On-Page SEO - Optimizing Content for Search and Users
At the Dr.U Hair and Skin Clinic, we not only aspired create unique, informative and interesting content for readers, but also worked to optimize each piece according to the best practices of on-page/ on-site SEO through an in-depth standardized set of requirements developed by Dr.U.
My work in content development (i.e. articles written by me or other writers) was to apply these implementations within the context of natural sounding language, while ensuring high readability standards and easy-to-understand comprehension.
What is On-Page SEO
On-page SEO (also referred to on-site SEO) involves implementing measures within the content of a website which act as signals to help search engines understand:
what the page is about
how to match a particular content piece with the search queries of users.
where to consider a content page for ranking purposes, within the context of a particular search phrase (i.e. how well does it match a searcher's intent and what they are looking for)
When ranking and indexing, search engines make efforts to associate web pages with keywords and search terms. On-page SEO helps them understand which keyword phrases the page is optimized for. In other words, when done correctly, it speaks their language, so to speak.
Why Does On-Page SEO Matter?
By understanding what your content is about and whether or not it is relevant for a search query, Google makes determinations that affect a website's visibility in search results and their incoming organic traffic.
Algorithms are in place to understand what answers users are looking for when they type their queries and which search results meet their intent.
The SEO title is the exact version for the title of a content page which is displayed on search engine results pages. It is recognized as an HTML tag at the head section of each web page.
Since it is featured in search listings, I made sure that the SEO titles for my content (as well as those written by writers) were informative, clear and compelling to motivate users to choose the particular article piece. Generally speaking, it was to include:
a brief summary of the subject matter
the focus keyword phrase (exact or broad match), usually front-loaded at the beginning
local SEO (i.e. names of cities)
The meta description provides further detail about what the content is about. According to Reliablesoft.net, it represents "your opportunity to advertise your page and convince users to click your link instead of one of the other links."
In this vein, the metadescriptions written for the Dr.U clinic each provide a succinct, but well-written summary description written for the interests of human searchers, also including broad or exact match inclusions of the focus keyword phrase.
Header Tags (H1-H6)
Header tags provide a better and more seamless user reading experience, helping users skim and find the sections that matter most for their questions. This is an important, but often overlooked detail when it comes to writing for the web versus print.
According to actual studies on reading behavior, website readers tend to skim vertically down, searching for the answers they want. When it comes to printed content, like books and magazines, readers take more time to process both meaning and language nuances, in a more horizontal fashion.
Again, with clear well-written headers in place, users understand the hierarchy of the information presented. And they know where to find the information they want.
When the reading experience is smooth and easy to navigate, they will spend more time reading through your content (i.e. higher time-on-site, and lower bounce rate metrics) Without headers, they may feel frustrated at the sight of solid blocks of text and click off the page to read through another search result to find the information they need.
For the purpose of "speaking the language" of search engines, header tags also provide a keyword-rich context, which pertain to the content.
Image optimization provides information to search engines about what the images and videos are about.
The meta-data we implement for images include:
image title attribute
All these areas are written to help human users and search engines have a better understanding of what the images are about.
Does image meta-data still matter with today's advances in machine learning? Google uses its Cloud Vision API, a machine learning application used for image identification. It can tell that an uploaded image shows a cat, for example.
However, Google still relies on text meta-data to understand what the image is about. According to their official guidelines, they use alt text, along with " computer vision algorithms and the contents of the page to understand the subject matter of the image."
Google gives the recommendation that "when choosing alt text, focus on creating useful, information rich content that uses keywords appropriately and is in context of the content of the page."
Internal links (links from one page to another on your site) help to distribute authority throughout its pages. Without them, the homepage is more likely to receive visibility over the other pages on the site.
Reliable Soft likens the use of internal links to "building your own web." The first thing that a search engine spider will do once they discover a page is to follow the links on that page. If there are no links, and just the content itself, it will just read the page and leave.
Internal links help search engines become aware of the other pages on your site, and which of these are the most important.
They also help to increase the time spent on your site by users.
At the Dr.U Clinic, we use the language of contextual anchor text linking (i.e. understanding user intent and provide more contextual information about important terms, concepts etc.) connecting page articles an blog posts to other authoritative cornerstone articles on relevant subject matter within the site.
We also add links to articles and content within the site through a standard section at the bottom of each content piece, entitled, Further Reading.
External links affect a site's rankings. A marketing firm called Reboot conducted a study which revealed a positive correlation between a page's outgoing links and its search engine rankings. They hypothesized that Google uses the information inferred by external links to determine the authority of a page or website based on what authority sources it associates itself with. In other words, Google has a better idea of what niche(s) a site affiliates itself with.
In their experiment, they developed 10 brand new websites, each targeting the same keyword. 5 linked out to "very high authority" sources. To test for just the variable of external links, each site had similar (non-duplicate) content and tag structure.
After 5 months, results showed that the 5 sites with outbound links outperformed the rankings of the sites with no external links.
Reboot concluded that "outgoing relevant links to authoritative sites are considered in the algorithms and do have a positive impact on rankings."
At the Dr.U Clinic, we use outbound links to academic research publications, written by Dr.U and other researchers. We also link outwardly to well-respected media and online destinations such as Web MD, Wikipedia, New York Times, The Guardian, Cosmopolitan, Wired, People and The Atlantic.
Frequently Asked Questions Section
At the bottom of every content page on the site, we provide an FAQ section, providing readers with helpful answers to supplement their learning experience.
I make it a point to step into the shoes of the average reader and determine:
what else they would want to know
what areas they may still need clarity on
how to better connect the information presented with their own real life experiences and challenges.
I then provide thoughtfully written answers to these inquiries and help writers with suggestions and recommendations for this on-page section.
What are the SEO benefits of having an FAQ section?
Search Engine Watch mentions that an FAQ section helps your content better align with the needs of voice related search by having questions asked in the words and language asked by regular people. According to Google, 20% of searches are voice related. People are looking for faster and easier ways to find the answers to their questions.
SEW also explains, "having a well-written FAQ section on your website is a great way to show online customers that you care about their experience and get you found from outside your website, directly responding to the needs of your audience and their search queries."
Keep in mind the bigger picture. People use search engines, and even sites like Quora to look for answers to their questions. Using formats like FAQ's helps to position your content to meet the high-demand needs of question and answer seeking users.
Content Page Length
Our cornerstone articles are usually about 1500 words or more (as requested by Dr.U) Blogs and patient cases tend to be around 800-1200. Here is the justification for longer content pieces.
According to business content provider, Sweor, "if you've been in the world of marketing long enough, chances are you've heard someone say something along the lines of, 'make your content short and bite sized! With all the distractions that surround us nowadays, the average attention span is shorter than that of a goldfish." They then present the argument that audience members are actually smarter than a goldfish. I would have to agree with this statement.
Here are the various benefits offered by longer forms of content.
SerpIQ conducted a study on the top 10 position results in search engine results pages, correlated with content length. These findings suggest that Google prefers content rich experiences for its users. On average, position 1 usually has 2416 words. And position ten usually has about 2032 words.
An analysis by Hubspot has found that long-form content tends to earn more backlinks. Here is their graph.
Why is this the case? Longer content is more comprehensive and provides more value. It also provides a better user experience because it gives them everything they need to know all in one place. They don't have to perform multiple searches to get the answers they need.
Brian Dean of Backlink.io explains:
"Insanely long list posts will forever stand out based on the volume factor. There is something inherently more shareable (and linkable) about a list of 100 items than a list of 10...Short, limited content often fails to provide enough value to entice link creators...300 words won't cut it."
Longer Dwell Time
Longer time spent on your site is an important behavior metric which tells Google that your website provides users with what they are looking for and that it is worth spending time on. Longer dwell time tends to correlate with longer content.
More Social Shares
Neil Patel compared the number of social shares he earned on content that he wrote, consisting of over 1500 words versus pieces that were shorter than 1500 words. He found that shares were 68.1% higher on Twitter and 22.6% higher on Facebook.
Longer Content Is Rewarded By Google's Rank Brain
Rank Brain is Google's machine learning algorithm. It's job is to sort search results, understand the intent of search queries, measure user satisfaction by seeing how people interact with the results, conduct tests and make tweaks to existing algorithms based on the results of these tests. Rank Brain offers a quicker way to continuously adapt to the demands and behaviors of users. Prior to its availability, hypotheses, tests, and algorithmic adjustments were entirely conducted by human teams.
Rank Brain prefers and rewards longer content for the reasons provided above since it offers greater value and provides users with the information they need all in one place.