tutorial if you want to do the same: How I sped up my website by 362% in under 10 minutes.
Optimizing your on-page SEO is very important. And the best part is, it’s easy. Anybody can use go through this tutorial and implement these techniques even if they’re not an experienced SEO.
Although writing high quality content and building strong backlinks are what mainly help you rank higher, you can’t forget to optimize your pages for your keywords. For a lot of websites I’ve come across out there, it’ll be all you need to do to drastically improve your search rankings.