On Page SEO Basics In 2021. Everything You Need To Know

Andi Wilkinson
Andi Wilkinson 16th February 2021

SEO is widely considered a dark art. You may know one or two things about it. If you do those one or two things are likely to be ‘keywords’ and ‘links’. 

So you know having some keywords in your website is essential, and you know backlinks are important. But did you know that unless you address the basics of on-page SEO, then it won’t really matter how many keywords you add or how many backlinks you get? 

You could be losing substantial traffic to competitors. So in this guide, I’m going to show you how to master the basics of on-page SEO. The best thing is, you will be able to do it, you don’t need any specialist knowledge. 

Why On-Page SEO is worth doing. 

  1. it’s free (well, it will cost you some time) 
  2. It’s straightforward to set up and implement – again. all it needs is your time. 
  3. It can have an almost instant effect on your website. Which, let me tell you, is really gratifying. 

I’ve never met a business owner that doesn’t want more high-quality traffic, including myself. Most of them know they should be doing something ‘SEO wise’ but just dismiss it and put it on the back burner. What if I told you that you could be on your way to better google rankings in only ten minutes a day? 

What is on-page SEO? 

It’s broken down into two main parts, 

  1. The user experience or UX – (The bit you see. The way it looks, feels and works) 
  2. The code (the bit you don’t see. The way it runs under the hood) 

Major search engines such as Google & Bing use a combination of this information to see if your website is worthy of ranking in a top spot for your keywords and phrases. 

Ok so maybe you can’t be bothered with all this & if that’s the case, then call us – really, it’s not that hard. read on and give it a go. 

All you need to do is follow some on-page SEO techniques, and you can: 

  • Drive higher quality RELEVANT traffic to your website
  • Boost the rankings of your page 
  • Build a solid foundation for SEO that will help linking strategies and PPC Campaigns. 

Why Is On-Page SEO So Important? 

its the first stop between your business and the search engine (the thing that people use to find someone like you) 

When you submit your site to google, it crawls your site, looking for relevant content to index. It looks for elements that tell it what your site is about and which users it should show it to. 

And the great thing is YOU are in control of it. Because it’s your website, you can decide on the content’s quality, what links where and how the code is structured. 

Now, when I say you have control, its true, you may not know HOW to do all of those things. You may not know how to edit your website’s code. You may not know WHAT keywords to link, and you may not know what is excellent versus average content. But what I mean here, dear reader, is you have agency over it. 

So before you go spending money on link building or PPC campaigns, it’s always good to get a thorough audit of your website and have any technical and on-page SEO issues rectified. Our team is experts in this, so if you don’t seem to be getting much traffic, why not let our experts take a look? Our audits don’t cost you a penny, and they are a good place to start, 

How On-Page SEO Improves Your Google Rankings 

Google is continually crawling websites. Ours gets crawled every day. Sites that don’t have content added often can be crawled less. That’s another topic, though. If you want to know more about that, read our post on How often does Google crawl a site

Google and other major search engines such as Bing, Yahoo, and so on are always trying to determine your page’s ‘quality’. It does that in the following ways. 

  1. Is your content useful for the users’ experience? This can be down to the speed of a page, how close the elements are together and generally how engaging it is. 
  2. Is your content giving value to the user? Is it clear, with headings, images, bulleted lists, and links to your content and external content? 

Merely going through your existing content, page by page, ensuring it has extra headers, links to other posts and pages, images, lists and so on can dramatically improve your website ranking. 

Another tip is the length of your paragraphs. We aren’t writing books here. So you may not think super short paragraphs look good, or even look right but trust me, search engines love them. Primarily because they are easier for users to scan and so they will spend longer on your page, which sends all the right signals back to google. 

A recent client of ours came to us with a website that wasn’t getting much traffic despite good domain age. There were ten years of blog posts, and the owner had clearly given some thought to SEO & followed some basic tips. 

Here’s the rub though, You might be doing the right things, but be just off the mark. In this case, our client knew that content was good, so they added a lot of it. They had 160 blog posts. The issue was that many of these blog posts added little to no value to the user. 

Like many diligent website owners, our client knew that blogging was good for SEO, but didn’t handle what topics to blog about or how many words to write. 

One of the first things we did was to remove half of his blog posts. Straight to the bin. We then combined several into longer ones and brought his total posts down to about a quarter. The immediate effect of this was a doubling of traffic over 28 days. 

Content may be king, but it’s also important to know what content and how you should present it, for Google to rank it with any importance. In this case study, so many pages had little value to a reader, the site just didn’t get much relevant traffic at all. 

Where you can, try and add good images, how-tos and videos if you can. Basically making your pages more valuable to users, can give you a sudden dramatic upturn in traffic. 

What does Google Look For In Your Content? 

When I have been working on client websites, the single best quick thing that makes a difference to google is fresh content. Google is hungry for it. A few changes to content and resubmission to google can often boost your position in the search engine results. – if you can rotate and tweak your content and submit it back to google regularly, keeping in mind the above tips, you will see an upturn in traffic. 

What about Off-Page SEO? 

We don’t downplay the importance of backlinks, & we are also PPC specialists, so we are all about driving high-quality traffic to your site through paid advertising, it works so much better if what users find when they get to your page is quality and useful. 

SEO DIY – A Handy List. 

We’ve gone over the basics of why. Let’s get down to an actionable list for your website. 

SEO Titles

If you can ‘always include your keyword at the start of your title tag. SO if your page is about Dog Grooming, then include that at the start of the title tag, not the end. Best to say ‘Dog Grooming In The Manchester Area’ than ‘Happy Yappy, The Manchester Experts In All Things Dog Grooming’. Relevance Yo! 

If you need some help choosing keywords, read our blog post on keyword research, but as a rule of thumb, your keyword needs to match some kind of intent on a users part. If you use an SEO plugin, they often allow you to type in a keyword. For heavens sakes, don’t just type in ‘dog’ and then think you have a perfectly optimised page when all the lights go green! 

Meta Description. 

Like your SEO Title, there is also your meta description, which should include the keyword in it too. Missing or poorly written meta descriptions are one of the most common things I stumble across. The meta description should contain a concise summary of what your page is about. People often add them, but just copy a random snippet of text from their page, which offers little value to the reader. Remember the purpose of a meta description is to encourage users to click. 

H1 Tags. 

Make sure your page title is in H1 Tags. Your website theme should take care of this. A simple audit can find this information out for you. Google looks for the information inside the h1 tags to see what your page is supposed to be about. 

Your URL. 

Not the most critical ranking factor but still a ranking factor, and it helps if that ‘dog grooming’ keyword is in the URL. You also want to make sure the URL is ‘pretty’ so not something like www.dogparlour.com/p123. that has no meaning. Instead, www.dogparlour.com/dog-grooming/ is more beneficial to the user. Keep it short too. Google doesn’t like unnecessary fluff. Longer URLs and chains of redirects take longer to crawl, and just don’t help you. 

Content Structure

This is about presenting your content in a way that is easy for someone to peruse. How often do you search for information to find an overly wordy page that bores you and you leave in seconds? 

some things you can do to engage users with your content include:

  • bullet points
  • images charts visuals. 
  • videos 
  • concise paragraphs 

Create an easy to read layout that is easy for your users to read and navigate. If your page is informational like this one, help users find the content as quickly as possible. this could include a table of contents, but most importantly, lots of white space, easy to read paragraphs, images and illustrations

Create Unique Content 

Ok. There are billions of pages of content on the web, and despite all this fluffy coach talk about USPs, chances are you aren’t the only one competing to rank for a topic. I mean unless you are trying to rank for ‘Contrafabulous Willywombles’. Go on, google it. Good, you found yourself back here. This brings me to another point. Don’t trust SEOs who guarantee top google spots for a few pounds or dollars a month. You might be on page one, but is anyone looking for Contrafabulous Willywombles? Probably not. 

The point is though, your copy should have your tone of voice and be unique. Please don’t just go and copy your competitors’ content. one it won’t rank, two, they will find you, and they will kill you. 

Use a plagiarism checker like Grammarly, to ensure your content is plagiarism-free. If you wrote it from scratch, it should be anyway. 

Write to your user. 

Search engines rank the level of your content from Tefal scientist down to a preschooler. You get the idea. Academic journals will have a higher reading difficulty than say, this post, which I am trying to make simple, whilst satisfying both the reader & the search engine. Hello, lots of words… 

WordPress Plugins like Yoast can offer a readability score. SEMRush offer one too. I’m using Grammarly to write this Grammarly also gives you a readability score. Aim to score as high as possible 

Include your keyword high up. 

Back to that dog grooming thing. include the keyword high up. – in the first paragraph is best. Like we read a search engine reads, from the top down despite being able to scan a website’s code in a microsecond, it is still better to include those relevant words as high up as possible. 

Use lots of h2 tags.

It’s common for web users to skip h2 tags and move all the way down to H3. Why? Because they look and think ‘that looks too big’. In fact, so many of the websites we work to improve, don’t even use headings. But all your main subheadings should be wrapped ib 2 tags. This creates a hierarchy of your page’s content and allows google to get a picture of what your content is about. So use h2 tags and make them meaningful too, using your primary and related keywords. 

LSI Keywords & Synonyms

What? that sounds scary. Actually not at all. It just means keywords that relate to your main topic. for example, This article from Rob Powell has some excellent examples

Rob explains: 

if your post is about ‘brushes’, then Google will look for specific contextual indicators. This is what’s known as LSI Keywords. 

If Google finds these words, it knows your page is about ‘hairbrushes’:

  • hairdryer
  • detangling
  • paddle brush
  • boar bristles
  • curly hair

But if Google finds these words, it knows that your page is about ‘Photoshop brushes’:

  • PSDs
  • gradients
  • digital art
  • cs5 brushes
  • custom brushes

On the other hand, if Google finds these words, it knows that your page is about ‘brushes for electrical motors’:

  • carbon brushes
  • rotating shaft
  • motors
  • generators
  • graphite

So that is the basis of LSI Keywords. But what about synonyms? These also send specific signals to google about the context of your page. For example, magimix and food processor. Vacuum cleaner & Dyson. 

Order Of Your Keywords 

The order of keywords is essential. If you are searching for Red Adidas Gazelles, people search for that in a variety of ways. It is useful to include variants of the keyword, with the highest search volume appearing first. 

  • Red Adidas Gazelles
  • Gazelles Adidas Red
  • Adidas Gazelles Red
  • Mens Adidas Red Gazelles

You get the idea… Word order CAN impact where you show on search, especially if the niche is competitive. Give it careful consideration, perhaps use google search console to analyse a page and see which terms have the most impressions. Put the highest one first. 

Linking

Internal Links

I see this overlooked often. An internal link is simply a link from one page on your site to another relevant page. This should be done in a natural, ‘organic’ way. Don’t spam your pages with links, but place several useful, informative links in your website to other areas of your site. Some WordPress themes helo with this by using categories and tags. Internal links do one of several things. 

  1. They help your users find other relevant pieces of content on your site. 
  2. They make it much easier for Google to crawl your website. 
  3. it can help pass link authority between pages 

Outbound Links

These are links to other sites. This is important but always consider the trustworthiness of the sites you link to. If you link to sites that are malicious, deindexed or blacklisted, this could harm your rankings too. 

Working links

Make sure all your links work. Get a website audit if necessary. that will tell you how many broken links exist in your website’s pages. Fix or remove them.

Image Alt Tags 

Most website owners have now heard of ‘alt tags’. This is a description added to your image to pass information to the search engine about what that image is. Search engine crawlers cannot yet ‘see’ your image. Through image recognition technology exists, this doesn’t yet form part of google’s ranking algorithm, so you need to give it an alt tag. 

Frankly, most website owners, even if they know about this, tend to be lazy with it. That’s good news for you. If you do it, you will be at an advantage over everyone that doesn’t

Some content management systems do this automatically. Rank Math can do this’. Whilst this will satisfy a web audit, it doesn’t do much for your SEO., your image might end up with an alt tag like IMG_0012652.jpg. This really doesn’t help a search engine. so give the image a more meaningful title like 

You can also include relevant page keywords in your website but don’t stuff them. 

Mobile-Friendly Website

Mobile traffic surpassed desktop in 2014. In 2015 it became a significant ranking factor, with penalties for sites that aren’t responsive. In 2018, mobile-first indexing was rolled out. that means if you didn’t have a mobile-friendly site, you would be downranked. 

It surprises me that even in 2021, there are thriving businesses with non-responsive sites. If you’ve stayed in business that long – it’s worth investing a few pounds into your web presence. 

Website Speed. 

Your website speed is everything. Rate is now part of google’s user experience ranking factor, rolled out in 2020. you can do a quick speed audit with google page speed insights, Pingdom or Gmetrix. Quite often, a few simple modifications can improve your website’s whole speed in a matter of minutes. 

HTTPS. 

Again, this has been rolled out with plenty of warning. Its been a thing since 2014. if you don’t have HTTPS on your site, enable it. Most hosts offer this free. Cheaper hosts might not, but it will only cost you around £20-£40 for the year if so. Speak to your web hosts or website developer. 

Time on site 

This can also be measured by bounce rate. A high bounce rate indicates people left your site rather quickly. When we browse the web, we search for a topic and hit a result that interests us. Most often one close to the top. If we don’t immediately find what we want we leave or interests you, you will stay. If everyone leaves, this sends a signal to search engines that our content isn’t that great. Conversely, if people stay and read, it is signalled as high-quality content, 

Whilst google says bounce rate isn’t a ranking factor, it does seem to have an impact. so work on making your content engaging. doesn’t

Length & Depth of content

This one isn’t good news, I’m afraid. Rattling off 200-word posts isn’t going to help you. Long-form content consistently outperforms short-form content. Our best-performing articles on this website are our longest. in fact, it’s fair to say that any posts under 1000 words rarely get any organic clicks. That doesn’t mean they have no value on our site (for example some case studies), but mostly your content is to draw in organic visitors in which case it needs to belong, 

the Depth of your content matters. Bullet points are always useful, and articles should contain concise info, but you also need to explain things thoroughly. 

Fresh Content. 

This is one of my favourites. Google absolutely feeds off fresh content. The act of regularly updating your posts and pages alone, and resubmitting them to search engines can give you the ‘fresh a content boost’. this isn’t long-lived, so the best strategy is to have a system where you are updating different content weekly

I have found this works even if I am only spending an hour a week doing it, I’ve seen as much as a third in uplift from this method, 

if your posts are old, don’t write new ones to refresh them, change the date and update the content. 

Spelling, Grammar & Accuracy 

Really there’s no excuse for bad writing, Tools out there like Grammarly not only check your spelling, grammar and correctness, they also look at other signals like delivery, clarity style and engagement. Grammarly even allows you to set writing goals, from casual and creative to formal and academic., Also including a plagiarism checker, it is worth paying for if you plan to write regularly. 

The five most important ranking factors. 

Not every ranking factor is equal, so if you have a bit of time to spend its best to do it on the ones that matter most. 

these are 

  • Site speed. No one likes a slow site, especially google
  • Mobile responsiveness. It’s not 2014, come on bruh. 
  • Keyword at the start of your title tag, – Make it a relevant one. 
  • Internal linking. A good network of posts linked together helps google crawl bots and your users. 
  • Content length. Longer posts for the win. 

Take care of this stuff sooner rather than later. Before you shell out loads of money on PPC campaigns or spend hours writing lengthy blog posts. 

Andi Wilkinsonmade By Factory Digital Marketing

Andi Wilkinson is Creative Director of Made By Factory. UX Designer & SEO Nerd, Andi is also a board member of Manchester Digital, and speaks and writes on a variety of web-related topics.

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