It’s easy to find articles on the Internet that claim to have all the answers about search engine optimization (SEO). Unfortunately, the bulk of these supposed SEO tips and tricks barely have any impact on the search engine results page (SERP) rankings at all. Just do a quick search for “SEO tips” and check out the top-ranking articles. They all say the same thing, and none offer any information about how business owners can get a jump on their competitors. If everyone is taking the same basic steps and copying the same content, why should anyone expect them to work?
This article won’t bother with the basic tips that you can discover with a simple Google query. Instead, it will focus on seven advanced on-page SEO techniques that really work. These seven techniques are all proven to generate thousands of unique visits and improve customer conversion rates without even requiring additional link building campaigns. They’re backed by two years of testing and observation and are perfect for consumer hobby niches, medium-competition queries, and any pages that need to be updated to keep up with Google’s ever-changing ranking algorithms. Warning: Always exercise extreme caution, as with great power comes even greater responsibility and if you don’t know what you are doing, please stop reading now! Ok, enough about what to expect, though. Let’s get started:
1. Never Lose Sight of Search Intent
In the context of SEO, search intent is about more than just anticipating what kind of content browsers will be looking for when they type in a query. Content creators also need to anticipate what Google’s search algorithms expect in response to different user queries. That means matching not just the topic or theme, but also the format.
Since Google’s algorithms are always changing, articles that performed well just a few years ago may be dropping in the rankings in 2020. That’s to be expected. Thankfully, there are some straightforward ways to solve this problem.
Rewrite The Content
If a specific page isn’t performing as well as it used to in the SERPs, the best way to fix the problem is to rewrite the content completely. It’s better to approach the same subject from a slightly different angle than it is to create completely new, unrelated content.
In some cases, a partial rewrite will do. This is especially true if the article was written before Google started prioritizing certain formats, such as numbered lists. In others, it may take less time and money to replace the content entirely.
Keep in mind that while Google encourages copycat content, it’s not very effective in terms of engaging with visitors and improving conversion rates. As tempting as it may be to just perform a search and rewrite the top-performing articles, there’s no way to one-up competitors just by copying them. Focus on creating a better match for search intent than the competitors instead of just rehashing the same tired content.
Take a Unique Approach
Since Google uses algorithms to determine what ranks where in the SERPs, the pages that perform best aren’t always those that offer the most useful content. Start out by writing content that’s optimized for users, not search algorithms. Don’t even consider the search intent when writing this original article. Interesting, high-value content doesn’t always rank well, but it does collect links.
Make sure the page offers important information or a unique value proposition. You’ll need to promote the content heavily through social media, affiliate sites, and internal links for around six months. Since high-value content is great at attracting attention from both casual browsers and other site owners operating in the same niche, you should have no problems with building links to the URL.
Once the article has plenty of backlinks, rewrite it specifically with search intent in mind. The resulting page will perform better in search engines and it will already have a solid network of backlinks built up. Although the backlinks weren’t technically acquired for the content now on the page, they’ll hold up to scrutiny. Repeat this process around once a year and use the old content for tiered link building or as a guest post on another site. It will help site owners keep up with Google’s constant algorithm changes and maintain an edge over their competitors.
2. Don’t Be Scared to Stuff Exact Keywords
Keyword stuffing is a controversial issue among today’s SEO experts. Some believe that Google’s algorithms are too advanced to fall for exact keyword stuffing or that they’ll be able to recognize synonyms and will prioritize content that sounds less repetitive. After two years of experimentation with exact keywords, that belief has been proven wrong. Exact keyword density is still just as important as ever.
Want proof? The easiest way to see this tip in action is to take a poorly performing page on an existing site and rewrite it. Don’t make any substantive changes, though. Instead, just find ways to incorporate the exact keyword naturally in the content with increased frequency. It may take a few weeks to see the results, but they’ll always be the same: pages treated using this method consistently rank higher on Google and other search engines.
What’s the Magic Number?
There is no magic number for exact keyword density. Some content writers go for between one and two percent, while others find ways to incorporate the keyword even more frequently. The general rule is to write the article without taking keyword density into account, then add another three to five instances of it throughout the text wherever they make sense.
Don’t try to get smart with variations, as this can affect SERP performance. Do make sure that the keywords fit naturally into the content, though. A good content writer versed in SEO best practices should be able to incorporate multiple instances of the same keyword in ways that don’t sound forced or unnatural.
Fit It In Where It Matters Most
Just shoving the same exact keyword into the first paragraph of the article five times isn’t going to get site owners very far. Instead, they should scatter it throughout the article, focusing most on the feature snippets. More about those later, though. For now, just try to find ways to incorporate exact keywords into the content as often as possible without drawing attention to them or making it look like the article exists only as an excuse to engage in keyword stuffing.
This technique works best for content that is already listed on the first page of search results but just can’t quite seem to compete with the top contenders. It can still be used to boost rankings for lower-performing pages, but don’t expect any miracles. Chances are, it will take more than just adding a few exact keywords to the content to boost it from page three to page one.
It’s fine To Incorporate Variations
While exact keywords perform the best when it comes to improving SERP rankings, you may still need to use variations here and there to keep the content sounding natural. Feel free to use a thesaurus, but don’t make the language too complex. You need to keep it simple enough that readers will know what you’re talking about.
3. Compete For Featured Snippets
Competing for featured snippets requires a different approach to content creation. Google doesn’t generally choose the top-ranking organic link for featured snippets. Instead, it crawls the top five or six pages looking for relevant content that is short enough to fit in a short blurb. Links don’t matter, and the overall relevance of the page doesn’t matter. All that matters is whether Google’s algorithm can find a blurb that seems like it provides a concise answer to users’ questions.
What Are featured Snippets?
Featured snippets are the blurbs featured at the top of Google’s organic results, right below the ads. Their purpose is to provide a quick answer to users’ questions. Some consumers refer to them as “answer boxes.”
When feature snippets were first introduced, Google just picked random pieces of text from promising pages. Now, three to four years later, the search engine’s algorithm has become slightly more refined. It crawls for text blocks following H2 tags with clean HTML that contain the query’s exact keyword.
Types Of Featured Snippets?
There are three main types of feature snippets: paragraphs, lists, and tables. The snippets can contain images, but including an image won’t improve the chances of being featured in the answer box. Whether you use paragraphs, lists, or tables, make sure to place them beneath an H2 or an H3 heading. Google hasn’t refined the algorithm for featured snippets very effectively yet, but it does seem to prioritize texts found beneath subheadings.
How To Optimize For Feature Snippets?
Your page doesn’t have to rank #1 in organic search results to increase its chances of being featured in an answer box. This allows less competitive sites that haven’t been perfectly optimized to gain a competitive edge, but only if they optimize their content with featured snippets in mind. Here’s what to do:
- Use subheadings.
- Go crazy on keywords.
- Include words like “how,” “what,” and “why.”
- Include dedicated feature snippet text blocks at the top and bottom of the article.
- Clean up the HTML.
- Consider using the Gutenberg WordPress editor instead of Elementor.
- If using Elementor, create custom sections and call them up with shortcode so it doesn’t affect the featured snippet text area.
- Consider rotating featured snippets based on rankings for different queries.
Right now, featured snippets are like the early days of SEO: it’s the Wild Wild West out there. Google’s algorithms for answer boxes don’t prioritize user-friendliness, so some high-ranking sites consist primarily of multiple feature snippet text blocks. It looks awkward, but it works. Currently, that is. Expect this to change over time as Google refines its algorithms, and try to balance feature snippet optimization with positive user experience.
4. Freshen Up Old Content
This tip is simple: keep old content fresh by updating it each time the page’s ranking drops. You don’t even have to add any substantive content. Even changing one punctuation mark can often restore a falling page to its higher ranking, but adding extra content or performing more substantial edits is admittedly more effective. It’s all a matter of how much time you have to devote to content creation or how much money you can afford to pay someone else to handle it for you.
When To Update Content
There’s no clean system for determining how often to update content and how extensively to rewrite it. There are, however, two clear indications that it’s time to revisit aging articles:
- Unsuccessful attempts at improving rankings for competitive queries.
- Deteriorating traffic over time.
The best way to tell if these problems are coming up is to keep an eye on the Google Analytics dashboard. You can perform partial rewrites or add sections depending on what’s losing steam in the rankings. This is often enough to get your mojo back without having to create completely new content.
How To Rewrite Old Content
If you didn’t get the rankings you wanted for a competitive query the first time, revisit the article with the tips discussed above in mind. The standards for content creation are always rising, so do some research before sitting down to write a new article or rewrite an existing one.
First, take a look at the top five best-performing articles. Write down the headings they use, figure out what keyword density to aim for, and consider how they addressed search intent. Next, check the “people also ask” section in the search query and write down the questions. You should try to answer them in the new content. For maximum results, ask the question directly in a subheading, then start the text block that follows it with a direct word-for-word response.
Use the information obtained through research to inform the new article. If you just added new content instead of completely rewriting the article, edit the “published on” date to say “updated on” instead and add the new publication date. This encourages Google to crawl the page as new content and provides a temporary boost in rankings and traffic, which is perfect for new promotions. You’ll usually see the results within 24 hours.
Rewrite Or Start From Scratch?
While a solid rewrite of an older article can offer just as much of a boost in the SERPs, it often makes more sense to scrap the old content and write something new. It usually takes just as long to rewrite an existing article as it does to create a new one, and writing a new article for the page lets you repurpose the old one for less important on-page content elsewhere, or even as a guest post on another site for link building purposes. In terms of results, it’s strictly a matter of personal preference.
5. Follow The basic Rule Of Internal Links
Internal links are just as important as backlinks, and they’re much easier to control. There are right ways and wrong ways to do internal link building, though. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
In Content Links Take Priority
For SEO purposes, in-content links matter more than navigational links. Easy navigation is important for other reasons in that it improves the user-friendliness of the site, but Google’s algorithms don’t take this into account. That doesn’t mean you should ignore navigational links, but it does mean they’re not enough to improve SERP rankings.
There’s Such A Thing As Too Many Internal Links
The fewer internal links a page has, the more click-throughs each of them will get. Think of it like pouring water into a system of linked containers. One gallon of water will go much further to fill each of the containers if there are three of them instead of five. The same goes for SERP improvements from link building.
You Can’t Cheat with Nofollow Attributes
It used to be the case that site creators could include many internal links and just assign some of them nofollow attributes. Google patched this, though, so don’t try it. If anything, it will push your rankings further down. You can still nofollow the page index, though.
There’s a Difference Between Anchor Text and Page Links
The anchor text provides relevance, while the page links help to improve rankings. It’s that simple. You don’t need to use the URL, or even the target page’s title tag, as the anchor text, as long as the anchor is relevant. It’s more important that the anchor text fits naturally into the content.
How to Identify Promising Pages for Internal Links
It’s important to keep internal links relevant, so site creators need to make informed decisions about where to put them. WordPress has a free plugin that can help, but it’s not all that accurate. The best way to figure out where to place internal links is to google “site name: keyword for the link” and use the search results to inform placement. Google will tell you which pages are most relevant for the keyword being linked.
Pages with lots of external backlinks should be prioritized for internal link building. Just keep in mind that the links that really matter now won’t necessarily matter in a few years. Go back periodically and reformat the internal links to remove anything unnecessary. Removing unused affiliate links, internal links for unreasonably competitive keywords, and broken links will help to consolidate any improvements to page ranking where they matter most: active, important pages.
6. Choose the Right Title Tags
Title tags have more SEO potential than most people realize. Any doubt that existed in the SEO community about this fact was thoroughly dispelled during the anti-trust hearings when Google admitted that it uses click-through-rates (CTR) as a ranking factor. Your title tags need to offer enough information and attract enough attention that users will click on them.
If you haven’t optimized your title tags at all, start with the basics. The most important thing is to incorporate the most relevant keyword in the title tag. That’s some very basic stuff, though. If you want to take things to the next level, you’ll need to do better.
Start by using compound versions of multiple keywords instead of targeting just one keyword. If you sell pens, for example, don’t just use a title tag like “How to Choose Pens.” Instead, rephrase it to say something like “How to Choose the Best Pens in 2020” to add the compound keyword “best pens” and keep it relevant. You may even want to get more specific, with something like “Find the Best Pens for Business Professionals in 2020.”
Wondering why we’ve dropped “How to Choose” from the equation? The answer is simple: you want to use compound keywords, but you don’t want the title tag to exceed 60 characters. That’s about the maximum limit for avoiding title tag truncation in search results.
Want to take CTR and title tag SEO optimization to the next level? Try these more advanced tricks for attracting more attention from casual browsers:
- Add numbers
- Include bracketed items
- Use CAPS to highlight particular words or phrases
- Consider incorporating emojis for informal content, but use them judiciously
How to Track Results
Finding the right title tags can take some trial and error, so track the results of all changes carefully. You can do this in a few ways. First, you can use the Google search console. Second, you can track CTR using Google Analytics. Finally, you can filter results for modified phrases to try to get inspiration for future changes. Keep track of changes in Google Analytics by adding notes with target URLs and what was altered.
A Word About AB Testing
Some SEO experts swear by tools like ABRankings. While these kinds of analytic tools play an important role in other areas of digital marketing, they’re actually not that helpful for title tag optimization. You can’t AB test for Google.
7. Don’t Fall Prey to Common Misconceptions
We’ve already gone over the most important elements of optimizing your on-page content. As a bonus, though, let’s take a look at a few misconceptions that abound in the SEO world, largely due to the fact that Google encourages copycat content, so it’s easy for misinformation to spread.
Title Tags Are a Form of Metadata
Title tags are not the same thing as meta tags. They’re just title tags. That doesn’t mean you don’t need to optimize them, but it’s still important to know the difference.
Image Alt Tags Count Toward Keyword Density
Ignore what the top-ranking Google articles have to say about this. Image alt text tags no longer make any kind of difference when it comes to SEO. They used to, but the algorithms have changed. Alt tags are still very important for optimizing content for the visually impaired (or other disabilities) visiting your site on a screen reader, though, so use this accessibility feature anyway, even if it won’t have a noticeable impact on keyword density, optimize your alt text accordingly for those using screen readers
Page Speed Is the Most Important Factor in SEO
Again, this misconception has spread like wildfire, but that doesn’t make it true. As long as the page loads fast enough, it’s fine. Load times only really matter if they’re exceptionally slow. There’s no need to aim for quarter-second load times. Most visitors to your site will use older devices with shoddy Internet connections, so they won’t notice the difference, and Google certainly doesn’t prioritize lightning-fast page speeds. Examples of sites that improve their rankings with faster page speeds typically ignore other essential changes the site owners have made that would better explain the higher rankings.
It Doesn’t Matter Where You Put Your Keywords
Some SEO experts swear by incorporating keywords only into the middle of their articles, while others insist that they should be included in the first paragraph. Most of the time, this really doesn’t matter. As long as they’re incorporated naturally into the content, you should be fine. The exception is H1 and H2 tags. Make sure to incorporate the primary keyword into the H1 tag, and use secondary keywords in H2 tags.
Google Prioritizes User Experience: Sadly, this is not the case. Google has made dramatic improvements to its ranking algorithms, but they’re still driven by AI assumptions, not browsers’ actual preferences. The best approach is to go for a balance of SEO and UX design that will offer excellent crawlability and improved SERP rankings without sacrificing high-value content for actual human visitors.
The Final Takeaway
Like all things in SEO and particularly On-page SEO, there are multiple factors that influence rankings and if any of the above items scare the crap out of you, reach out to our team and we can have a look at your website, structure, content etc and help identify areas that can be improved. After reading this, you should now have a slightly more competitive edge. Keep in mind that some of these changes will take a few weeks to show positive results, and others need to be performed like preventative maintenance. On-page SEO isn’t an exact science since Google has not released more than just cursory information about how its search algorithms work.
No matter how careful you are, there will still be some trial and error involved. Don’t get discouraged. Put in the work required to create truly exceptional, perfectly optimized content instead of trying to compete with others in the same field by just copying what already works for them, and you’ll see the results.