Learn SEO: How to Do Onpage Search Engine Optimization

Is onpage optimization necessary?

In all honesty it is only one small part of the search engine ranking equation. Optimizing your website as your sole tactic will not help you to get to the number one spot on Google (for anything competitive at least).

The good news is that it will help. Think of it as a solid foundation to build on. Would you want the foundation of your house to be made of cotton balls or cement?

Here’s your chance to tell search engine spiders what your page is about. Use keyword research and onpage optimization to create a solid foundation and use it alongside excellent (and relevant) content creation.

Ranking Factors

SEOmoz compiled a list of ranking factors that were rated by a panel of 72 SEO experts. According to the survey the top 10 most important onpage (keyword specific) ranking factors are:

  • Keyword Use Anywhere in the Title Tag
  • Keyword Use as the First Word(s) of the Title Tag
  • Keyword Use in the Root Domain Name (e.g. keyword.com)
  • Keyword Use Anywhere in the H1 Headline Tag
  • Keyword Use in Internal Link Anchor Text on the Page
  • Keyword Use in External Link Anchor Text on the Page
  • Keyword Use as the First Word(s) in the H1 Tag
  • Keyword Use in the First 50-100 Words in HTML on the Page
  • Keyword Use in the Subdomain Name (e.g. keyword.seomoz.org)
  • Keyword Use in the Page Name URL (e.g. seomoz.org/folder/keyword.html)

There are no set rules for achieving high search engine rankings. The search engines keep their algorithms secret in order to avoid manipulation.

One thing is for certain: If you review any site that is performing well in the search engine results pages (i.e. Google), you will notice that they have most likely completed the following bare minimum onpage tactics listed below.

Please note: There are more onpage tactics that can be used if you have the time. I’ve included links at the bottom of this article that reference other sites that go further into detail. Quite often I run into clients who don’t have huge budgets. So doing every single little thing to optimize the site (all at once, at least) is not always the most efficient use of time. I do, however, always recommend at least covering these basics.

Keyword Research

Before the optimization of a site can begin, you need to start with some keyword research. The purpose of doing keyword research is to discover which keywords people are using on the search engines.

In short, you need to attract the right visitors to your website. In order to do so, you need to know what words people are using on Google to find your product or service (for all stages of the buying cycle).

Keyword research can be quite intensive. For some more detailed information on how to do keyword research, here are a few posts to check out:

  • Free Keyword Research Tools: The Ultimate Guide
  • Keyword Research Can Help You Make Money from Your Blog
  • How to Research Keywords
  • Hint: If you’re pressed for time and cannot afford to do at least 20 plus hours of proper keyword research, try out Google’s free keyword tool. Using only one keyword source is not the most scientific way to do research, but it’s honestly better than guessing.

    Choose Terms & Phrases

    When your keyword research is complete, the next step is to choose two or three keyword phrases for each page on your website. This includes related keywords and modifiers (e.g Christmas gifts for men, Christmas gift ideas for men, gifts for men for Christmas, etc).

    I recommend using an Excel doc to keep track of what keyword phrases you have selected for each page (in order to avoid duplication). To understand what I mean, check out this article from Search Engine Journal: How to Use Excel to Plan Meta Tags, Titles and URLS for SEO.

    For very basic onpage optimization (and arguably all you need), the selected term or phrase (with variations) is then included in the:

    • Title tag
    • Body content
    • URL

    Title Tag

    This explains what the page is about. When Google displays a page in the search engine rankings, this is the title the searcher will see above the page description (which is the meta description in most cases).

    It should be limited to 65 characters or less so it is displayed properly on the search results page. Be sure to include your most important keyword phrase you have selected for that particular page. If possible use it at the beginning of the title.

    The following are some results for the Google search “Christmas gifts for men”. Notice how all of the following page one results have “Christmas gifts for men” in their page title. Also, note how Google highlights the keywords I used to search with.

    Body Content

    Creating a page that is relevant to the searcher’s query (a.k.a. what someone Googles) is important to ranking well in the search engines. After all, the reason search engines exist is so that people can find information. The search engines prefer to do their job well. Make sure your information is worthy of being found and displayed.

    I’ve mentioned this before, but there is no magical combination of keywords you can use on a page to make it more findable in the search engine results. If you want to keep it super simple, forget about percentages and formulas and do the following:

    • Make sure your content matches the keyword phrase(s) you’re targeting for each page and then write naturally. If you do your keyword research correctly, this shouldn’t be tough to do.
    • Use a variation of your chosen keyword phrase(s) in the main H1 tag at the top of the page.

    URL Writing

    Having the primary keyword in a URL can also help a page’s ranking. This doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be the name of your website. Example: www.christmasgiftsformen.com.

    Anywhere in the URL works (and is generally more practical). Example: www.FashionableMale.com/christmas-gifts-for-men.

    One important thing to remember if you ever change your existing URLs: Make sure you do a permanent 301 redirect from the old URL to the new URL. If this sounds completely confusing and out of your element, you will need a web developer to help you out with this one.

    For more info on 301 redirects you can check out Google Webmaster Central.


    The search engines display meta descriptions on their results pages, so the description needs to be compelling and informative.

    The meta description is a short blurb inviting customers to find the answers they seek on your website. When writing the meta description, remember what the motivation for the click might be.

    It can work to your advantage to use keyword variations in the meta description because the search terms used will be shown in bold. This can make a big difference in clicks and visibility because it stands out to the scanning eye.

    The maximum number of characters for display (including spaces) is 160 characters.

    Meta Keywords

    At one point in time, meta keywords held some value with all of the search engines. Do not focus too much time on meta keyword selection as this data is only of minor importance when it comes to ranking.

    In fact, I wouldn’t even bother with them if you’re looking to save some time.

    Covering the basics for site optimization doesn't need to be overly complicated, but it does require educating yourself on how to do it. If all of this seems like a lot to deal with, don't worry. There are plenty of online marketers around who are more than willing to help you with your site!


    Here are some other SEO peeps who have offered their views on onpage optimization:

    1. Perfecting Keyword Targeting & On-Page Optimization
    2. On-page SEO – The Google Way
    3. On Page SEO Basics


    Stephanie Woods is an internet marketer living in Kelowna, BC. You can find her at her new internet marketing blog . She has also been known to frequent Twitter if you’re into that sort of thing.

    Posted in SEO

    About the Author: Stephanie Woods

    Stephanie Woods is a Search Specialist at Blast Radius in Vancouver, BC.

    Steph Woods SEO

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