We all know that the answer to life, the universe, and everything is 42.
If you’re at all familiar with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy you’ll know that the true mystery isn’t the answer to life’s greatest question. It’s the question itself.
Knowing which questions to ask is critical to the process of getting everything right.
The same is true with SEO.
At 97th Floor we take this approach with our on-page content analysis. Knowing which questions to ask before you start optimizing a page is a foundation for success.
Why does on-page SEO matter?
If your business is like most, SEO is a priority.
“61% of marketers say improving SEO and growing their organic presence is their top inbound marketing priority,” according to HubSpot.
If you know only the basics about SEO, you understand that the two most important features to your success are 1) content and 2) links. Or in other words; on-page and off-page SEO
According to Moz in their most recent bi-annual SEO expert’s survey, it’s believed that page-level keyword & content-based features (AKA typical on-page SEO) is ranked 3rd on the list of important SEO factors out of a list of nine. The two preceding are domain-level links and page-level links respectively.
In other words, on-page SEO is believed to be the most important SEO factor behind backlinks. We agree with this precedent.
Between backlinks and on-page SEO, one of them has a quicker turnaround than the other. I’ll give you a hint. It ain't backlinks!
Knowing which on-page factors to attack—and how—is of utmost importance if you’re serious about leveling-up your keyword rankings, traffic, and conversions.
Before I go into specific on-page factors that are important to 97th Floor, let me give the disclaimer that I’ll be approaching this article as if we were doing a re-optimization. Or in other words, touching up an existing page to target a small set of keywords. The principles will carry over if you are creating a page from scratch.
One last thing. Because nothing is a “one size fits all” solution at 97th Floor, these optimizations apply most of the time. Circumstances often require SEO specialists to gather and execute on more data points than these ten.
In no particular order, let’s begin!
The <title> (title tag) might be the most concise way you can signal to Google what your article is about. It’s not always easy, but this is going to be a prime place to get a keyword in.
Maybe even more important than getting the keyword in, is the influence title tags have on click-through-rates. Virtually half of all Google searches aren’t getting clicks. Creating a compelling title tag will give our article an edge in this zero click world (also called no click).
We respect the pixel width limits Google has set for title tags, currently 600 pixels, which is about 50-60 characters. Within this limit we’ll craft a clickable title tag that incorporates a keyword and brand name.
But here’s the thing. Every SERP is different. And every SERP is going to require specific attention, research, and execution.
We once had a client who believed making their page bigger (and bigger) would help. By the time they engaged with 97th Floor they had a page that was almost 18,000 words. The average on the SERP was 2,000.
We cut the word count in half and jumped from page 2 to spot 2 in Google almost overnight.
You can see how “hard and fast” rules around more content automatically making your piece better is flawed.
We look at each SERP we are optimizing for and analyze the average word counts found there. We’ll also take into account any outliers. For example, if Wikipedia is in your SERP, it’s probably throwing the average up. Or if the entire SERP consists of 250-word e-commerce pages, and you are optimizing an article, you can stand go bigger than the rest of the SERP.
The last thing we want to do is create unnecessary competition between our client's landing pages. Internal linking helps alleviate this potential competition.
When you break it down, there are two components to internal linking when re-optimizing a page.
- Giving links to existing pages
- Creating new links to your target page from existing pages
Before we touch up an existing article we’ll run some basic analysis on the site to see if there’s any internal competition from any of our target keywords. If we discover that pages could possibly compete with each other, and thus create a net loss in ranking, we’ll request an internal link from those pages with contextual anchor text directing to our focus page.
In the case that we discover that our optimized page could possibly be conflicting with an existing optimized page, we will deliver a contextual internal link to that page with a keyword variation in the anchor text.
Internal linking has a compounding effect when done correctly. If you optimize an entire corpus of documents with proper internal linking procedure, the long term effects are better rankings, and a stronger user experience.
Primary keyword usage
Here it is, the big one. Without your primary keyword, you’ll be up the creek on your optimization planning.
When selecting a primary keyword we look at the keyword’s volume, difficulty, and the estimated cost per click. But perhaps even more important than any of these is going to be the relevance to the business. We ask ourself, “Could we see our target persona searching this keyword?”
Keyword density percentage is an outdated metric. In other words, we don’t believe that there’s a magic keyword ratio percentage we need to hit. However, we see value in examining the top 10 competitors to get an idea for the ballpark figures for keyword usage.
Again, we don’t fixate on a number, but it’s helpful to have a range in mind. For example, if the average keyword usage on a SERP is 8 per article, with the minimum usage being 3 and the maximum being used 16 our range might be 4-12. Sure it’s a wide range, but we’re not keyword stuffers. We’d prefer to work with a wider range and come off natural.
Secondary keyword usage
Most SEO pros stop with a single keyword, but not us. We’ll usually grab another handful of keywords to pepper in to a page.
We’ll do this by looking at the top competitors and throwing them into a tool like Ahrefs Organic keywords (via Site Explorer) report to see what other keywords they are ranking for. As we run this report with handful of SERP competitors we’ll pick up keywords that are constantly appearing here. We sift through the ones that make sense for the client’s page, and that have decent search metrics. This helps us populate a small list (usually 2-5) of secondary keywords to target in our reoptimizations.
You might be thinking, “Two to five additional keywords? I thought you said you aren’t keyword stuffers?”
Fair question, but when you think about how we came to this decision, we got here by looking at what’s already being executed well in the wild and consistent on multiple competitor web pages. If they are doing it naturally, why can’t we?
Low-hanging fruit keywords
Primary keywords, secondary keywords, and more keywords?
Yes, but we have a good reason.
Low-hanging fruit keywords are some of our favorite gems at 97th Floor. Low-hanging fruit keywords work exceptionally well for big brands or large pieces of content that have been left untouched for months or years.
If you sit on a powerful domain, or a particularly large piece of content, you’ll often see that you have inadvertently (or accidentally) ranked for some long-tailed keywords. It’s not uncommon in our analysis to find hundreds of these. Usually they are small in volume and sit between page 2 and 5 of Google, but the combined volume of these keywords is significant and deserves attention.
We’ll look at these hundreds of low volume keywords and run some scripts to answer questions like:
- What’s the volume?
- What’s the difficulty?
- How many times are we saying it on our page?
That last question is particularly insightful, because we will often uncover situations where we see a half a dozen (or more) keywords with moderate volume, that are also relevant to that page, but our client's page never mentions them in the copy.
If the page has never mentioned these words in the copy and rank on page 2 of Google for them, can you imagine what would happen if we put that in a few more times?
You see now why we call them low-hanging fruit keywords?
From there we make an action plan to include these keywords into our article in a natural way.
Usually 1-3 times will suffice. If they can’t fit into the article naturally, we’ll pass on them.
I remember in 2014 when Google launched featured snippets. It was an exciting time for SEO! It was like Google opened up a new playground for the kids, and we all ran foaming at the mouth.
Today featured snippets are still relevant, but their presence complicates things. While they certainly bring great brand notoriety, featured snippets do not necessarily drive more clicks at least not for the entire SERP. The result under a featured snippet (AKA #1 base rank) will usually get double the clicks of the featured snippet itself.
That’s not to say you don’t want a featured snippet for your brand. Because there is value in securing a featured snippet.
Another study suggests that a featured snippet can steal as much as 20% of the traffic from the entire SERP. So while the whole SERP is getting less clicks in the SERP, including the snippet itself, we still believe our clients should show up in a featured snippet.
There’s really not much to stealing a featured snippet. Like most things, it begins with a SERP analysis. We identify the current champion, and look at the following:
- Length of the featured snippet (word and character count)
- Subheaders near the featured snippet text
- Placement in the article where the featured snippet text is pulled from
- Keyword placement within (and surrounding areas) of the snippet
Usually one or more of these areas are under optimized on a competitor page. After all, most brands get featured snippets incidentally. So when we go after a featured snippet intentionally, we are often successful about stealing them.
In the cases where we don’t snag the featured snippet, almost always we at least notice an increase in the base rank of that SERP. We’ve seen this increase so many times that we treat featured snippet optimization as a ranking factor because of the strong correlation.
Increased base rank isn’t a bad consolation prize either. So whether we win the snippet or not, it almost always makes sense to optimize for it.
People also ask questions
Similar to featured snippets, people also ask questions are a hot topic around zero click searches. Many complain that these questions are stealing content (and clicks) away from sites.
Even still, wouldn’t it be nice to show up there? We think so.
If a target SERP shows a people also ask box, that’s a good place to get ideas for more questions to answer in the article we’re optimizing.
People also ask questions are especially helpful if we’re tasked with increasing the word count on a page. Now we have an endless list of subheaders ideas and questions to answer.
These also serve as a good place to pull ideas for an FAQ page.
Not every landing page or article will require structured data. But many times we’re able to find opportunities to deploy some mark-up around product, recipe, or blog pages.
While most structured data markup doesn’t often improve the base ranking of our target keyword, it can help our target article stand out in the SERPs, leading to higher click through rates, traffic, and conversions.
Three tools stand out when making structured data optimizations:
- Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper - for easily building deployable markup
- Structured Data Testing Tool - for diagnosing the build of structured data for URLs
- Rich result status reports in Google Search Console - ensuring each page that has structured data on your site is built and deployed correctly
One other thing we keep in mind with structured data is that our optimizations abide by Google’s most recent guidelines for structured data implementation. We’ve run into situations where clients come to us with poor rankings and we find out that they’ve accidentally incurred manual action penalties because of their structure data rollout.
An easy mistake, also easy to fix and avoid by checking Google's guidelines first.
These 10 tactics, have influenced thousands of client’s pages for the better through the years. As our methods and SERP analysis software develops, we’re able to scale and deploy the processes faster, and more effective.