By Mihaela Lica

On-page SEO – The Google Way

By Mihaela Lica

On-page SEO cartoon.We have discussed on many occasions the fact that Google does care for SEO and that optimized sites rank better in its search results. If you are still in doubt, there is one undeniable and indisputable proof: Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide (*.pdf), which comes directly from Google with 22 pages of advice for the DIY SEOs and newbies.

Today, we’ll highlight the three most important on-page SEO techniques described in this guide – all well-known aspects by experienced SEOs, but important information for those less familiar with what we call “white hat SEO” (SEO techniques that are approved and recommended by the search engines).

Create unique, accurate page titles

The page title is probably the most important on-page SEO aspect – often ignored by many webmasters. Ideally you should have a unique title for each page on your site, as pages with identical titles tend to be treated as “duplicates” by Google (the search engine will only display one of the pages in its results, indexing the duplicates as “supplemental results.”)

A properly optimized page title as recommended by Google.

The best practices for page title tags are common sense: choose a title that communicates the content of the page and avoid using titles like “untitled” or titles that have nothing to do with the content. Last, but not least: avoid stuffing keywords in your title tags, and avoid ALL CAPS titles.

Another important aspect: if the title is too long (usually more than 60 characters), is that Google will only show a snippet in the search results.

Make use of the “description” meta tag

This is the second most important on-page SEO element (when it comes to what is getting indexed by the search engines). Google might use this as a snipped for your page in the search results – as sometimes Google may choose to use a snippet from your page’s visible text if it matches better the user’s query. Alternatively, if your site is listed in the Open Directory Project, Google might use the description provided there. If you want to prevent Google and other search engines from displaying ODP data, you should add the following meta tag to your pages: <meta name=”robots” content=”NOODP”> (this will only prevent search engines that support meta tags from displaying ODP data).

A meta description example by Google.

Meta descriptions should summarize accurately the page’s content, and you should avoid writing descriptions that are unrelated to the content of the page. You should also avoid using descriptions like “this is a webpage”, too short descriptions and keyword-stuffed descriptions. Copying the entire content of the visible text of your page into the description meta tag is a undesired as well: descriptions should usually be less than 160 characters. As with page titles, meta descriptions should be unique for each page of the site too. Using the same meta descriptions “site-wide” or for a large number of pages could force Google to show only one page in the results, sending the rest in the supplemental results index.

Improve the structure of your URLs

Search engine friendly URLs are not a “must” – they are however recommended. Google suggests that these allow for better crawling, and that they appear “friendlier” for those who want to link to your content.

For example, URLs like in the image below can be confusing for the users who would have a hard time memorizing or creating a link to it.

Example of a unfriendly URL

Some users link to pages using the URL as the anchor text (example below) – if the URL contains relevant words, this will help the search engines and other users more than IDs or other oddly named parameters.

Linking example by Google.
So, an ideal URL uses words instead of numbers, session IDs, and etc. Lengthy URLs are not recommended either, and so are generic page names like “page1.html”. Keyword stuffing in the URLs is not allowed.

It is also very important to provide a single version of a URL to reach a document – to prevent users from linking to one URL, and others linking to a different version (thus splitting the reputation of the content between the URLs). Last but not least: do not mix www and non-www versions of URLs in your internal linking structure.

More SEO Techniques from Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide

This guide describes all major onsite techniques, including site navigation, content, onsite links and best practices for anchor texts, using heading tags appropriately (do not confuse with HTML tags or HTTP headers), image optimization, making use of robots.txt, how and when to use rel=”nofollow” attributes for links, how to promote your site the right way and so on. The guide is particularly important because it can save a lot of time, trouble and even money for those who are looking for the “right answers” when it comes to onsite SEO: there are no secret formulas, as you will see when reading the guide. In addition to the guide, I recommend that you use Google’s Website Optimizer to check your pages to see what on-page changes will produce the best conversion rates with visitors.

Although the guide doesn’t go in-depth describing how to write catchy page titles, and how to write content that sells, the tips provided by Google are what I like to call “timeless SEO” – rules that will never change. I once compared the job of an SEO to that of a book editor: SEO is editing a site, optimizing it, preparing it for the market.

Every site owner who cares about the content of his/her site, about the navigation and the site structure, about how the images harmonize with the text, and so on, does this type of SEO, although some prefer not to call it that. Regardless of terminology, there can be no better source for information about what a search engine wants from your pages than from the source itself. Using the simple techniques provided in these, combined with easy references like the one you are reading, can only lead to better indexing for your sites. It’s as simple as that! At least for the beginner, it is a great place to start.

On-page SEO cartoon courtesy SEOmoz; all other images courtesy Google (*.pdf SEO guide).

  • Your meta-description suggestion is a bit of a red herring – there are many indications that Google doesn’t use that tag for ranking, only for display purposes, so it’s more post-SEO realistically. Something as simple as the proper use of heading tags is *far* more effective, and strangely lacking from this article.

  • @Krues8dr:

    The descripition tag gives you *true* SEO, because it gives the human being who reads the Search Engine results an accurate description of the page’s content — meaning he will be more likely to engage with your site if he visits based on an accurate description. Using “heading tags” as you suggest will often give you superficial SEO, although those are still important. Besides, the Google SEO guide itself specifically lists the meta description tag as high in importance.

  • John Hoff – WpBlogHost

    Good article and tweeted. I couldn’t help but notice though that the url to this article has the date in it (i.e. numbers). Do you wish now that you had stuck with a text only url?

  • domain_name

    The domain name is one of the most important things for ranking in Google. You can have have a fully optimized site, with incoming links, but the Google will still rank a site with the keyword in the domain name higher even if it is not optimized.

  • It doesn’t matter what your descriptive text says in your Google listing if no one sees it. SEO is, quite literally, getting your ranking up on Google/Yahoo/etc – everything else is Marketing. Throwing around terms like “true SEO” only serve to confuse the matter, and don’t really help your readers any.

  • @John Hoff – no, the date (or numbers) in the URL is a must for sites that get indexed by Google News.

  • @krues8dr – the purpose of good SEO is to get your site seen by as many web users who do searches with Google as possible. This means that they will see the meta description or whatever snippet Google displays in the SERPs. Also, I have never used the term “true SEO” – I use “correct” if anything. SEO is not an exact science, you know. This article only serves to show our readers what Google recommends and expects.

  • PS: krues8dr, everything listed in this article is NOT my suggestion. You can read all these and much more in the Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide provided by Google (and linked at twice in the article)! As an experienced SEO I do however like to add that all the tips and advices covered in Google’s SEO starter are correct.

  • Sorry @Mihaela, I was responding to @Louistar who I was mistaking for you.

  • “Your meta-description suggestion is a bit of a red herring – there are many indications that Google doesn’t use that tag for ranking, only for display purposes, so it’s more post-SEO realistically. Something as simple as the proper use of heading tags is *far* more effective, and strangely lacking from this article.”

    I disagree with that. SEO means Search Engine OPTIMIZATION. The ‘description’ that google pulls from your page and displays under title’s in its search results has a BIG impact on click through rates. If you don’t set your meta description manually and let google pull it randomly from your content, there is a big chance they are going to pull something that doesn’t make any sense, and its going to have an impact on how many people see your page in search results and actually click to go to it. If your site’s pages don’t have high click through rates when google displays them in their results, they aren’t going to rank high very long.

    Good post.

  • Thank you very much…I never knew there was a starter kit!!!

  • Could someone here who’s a good SEO person give me some feedback on the design of my site? It’s http://www.plastikka.com


  • biswa

    Nice post for new SEO guy

  • @krues8dr – no harm done. :)

    @Brian Lawson – I think you should read the guide, try to implement the advice in the book and only after look for an SEO professional to help you with generating links for your site and promoting it for example.

    @RogueScripts – I am glad you enjoyed the post, Harrison. In my opinion all onsite SEO techniques play a role for ranking and conversions, even those considered “optional”

  • sitehatchery

    What I want to know is how Google crammed 22 pages, full of images, into 559KB (about 25KB per page)! Sweet. Seriously though, thanks for the resource.

  • Thank you very much…I use all this tips to my blog.

  • I think it is a little ironic that this page does not use all the techniques mentioned. Specifically the ‘description’ meta tag is a generic one liner for the site. (There are WordPress plug-ins that allow a different description for each post.)

  • @TenguTech – you are right, there are, my favorite is All in One SEO Pack. :) But this is not the point: not all SEO techniques are mandatory. Each site uses the techniques that work for it. This blog does not necessarily need a meta description, because it is indexed in Google News – and the news bots take a snippet from the text to match search queries.

  • I had started to learn by reading this Google starter Guide this was my first reading for the seo when i started SEO.
    I have not used the Google optimizer as i have read and heard a lot about it but i think its too lengthy and complicated method to check. It is more time consuming work to check first your website on Google Optimizer then make it live for the users.

  • I am launch my site 8 months before but i am not about on page seo are u help me and suggest best seo tips for my site. My site page 1 but no other keyword search in google

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