By Charlie Williams
29 Oct 2018

An Answer You Can’t Ignore: Taking On-Page Optimization to the Next Level

Advanced SEO     On-page SEO     Technical SEO

For all the constant advances in SEO, on-page optimization is often unsophisticated. 
You’ve optimized the Title tag, Meta description, and H1, and even some alt tags. Time to hit the bar?

Truly, there's much more to it.

Optimizing your page means more than the placement of your keyword targets, important as they are. It’s the whole experience: showing how relevant your site is to the searcher’s intent — the goal they went to a search engine to achieve.

Get Clever with Keywords

In the last issue of PAGES, we learned about keyword research: finding ways our audience searches for our product, service or information. Now let's put it into practice.

One of the smartest ways to achieve better on-page optimization is increasing the number of keywords your page targets. In our post-Panda world, we thankfully no longer need a separate page for each minor keyword variant.

Similar search intent is often split between many different queries, but we want our pages to be relevant for all of them. Some of these variants get called LSI (latent semantic indexing) keywords, but it's enough to think of them as synonyms and closely related searches. We can find them in several different ways.

Related searches shown in search engine result pages (SERPs) are a great place to start. Next, take a look in Google Search Console to see all the queries one of your pages ranks for — often there are many you've never considered. I also recommend using keyword tools that find semantically similar terms to target. You can also use these tools to help you manually group the search queries that bring up the same pages time and again.

Several popular SEO tools have features that can help you do this. Ahrefs's Keyword Explorer identifies a 'parent' for your keywords, which groups all the variants that the same pages tend to rank for. Moz and SEMrush's tools can semantically group keyword suggestions.

If you don't have access to these tools, you can achieve a similar result by taking your research and assigning your own intent topic to each keyword. This will help you segment them into buckets.

This lets us optimize our page to increase the number of queries it can rank for. Are there terms from Search Console that we already appear for and can build on? What other keywords do competitor pages also rank for? What related topics might be of interest to our reader?

Put simply, what other searches should our page rank for, and where else could it appear it if were more comprehensive?

Increasing your organic footprint not only helps you rank for more, but it’s also a great way to add depth and prove you should rank for your main targets.

How do we use these synonyms?

How to Use Keyword Variants

  • Add major variants to our tags, or even target a more realistic variant.
  • Answer the subtle differences for each variant through the page (helping expand our content).
  • Use variants in our subheadings and copy. Use the different language to structure your page.
  • Encourage your writers to use different terms, arming them with the synonyms from your keyword and audience research.
  • Test our title tag and meta description with different variants to improve click-through rate.

This also works brilliantly for updating existing pages.

Address All Possible Searcher Intents

The SEO cliche is "build great content," but showcasing relevancy isn't an SEO trick — it's creating better experiences.

While our metadata is a clue to what the page is about, the content is the steak to that sizzle. Looking at the pages that are ranking well for our target search terms helps us see the nuances of the topic that search engines find important.

Analysis techniques such as TF-IDF (term frequency-inverse document frequency) can tell us how important a term is within a selection of documents, for example, the top 20 ranking pages for a search query. This analysis helps us spot both the common terms that every ranking page includes (so we won't be as relevant without), and those nuances that individual pages include to show greater depth (ranking for an extra set of topic variants others miss out on).

Similarly, we can use this analysis to see co-occurrence: those terms that regularly appear with our main target term. By not addressing these, our content might seem to be lacking. Ensuring our content covers all the relevant major bases, combined with our synonym keyword research, can give us a depth that outshines the competition.

On-page SEO is about understanding intent, and building the best possible answer to the question the searcher is asking, from how to cook a lasagne to where to buy killer heels.

Google has given us clues about what constitutes a worthy answer.

Demonstrate Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness

There's been plenty of analysis of Google's Search Quality Rater Guidelines since their release in 2015, but one of the most practical applications is their notes on Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (EAT).

Taking these principles and seeing if our content stacks up tells us if we need to do more. One powerful way to get a neutral perspective is to use the Rater Guidelines' examples of "High-Quality Pages" as the basis for user testing questions. Does your content pass the test?

To achieve this level of quality, you need to learn to write well or hire someone who can speak to your audience. You need to keep them on your site through content that demonstrates EAT, whether through a compelling insight or superb product presentation. It can be helpful to use those audience personas other marketers put such stock in, or speak to those (the sales team, customer services) who know your audience the best. You must also consider which content formats are being rewarded in your niche.

Good structure and depth might not always directly influence visibility, but better UX will get you more clicks, longer dwell time, and even more links — all of which help SEO, and conversions (and who doesn't like those?).

And of course, don't forget to include links. No page can answer every aspect of a query, so including links to other pages, both internal (highlighting your breadth of knowledge, as well as your expertise) and external, can show your page is a great answer in itself and as a hub to further reading.

This is how we build that elusive '10x' content. No tricks, just a better answer, based on your topic research.

Ask the Audience

Want to add some depth to your pages without having to write a word? Let your audience help.

User-generated content (UGC) is a way to quickly add not just more content to your page, but also depth and expertise that you might not possess. Google has said that "a healthy, thriving community" can signal your site is an authority. As we’ve seen content like comments, questions, and reviews ranking, UGC can also help us be relevant for even more long-tail queries.

For e-commerce pages, this can be very powerful. When it is hard to differentiate between suppliers, an engaged audience can showcase your authority and trustworthiness, making your pages more useful than the competition.

Not only does it add depth to content, we can analyze UGC for patterns — common terminology we can optimize for, and the questions our main content should answer. If users are asking the question on your site, its likely others are typing it into Google.

Closing Thoughts

Search engines interpret a query and decide what the best answers could be. Google doesn't know the answers to everything (yet...), but if we don’t match their interpretation of intent, no amount of keyword optimization alone will work.

That is the challenge of building a page for SEO today.

Your job is to balance on-page optimization (more honestly, content optimization) with user experience, proving you are a vital resource users will love and search engines can’t ignore.

Charlie Williams

Charlie is the Strategist for the team at Screaming Frog, the agency famous for the SEO Spider and Log File Analyser. Also an independent consultant, he's a regular industry speaker, who loves to share ideas on content strategy, technical SEO, and creative user experiences. Fascinated by the challenges of building an online business, you can find Charlie talking content, UX, SEO & food on Twitter, or cooking something up in the kitchen.