On-site is the first aspect of SEO most people encounter, as it’s done on the website and that’s one of the only things we have control over.
Every beginner digital marketer knows what metadata is and how it affects visibility for your key terms. In this entry in Very Good Local SEO, we’ll cover some techniques to help you recommend and implement rock-solid on-site SEO, and continually improve that targeting for months to come. First, let’s review the major aspects of on-site SEO.
MAJOR ELEMENTS OF ON-SITE SEO
There are a handful of elements to on-site SEO to consider. At the most basic level, we want to make sure we include our target keywords in these elements. As for how, we’ll cover that in a subsequent chapter.
We all know what a title tag is:
If you didn’t, now you know: the blue text above is the title tag. This is in many marketers’ estimation, the most important part of on-site SEO. It represents your website in the search engine results page (SERP), and helps let users and search engines know what a given page is about.
Google displays 600 pixels (50-60 characters) of a title tag before the rest of it gets truncated. There’s no penalty for going over on title tag length, just know that it will be truncated. Also, mobile title tag lengths CAN be much longer than desktop results. Often, title tags on mobile devices tend to be closer to 70 characters.
An elementary formula for writing title tags is [location] + [product or service keyword] + [brand name], but we’ll cover this in more detail below and provide examples of outliers.
Meta descriptions offer an opportunity to enhance your appearance in the SERP. In the example screenshot above, the text below the title tag: that’s the meta description.
Meta descriptions are capped out at about 160 characters, and again there’s no penalty for going over; however, it does affect the look of your entry in the SERP.
One thing to point out about meta descriptions, is that Google bolds terms in the description that were part of your search. This is an important consideration because it draws the eye of the user.
We’ve covered website copy previously, but we only briefly discussed header tags. Header tags are used to break up and introduce content, and range from H1, the most important, to H6, the least.
For instance, the On-site SEO at the top of this page is an H1 tag, while the Header Tags header above is an H2. While it’s important to include keywords in headers, we prefer to promote unique things about a business and include key differentiators rather than simply stuff them full of the location and service.
Example: Bob owns an HVAC company in Denver CO. He’s been in business for 35 years and has a good reputation.
Boring H1 tag: Denver CO HVAC Company
Very Good H1 tag: Denver’s Most-Trusted HVAC Company Since 1995
INTERNAL LINKING & ANCHOR TEXT
Internal linking is a complex subject that we’ll address in the technical SEO chapter, but what is it?
Internal linking is the term for when you have a link from one page on your site to another. That’s it! This is an important aspect of optimization because it conveys information about how pages are related to each other, while also providing useful links for users who want more information about something mentioned in the copy.
When you put a link on a website, you can either put the link in as is (https://google.com=) or create a link with anchor text: Google. In this case, the link still points to Google, but the anchor text provides additional information about the link. This is especially useful when setting up internal links, because there’s a nice benefit to optimizing anchor text around target keywords, a link to a service page with relevant anchor text conveys more benefit than a generic Learn More link.
WHAT DO I DO WITH ALL OF THIS?
By now, you should have a pretty good idea of what your target keywords are for most parts of your site thanks to the Keyword Research report you set up prior. This report, when configured properly, pulls in your Search Console data about what you’re already ranking for.
If you don’t have historical data to rely on, tools like Google’s Keyword Planner, SEMRush, and Ahrefs all provide varying perspectives on which terms you should target around.
Once you have your keywords in mind, you can build out a document to help you track what your metadata was pre-implementation, and track your changes over a campaign to help you identify which approach works best. SEO is in a constant state of change, and tinkering is the name of the game.
We’ve created a template to get you started. Just create a copy for your own use and we can get started!
Crawl your site and export the metadata to each sheet. We like Sitebulb, but Screaming Frog works too! Typically, you just run the crawl as normal, export all of the URLs, and there will be a column in the exported document that contains the Title Tag, Meta Description, and H1 on each page.
Clean up the URL list so it focuses on your key pages; every service page, the contact page, About Us, location pages, etc. If you use Screaming Frog, you may have to manually remove image URLs and other assets. During this phase, keep in mind seemingly redundant or useless pages for handling down the line during your technical audit.
Once you have an accurate list of every page on your site you want to optimize, it’s just a matter of filling out the document and implementing your changes on the site.
WRITING GOOD TITLE TAGS
Title tags are not rocket science. As we mentioned earlier on, you’re probably safe with just putting your target keyword(s) in, your location, and your brand name:
Just like that.
And honestly, that’s a pretty safe bet for a homepage.
This Chicago Personal Injury Law Firm could have just said that, but they were awarded the Best of the Best, among other accolades. They also made sure to retain the target keywords, and even made sure the brand name still fit.
TITLE TAG SEPARATORS
If you look at both examples above, do you see how they both use a colon to separate their brand name and the main keyword they want to rank for?
If you look at the SERP for “Chicago personal injury attorney”, here are the types and counts of separators being used.
- Colon (:) – 3
- Pipe (|) – 5
- Dash (-) – 1
Why use the same separator as every other website vying for the same ranking?
Why not use a different separator to look different?
Other separators that you can use:
- Double arrow: »
- Reverse double arrow: «
- Single arrow: >
- Reverse single arrow: <
- Bullet: •
- Double pipe: ||
Don’t be lazy with your title tags, this includes the separator you decide to use.
WHAT TO INCLUDE IN META DESCRIPTIONS
Meta descriptions are an oft-overlooked opportunity. We briefly discussed that it’s important to include your keywords here as well, as they show up in bold, provided the user used those terms in their search. That said, meta descriptions are not a ranking factor directly, so there’s really no benefit to stuffing term after term in them. It makes your brand look kind of desperate.
Here’s a great example of an effective, if blunt meta description. It includes their target keywords, the location they serve, along with a solid call to action and their contact info. It’s still good to include differentiators in the meta description, but this checks all of the boxes without going over the character limit or being keyword stuffy.
Like our approach to other on-site elements, we prefer including differentiators in the H1 rather than simply plugging in keywords.
Let’s take this H1 on a Personal Injury Law site. It kind of appeals to both approaches, featuring the location + target terms, followed by mention of their differentiators. If we were to approach this same H1, I might go with:
Highly Trusted Chicago Personal Injury Attorneys with Decades of Experience
I think this conveys the same expertise better, introduces them more effectively, and plain sounds better.
In our experience, an H1 isn’t going to make or break your optimization campaign, so it’s best to really write for your users first.
INTERNAL LINKING BASICS
It’s important to have plenty of options for users to find every page on your website. Below is a snippet from the homepage of you guessed it, a Chicago personal injury firm:
In the example above, they include links to their Results page, Car Accidents, Medical Malpractice, and Wrongful Death. These links feature relevant anchor text to the page to which the link points, and are incorporated naturally in the copy.
We don’t want to just provide these kind of context-motivated internal links on the homepage, though. There are opportunities to link to relevant, key pages on virtually every service page on a given website.
Some plugins automate this process by crawling the content on your site and automatically including hyperlinks to certain pages, but we do not recommend this approach.
As for the number of internal links, only include as many as are actually helpful. While you can create a link cloud on every page of the site, it’s better to incorporate these links once per page, and we tend to do that on first mention of a relevant page in the content.
Now that you’ve got an idea of how to approach on-site optimization, it’s a matter of sitting back and waiting for the results of your efforts to pay off. Or not. SEO is an endless series of tweaks and tracking those tweaks to determine what actually moves the needle, and what doesn’t.
If you adjusted targeting for a given page, and your site experienced a loss of visibility and/or traffic, it’s time to see what you changed and why those changes had negative effects. It may be helpful to create additional sheets in that On-site SEO doc to track your tweaks over time as well. That way, you can plot performance of a given page as they pertain to targeting changes.