A few weeks back we published the mammoth (yet easy to digest) SEO Best Practice Guide.
None of this would have been possible had it not been for the expert contributors who shared their knowledge developed from working at the sharp end of search.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be asking some of our contributors for their their thoughts on search. I spoke to Joe Friedlein of Browser Media about on-page optimization...
You helped contribute to the On-Page Optimization section of the SEO Best Practice Guide. In your experience, where are companies going wrong here, and what could they be doing right?
As a rule, it is becoming much rarer to see any real howlers in terms of on-page optimization and I can't actually remember the last time I saw a site that was totally invisible to search engine crawlers.
If there is one area that companies still often get it wrong, I would say that it is keyword targeting. It remains really important to have a clear understanding of what keywords your target audience are using and ensure that web pages are clearly 'labelled' with these terms.
That is not to say stuffing the page with endless repetition of the same phrase, but ensuring that you use the core target phrases in the most important places (page <title> and headings) and you use a variety of alternatives in the body copy.
Quite often, we see pages that do not actually have the primary targets available as html text at all - that is not going to help your chances of ensuring good visibility for those terms.
What sort of process should companies have when it comes to on-page optimization?
I will naturally sound biased, but my recommendation will always be to get an expert in. A good consultant will help ensure that a website is technically sound and help train your content contributors to think with an SEO hat on when creating new content.
It shouldn't cost a fortune and you can be confident that all your efforts on content will not be wasted.
Assuming that you have audited the site from a technical perspective, to ensure that there are no reasons why pages won't be indexed and the site is performing quickly, you should focus on creating engaging content.
I would always encourage companies to think primarily about site users rather than churn out over optimized text, but 'old school' keyword research will still help you identify content opportunities and ensure that you use the language that your target audience is using.
Does the move to mobile change the ways companies should be thinking about on-site SEO factors? Does Google take any mobile UX factors into account?
I hate to add to the 'responsive' hype, but there is no doubt that you should be thinking about mobile devices and a responsive design is, in my humble opinion, much better than having different versions of your website for different devices.
Ignoring SEO for a moment, you should ensure that users on a mobile device can access and enjoy your website as you cannot argue against the numbers, although the use of tablets can often inflate the number of 'true' mobile users.
Speed is really important as mobile users can be on slower connections and this is something that is increasingly important for SEO in general, so I would always encourage people to consider this when planning how their site responds to mobile devices.
Flat colours scale well and are fast, so try to resist the urge to have huge images.
I have personally not seen irrefutable evidence that having a mobile site is a short cut to ranking success, but the growing level of information about mobile devices in Google Webmaster Tools can only indicate the importance that they are giving mobile and I think you would be mad to ignore mobile.
Does Hummingbird and natural language search change the way marketers should think about on-page factors?
That is an interesting question. The real purpose of Hummingbird is to have a better understanding of a searcher's intent and the theory is that Google will do a better job of serving up relevant content.
Without getting bogged down in the inner workings of latent semantic indexing, I think it is fair to say that we can expect to see pages ranking for search terms that are not targeted in the traditional ways.
This has always been possible through a page's off-page profile (i.e. links pointing to it) but I have no doubt that it will happen more and more. I suspect that Google will get it wrong for a while in some cases, but they are pretty good at what they do so would expect to see it improve pretty quickly.
Personally, I do not believe that it marks the end of keyword research. I am a massive believer in keyword research, if only to really understand what your customers are looking for.
That shouldn't then lead to over-optimized web pages but it should lead to some inspiration in terms of what content will appeal to your audience and an appreciation of the variety of phrases being used in relation to a particular topic.
It is always good to use a number of synonyms as it is likely to be more readable for your users but also appear more natural to the search engines.
If there's one key piece of advice when it comes to on-page optimization, what would it be?
Get experienced / expert help to audit and fix any technical hiccups and then think about your users above anything else - understand what they are looking for (don't shy away from keyword research!) and create compelling content that uses a variety of related terms.
Read more by downloading our comprehensive SEO Best Practice Guide today.