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  • Writer's pictureBen Zimdahl

How does a Search Engine Optimiser improve Google website ranking with on-page SEO?

June 24, 2024


On-page SEO is a key to brand visibility, trust, and the customer journey online. An SEO, or Search Engine Specialist, can help with its groundwork and strategy to get your website pages in front of audiences organically. I've created search engine optimised content for over five years. More recently that meant publishing 150 plus articles for Google’s marketing insights website, and doing my part to optimise the domain.


Contemporary Content Writing ranks in the top five Google Search results for terms such as “content editor berlin” and “content writing berlin”. But when I worked with it regularly it ranked number one, so even for these lower-hanging-fruit keywords, I’d need to do some strong new SEO work to get back there. That’s because successful search engine ranking is an ongoing task. It has to keep up with changing consumer interests and search intent, information gain, competition, algorithm updates, and evolving search engines.


It's not just a list of technical aspects though. Take the magnifying glass away, and these are part of a bigger picture with more impactful details. Fact is, on-page SEO covers all manner of things on your domain allowing a search engine to recognise its pages as having the highest value for given search queries. And its ultimate goal is to provide people with the specific rich content that’s the most useful to them. Let’s break down how on-page SEO can do that — and how strategy is its driver. 


Table of contents:

Technical on-page SEO is essential but not ranking’s major success factor 


These three aspects will have more impact than any amount of technical SEO alone: 


  • Content quality and originality

  • Inbound link values

  • Website speed performance and UX

Inbound links, also called external links, or backlinks, are links to a site from other websites. They’re actually a part of off-page SEO. But inbound link values — how many, whether they come from other prominent sites, if they're authentically relevant to your content, how diverse they are — are directly connected to content quality. Valuable inbound links are primarily driven by on-page SEO: through high-quality, original, on-topic content. As that's what others find it most useful to link to. And when Google Search calculates a page’s content quality, one of the many things it does over time is assess the external links to that page.


Truly great user experience extends to content quality where it comes to delivering value efficiently to site visitors. 


On a growing pink arrow is written "content quality", in an expanding violet rectangle is written "inbound link values", and in a green circle is written "Site performance/UX"
Content quality determines inbound link values. Website performance regarding speed & UX is also a major ranking factor.

Still, aspects of technical on-page SEO are must-haves for each content creation. Here's a high-level overview of the major things that covers for me every time.


Helpful technical on-page SEO for people and search engines


1. Page title & headings: A “H1” format title and subsequent “H2” headings, a page's title and section headings, including the target keyword (KW) where this supports content quality. Ideally in the H1 and at least two H2s. These should ladder up to directly address the chosen “search intent” — what exactly people are intending to get from their search — while summarising it and the content at a scan. 


2. URL: A supporting URL including the target KW in its last component, called its “slug”, using hyphens to separate several words where applicable. Kept short and concise. For example: www.domain.com/blog/"topic-focus".


3. Meta title: A “meta title”, the search results link title, including the target KW, that entices the specific audience to click to read. Depending on a brand’s editorial strategy this may or may not be the same as the H1. But both should match intent, addressing the queries its audience are searching. Varying the meta title from a H1 helps include more KWs. Keeping it short enough for Google to display completely helps searchers see the reason to click. Meta titles up to around 60-70 characters can achieve this.


4. Target Keywords: Wherever natural within the content’s writing flow, use of the target/primary KW high up in the intro copy of the content, ideally in the first 100 words. This and other natural use in the article copy further identifies its importance to the search engine. 


5. Expert byline/author bio: A concise bio, or a ”byline”: a statement of who, what, where; such as name, position, company, of the article's author, and contributors such as editor and researcher. Ideally an industry thought leader, expert lead, or topic specialist with direct experience. For example: if the content is a marketing strategy case study, the CMO of the company featured. 


6. Keyword variations & secondary keywords: Variations of the primary/target KW where helpful, and related or “secondary keywords” directly covering aspects of the chosen content focus/primary KW. This supports a search engine’s correlation of the search intent being addressed and a page’s expertise and deliverability.


7. Internal links: At least two to five relevant links to other on-site pages with good use of text links, or “anchor texts”, using the KWs of each linked page if possible. Which helps search engines identify real topic coverage, and to find, crawl, and index your site pages into the search results. In the case of a higher priority page: the more links to this from other relevant pages on a site will mean more internal link values assigned to that priority content: signalling its importance to search engines.


8. Outbound external links: Helpful contextual links to off-site content and sources using anchor text, established content strategy permitting and without diminishing content quality. Which can also help search engines to further identify a page's topic.


9. Meta description: A true and effective “meta description”, the search result link description, positioning the content to clearly address the direct intent and information desire it responds to. More than ever, successful engagement is key to the healthy maturation of a page’s SEO performance. This is an opportunity to align with what searchers need help with, by outlining specifics that can increase quality organic click-through rates, and reduce bounce rate. Which ultimately also helps validate the deliverability of a page’s content to the search engine. 


10. Image descriptions & sizes: Enriched image file names and alt texts with as minimal helpful description as possible using the primary and secondary KWs where these naturally fit. Light JPEG files with consistent best-use-case sizes contribute to optimised site speed when loading.


Helpful technical on-page SEO for user experience (UX) and site health 


1. Page speed & mobile optimisation: Ensuring the domain remains completely optimised for mobile. Google uses a mobile-first index when ranking content, which means replicating good page performance on your site's mobile version. And its free speed performance tool helps analyse a page’s speed.


The biggest things to look into if the mobile version of a site is underperforming are often jumpy page elements, or “layout shifts”, and larger slow to pixelate creatives, or formatting that become a page’s “largest contentful paint”, and hold up the completed load of the page. But issues with the coding responsible for displaying a webpage can lead to overly complex “main thread work” too.

 

It’s also important to screen any inline images of a new content creation to ensure they and accompanying image captions are clear and readable, meaning big enough for smaller mobile or tablet screens. Mobile site performance is a huge UX point that affects engagement. 


2. Connected content: Embedding other relatable on-site content at the bottom of the page for readers to move to next. This can improve bounce rate, and raise the engagement of internet searchers who are finding value on your page. 


3. Indexed pages: Featuring a published content asset on your site as a bigger thumbnail “hero image” near or above the fold on your home page, or at the top of its blog or content library can leverage the prominence of a stronger page and H1 internal link connection. This can help search engines “index” a page, list it in search results, faster. Page indexing can be checked and manually requested in Google Search Console if necessary after troubleshooting. 


4. Site hygiene: Deleting and redirecting old content that can’t usefully be updated, low-quality, or badly performing content, multiple URLs for a site, duplicate content, or archived pages, can improve overall site health and performance. The same goes for overly similar content that may compete for a single KW and search intent, weakening each page's individual SEO signals: which is known as KW cannibalisation. Broken links should be redirected to other relevant pages. Which is also important when deleting pages, as performing content may still be linked to these. 


Strong SEO content marketing strategy that serves business value drives success


Even with great technical on-page SEO in place across your site, its main competition is going to have something near that level also. So at the end of the day it won't be the differentiator getting pages to top search rankings. With the essentials in place, its strong on-page SEO strategy that will allow you to meet search desire effectively with sustainably high ranking content. And to zero-in on business-qualitative traffic too.


For an organic online marketing ship to have a rudder that goes along with its sails, and all its bells and whistles, aligning content decisions with business value is everything. Just as with other day-to-day marketing operations. Choosing inconsequential or irrelevant topics and random content angles to create with is not going to be a big help. Unless all aspects of a site's business focus are covered with an encyclopaedia level content library and are being updated regularly: expanding off topic runs the risk of hurting the business’s SEO topic strength and trustworthiness.


Creating helpful, reliable, people first content is a necessity for search engine results page ranking. Successful SEO content strategy makes this its first priority. In the same sense, when creating content to be found by internet searchers, it's necessary to build with keywords that are within a site’s ranking grasp — and to build content that works towards strengthening this.


Fundamental practices for solid on-page SEO marketing strategy


Here's a high-level overview of the fundamental aspects on-page SEO content marketing strategy typically covers for me.


1. Organic content analysis: Ongoing review of the ranking and performance of existing content — together with email, ad copy, organic social, and other promo and channel performance.


Understanding which key topics, KWs, intent, article titles, copy, formats, structures, meta titles and descriptions are resonating with an existing target audience is great customer profile research that’s readily available. Performing topics and formats are ideal to leverage for further content with a high chance of being evergreen and valued. It can also inform internal link building strategy and highlight content fit for updating or further optimisation.


2. SEO landscape assessment: Assessing a domain's SEO topic strength, together with competitor strength surrounding the topic and keywords it is the goal to rank for. 


This informs attainable keyword ranges, in terms of search volume and difficulty, or competitiveness, for which it will be possible to rank for effectively: eventually in the top five. Which informs keyword strategy and choice. For example: faced with non ranking content on a topic and lower link values compared to ranking domains within a market’s online search space, plus high competition considering given KWs, a strategy leveraging less competitive but achievable KWs, or very descriptive intent-specific “long-tail keywords”, can be effective. For these it's still possible to rank well for, and that will contribute to the SEO strength needed on the topic going forward. 


3. Content library framework: All of a domain's content should ideally contribute to the SEO landscape strength a business holds around its focus products and services.


In an SEO content library these become its tier one topics and pages. Sub topics, audience interests, and pain points can then support the related content angles, formats, and KWs that stem outward from these. With internal link building, the content of a website can surround, support, and strengthen its main topics, by pointing back to priority pages. And high performing tier one and subtopic pages can pass on their earned link values to supporting pages. This helps bolster a website’s SEO landscape strength in a desired direction. Choosing keyword topics and ideas that contribute towards such a library framework unifies content investment towards business goals and increases topical SEO strength. 


A pyramid shows the content library framework with domain focus at its peak, content collection main topics below that, subtopics, interests and pain points next below that, and content angles and formats at its base.

4. Keyword research: Brainstorming and researching in-demand word combinations and content ideas relating to key topics and choosing appropriate KWs for the creation of useful organic content. And identifying gaps to create highly original content.


This approach suits top of funnel content best. For example: for broader interest content assets, industry-expert authored pieces, or interviews. But with a structured SEO marketing strategy it can be just as effective for more middle of funnel content such as educational or ‘how to’ articles, original research or thought leadership content, product guides, or event pages.


For bottom of funnel content like personal experience pieces, sales enablement works, service, landing, and testimonial pages, or case studies, for example, it's a good practice to bring in sales and product teams to brainstorm on specific pain points and customer feedback to focus KW research and choice around. This level of content is not likely to be as high a priority for organic ranking. Still, it's equally important to consider how these pages will support a domain's overall on-page SEO strategy and where they will fit within its framework of content.


5. Business value alignment: Considering the actual business value of target keywords and choosing those that can be supported by content in which your products and services can be effectively positioned.


It's a simple pointer for SEO strategy, but it's also an essential North Star. Quantitative search traffic doesn’t drive organic business revenue, qualitative traffic does. So choosing content topics and angles with this in mind helps prioritise KWs and keep SEO strategy on track to meet viable audiences.


A great way to go deeper on this for a site’s top end search content can be to prioritise KWs with higher commercial intent. Such KWs can be identified by analysing those including words addressing searchers ready to buy, such as: “pricing”, “trial”, “shipping”, or to take desired action: “schedule”, “download”, “get a quote”. Plus those looking into products, like: “review”, “affordable”, “best”, “top”, or for actionable information: “how to”, “strategies for”, “necessary”.


Cost per click is a helpful metric when choosing among high volume keywords for those that align best with business value. Google Ads’ Keyword Planner offers KW bid prices that show estimates of how much industry competitors are likely to pay per click when advertising on certain words — providing a strong signal for commercial intent.


6. Intent research: Considering how well pages accommodate the desired search gain relating to their KWs, which is termed: search intent. And understanding what the predominant search intent is among top ranking results for given KWs when creating new content.


If top Google Search results for a certain term support a specific gain such as: “how to … [KW]”, or “where to find [KW]”, “free [KW] tool”, “Best [KW] advice”, “What is [KW]”, “Book a [KW]”, “Buy [KW]”, that means Google Search has determined what the most useful and desired gain relating to that KW is. So competing against these results with content that serves another existing search intent that isn't ranking well will likely be futile, as the audience for that term are not as interested in that particular gain. At the same time, this is also an opportunity to identify a highly original intent that hasn't yet been sufficiently addressed, or where internal research or expertise can challenge existing intent and offer something entirely new.


If high priority top ranking pages — such as key drivers of customer acquisition or sales pipelines — have recently fallen from top positions, it could be that the whole predominantly ranking search intent of a KW has shifted. And new SEO work can realign an article's intent or accommodate an in demand aspect in a new way to rank effectively once again.


Beyond the search results, the content of each top ranking page can be assessed too. This offers a deeper understanding of intent in terms of what type of content proves to be the most preferred. It could be a blog post, video review, or landing page. Or what copy format features are most useful, such as listicles, pros and cons comparison, short copy mixed with pictorial explanation, or longer copy found in a guide. And similarly the dominant content angle, which is the unique selling point in content, can be analysed. Maybe it's the “easiest to use” products, “complete” guide, “five minute” explanation, “top ten” films, or “research backed” strategy, for example.


The most important thing here is constantly looking for opportunities to be original and strategic by identifying gaps to build in. Leveraging research, experimentation, experience, and expertise for innovation is what makes great sustainable content. And not: rehashing or combining existing successful content, which won't work out well in the long run — or have true value. Because this type of fast, copied content is just as easily replicated, improved, and outranked itself later on.


7. Content quality assurance: Ensuring content passes thorough editorial processes to become a highest-quality content asset that's useful to people and serves a specific desire. 


From an SEO perspective:


Highest quality ranking content is fresh, friendly, engaging and enjoyable, understandable and accurate, and delivers desired value gain. It covers a specific topic and search intent exclusively, and does so exhaustively: without leaving half of a query's focus unresolved. 


It also offers exceptional user experience, by formatting and structuring copy into its most accessible forms.


For example:


  • The information covered can be understood at a scan, thanks to many clear headings and focused sections.

  • Multifaceted aspects use lists to break down information into easily digestible parts.

  • Inline images provide simple additional clarification of concepts, or condense spanning information such as data.

  • The most desired value is given upfront and brought into focus throughout with clear sentences.


Even at the extent of content quality: great UX can be best defined as great accessibility. 


Content that falls short of this leads readers to search elsewhere for missing value. Or doesn’t necessarily provide anything new.


Bad content buries its actionable value with unnecessary and flat copy — making it a task for readers to get to. It addresses unrelated search intents and aspects, misses delivering its promised focus completely, is poorly formatted, poorly written, inaccurate, or made up of copy that just isn’t relatably useful to intended people. 


Enticing, great content increases engagement and decreases bounce rate, signalling to search engines that the intended sought after gain is being satisfied. Highest-quality content means other experts and domains linking to your content assets. It drives people to return to your site, trust your brand, to bookmark and share, keep you top of mind, to subscribe, and to convert to customers.


8. Freshness: Planning for evergreen and fresh content.


Newly, immensely relevant, and continuously relevant; or evergreen content, are SEO’s gold standards.


So discovering trending topics and sustainable evergreen ones is super useful. Google Trends is an excellent tool for solidifying a hunch on trending topics or checking a topics evergreen value against Google Search data. It's helpful to see top search terms in a market’s locations, look at comparative recent search interest on a KW, or check the evergreen quality of a KW by pulling up its relative search volume over a longer period of time:





Setting a plan in motion for content to be reviewed and maintained for SEO is a necessity. It guides content up the search rankings, combats content decay, keeps your brand presence relevant, and its content accurate. Keeping a record of all created content and when it should be reviewed for updating accordingly is useful: as particular content benefits from more frequent attention. Having a quarterly time slot in place can be a great way to round up underperforming content that can profit from a refresh and adjusted optimisation. Larger industry and market specific changes etc., should also trigger content updating where necessary throughout a content library. 


Including a new date time stamp for a page after updating is an important signal to search engines of a content's freshness for ranking. And changes need to be somewhat substantial.


Adding FAQs to articles and other pages is a one way to minimally refresh a large amount of older content at scale very quickly and effectively. Especially as a start-up point if this has never been a practice. Using generative AI to prompt for these together with new KW research can help cover new search desire and KWs to add on in one convenient extra section, for example. Removing outdated sections, including new research or stats, and updating links can also be a helpful starting point.



 


Content Marketing Manager/Editor Ben Zimdahl profile photo with a turquoise circle overlay

Article by

Ben is the content marketer owner of Contemporary Content Writing. Ben has eight years experience as a Content Marketing Manager, Editor, and Content Writer working within Berlin's startup landscape. Previously he worked as the Editor of Google's marketing editorial Think with Google for Central and Eastern Europe.




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