Successful SEO Tactics: On-Site Optimization

On-site optimization has long been a cornerstone in any organic search effort. It’s an expansive topic and to fully cover it within one article would be impossible.

We’re previously discussed keyword selection. As the second of four spheres in the SEO Tactics Chart, we’ll now address some of the more important considerations related to the art and science of on-site optimization.

One important principle when dealing with on-site optimization tactics is to optimize toward the end user. Never forget who you’re trying to attract to your site. An engine’s algorithm isn’t going to convert, a human being will. Never lose sight of this.

Another important principle is to plan holistically. Don’t think of your sitemap, title tag, description tag, H1, breadcrumb, ATL tag, etc., as separate attributes used in the process of optimizing a page. These attributes must  work together at the page level to be successful.

Deliberately match up URLs and keywords from the beginning. Take those URLs, and make sure that the keyword(s) you are targeting for that page are leveraging as many on-site attributes as possible.

While keeping these principles in mind, let’s talk about some core on-site attributes and how to best utilize them for your site.

SEO On-site Factors


Simply adding content can be a challenge in many cases, particularly when dealing with e-commerce sites in the retail space. Sometimes it’s a platform restriction, other times there are concerns that adding content will distract the user or push product down the page and negatively impact conversion. All are relevant concerns.

Try placing a small amount of keyword-focused content above the product table near the top of the page, and adding several short paragraphs of content below the product table near the bottom of the page. This usually satisfies the business, the end user, and the engine.


One of the cornerstones to successful on-site optimization is authentic, quality content. Authenticity here refers to the uniqueness of the content. Again, using retail as the example, it’s common to find businesses selling tens of thousands of SKUs, each with a dedicated page on their site. The idea of adding product-level content for each page can be a time consuming proposition.

A common quick fix that businesses will apply is to repurpose or “borrow” content about that product from the manufacture website. Most often this content adds little to no value to the retailer’s organic efforts as they weren’t the original publisher of the content. Unique content that is first published on your own site is what you should be striving for when evaluating the value that your content will bring from an organic perspective.

The quality of the content plays a critical role as well. You should always be producing content that provides value to the end user. With conversions as your end goal, you need to engage your visitors with the information they are seeking, not provide them with spammed-out SEO content.

Since late February 2011, Google has publicly turned more focus to the importance of unique quality content though multiple algorithmic updates referred to as Panda. In short, Panda is an effort to devalue websites that are leveraging poor quality content in an effort to boost their rankings. Danny Goodwin has been following these updates closely and has produced some great information around Google’s Panda updates.

Direct Response

An often overlooked aspect of content within the SEO space is the value that direct response oriented content can bring to the table. Not necessarily from a rankings perspective, but from a performance perspective. Title and meta tags provide a great opportunity to optimize a page for a given keyword(s) while compelling searchers to click your listing on the SERP.

When writing your titles and descriptions, consider using these attributes to achieve above-average CTRs:

  • Price points
  • Percentage off
  • 100% guarantee
  • Free shipping
  • Order now
  • Ends soon

Crawlability & Technical Concerns

The technical aspects that impact how the engines view your site are critical to understand and address if you want to achieve mass-scale rankings. Here are a few attributes that are worth highlighting.

404 errors

The larger the site, the more opportunity there is for 404 errors to sneak up on you. It’s a terrible experience for the end user and the engine, and it’s critical that you identify these and rectify the problem on an ongoing basis.

Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) makes it easy to find 404 errors. Simply go to Diagnostics > Crawl errors and you will see a list of 404 errors that Google has recently crawled. You will also see how many links (both internal and external) that are pointing to that 404 page. Regularly 301 redirect these URLs to the most relevant working URL on your site. Make it a habit.

Site Performance

There’s been a lot of talk over the past year that Google is placing more emphasis on site speed as a ranking factor. Again it comes down to the user experience. Whether to appease the algorithm or improve conversion, it’s worth paying close attention to the attributes that impact you site’s speed and overall performance.

Again GWT provides site performance data that will be helpful in monitoring and addressing these concerns. Check out the Labs > Site performance section in GWT to get started.

Site Structure

Site structure and the engine’s ability to crawl the pages of your site will have a big impact on its ability to rank for a vast amount of keywords. One of the reasons working with retail sites is so rewarding is the large number of pages that one has to work with. However, manually changing several thousand title, description, H1, etc., tags is daunting and inefficient. Here’s where a little automation can go a long way in leveraging the power of a large site.

Understanding the fields within your site’s database is the critical first step to mapping out a strategy where you can take advantage of a massive page count site. Consider your different page templates, like category, sub category, product pages, etc. Also consider the different on-site attributes that you want to impact through automation rules.

One common approach is to take your URL, title, description, H1 and breadcrumb and create a schema that automatically populates these attributes with relevant fields from within the database. These schemas should be created for each template page and it’s important to think through the logic of how the schema will read once populated with the data. An example title tag schema for a category page might look something like this:

Schema: {brand name} Ink Cartridges and Toner – {brand name} Printer Ink

Populated: Canon Ink Cartridges and Toner – Canon Printer Ink

Applying a set of strategically sound automated schemas across thousands or more pages can give some great traction for sub category and product level rankings. This can allow you to impact a large set of pages quickly and focus attention on a specific set of high priority keywords while casting a wider net through automated processes.

As you work through your own on-site optimization strategies, always remember to keep a holistic view of the arsenal of attributes that you have to work with, and keep the end user at the forefront of your decision-making.

Related reading

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