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Internet Marketing and Web Development in Higher Education and other tidbits…

Understanding SEO: On-Page

06 May 2009

written by Kyle James

Understanding SEO: On-Page

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not pixie dust or snake oil. It’s a group of fundamental things that when done to a website it makes your site more accessible and usable.  The thing that I tell people all the time is “A search bot is your dumbest blindest user. If you aren’t creating your site with that in mind then you aren’t accounting for this then you aren’t accounting for everyone.”  What is great is that SEO really is just following web best practices.  For a college that is trying to be Section 508 compliant this is a huge step in the right direction.  The problem is that to so many people SEO has been given a bad name from people that “game” the system.  It’s not that complicated or difficult to do 80% of the stuff properly.  It’s that people simply do not know any better.

In its basic form there are two types of SEO, On-Page SEO and Off-Page SEO.  This week we’ll look at On-Page SEO, and next week we’ll take a look at Off-Page SEO.

Introduction to Search Engine Optimization

Before we really dig in, if SEO is brand new to you then I highly suggest reading this post I wrote a while back, How to SEO a College Homepage 101.  SEO revolves around keywords and placement of those keywords in specific locations on a page.  This enables search engines to recognize that that page should show up in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) for that keyword. We’ll talk about doing keyword research another time though.

What Matters On-Page

There are five elements that really matter to the On-Page optimization process.  Are these the only five things? Of course not.  But if you can handle these five basic things and do them properly then you will see a solid return and are probably 80-90% optimized.  Of these five, there are three that are most important so let’s discuss them first.

Page Titles

Page Titles are the single most important SEO element on a page.  Most people don’t pay attention to them because they aren’t an element that we spend a lot of time looking at. But  page titles are EXTREMELY important for search results.  The page title is the title of the search result and if it’s not relevant or says something as basic as “HOME” then how is this going to convince people to click on it at all?

page title example Understanding SEO: On Page

Page titles should have relevant keywords (relevant means describing what this page is about) while also being no longer than 70 characters (because this is the limit that will show up in search results).  Try and get the important keywords to the front of the title, and if there is room it’s perfectly ok to stick the name of the site at the end.  The page title should tell me what THIS page is about and should be convincing in order to stand out in a long list of search results.

Optimized URLs

From a usability standpoint describing what the page is about in the URL can help someone figure out what they are clicking on when you send the link to someone through an email.  It also is the only way that a search engine will know what the page is about from the URL.  You definitely want to keep it short and friendly, but having a few relevant keywords can go a long way towards ranking for those keywords.  This is one of those things that most Content Management Systems (CMS) just suck at doing right.  Having a long URL of a bunch of random characters that a database can read in order  to pull unique content might work, but it doesn’t tell anyone what the article is about.

Take a look at the following two articles both about a recent Braves game and try to tell me what you think the articles are about.

*Note:  If you have a content management system that creates URL’s filled with ID numbers and want to make it more friendly you probably want to ask about “URL aliasing” or “URL mod rewrite” for your system.

Header Elements

If you haven’t heard of semantic markup then it’s definitely worth spending some time reading about it.  Anyway what we are talking about here is specifically H1, H2, H3, and H4 HTML elements on a page.  This means that your page title shouldn’t simply be bold but actually wrapped in Header tags and the same for subsections.  Think of a word document that asks you to use Header elements. It is the same idea here.  In fact all the sections of this document are in various levels of header elements.  For those designers out there it’s as simple as setting up CSS to style the various header elements as you see fit.

semantic markup example Understanding SEO: On Page

Meta Keywords and Meta Description

The final two elements are the meta elements on the page, meta keywords and meta description.  Although Google currently does not even look at meta keywords because of their nature to be abused, it is still a best practice and if they were to decide to start looking at meta keywords again you will be ahead of the game with minimal work to do.  I recommend 3-5 meta keywords per page of content, but never waste your time optimizing for more than 10.

meta keyword description Understanding SEO: On Page

Meta descriptions on the other hand are still used and can help people decide to click on your listing in the search results.  They don’t always show up, but if it is appropriate it can be what convinces people to click on your result and not the one above or below it.  Be sure to get your keywords in the description and do not go overboard.  One or two sentences are plenty and no more than 150 or so characters.

[Update: as Brad notes in the comments it's better to have no Meta description than to have the same meta description on every page on your site and he is absolutely correct.  This can do more harm than good if each page's meta description, and keywords for that matter, aren't relevant and unique to that page of content.]


So just to recap the five elements on a page that matter the most towards on-page optimization:

  1. Page Titles
  2. URL’s
  3. Header Elements (Semantic Markup)
  4. Meta Description
  5. Meta Keywords

I flopped Meta Description and Meta Keywords because a description is more important than keywords in the meta elements.  If you can do these things correctly you are well on your way to making your site easily found in search engines.

What do you think?  Anything else that you do to a page and think REALLY matters that I should have listed?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

The content of this post is licensed: The post is released under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa 3.0 license

About the author

Kyle James

Kyle is the CEO & Co-Founder at nuCloud and formerly the webmaster at Wofford College. He also spent almost 4 years at HubSpot doing a range of jobs including inbound marketing consulting, sales, management, and product management.  Kyle is an active contributor in the social media spectrum. Although his background is technical, he claims to know a thing or two about marketing, but mostly that revolves around SEO, analytics, blogging, and social media. He has spoken at multiple national conferences and done countless webinars on topics ranging from e-mail marketing to social media and Web analytics. He's definitely a fairly nice guy.

Ways to Connect with Kyle

Kyle's Blog Kyle's Facebook Kyle's LinkedIn Bio Kyle's Twitter Account Kyle's Foursquare Kyle's Flickr Photos Kyle's YouTube Profile Kyle's SlideShare Presentations

This post was written by - who has written 274 posts on .eduGuru

  • ejakulasi dini

    I like reading your explanation about on page seo, thanks very much.


  • Joel Ellegood

    Was searching for new SEO innovations when I found this one. Interesting, but do you think it has a long shelf life?

  • Teen Blogger

    Great Post.

    You’ve lsited some great tips. I heard rumours that Google doesn’t consider meta keywords that importent anymore. I’m not sure though. After getting all the on page seo right, it;s time to start building the back links.

  • Urdu Poetry

    Very nice tips on SEO-ON Page, these are really informative. thanks

  • memperbesar payudara

    That’s complete guide, thanks for the article.

  • Finance Tips

    I’ve read a number of your SEO posts, and they’re all informative and well-structured. Are you a SEO professional or is this just a hobby of yours?

    • project management courses

      Great post. You give very unique knowledge about SEO. Thanks

  • SEO Leeds

    Youve lsited some distinguished tips. I heard rumours that Google doesnt suppose meta keywords that importent anymore. Im not certain though. After acceptance intact the on page seo right, it;s show to stabilize cobby the tote links.

  • Mike Dofollow

    I would say that on-page SEO should take 20% and incoming links 80% of the effort of optimizing a website for Google.

  • search engine optimization orange county

    Great OnPage SEO tutorial! Beginners and Experts can both really get a lot out of this article. Thanks for sharing!

  • Matthew C. Kriner

    Hi, I have been heavy into SEO lately particularly link building and every little bit on info that can help me get top rankings and traffi chelps.

  • Christina

    Nice post. All very good points. Thanks for the info and your ideas!

  • Black Katz – flats to rent in London

    Just read this and will now be looking for the Off Page SEO article – thanks. I hadn’t taken into account the use of the header tags before. Shall be further optimising my site now!

  • P. Veazey

    Thank you for this. This is very informative and helpful. Keep up the good work.

  • Duncan

    Nice post Kyle!
    This is a good overview of some of the basics.
    Since this is just on-page seo, what about the body text?
    Keyword prominence, simple things like strong or emphasis, related words surrounding the target keywords, etc.
    But I totally agree your post covers a lot of the minimal effort, maximum impact tasks!
    Now, off page seo is a different story and has as much or more influence.
    Thanks for posting this!

  • adzone

    This is a great blog to redirect clients too. I think the basics are very important and sometimes it can be difficult to educate clients on the basics. Great reading and a useful tool. Thanks

  • Javier Martinez

    Thanks Kyle!

    Very good article. For people like me, you’ve written in language clear and easy to understand.
    I do my own websites and I am new to this world of SEO. Articles like yours make measier this SEO job.

    Thanks for your wonderful article!

  • Testking

    Good post. Keep valid up.
    Really informative post. thanks considering sharing this article.

  • Garden Netting

    Nice guide – Google doesn’t take any notice of meta keywords but there are other search engines…

  • hari wibowo

    I like read your explana about on page seo title, its cool thanks so much

  • ejakulasi dini

    Good article, seo is very important for traffics

  • andy

    Great article, great advice. I’ve put something together that’s similar for some of my SEO clients who were looking for SEO courses here in the UK, they couldn’t find good, down to earth advice and even when they did they weren’t sure what to do with it! So it’s good to see stuff like this out there on the web!

  • Student Grants

    Valuable info…it’s great i come across this blog.

    But does meta keywords still matter in SEO?

    • Andy

      it matter not one jot anymore, it was officially confirmed by Matt Cutts of Google last year

  • ThailandSEO

    Very nice tips for On Page SEO, I agree with you that I have someone to show you. It’s

    I use on page seo technic to service the customer.

  • ejakulasi dini

    This is great article about seo, i will try to see the effects. thanks

  • Chris Milkn

    Awesome looking website!

  • Kirby Paoletto

    Hey, just discovered this blog but I have to admit that it looks nice. I totally agree with your post. Have a good day, keep up the nice work and I will definitely come back.I just got in to the Battlefield Bad Company 2 PC Beta for free, check out this youtube video for instructions on how you can do it

  • Brad

    On page SEO can seem a little confusing to some, great job explaining it here…

  • Daniel

    I am doing SEO with this client’s site. Anyone can recommend a good seo software?

  • Daniel
  • Antionette Plaisted

    What a great blog. I found this blog while searching on yahoo. Its nice to find so much information that can help with test prep

  • Luis

    In my opinion everything matters, some less, some more.
    Great blog. Excelent article Kyle. I wanted to know one thing or two in marketing just like you. :)
    My website would certly make more money.

  • Omer Greenwald

    I’ve been playing around with page the title tag and the permalinks of my posts trying to figure out which one has more impact on indexing. Plugins like SEO Slugs can keep the URL nice and short, but then it’s less descriptive of course.
    Thanks for a very good article

  • Donnie Litzsinger

    Fantastic post, I bookmarked your blog so I can visit again in the near future, Cheers, Donnie Litzsinger

  • Kenton Luevanos

    Hi, i just thought i’d post and let you know your blogs layout is really messed up on the G-Matrix browser. Anyhow keep up the good work.

  • juliagordan

    These are some of the useful and needed tips on-page optimization.
    And to rank high in SERP these are really needed.
    My Website:

  • 1seo

    job Kyle. I really like the way you simply things for everyone. You are doing
    a great job in this field. I love reading your posts. I get a lot of
    information to grasp and I try and adopt them more often. Keeping writing
    more of it. I am sure it will help a lot of people

  • 1seo

    job Kyle. I really like the way you simply things for everyone. You are doing
    a great job in this field. I love reading your posts. I get a lot of
    information to grasp and I try and adopt them more often. Keeping writing
    more of it. I am sure it will help a lot of people

  • Teguh

    Hi Kyle,

    I think you have explain one thing that make me realize how important the meta description is. Yes how good we put the meta description will make a different to other search result.

    Thanks Kyle..look forward for the next tips

  • Ahmed Moursy

    I am start my  work online a few days ago and i hope this article will help me to develop my new blog how 2 work online

  • gigih

    I understand. there are many seo knowledge

  • ambreen11

    On page optimization is even more vital now then it has ever been. I don’t just mean optimizing for the search engines but the user. Engagement metrics such as bounce rate, number of pages visited and time on site all play a part in how Google will rank your site. Before no one cared, they simply put up keyword stuffed rubbish and didn’t care about who was reading it. Now this haphazard thinking will only hurt your sites rankings not improve them.

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