On-page optimization is the easiest, most learnable aspect of search engine optimization. But like all “easy” things, we sometimes forget that you can still do them wrong. Easy doesn’t always mean simple. Yet, many complex tasks can be made easy with a good process.
Below I’ve outlined a solid on-page optimization process that you can apply to any web page on your site. Working through this process checklist will make SEO easier but not necessarily simpler; you still have to do the dirty work.
Step 1: Choose the core term
All SEO starts with keyword research. Before starting the optimization process for a specific page, you should have already completed some basic keyword research for the entire site. In doing so, you should have mapped each core term to specific pages of your site.
With that information, you need to decide which page to optimize “next.” I like to prioritize each of my core terms based on a few factors:
- Relevance: Not every core term is as relevant as the next. Some might be slightly tangential but still can produce sales, while others are a bulls-eye. The bulls-eye gets higher priority than the others.
- Importance: Some core terms represent products or services that are more important than others. Start where the money is.
- Audience targeting: Core terms don’t always perform as well as they might appear. As much as is possible, determine how likely any core term will be at converting its audience.
- Search volume: How often a term is search is an important factor, but it’s not the only important factor. Be sure to only consider this in relation to the others.
Step 2: Ensure the core term and page are a good match
Once you have decided which core term you want to go after, take a closer look at the core term/page relationship. You want to ensure that both are an absolutely solid match for each other.
With some sites, certain pages and core terms might be interchangeable. For example the phrases “web marketing” and “internet marketing” could easily be a good fit for the same page. What you want to be sure is that each core term is the best possible fit for any given page. You can do this by analyzing the existing content, looking to see if one fits more naturally than the other. Don’t recreate the wheel if you don’t have to; find the best fit and move forward.
Step 3: Research core terms for additional highly-related phrases
Rarely is the first round of keyword research the only research there is to do. Each core term can produce a list of dozens, if not hundreds (or even thousands) of related phrases. Each of these phrases should contain each word in the core term, but may also include additional, related words, varying word orders and other relevant variations.
Not every phrase in this research will be a good one and you’ll have to spend some time sorting through what is viable and what isn’t. Ultimately, you want to select only a handful of phrases that can be worked into the content. Be careful here. If you don’t select phrases that are very tightly tied together, you’ll end up pushing your content into too many directions, diluting its focus.
Step 4: Integrate keywords into the page (aka optimize the content)
The most knowledgeable person should write the initial draft of content for each page, even if they don’t write well. Then it can be passed on to a copywriter (who has a solid grasp of SEO) to take the first shot at integrating the selected keywords into the page. This helps get the keywords worked in as naturally as possible.
But with any written document, the first draft is rarely the last. After the copywriter is finished, you want to analyze the page from a slightly more technical perspective, touching on several key points:
- Keyword usage: Ensure the content has a natural flow while maintaining a proper keyword balance.
- Headings: Use headings that are compelling and informative, not keyword laden.
- Title tag: Create a compelling, keyword rich title for the page. Don’t stuff them, but use proper sentence structure.
- Description tag: Build a meta description that is compelling to the searcher and reinforces the keyword relevance of the page.
- Voice: Use a consistent voice across the site. Optimized pages should not stray from the primary site voice.
- Active words: Use words that do more than inform. Compel the visitor to take action.
- Features & benefits: The content should not just focus on features, but the benefits that the reader will receive out of your product or service.
- Skimmable: Make the document easy to skim read while giving the reader access to key selling points and links as they do so.
- Calls to Action: Every optimized page should have some form of call to action. Work them both into the text as well as images.
- Text Usability: Review the words of the content from the customer’s standpoint. Make sure your text gives your visitor what they need to continue down the conversion path, fixing anything that might stop that process.
Step 5: Page usability review
This is a different review than the text usability review noted above. Here we’re looking at the page as a whole, not just the content. The goal is to ensure the entirety of the page contributes to the conversion process and is able to convey its purpose visually with images and formatting. Tweak the page as necessary to ensure it provides the reader with the best possible visual representation.
This is also a good opportunity to review the page for coding issues as well, ensuring there are no potential spidering issues caused from malformed HTML. Streamline the code as much as possible to facilitate faster download times, and ensure the most relevant information loads first.
Step 6: SEO review
It may seem odd having the SEO review be so far down the list, but it’s a good idea to have them review the page as close to the finished work as possible. This gives them an opportunity to review keyword usage, balance and implementation in all the key areas of the web page, including titles, headings, body content, alt tags and more.
The SEO is free to tweak whatever is needed to give the page the best chance of moving up in the search engine rankings. They must be careful, however, not to undo the efforts of all the reviews above above.
Step 7: Final approval
Before the page goes to the client for their review, it’s good practice to send it back to the copywriter to give the page a final glance to ensure that anything changed in the reviews above still allows the page to maintain it’s integrity. Ultimately, the page has a role to fulfill and this final review is designed to make sure it doesn’t fail at that.
Each process mentioned above can (and does) have a checklist of its own. Virtually all of the details for actual SEO work has been left out as the purpose here is to focus on the overall process of optimizing a page. I am a firm believer that the process is just as important as the work being done. While it’s the details that bring success, the process ensures that no details get overlooked. In this business, overlooking any detail can result in less-than-stellar performance.
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