Backlinking, backlinking, backlinking - it seems to be the only part of SEO anyone ever talks about these days! Let's get our noses out of everybody else's sites and back into ours.
On-page optimization is often overlooked and neglected, but your on-page SEO builds the foundation for all of your off-page optimization efforts. We're going to cover some of the basics here: domain names and title tags, but we're also going to get to topics less discussed when dealing with on-page optimization. I'm talking about things like stemming, your outbound links, your use of synonyms and more. Let's get to it!
Your domain name has a powerful effect on how you rank. Having an EMD (exact match domain) for your keyword is going to do a lot for your ranking. However, this is not crucial to your ranking success. Many people, such as myself, choose to have a domain name that they can brand. It depends on what you're looking to do with your site. If you want to make a small niche site targeting a single keyword, then clearly you will want to get an EMD.
But what if the EMD is not available?
This is a very common problem for internet marketers. From a SEO standpoint, you want to choose an EMD with a non-.com extension first if available. If none are available, then tack another word onto the end of your domain name. You will still have your keyword in your domain and receive SEO benefits from this. For the record, it is better to start your domain with your keyword first. For example, it would be better to choose "dogtraineronline.com" rather than "mydogtrainer.com".
Another trick is making your domain name the plural or non-plural version of your keyword. Google now uses a process called "stemming" that understands plurality and "ing" endings on words among other things. If you add plurality to your domain name, you will rank almost as effectively as for the non-plural version. These same principles can be applied to your title tags, header tags, and meta tags.
Title and Header Tags
We're going to apply the same ideas to our title and header tags. You want to include your keyword, but you can't always just use your keyword. In this case we are going to do the same thing we did with our domain name. Put your keyword first then add more text. Also, with stemming in mind, you can use different tenses or plurality for your keyword. There is also another clever strategy you can use to rank for your keyword without even using it!
Ranking with Synonyms
People don't talk about this too often, but Google actually considers synonyms when choosing results for queries. What does this mean? It means that you can rank for the word "manual" with the word "instructions". Do a Google search right now, seriously right now! Pick a word (manual if you'd like) and put a ~ in-front of it. Example search: ~manual. Every bolded word in the results page is considered to be a synonym. This means that using these words more often is going to help you rank for your keyword as well. They are like super-related LSI keywords.
There are ways to optimize your text besides keyword density. Text formatting is using bold, italics, font-size, and word placement to improve the relevance of your page to your keyword. Making your keyword bold and/or increasing its font-size will add importance to it in the eyes of the Search Engines. Also, where you put your keyword has an effect as well. Placing your keyword in the first and last sentence of a body of text will improve the relevance of your page as well. With this in mind, here's how you can make a super-optimized blog-post or article:
1) Place your keyword in the title
2) Include your keyword in the first and last sentences
3) Bold your keyword both times
4) Wrap your keyword in the first and last sentences with h1 and h2 tags respectively
and here's the final tip for internal linking or backlinking
5) Use your keyword as anchor text AND bold it
This last trick gets ignored a lot. It's a great way to add even more influence to the importance of your keyword and get more out of your anchor text. These are the little steps that people who say on-page optimization doesn't really matter either forget or don't know about.
The biggest on-page optimization blunder of all is negligence of your link profile and how you link out. The links leading to your site aren't the only ones that affect how you rank!
How you link out to other sites affects how Google trusts and ranks your site. In the TrustRank white papers that included a patent adopted by Google, they mention how good sites link to other good sites. They also say that "good sites seldom link to bad ones". Use this knowledge to enhance your rankings. Link out to authoritative and trusted sites. If you have a ton of links leading to spammy sites it's going to hurt how your site ranks. You can't control who links to you, but you CAN control who you link to, so don't harm your rankings by linking to bad sites.
As an example of this principle in effect, check out Huffington Post's homepage. Their articles rank very well in the search results and they have a PR 8 homepage. If you scroll to the bottom of their site, you will see a massive amount of "dofollow" links all leading to other major, authoritative sites. It's no coincidence that they rank well in the SERPs (search engine results pages). This is a clear example of a site benefiting from linking out to other good sites and gaining trust from Google.
We have complete control over our on-page SEO, and this means our content and our links. We just talked about outbound links and that leaves us with only one other type of link.
Internal links are the links that lead from one page on our site to another. Now is a good time to state a quick fact about search engines and how they index the web. Search engines do not index websites, they index web pages. This means that a site doesn't have authority; rather a web page has authority. The reason all the pages rank well on an authoritative website is because of internal links.
When a large authority site makes a new page, what does that page have? It has a ton of powerful links from other authoritative pages already on the site. This all occurs because of internal linking. So what does it mean for us? It means we need to have a solid internal link-structure to take advantage of our own link juice.
There's no exact science to how you link your pages. Just having a consistent nav-bar is a start, but there is a lot more you can do. If you use Word Press, there are many different related posts plug-ins you can use that will automatically create links to other related posts for you. I recommend having more internal links than external links. A 1 to 3 ratio is a good reference for your outbound to internal links ratio.
There is a practice called PageRank sculpting that involves severely limiting the number of outbound links you have in order to keep more link juice internally. It sounds like a decent idea, but it fails in practice. PageRank moves more cyclically than recognized and a lot more will stay on your site naturally. Also, we just talked about how outbound links can help you rank - don't be afraid to link to other great sites.
I know that many of us have read through (and possibly purchased) countless guides on SEO and been over the same on-page optimization basics again and again. But that's the thing, they are just the basics! This is why everybody assumes that there's nothing more to it and it's deemed as less important than backlinking. Don't fall into the trap! Take care of your site, optimize the way you use your text, optimize the way you use links, prune it daily like a precious shrub.