If you’re looking to improve your website’s rankings in organic results, having well optimized website pages is an important first step. However, as any good inbound marketer will tell you, on-page SEO is only one piece of the overall puzzle.

Google changed the search engine market to be in their favor back in the ‘90s by evaluating websites beyond content and optimization. How? They started evaluating inbound links as a predictor of the quality of that website's content.

Since then, Google has been quite transparent that they plan to keep their place as a top search engine by continuously innovating and improving their ranking algorithm. That is why Google now looks at over 200 different ranking factors to determine a page’s proper placement in their search engine results.

That means as marketers, we really need to think beyond typical on-page SEO to improve search rankings. In fact, the three key elements that help improve a website’s rankings are on-page SEO, inbound links and authority, and user experience metrics.

Let's dive in and discuss how you can optimize these key elements on your own site.  

Optimize with On-page SEO and Keywords

On-page SEO refers to the optimization of the structure and content of your website pages. It's all about using keywords and content to explain a topic that searchers enjoy reading. However, it's also a way to let search engines know the purpose of the page and what it's about. 

This technique includes optimization of content by adding keywords to a few places that create a good user experience for the reader, which also happens to make it an easy-to-crawl page for a search engine.

On-page SEO was the first major component that the initial search engines would look at to determine the purpose and rank of a page. For this very reason, on-page SEO may still hold a lot of klout in the eyes of inbound marketers. Heck, even Matt Cutts, the face of Google’s search algorithm, said that content is how they are able to rank sites without any extra contextual information

With that, if you’re looking to get the on-page SEO element correct, here is what we recommend you do.

When optimizing on-page SEO, focus on the following areas.

  • Quality of the content. Yes, content is still king. However, content means nothing if it’s not easy to understand or if it's boring. Focus on making the best content you can around a specific topic/keyword phrase. That way, Google will feel comfortable showing your page at the top of a search result. Who knows, they may even be proud to show such great content. 

  • Content optimization for readers. Now that you've made a great piece of content, you may be wondering how can you spruce it up a bit to make sure it’s optimized for those who land there. There are a few things to consider. 

    • Link and/or cite sources properly. Often when creating a great piece of content, you'll find yourself referring to others in the industry. Not only will these links make your page a “hub” of content on your topic -- which is a signal of quality content -- it will also show both your reader and Google that your page is more than a bunch of musings you wrote in your basement at 2:00am. Thus when referring to information gathered from others, be sure to link to and cite sources of information correctly. However, just be sure to "keep the links on a given page to a reasonable number" as cited in Google's Webmaster Guidelines.

    • Introduce content in an easy-to-read format. Did you know many folks won’t read this very sentence. A 2013 study from Chartbeat indicated that most visitors scroll through 50-60% of content on a page. Meet your visitor in the middle by creating content that is easy to digest. To help, some great techniques include:

      • Bolding, italics or underlining

      • Breaking content up into chunks with subheads. (Pro tip: Font hierarchy helps a bunch with this.)

      • Using numbers and bullets.

      • Including pictures when appropriate.

  • Content optimization for search engines: Now that your content is set up for success, let’s focus on how to get Google to recognize your site. This depends on how well the structure of the content is optimized, so let’s talk about where to add those keywords to improve the architecture of the page. Some important areas to include keywords are the following:

    • Page Title (also known as Title Tag): This is often the title of the web page, as well as the title of the blog post, hence why it’s important that they contain keywords. Your page title is similar to a title of a magazine or newspaper article -- you often use the title to determine if you should continue reading or not. These are difficult yet critical to nail down correctly, so check out my favorite article from Moz to learn more.

    • Page URL: Make your page URLs consistent with your keywords. Otherwise it might get confusing to a search engine.

    • Page Headers: These are the subheads we referenced above when talking about improving the formatting of your content. These are usually comprised of larger font, so they stand out when people are scanning, making them an important part of consistency.

    • Content: This must include keywords around the topic of the article. Otherwise, it’s not only inconsistent and confusing, but it can also be seen as devious from a searcher and search engine point of view. If your content covers a specific topic and covers it well, it will naturally include your keywords as well as synonyms and other words that might be relevant to the topic.

    • Meta Description: The meta description isn’t visible on the individual web page, but it is visible on the search engine result page. This short bit of text is what people see before clicking on a search result and can be what entices them to click through to your content. 

Phew, there is quite a bit of information up above! Once you’ve created great content that is optimized for the web, you can dive into the Page Performance tool in HubSpot (found under Reports) and select the green, yellow, or red-colored icons to see if there is any room for improvement.

Increase Inbound links and PageRank

Next element to consider is PageRank. 

PageRank? Yes, PageRank. It’s no secret that Google differentiated themselves by creating an algorithm that went above and beyond what normal search engines were doing to help them return better results. What they had to help them accomplish this goal was the concept of PageRank. PageRage looked beyond mere keyword occurrence on a page by considering other factors that determine a quality webpage -- like authority.

In fact, PageRank focused on determining the quality of a website by looking at the amount and the quality of links a website page was receiving. The theory was the more important a webpage, the more high quality links it would receive from other websites.

External site signals, like inbound links, are important because they’re also difficult to earn in a natural sense. Think of inbound links like introductions. Would you feel comfortable making an introduction to this new website to your readers? If the answer is yes, that says quite a bit about the quality of the other site. And in the eyes of search engines, that means that site is more authoritative.

Be careful though. The most important thing to consider when receiving internal links is that they’re natural. That means they aren't purchased and you didn't get them by abusing guest blogging practices.

Here are a few important things to consider when receiving links back to your website.

  • Content. Does this look familiar? Again, content is king. The best content is content that is relevant to the person looking for it. That means it speaks their language and comprehensively covers a topic. If you can do this, not only will people read what you’ve wrote, but they will be more inclined to share it so others can benefit from the information provided.

  • Attract inbound links: Quality content that is comprehensive and well thought-out usually is more likely to attract inbound links. Take a moment to think about the content that you frequently link to within your own blog posts. Then, take a look to see where you’re attracting the highest quality links, and use this to brainstorm ideas and methods to generate more links. HubSpot customers can use the Links tool to see their best links.

  • Make it easy to share: While it’s been said that social signals do not directly correlate to improved ranking, they do provide an opportunity for more people to view the content and potentially link to it on their own. Think about how you search for quality content. Are you more inclined to trust content that is shared by industry leaders? Most likely you are, as that is a great indicator of credibility. Plus, getting links on social sites helps your content get found and crawled sooner, meaning less time to wait before the potential linking opportunities arise.

Improve User Experience Metrics that Matter

As Google began to provide better results to it’s users, they were able to invest more in their search algorithm. Through this investment, they began to incorporate new metrics such as a user’s experience and website engagement into their ranking algorithm. 

It makes sense. If Google sends you to a web page, they want to make sure you have a good experience on that page. They are after all a business too, and thus they want to delight their users. Think about it from the search engine's point of view: they didn’t create the webpage themselves, but they are endorsing it. They need to ensure that users have a good experience on that page to keep people coming back to Google.

As we discuss the different metrics that search engines look at it, it's important to know that we don't actually know how much they use these metrics in their algorithms, or which ones have the most weight. However, it's important to know that search engines do use them so we are aware and proactive. 

To get started, consider improving these user metrics on your own site:

  • Page load time: Google is shooting for the entire world wide web to load in under two seconds. Thus, if your website takes longer than that, you may be forfeiting some quality rankings. Here is a great resource on how you can monitor and speed up your website’s load time. If you’re a HubSpot customer, the on-page SEO portion of the Page Performance tool will indicate whether your page takes too long to load or not. 

  • Bounce rate: This is a number that represents how often a person visits a page and leaves the website afterward, instead of viewing more pages. Generally, if content is “too good to pass up” people will continue on the site and see what else it has to offer. That’s why more pages generally means more quality content.

  • Time on page: Did a person visit your for less than one second, or did they stay a couple minutes to read the content? The length of time somebody spends on a page is a great metric that search engines look at to determine if your page was the right result for that query, and also if the content is quality.

  • Page views per visit:  Quality websites usually have people viewing more than one page per visit. You can increase this by making sure your content links to relevant content when appropriate. Also use relevant calls-to-action that will not only get people to view more content, but potentially convert them into a lead as well. If you’re on the Enterprise product with HubSpot, set up an Event for different links within your content to see which links stand out most to people. That might give you insight as to your next piece of content to create.

  • How far did a person scroll down the page: There was a time when people were told to put the most important information above the fold. Actually, it might have even been said to put everything above the fold. However, that simply isn’t the case anymore. Continue to add valuable content from top to bottom. 

Before we close, it’s important to reiterate that as long as you satisfy the number one goal of creating quality content that people can easily digest and enjoy, your content will naturally satisfy a search engine's ranking algorithms, helping your content to organically rise to the top.

Looking for more information? Check out the following articles:

How are you going to improve your search rankings? Tell us in the comments

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Originally published Jul 24, 2014 9:00:00 AM, updated December 05 2017