You’ve carefully done your keyword research and found a suitable target. You’ve poured your heard and soul into producing the best piece of content possible.
The question is: how do you optimize your article for the search engines?
In this section we’ll discuss:
- The most elements of your article from a search engine’s perspective
- Where you should be putting your target keyword phrase
- How to format your content with the search engines in mind
At the end of this section, we’ll bring all these different elements together, in a step-by-step case study. Here we’ll walk through every element of optimizing your content for the search engines, so you can confidently apply the process to every article you publish on your blog or authority website.
Important Note: Google’s algorithms and policies have changed considerably over the years, and with them so have the most effective onsite strategies.
Much of the guidance touted by so-called “experts” are now quite outdated. In other words – follow their guidance with a pinch of salt.
Having tested and tweaked my on-page optimization strategies across dozens of websites and hundreds of pages, I’d like to show you what’s working right now in terms of on-page SEO…
Let’s get started…
Understanding Searcher Intent
Before we begin talking about on-page optimization we need to address an important concept: that of “searcher intent”.
When someone carries out a search in Google they’re obviously looking for something specific.
This might sound obvious, but in the past, it was possible to rank for almost any keyword phrase, so long as you did the right optimization.
No thought was necessary as to what people actually wanted to find.
Now, in the age of a more intelligent Google, the opposite is true.
Your first consideration, when optimizing any page for the search engines, should be how well it addresses the searcher’s intent.
Let’s give a few examples to illustrate the point…
Example 1: “Best Link Building Tools”
Someone searching for this phrase clearly wants to build links.
That said, most highly experienced SEO experts will already have their own favorites, so the person doing this search probably knows broadly what SEO involves, but hasn’t yet made a decision on what tools they need.
They’ve probably looked at all sorts of options, and now need help narrowing down the options.
Note the plural use of the word “tools”, which suggests they’re not just looking for one – but a range of options.
An article to address this phrase would therefore likely compare and contrast a range of tools, perhaps providing a comparison chart, screen-shots and personal experiences of each. Just writing an affiliate article for one single tool probably isn’t enough to address searcher intent.
Example 2: “How to Move to Canada”
Moving from one country to another is a massive undertaking, and there are lots of things to consider. Not just visas, but also getting residency, paying taxes, opening a bank account and more.
The best possible article for this phrase would likely look to address all of these points and more.
Let’s be honest; this is likely to be a huge article.
400 words of general tips probably aren’t going to cut it.
Example 3: “Real Estate Investing Tips”
At face value, this article sounds quite simple. Just provide a simple list of 10 or 15 tips and call it a day. The difficulty is that dozens of other websites have articles just like this.
Why should Google rank your higher than any of the alternatives?
The key, here, is adding as much value as possible, in order to truly make it the best possible article on the topic.
Consider how this might be achieved.
- For example, could we interview some real estate investors for their own personal tips and hints?
- Could we back up our statements with industry statistics, charts and graphs?
- Could we create far more extensive content, listing 50 or more tips if everyone else is offering just a handful?
This is the kind of critical thinking that can help set your content apart from the competition.
Hopefully, by now you’re starting to get the point. Once you’ve chosen a keyword phrase to target it’s critical that you objectively consider how the best possible article would effectively answer this.
Then make sure your article follows through.
I’ll assume for now that you’ve carefully considered searcher intent and that your article really does the best possible job of meeting this. The next stage is then to consider the specific HTML of your article…
How to Optimize Your Blog Post for Google
There are dozens of elements that can come under the umbrella of on-page SEO. Literally, anything can have an impact, no matter how small.
In this section, therefore, we’re going to try and separate the various elements in order of importance.
This first section deals with the highest priority areas, that should be addressed on every article you write.
Later on we’ll look at lower priority elements that you may choose to tweak, or you may not.
The title tag is an HTML element that controls the text that appears at the very top of the browser window.
This is often identical to the main headline of the page, but not always.
The title tag is also what search engines typically use as the “title” or link to your website in the search results.
A well-fashioned title tag should therefore not only include your relevant keyword phrase but also be “click-worthy” when it is seen in the search results.
The title tag should ideally, therefore, be an accurate and appealing piece of text that:
- Tells Google what your page is about
- Encourages people to click it
As a final tip, there is some evidence to suggest that including your chosen keyword phrase earlier on in the title may give it slightly more weight.
Warning: In the distant past it was considered a good idea to include a multitude of keywords in the title tag, with the aim of ranking for as many phrases as possible.
This concept, known as “keyword stuffing” is of course a bad idea these days.
Targeting multiple keywords with a single article can be very difficult, and a keyword-stuffed title tag doesn’t exactly look appealing in the search results. Focus on just one or two keyword phrases and simply make the best title possible.
How to Create a Title Tag
Like so many things, writing strong title tags gets easier with practice. Initially, however, you’re probably going to want a few pointers about how to construct your titles.
The first tip is to look at what other people are using. Simply type the keyword phrase you’d like to rank for into Google and note the title tags of the top ten websites.
There may well be ideas here that you can borrow, or at least take inspiration from. Note the following “tempting” titles, for example, which manage to incorporate keywords while demanding to be clicked…
At the same time, also consider the paid ads if there are any. Remember that Google rewards ads that get lots of clicks with lower costs-per-click. This means that many PPC experts continually test their title tags to get the most clicks possible.
There is evidence to suggest that title tags that get more clicks in the search results can see increases in their rankings.
Taking a lesson or two from the paid ads can therefore pay dividends for maximizing your clicks and, indirectly, your rankings.
Once you’ve gathered your inspiration, it’s time to combine all these ideas with some solid copywriting to make the most tempting title possible.
Repeated studies have shown that the following strategies can increase clicks:
- Including numbers
- Speaking directly to the visitor’s needs
- Promising a very clear benefit
- “Teasing” visitors with a cliffhanger
How to Change a Title Tag in WordPress
I am assuming throughout this site that you’re using WordPress as a content management system (CMS).
If so, changing the title tag of any article is surprisingly easy when using the Yoast SEO plugin.
Simply click on the article in question in WordPress, then scroll down to the area below the article content.
Here you’ll see the “Search Engine Snippet”.
Simply add your winning title tag to the “SEO title” box.
Headlines, as the name suggests, are the “head” and “subheads” of your article.
Headlines are coded in HTML and come in a range of different “sizes”.
The biggest headline is known as an H1 and is usually used as the main headline for your article. Subheads work down in size, and up in numbers. Thus, your main subheads would be H2s, while sections within each of those will be H3s and so on.
Here’s a screen capture from this website showing some headlines…
These heading tags, therefore, help to break up your content, making it more easily digestible by readers.
However, they’re also a very important part of SEO – especially your H1 headline.
If you’re attempting to optimize an article for a specific keyword phrase, you should take care that the phrase itself is included in your H1 tag.
Fortunately, with WordPress, this is simplicity itself to do, as your main article heading will almost always be displayed as an H1 heading (unless you have a crummy theme!).
It’s easy enough to check this for yourself. Simply navigate to any article on your site, then view the code that actually creates the page.
Personally, I use Google Chrome as my browser, so I simply click Control and U (Ctrl + U) at the same time to “View Source Code”. Once I have the HTML code up, simply use the “Find” feature (Ctrl + F) and search for “h1”. You should find two different H1 tags that sit around the main title of your article, as in the screen capture below…
This is correct.
Note that each page should only have one pair of H1 tags, and no more.
Some themes (and some users) try to use multiple H1 headings, but this is a mistake. Again, this is easy enough to tell, using the search feature we used above. If we see 2 mentions, then this is correct (and opening and a closing tag). If we see more, then pay attention to these. Note where they are, and correct them by changing them to other tags.
Creating subheadings is very easy itself in WordPress. Simply highlight the text you want as a headline, then select the “Heading” option from the dropdown menu.
As a reminder: subheads should use the various sizes of heading tags in a logical manner. I regularly stumble across articles that try to simply use bold text or suchlike for these subheads; format them properly and you’ll benefit.
Lastly, in terms of the subheads, try to keep these as logical and “on the topic” as possible.
So an article with an H1 tag of “How to Get More Blog Traffic” might include H2 tags (subheads) of “Social Media”, “SEO” and “Email Marketing” for example. Within the “Social Media” section we may have further sub-sections for “Twitter”, “Facebook” and “Pinterest”, each using an H3 subhead.
This may sound obvious, but once again it’s quite normal to find that people have used subheads in other parts of their overall site design and forgotten about them in their content. In a recent example, a client’s site I was working on had used H2 tags for text like their phone number and “Follow Us on Twitter” but hadn’t actually used any inside the article content.
No, include your main keyword phrase in the H1 headline (article headline) and consider relevant variations and phrases in supplementary headlines throughout your article.
The META description is an aspect that is coded “behind the scenes”, and is designed to tell the search engines what your page is all about.
While you won’t see the META description when reading an article, it’s probably sat in the code behind the scenes.
Where you will see it, is in the description that Google gives your article in their listings….
The interesting thing about META descriptions is that they don’t directly impact your search engine rankings – but they can affect them indirectly. What do I mean?
Google no longer uses the text in your META description as a ranking factor, so cramming it full of keywords like marketers used to has very little effect. However what can have a positive impact on your rankings is how many people click on your listing, as opposed to anyone else’s. If a considerably higher percentage of people click on your listing in the search results, then this can lead to:
- More traffic, as more people are clicking on your listing
- Higher rankings, as Google rewards your engagement level
So while the text itself doesn’t directly impact your results, getting as many people to click your listing as possible can.
The obvious question, therefore, is how to craft a winning META description…
How to Create a META Description
A META description should do two things. Firstly, it should include your target keyword phrase at least once. The reason for this is that Google will bold this text in your listing, which can help attract attention to it.
Secondly, your META description should be like an “advert” for your article, coaxing as many people as possible to click your listing rather than any other. So put some thought into how this might be achieved. Here are two of the best models to consider:
Big Promises – Firstly, consider what anyone searching for such a phrase is actually looking for. Then, make the strongest promise possible about how your article solves this need for searchers.
Cliffhangers – A second option is to use intrigue, and make your listing so interesting that someone just has to click it to find out more.
How to Change Your META Description in WordPress
Setting the META description on your WordPress site is simple itself if you’ve installed the Yoast plugin. Simply scroll down to the SEO section of any post, and locate the “snippet” area. From here, simply click on it, and enter your chosen description.
Yoast is particularly helpful in that it keeps tabs on the length of your description.
As you type, you’ll find that that color underneath the box changes, from red to amber, to green. And, if you go too far, back to red.
Your goal is to craft a suitably tempting META description that is long enough to land in the “green”.
So far, we’ve really only discussed the basic technical elements.
But Google is smart enough these days that these elements alone aren’t enough; we also need to deliver on the promise in our title tag and META description when someone actually clicks through to our site.
We need to provide the very best information possible on the topic in hand.
Here are some elements to take into consideration…
Duplicate content can be a major issue on some sites.
I lose track of the number of sites I come across even to this day who think it’s fine to “borrow” content from another site and publish it on their own.
The issue here is that when Google sees two or more versions of the same articles, they generally only rank one of them.
It’s just as likely this won’t be yours.
For this reason, every article you publish on your site should be unique.
The easiest way to do this is to write them from scratch.
“Value” can be difficult to measure; it tends to be more of a “gut feeling” that you get.
The easiest way to think about value is to consider the search term you’re trying to target. Consider who might be searching for this, and what they’re hoping to find. Then try to address these questions and topics as deeply as possible.
As an example, let’s imagine that we wanted to target the keyword phrase “best electric lawn mower”…
- Here we might want to introduce a number of lawnmower brands.
- We might want to discuss the various features that buyers should be looking for.
- We might want to include five or ten actual mowers, with a breakdown of each one.
- We might want to cite third-party independent reviews on them, talk about warranties and so on.
That right there is a valuable article if each topic is covered in turn, and in-depth. This is in contrast to many people who might try to throw out 300 words offering no real “value” and call it done.
The more extensive, detailed and unique your article is (that is, the better it answers the searcher’s intent) the more likely you are to rank.
While not every article you publish necessarily has to be written to address carefully-chosen keyword phrases when you want to get visitors from the search engines it pays to take these phrases into account.
Peppering your keyword phrase into the article a few times, and including related phrases, can maximize your chances of ranking.
Thanks to tools such as Google Chrome and the Android mobile operating system, Google knows ever more about visitor metrics.
Let’s say, for example, that you manage to rank #1 for a keyword phrase, but that in actual fact your article is pretty bad.
There are spelling mistakes. The formatting is off. And the quality is low. Maybe you slammed it with links, and by pure luck you landed in the top spot.
If your content is poor, visitor metrics mean you might not necessarily stay there.
When visitors click back to the search results within moments or don’t bother scrolling down and reading much of your article, this can be seen as a “red flag” to Google. Content that engages visitors tends to rank better, all other things being equal.
Once again we’re back to the subject of “searcher intent”, aiming to create content that not only fully addresses any questions that visitors may have, but also presents this in a manner that maximizes readability.
This means large, clear fonts. The use of images, tables, charts, subheads, and more. It means doing whatever you can to truly make your article the best possible piece of content on a certain topic.
Address these issues in your content and you’ll be well on your way to ranking highly in Google – especially if you have invested the necessary time to do your keyword research.
Onsite Optimization: Secondary Priorities
The above elements are the most critical of all.
When you’re writing an article with a view to ranking highly in the search engines it pays to carefully consider your content, headlines and subheads, title tag, and META description.
However, there are other elements that can have an impact…
These “secondary priorities” are largely worthless without addressing the issues above, and the impact tends to be far smaller.
In many cases, therefore, you might not want to worry about them – your time may be better-spent producing more content and applying the basics.
However, if you’re ranking on the first page of Google for a phrase and fancy a little “boost” to push you up a few places, then here are some factors to consider…
Table of Contents
A table of contents does two things.
Firstly, it offers usability benefits; not only can visitors see what topics are coming up, but they can also quickly scan down to the relevant section that is of interest to them, without having to scroll through the bits they already know.
The second benefit of including a table of contents is that this can get picked up and indexed by Google. Some of the links from your table of contents may then be included in your search engine listing for that piece of content, helping you to stand out from the crowd.
Fortunately, including a table of contents is simplicity itself.
Indeed, there are a number of WordPress plugins that will insert these automatically for you.
You simply decide on the formatting (color scheme, location in your article, etc.), and the table of contents is automatically added. My personal favorite as covered in the recommended plugins section of the course is Table of Content Plus (TOC+).
Many website owners blankly refuse to link out to other websites from their content.
As far as they’re concerned, they’ve worked hard to attract that visitor to their site, and there’s no way they’re going to risk losing them by linking out to other sites.
While I understand the concern, it is important to appreciate the concept of “visitor metrics”, as discussed previously.
For example, it might be perfectly natural for us to want to cite statistics or research, then link out to this in support of our arguments.
Perhaps you might want to link out to a handy tool, or a related and beneficial article that another site has produced.
All of these can add to our content, and also make for a better visitor experience.
This is why I happily link out in each section of this course.
Linking out to other websites (“outbound links”) therefore shouldn’t be seen as a “bad” thing.
Quite the reverse; so long as you’re linking out in a logical manner, and only to add to the quality of your article, then linking out can actually be highly beneficial. Think of user metrics, and feel free to link out when it makes sense.
If you’re concerned about visitors leaving your site and never coming back then outbound links can be opened in a new browser tab. In this way, visitors can click out on the articles you reference, but your article also remains live on their computer.
Doing this is simplicity itself in WordPress. All you need to do is is edit the link in question and select the “Open link in a new tab” option.
Alternatively (or additionally) rather than including outbound links within the body of your article, you could include a list of “references” at the very end. In this way, you’ll not only be positively linking out but also maximizing the time that visitors spend on your page.
Just as you should feel free to link out to other reputable and relevant sources, so too should you consider linking between the various articles on your site itself. Not only can these “internal links” have a positive impact on user metrics but they can also improve your search engine rankings.
There’s something else too.
When you create a new article on your site don’t just think about which of your other articles you may want to link to.
Also think which of your already published articles could link to this new one.
If you have a particularly popular article that is doing well in the search engines and could naturally link to your new article, consider updating it to include the link. Sometimes a small handful of internal links like this from indexed posts to your new article can have a surprisingly positive impact.
The only real downside with internal links is that when your site starts to grow it can be difficult to remember exactly which posts you’d like to reference.
Luckily, WordPress has a trick up its sleeve. Simply highlight the text you’d like to turn into a link, then enter a relevant keyword phrase in the “Search” box.
WordPress will then list the relevant articles already on your site, making it easy to add internal links.
Research has indicated that the words in your URL can have a small impact on your search engine rankings.
If we were writing an article targeting “festive door decorations” then an ideal URL would be:
Note how we have included our exact phrase, with hyphens between each word to help differentiate between the words. This is much stronger than a URL that contains a whole string of text or doesn’t include our keyword phrase at all.
Setting your URL structure in WordPress (also known as a “permalink”) is simple. Firstly, make sure you’ve set up WordPress as described in a previous section.
The permalink structure that we set up ensures that the URL by default will match your article headline.
All the same, this is sometimes too long and unwieldy, but there is a solution…
Imagine we gave our festive door decorations article the headline of “Festive Door Decorations: 25 Unique Christmas Decor Ideas to Try This Year”. That sounds like a great headline, but the risk is that WordPress will then generate a long and untargeted URL such as:
Fortunately, modifying this is quite simple. Simply navigate to your article in the WordPress editor and locate the “Edit” button next to the URL structure.
Here you can change the URL easily to remove unnecessary words and keep it focused. In our case we could chop off everything after “festive-door-decorations” for brevity.
Pro Tip: Changing URLs after an article has been published can be risky. The reasons are simple enough; firstly, you’ll need to wait for Google to find the new URL and index it, which can have a short-term impact on your search engine traffic.
Secondly, any links that you’ve built to the old URL will no longer work; so you won’t benefit from them.
While it is possible to change URLs using 301 redirects, for new authority site builders I would avoid such an action.
Each image that you add to an article can feature a so-called “ALT” tag.
In this case, ALT stands for “alternative”. If your image doesn’t show up for some reason (for example you accidentally deleted it, or a visitor has set their browser up to not load them) then a description of the image can be shown instead.
Unsurprisingly, including targeted keywords in these ALT tags can also have a small, but positive impact on your rankings. And once again, thanks to the wonders of WordPress, this is simple to achieve…
All you need to do is click on any image that you’re including in your article and ensure that it has a relevant keyword-rich description.
Pro Tip: It’s tempting to use ALT tags for “keyword stuffing”. If you wanted to rank for “labrador pictures” and had a page with 100 different photos then you might be tempted to give each and every one the ALT tag of “labrador pictures”.
For obvious reasons not only is this quite spammy, but it’s a bad idea in terms of the visitor experience. Instead, try to make your ALT tags helpful and natural, with your target keyword phrase being just one element.
Here, then, we might have ALT tags such as “A labrador puppy sitting on a red couch” and “Two chocolate labradors playing in the park”. They’re relevant, but they’re also high quality.
WordPress Onpage SEO Summary
I’m well aware that we’ve covered a lot of ground in this section of the course.
Before we take a step-by-step walkthrough of all the steps to optimizing your content for the search engines let’s quickly summarize the points so far.
Here are the key areas to focus on, in which you should aim to include relevant keyword phrases:
- Article headline (h1)
- Article subheads (h2-h6)
- Article title
- META description
- Body content
Secondarily, consider the use of:
- ALT tags
- Internal & outbound links
- URL string / permalink
It is entirely possible to “over-optimize” a web page these days.
Anything which looks too artificial to Google can set off red flags.
Including the same identical keyword phrase in every single element can actually be harmful.
It’s a case of everything in moderation.
Instead of just including the exact keyword phrase everywhere, therefore, it is wise to sometimes use synonyms or parts of the target phrase.
If our target phrase was “how to fix a toilet” we might also use related phrases in our optimization process such as “how to repair a toilet” or “repairing a toilet” and so on. In the same manner, don’t fall for the “old-fashioned” way of optimizing content by simply repeating your target keyword phrase over and over again throughout the content. Mix things up and keep everything looking as natural as possible.
In short, the key is to keep your optimization closely targeted, without repeating the same identical phrase over and again.
WordPress Onpage SEO Step-by-Step Walkthrough
It’s all well and good just reading about on-page SEO, but putting this theory and all the various points covered into action is quite a different matter.
So let’s try and resolve that.
Let’s build a new page together right now, and optimize it as we go.
In this way, you’ll be able to see how everything fits together into one neat bundle.
One quick point before we get started, though.
The exact order we do things in isn’t overly important. Feel free to create your title tag nice and early and leave your URL structure till the end. Or the other way around. Do what works for you.
Personally, I like to approach the matter of onsite SEO in what I personally see as a very logical manner, starting at the top of the WordPress editor and working my way down.
However, if you want to do things in a different order this is fine too. The most important thing is that you’ve seen the whole process – from beginning to end – in one single exercise.
Ready? Then let’s get started…
Write an Article Based on a Target Keyword Phrase
First and foremost we’ll write a fantastic piece of content following the guidance given in the content creation section of the course.
This article will be designed to include our target keyword phrase within the article body a few times, also being sure to include synonymous phrases.
The article will also have a catchy title containing our keyword phrase, and either the main keyword phrase or a synonym will be included in one or two subheads.
We will have carefully considered searcher intent, and done everything possible to meet this need.
We have sourced relevant images and found outbound links to add (ass appropriate).
We’re confident that our article is easily one of the best possible answers to the target keyword phrase.
Add the Article to WordPress
Next, the article is added to WordPress as described in the content creation section of the course. We paste in our article headline and the article body.
We also add relevant tags and select an appropriate category.
Lastly, we select a Featured Image.
Once our article is uploaded to WordPress we can work to make our content as visually appealing as it is well-written. Here are some elements to consider…
Carefully highlight the various subheads used in your article and specify a relevant headline tag. For main headlines, we’ll use an H2 tag, with smaller-sized headline tags used for nested headings.
Text Formatting: Bolds, Italics & Underlines
Next, we add bolds, italics, and other formatting elements to make the content as readable as possible. Here we can also add bullet points, horizontal rules, blockquote, and more. Take your time, and work through to make your article as clearly presented as possible.
Let’s ensure that both our internal and external links are working properly. This is easy with the “link” icon at the top of WordPress, where we can also specify whether we want these links to open in a new window or not.
All the relevant images we have chosen for our article can be added simply by clicking on the “Add Media” button and uploading them to our site.
Table of Contents
If you have opted to use a table of contents (only recommended in longer-form content like hero articles) then be sure to paste the shortcode in so that the table appears.
Edit the Permalink
With our article formatted, we can now double-check what permalink/URL WordPress has generated for us.
Ensure this contains our target keyword phrase, and if necessary “prune” it to keep the URL short and focused.
Add Our Target Keyword Phrase
Lets now scroll down to the bottom of the WordPress post page and consider the Yoast SEO settings.
We can start by adding our focus keyword phrase to the relevant box. This will help us in the future to remember the intended focus of our article.
Create an Optimized Title Tag
Here we can create a keyword-focused title tag for our article that will appear in the search engine rankings.
Add a META Description
Next, create an appealing META description that includes our target keyword phrase and attracts clicks.
By now our article should be properly optimized. Let’s just click the “Preview” button and take a look at our finished work to ensure all is as it should be.
When you’re happy, click the “Publish” button and the article will live on your site.
Track and Tweak
The above steps should give you an excellent chance of ranking for your target keyword phrase. That said, once you start to promote your website through SEO it makes sense to actually track your results.
Watching your rankings improve can be a highly motivating experience, as you get to see the very real impacts of your work.
At the same time, tracking your rankings can be useful to see what types of links and on-page optimization are having the greatest effect on your site. Simply make a change, then watch to see how your rankings react.
Over time, by following this simple action:result methodology you’ll become ever more attuned to how Google responds and what it really takes to rank.
There are dozens of different rank tracking tools on the market, but for the average blogger or affiliate marketer they can be both very expensive and offer all sorts of features, you’ll never use.
Better, in my opinion, is to select a far simpler, yet more cost-effective, tool. My own rank tracker of preference is SerpBook.
This tool does everything I need for most projects, yet costs less than you might imagine, keeping an eye not only on my daily rankings but also providing information on how my rankings have moved today, this week and this month.
I can even observe my rankings in charts going back for months, permitting the pleasure of watching many of my blog posts gently inching up the rankings.
And that’s it. Your article should now be well optimized for the search engines. Assuming you’ve done your keyword research correctly, your article should be in the best possible position to rank highly. All we need to worry about now is how you’ll build links to your article to give it the “final push” necessary. Coming Up Next…
Now that your on-page SEO is set up correctly, in the next section we’ll discuss arguably the most complex element of the whole course: how to build links that get results.
In my 25,000 word guide, you’re going to learn all the tips, tricks, and techniques to rapidly increase your backlinks and – as a result – your search engine traffic.