A practical guide to proven on-page SEO techniques. Gain better search results and connect the right users with the relevant information. This means better rankings, better click-through rates and a better user experience.
To improve your on-page SEO, you’ll first need to know which keywords you want to rank for on each page, with specific recommendations and rules about their use. Knowing how to write content for search engines will help connect your users with your content.
- Use your main keyword/s within the opening and closing paragraphs.
- Use the secondary and main keywords within the body of the content.
- Do not overuse your keywords. This is known as ‘keyword stuffing’ and is not recommended. SEO should not result in unnatural content. Optimise content for search while still writing for users.
- Perform keyword research to find the right keywords to use in your content.
If you have an Adwords account, you may want to look into Google’s Keyword Tool.
Read more about using keywords and keyword research in the Style Manual.
You can also use any other keyword tool that provides you with keyword suggestions and just pull in the data for those keyword from AdWords.
Researching keywords with AdWords:
- Generate common keywords — this can be a short list of words you think users will search for.
- Download suggested keywords — add each keyword to Google Keyword Tool and download this list and any similar terms in in csv files.
- Import keyword data into a single worksheet.
- Add extra keyword data from other SEO tools.
- Create filters to remove keywords that are not relevant, competitive or valuable.
Keyword research helps you find the best keywords. You can then write content using those keywords.
Once you have your list of keywords, you can start to map (assign) them to your content pages. After you’ve exported the keywords, remove keywords that are duplicated, not relevant or of low value.
Use search volume and competition metrics to help pick keywords. Then assign these keywords in very small groups (1 to 3 keywords) to relevant pages on your site.
Use heading tags to reinforce a page’s most important themes. Search engine robots generally place the most weight on an H1 tag followed by H2, H3 and so on.
Guidelines for writing headings:
- Use keywords within headers.
- Every page should have a H1 header.
- Do not use headers as links.
- Do not use headers to style font on the site.
- Only use headers for new blocks of content.
See the Style Manual for more on writing headings and subheadings
A URL is the actual web address of each page on your site. Use words in the URL to help users find your content and search engines understand what your page is about.
Guidelines for writing URLs:
- Use keywords in your URL.
- Keep URLs short but clear.
- Make sure you use a consistent, clear format across all URLs.
- Avoid special characters such as & or %.
- Use verbs where possible (for example, use -apply instead of -applying
- Use hyphens (-) to separate words, not spaces.
- Use keywords in your URL structures (folder names).
URL structure may be dependent on how your information architecture has been set up.
Google and HTTPS
Make sure your CMS will provide secure protocol URLs (HTTPS). Google may lower the search result position of URLs that use HTTP. Secure your site with HTTPS from Google support has more on best practice HTTPS.
Title tag / page title
Title tags, also known as page titles, are one of the best ranking factors you can affect. Page titles are also used in browser history and bookmarks.
Page titles should always be unique. No two titles on a site should be the same. They should provide context or describe content in an accurate way in search results.
Page titles are a foundational part of SEO. They're one of the first things a user sees in search engine results pages (SERP).
Search engines also use your page title or title tag to work out what your webpage content is about.
Some page title guidelines
- Keep title tags between 6 to 9 words, including main keywords.
- Place keywords at the beginning of the title.
- Place the agency name at the end of the title.
- Keep titles below 70 characters, including spaces and symbols.
- Place your title tags within the
<head>section of the source code of each webpage.
The meta description tag gives a summary of the content of a page for search engine listings. Use some of your main keywords but make sure the description reads naturally. Address the need of the user and the intent behind their search.
Good meta descriptions encourage users to click your listing. Think of the meta description tag as your marketing copy or call to action.
See the Style Manual for guidelines on writing meta descriptions.
Correct code for meta descriptions
<meta name="description" content="Example meta description goes here”/>
Moz is a helpful tool for testing your meta titles and descriptions. It will give you an idea of what your tags will look like in a search result.
Social meta tags
Other types of metadata are social meta tags such as:
- Facebook Open Graph: refers to tags you can use on a web page which can be read by social platforms to show the user more relevant content.
- Twitter card markup: this is when a person tweets a link to your content and other content is automatically attached. This can include photos, videos or other media.
These tags are placed in the
<head> section of the source code on the web page where you want this to appear.
Whilst these tags don't directly increase search enging rankings, they do make your content more shareable and clickable. This makes for a better user experience and also attract links from other websites to your content.
Social posts can help to show Google that you are a trustworthy and legitimate website. Though they may not show up in search results, the traffic they generate creates a strong SEO signal.
If you have social media channels with relevant content, link out to them from your website. Also make sure that those channels are linking back to your site.
Many government agencies use multiple social media channels. These include: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn. Use your social media channels to help your SEO.
Blog pages are also a useful way to build your online presence and improve SEO. For example, see the Digital Profession blog.
Schema is another type of metadata. It refers to a snippet of code that helps search engines understand your webpage better and rank it more highly. This may also be known as a tag, microdata or structured data.
You can use schema to also add your business address, link to a map, contact information, location or description of your service.
Schema enhances the way web pages appear in search results. This can impact on CTR (click through rates), which also affects the ranking of your pages.
Schema.org provides a shared markup vocabulary that is accepted and readable by many search engines.
Search result enhancements include:
- business information such as location and contact information
- marketing information — name, logo, and social profiles
- Sitelinks Searchbox — allows users to search your website directly from Google
- breadcrumb navigation — shows the page's position in the site hierarchy
- reviews from users of your service
You may need to discuss Schema with your developer or SEO team, to better understand how to use it in your SEO strategy.
Example of schema
Schema data can help improve search rankings and encourage users to click through to your website.
In this example, the Australian taxation office has used Schema to provide extra information to users. This includes address, phone number, hours of operation, photos, a map and a customer review.
Rich answers are also called featured snippets. They show above the organic search results in their own box.
There are 3 types of rich answers:
You may improve the chances of being a featured snippet by:
- optimising your on-page SEO
- creating content that answers specific questions
Make sure your web page answers many similar questions. Try to avoid turning your answers into an FAQ page. One option may be to create a people also ask box.
Example of a rich answer
This image shows an example of a rich answer. The search term is ‘do my tax’, with the relevant rich answer from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) at the top. The link goes through to the relevant ATO web page.
This is a good SEO result because it returns a relevant answer and a top ranking.
Don't just use text only. Images can help improve your SEO. Search engines reward the use of consistent, relevant visual formats to support text. This in turn also improves the user experience.
You'll find more guidance on SEO and images in the Style Manual including use of ALT tags and captions.
Internal links and site search
Internal linking helps search engines understand the structure of your website, the topics and themes of your content. The keywords used within the anchor text (the actual words you link to) also play a valuable role. They help search engines work out the relevancy between pages and the importance of a page, by the quantity of internal links pointing to it.
When you create internal links across your site, aim to:
- link to relevant and important pages on the site
- use descriptive keywords in the anchor text to give a sense of what the link is about
Internal site search
Internal site search is the search that users do on your site. This can also improve user experience. Google Analytics shows search terms to its Adwords customers, so internal search may be your best source for search terms.
Think about how you can apply external SEO to internal search. Keep track of the relevant keywords and search terms people are using on your site. Use the internal search functionality in your CMS and site analytics.
Search engines also use a person's browsing history, location and cache to generate search results.
A Sitelinks Searchbox helps users search and link more specifically to pages in your site, straight from the organic search result.
This image shows a search result including a sitelinks search box (results from nsw.gov.au), under the main description.
It's possible to configure your SEO so that a search box may appear within a search result. You can do this using schema.
Search engines want to know how relevant your content is to search terms. This is so they can show the most relevant search results. To achieve this, search engines look at a range of SEO factors.
Some main components used to decide on relevance include:
- URL structure
- titles and descriptions
- the content itself (text, images, videos and audio)
When you optimise these components, they are more readable to search engines. The more you optimise a page for a keyword, the more likely a search engine will be to see its relevance. As a result, your search rankings will improve.
Rather than trying to optimise your whole site at once, focus your SEO strategy on a page by page basis. SEO works better when it’s targeted.
Be specific about where you want people to land when they come to your site from search. Do you want users to land on specific pages or are you happy for them to land anywhere and find their way around?
Good SEO happens when you focus on user needs. Clear page titles, subheadings, backlinks and keywords all help to improve SEO.
Planning your content will help users to find top level information. It will also help search engines understand the main purpose of your pages.
Content authority also helps to improve SEO. The biggest factor to influence this is backlinks. This means links coming in from other reputable organisations, agencies or departments.
Other factors can include making your content educational and informative.
Set out a list of topical questions that are relevant to your users. Then write content to give simple answers and solutions. Try to avoid listing FAQs.
Search engines want to deliver the best possible results for users. As a result, they will consider the user experience of your site for SEO.
Factors which can affect user experience and SEO:
- slow page load times
- high bounce rates (users that visit 1 page of your site and leave)
- low average time spent on your site’s pages.
- broken links
- clear site navigation
- readability and usability
- average pages visited
- return visitors
With over 80% of Australians now owning a mobile phone, you should consider mobile use in your SEO strategy. Google may penalise you with poor search results if your site is not mobile friendly.
For example, government apps such as mygov are now used by more people on mobile phones. Always aim to include SEO for mobile in your content strategy.
Content should display well on mobile and tablet. It needs to be easy to read on any device, so that users can access your information.
Think about how to support multi-devices from intention through to launch and beyond. This strategy can also help you to reach more users.
Google’s mobile friendly test page is a helpful tool to use when testing your website for mobile devices.
Did you know?
Australia remains one of the leading global adopters of the smartphone and 88 percent of Australians now own one, with market growth being driven by older generations.
Source: Deloitte, Mobile consumer survey 2017.
Duplicate content is when the same content appears in more than one place on a website. The same content may appear both on your own website or on an external site. Content that is the same on different pages or sites will affect your SEO rankings.
Approaches for dealing with duplicate content:
Rel=canonical— this tag tells a search engine that you know content had been copied. It also tells the search engine that the SEO weight should pass to the original page.
<meta name="robots" content="noindex, nofollow>— add this tag to the HTML head of each page that you do not want search engines to index.
- Add an external link — simply add a link back to your original page.
Google SEO guidelines
Google have a set of webmaster guidelines for how you should optimise your website. If you ignore these guidelines, your site can potentially be removed from Google’s search results.