SEO 101: Getting The On-Page SEO Basics

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Getting The On-Page SEO Basics Right in 2014

If you don’t get the basics of on-page SEO right, you have very little chance of securing top spots for competitive key phrases, even if you’ve got a fantastic outreach and PR campaign and an awesome link profile! It’s a common mistake to ignore the basics of SEO and focus on getting links instead of what’s in your control…the optimization of your own site. On-page SEO is the foundation to your campaign. Get it right and you’ll succeed on the search engines, get it wrong and you’ll never hit the top, whatever else you do.

With this in mind, here’s a brief guide to getting on-page SEO right, looking at the basics as well as the other essentials you need to ensure are in place if you want to outrank your competitors. SEO is constantly evolving, however this should set you right over the next few months unless anything unexpected comes along.

Getting The On-Page SEO Basics Right in 2014

The below isn’t in any order of priority, it’s all important and should be used as a bit of a check list:

1. Title Tags

Ensure you place your main keyword and variations in the title tag of a page. Always ensure you target one main keyword and variations per page and don’t try and trick the search engines by optimizing multiple pages for the same keyword. Write your title tag in a natural way which uses your main keyword at the start with variations added too. Think about what looks natural and will entice searchers to click on your site.

Historically, Google would display around 70 characters of a title tag but since recent redesigns, they’re now displaying based on pixel width. There unfortunately no longer is a magic number for how long a title tag should be, but Moz has a great tool (which you can find here) which lets you preview what title tags will appear like in Google’s latest redesign.

Spend time putting together title tags which include your main keywords for a page and also look natural, aren’t stuffed with keywords and read well! There’s nothing worse than spammy, over optimized titles!

2. Meta Descriptions

Meta descriptions don’t contribute as a ranking signal anymore, but they’re still an incredibly important aspect of on-page optimization. They’re the first introduction potential customers get with your brand, so it pays to get them right.

Meta descriptions should be well written, approximately 156 characters and essentially a sales pitch for what the landing page is about. As with title tags, don’t spam or over optimize and always think about what works for users before the search engines.

3. Heading Tags

If you’re not using H tags in a strategic way, you should be! Starting with your pages’ H1 tag, ensure you utilize headings correctly without over-optimizing them. Place your main keyword in a H1 tag, again making sure it works for users ahead of search engines, and split the rest of your content up with ascending H tags…H2 comes next then H3. You get the picture. One thing to remember is to only use one H1 tag. Others can be used multiple times if needed.

Don’t keep repeating your main target keyword in each tag, rather use variations which enhance the value of the content and help break it up into readable and easy to digest sections. These tags essentially signal the descending importance of page headings so think carefully as to which H tag should be used in each instance.

4. Content

You’ve probably heard that content in king and that couldn’t be more accurate! With Google’s Panda algorithm, you can no longer get away with thin content and creating unique and informative content should be where you spend the most time. Content needs to be written primarily for users and secondly for search engines, however that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t mention core key-phrases. Just make sure you do so in a natural and organic way.

Keyword stuffing is a technique which has been long dead, so don’t even consider mentioning your main terms in every other sentence. Google’s algorithm works on latent semantic indexing, so simply writing naturally about the topic of the page should mean you are writing relevant content. So long as it’s unique and not copied from somewhere else, you shouldn’t run into any problems.

Think about the message you want to communicate and keep that at the forefront of all content you write. Are your primary goals to directly sell and drive leads, to inform, or to build brand awareness? Your goals should always dictate your style of writing and the way you structure your content. As above, don’t forget to use H tags to break up your content into easy to digest sections and always ask someone else to proof read for you before going live.

5. Canonicalisation Of Duplicate Content

It’s a common fact that many CMS’ (Magento as an example) allow pages to be accessible via a number of different URL’s, however from a search marketing perspective, it’s bad news! In such instances, you’re not trying to manipulate search results via having a page live on duplicate URL’s so you shouldn’t have a problem in adding a canonical tag to reference one main page for Google to index and assign PageRank to.

Google themselves offer a great example on implementing canonicalisation here and it makes sense to spend ten minutes getting your head around it there rather than re-publishing. Getting canonicalisation right, however, is something which should be considered primary importance.

6. URL Structure

If your site uses query strings for page URLs, this is something you need to look at as a priority. It’s far bestter to use a search engine friendly URL structure such as as opposed to It makes more sense to both users and search engines and should be regarded as a priority.

Always use hyphens rather than underscores and try not to have main pages sitting too many directories deep in your site. Don’t forget, however, to implement 301 redirects from the old URL to the new if you do make changes, otherwise you’ll see crawl errors pop up in Webmaster Tools and users being faced with 404 pages.

7. Crawl Error Resolution

Following on from the above, you should always check Webmaster Tools for crawl errors and find a way to resolve any showing. It’s not good from either a user or search engine point of view to have crawl errors and it’s usually a fairly easy job to fix with 301 redirects (assuming the pages are permanently removed. If it’s only a temporary removal, use a 302).

When it comes to deciding which page to redirect to, use common sense. Don’t redirect to a page just for the sake of it — try to redirect to the closest alternative. If there isn’t one, consider permanently redirecting to a 404 page.

8. Check Your Robots.txt File

When it comes to first optimizing your site, check your robots.txt file which will usually be located at to make sure no key pages are being blocked from being crawled by the search engines. If you see Disallow: / followed by any directory or page name, ask yourself whether it should be accessible to search engines. The best practice is to block admin panels and low quality pages which need to be in place but you don’t want search engines indexing, however if there’s anything you regard as a core page in there, take it out!

9. Multi-Device Friendly

Some may argue this technically isn’t an on-page SEO factor, given a site being multi-device friendly isn’t always a prerequisite of attaining top search positions, but it  should always be looked at…if only from a conversion optimization perspective.

If at all possible, opt for a responsive version of your site which will resize to each device. There was a fantastic post by the team at Koozai who recently touched upon the importance of having a responsive site and how they’ve got a whopping 7 versions of their site for different devices.

We certainly live and work in a multi-device world and with rumours that mobile usage set to surpass desktop usage at some point this year, perhaps now is the time to start designing sites for mobile devices first and desktops second?

10. Page Speed

Take a moment to analyse your site’s page speed using the Page Speed Insights tool from Google to outline how fast they can load your site as well as receive a whole host of suggestions as to how you can improve things. As a general rule, try and get it as far above 90 as possible to ensure you’re not a search position lower than you should be because your site is sluggish.

There you go…a relatively in-depth guide on how to get the SEO basics right in 2014. What are your thoughts on on-page SEO? Do you have anything to add? Is there anything you’d place preference on over that listed above?


Image Credits

Featured Image: Creativa via Shutterstock
Image #1: Mikko Lemola via Shutterstock

James Brockbank
James Brockbank is an experienced UK based digital marketing consultant and the Managing Director of digital agency James Brockbank Ltd, who specialise in creating sustainable, high-performance campaigns which help to turn businesses into brands!
James Brockbank
James Brockbank
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  • M. Asad Hanif

    if our website is not Multi-Device Friendly then what should we do?

    • Alex Wehwalt

      Best thing is to make a different design for mobile and desktop. Is not such an important factor, but it does help you a lil’ bit more since you’re thinking in the smartphone/mobile user experience too in your website.

      Maybe a responsively designed web page can do the work, but Google doesn’t take it as a mobile design.

    • Tolkin

      Make it. Find someone to work on it if you don’t know. It’s a today’s must.

  • Ravi Chauhan

    Nice Content, I have read all the points of on page SEO and learn how to use H1 tag, URL structure, content optimization. Thanks for sharing this useful information.

  • Sunday

    Going back to the basics is important for SEO success. A lot of webmasters are not getting the best from search engine traffic because they miss out on the basic on-page SEO principles. With the details on this post the webmaster is reminded of the best steps to adopt.

  • Arun Kallarackal

    Hi James,

    It was a concise article. Covered the basics associated with On page SEO very well! Such an article will be very handy for newbies, who are trying to get a grip over On page SEO!

    I must admit that #9 and #10 are two aspects that many bloggers overlook. They don’t take it as SEO aspect at all!

    But little do they realize that Google and other Search engines really value mobile friendliness and page speed!

    I found the link to this post on Kingged. Will be Kingging it there! 🙂


  • Raman Bathina

    Thanks for sharing these awesome stuff.I do everything for my blog but every time forgot about on page seo and that ‘s why my rankings down.Now I get this guide so its time to implement them on my blog.Thank you once again.

  • Oscar

    To be honest, I didn’t realize that they’re not part of the ranking signal. However, you did made good points about it being part of the first things a surfer will see after making the search.

  • Nisha Thakur

    Either get a responsive design for your website so that it can fit all device sizes, or get a separate version of your website for mobile devices.

  • Arthur Wilson

    I’ve been preaching about responsive websites for months now! Crazy that so many sites haven’t gone mobile yet. Aside from optimising images and maybe using expires headers, how would you suggest reducing page load speed? Bit of an issue for some of my ecommerce websites right now!

    • Phil Wollerman

      Get the Pagespeed extension for Chrome, Google tells you what parts are slowing you up and provides generic suggestions.

  • Yiannis Gedeon (@akronsound)

    and how is this post different from the rest 5billion posts about onpage posted the last 20 years? Dont wanna rant or anything but I would rather you would have given specific numbers and examples (for example keyword density), keeping OBL low, internal architecture and how to identify your strong pages, than the repetition we get these days in seo blogs.

    • Benjamin Pipkin

      I can’t tell, was the reference to Keyword density in your comment meant to be sarcastic, ironic, or serious?

      • James Brockbank

        No me neither! I wasn’t sure as to how it was meant.

  • tewfree

    What about a mobile site that has the same content with main website?

  • Manish Agrawal

    Really Your information is awesome. I like it because i know what is SEO but after read your content i realise the main feature of Onpage SEO. most of time i am using online basic SEO. But now i will use your Technic for my all websites.

    Thanks for sharing informative content….:)

  • James Brockbank

    On a mobile site with the same content, use rel=”alternate” tags on the main site and rel=”canonical” tags on the mobile site.

  • Andre Schaefer

    Great Article about SEO basics. From my personal experience, optimizing the load time of your images and website speed in general has always helped me to increase rankings.

    What i missed so far in this article was a paragraph about optimizing the inner urls without falling into overoptimization.

    Anyways, nice read. Keep it up!

  • Tim Dugan

    It’s always nice to revisit the basics – nice job SEJ!

  • Devlin Duldulao

    Exactly what I anticipated. I also use strong tags as one of our basic on-page SEO.

    • James Brockbank

      This tends to be one of those things which you’re a fan of or aren’t…personally I don’t think it has much of an impact anymore and is perceived as a little spammy nowadays!

  • muddassir ahmed

    You have added very nice information James. Most of people when I asked them about what is on-page? I get the first answer meta tags and after that they can’t answer it properly. I guess this post will help them to know more about the on-page techniques we can use apart from meta-tags.

    • James Brockbank

      Thanks for the reply Muddassir! As you say…many people simply think on-page is about meta tags but it goes so much deeper.

  • Karan Rawat

    Page Speed Matters! Page Speed ​​is a critical part of the digital experience, and it is very important to our content driven world. There is a reason that Google Analytics now includes statistics such as Page Load Time, Lookup and Page Size.

  • James Brockbank

    Thanks to everyone for your comments on this post! It’s certainly the case that, if you want to succeed as well as you can in terms of the on-page factors, you need to spend time considering so much more than just meta tags and even content. In a multi-device world, both page speed and having a responsive site are vital and if you’ve still to look at these concepts, there’s a good chance competitors already have done!

  • Varun Mittal

    Hello James Brockbank, I gone through your article.IT’s really nice way of presentation and explanation. It raise a Question in my mind that why you did not talk about Sitemap (XML and HTML)? is it not play a significant role in On-Page optimization?

    • megha

      Sitemap comes under Off Page Optimization i feel.

      It is a very powerful tool though.

      • Karan Rawat

        Sitemap is really a powerful tool to get indexed by search engine but how can you say that it comes under offpage optimization? is there any reason behind this.

    • James Brockbank

      Varun, whilst there’s no doubting that it’s important to submit an XML sitemap to Google, it’s simply a guide as to which pages you want indexing. Of course, there’s many other factors I could add however I tried to give an outline as to the primary ones to consider.

  • Gemma Purnell

    Freat article. How do you feel that website usability and internal link structure affect seo?

    • James Brockbank

      Hi Gemma. Internal linking structure is certainly an important factor and one of many additional suggestions. Website usability as well is perhaps a little more weighted for conversion rate optimisation however should be something you regularly monitor and test.

    • Samrat Pal

      I agree with James. Website usability and internal link structure belong on On-Site SEO factors and should therefore affect ranking.

  • Samrat Pal

    Although we all are familiar with these basic stuffs but was not sure they are still important criteria for ranking. SEO is going through a dramatic change since last couple of years. I believe “Content is the king” will remain unchanged at the end of day.

    • James Brockbank

      Of course! Great content is one thing which will never go away and is likely to increase in importance even more going forwards.

  • Alex Wehwalt

    Nice post, it is indeed amazing how a basic on page SEO can help you rank somewhere in Google, and whenever you start publishing content in other websites and get a natural backlinks flow, jeez it just boosts into the first results. It is MANDATORY to have a basic on page SEO!