When it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) there are essentially two primary components: on-page SEO (also known as on-site SEO), and off-site SEO. Now if your marketing is local, then arguably there is a third leg of your SEO strategy, which is optimizing your local listings in directories like Google My Business. For this article though, we are just going to place our focus squarely on on-page SEO – what it is and how to get the most out of it with an easy-to-follow checklist.
What is on-page SEO?
On-page SEO is the practice of optimizing elements on a website (as opposed to links elsewhere on the internet and other external signals collectively known as “off-site SEO”) in order to improve search engine ranking and visibility. This can involve optimizing both the content and HTML source code of pages on a site. We’ll focus mainly on content in this article while touching upon some, but not all technical considerations.
Why is on-page SEO important?
Google, the most popular search engine by a longshot, looks at the content on your webpages to determine if any are a relevant result for a user’s search query. Part of this process involves looking for keywords within content, the other is looking at context and other supporting elements. On-page SEO is important because many of the signals Google uses to rank web pages come from a number of on-page elements, most importantly the content of the page itself.
Because on-page elements are what users most engage with, it’s worth considerable effort to make sure your on-page SEO works well. Below is our on-page SEO checklist to go through for each existing or new page/post on your website. If you find the list a bit daunting and need help, or just have questions feel free to contact us. We’re here to help and have an expert team that can do all this for you if needed.
Basic on-page SEO
(if nothing else, make sure you have this in place)
Identify a Primary Keyword and Supporting Keywords for Each Page
SEO keywords are the keywords and phrases in your web content that make it possible for people to find your site via search engines. A website that is well optimized for search engines “speaks the same language” as its potential visitors because the copy includes keywords for SEO that help connect searchers to your site. You need to know how people are looking for the products, services or information that you offer, in order to make it easy for them to find you.
The best practice here is to assign a primary keyword to each page along with a few supporting keywords that are closely related. Pages don’t just rank for one keyword, but the keywords they do rank for should be related and relevant.
Focus Keyword in the SEO Title
The focus keyword should appear in your page’s SEO title. A title tag is an HTML element that specifies the title of a web page. Title tags are displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs) as the clickable headline for a given result, and are important for usability, SEO, and social sharing. The title tag of a web page is meant to be an accurate and concise description of a page’s content. Google typically displays the first 50–60 characters of a title tag. If you keep your titles under 60 characters then most should appear fully in Google’s SERP.
Focus Keyword used inside SEO Meta Description
The focus keyword should appear in your page’s meta description. The meta description is an HTML attribute that provides a brief summary of a web page. Search engines often display the meta description in search results, which can influence click-through rates. Meta descriptions can be any length, but Google generally truncates snippets to ~155–160 characters. It’s best to keep meta descriptions long enough that they’re sufficiently descriptive, so we recommend descriptions between 50–160 characters. Keep in mind that the “optimal” length will vary depending on the situation, and your primary goal should be to provide value and drive clicks.
Focus Keyword used in the URL
Include the focus keyword in the slug (permalink) of each page. A URL (Uniform Resource Locator), more commonly known as a “web address”, specifies the location of a resource (such as a web page) on the internet.
Focus Keyword should not only appear in the content but show up in the first 10% of all words
The first 10% of the content should contain the Focus Keyword preferably at the beginning. This shows Google and other search engines that this keyword is very important and is a key element to the content on the page.
Content length is over 600 words
Now, understandably this guideline has a bit of wiggle room as not all pages are equal and pages can serve many purposes. That being said, if you’re focusing on content, and how to rank a specific page for great SEO, then the content length is important, and at a minimum, you should strive for at least 600 words. A great way to benchmark how much content is needed is to look at other web pages that are ranking at the top of the results for a keyword and see how many words on those pages.
Avoid duplicate content
Duplicate content is content that appears on the Internet in more than one place. That “one place” is defined as a location with a unique website address (URL) – so, if the same content appears at more than one web address, you’ve got duplicate content.
While not technically a penalty, duplicate content can still sometimes impact search engine rankings because it makes it difficult for search engines to decide which version is more relevant to a given search query.
More advances on-page SEO
Focus Keyword found in the subheading(s).
It is recommended to add the focus keyword as part of one or more subheadings in the content. Subheadings, or header tags, serve two primary functions on a webpage:
- Use Headers to Provide Structure – Header tags provide structure and context for a page. Each header should give the reader an idea of the information they can glean from the paragraph text that follows below. An H1 tag is usually the page title. H2s are the next in order and usually the most widely used. Subsequent headers, H3s to H6s, serve as additional sub-headings within each section.
- Use Headers to Break Up Text – A scannable page is a readable page, and a readable page is one that’s more likely to perform well in search engines. Scannability is important – only 16% of internet users read an article word-for-word. The rest are scanning. People simply like scannable content. According to the same research, an article that’s scannable is 58% more likely to perform better with readers. When an article is scannable, users might actually stick around to read it, instead of bouncing back to Google. Plus, they’ll also be more likely to share it with their friends, and the more an article is shared, the more likely it is to naturally earn backlinks, which are the most important off-site SEO ranking factors.
Focus Keyword found in image alt attribute(s).
It is recommended to add the focus keyword in the alt attribute of one or more images. Alt text (alternative text), also known as “alt attributes”, “alt descriptions”, or “alt tags,” are used within an HTML code to describe the appearance and function of an image on a page.
Alt text uses:
- Adding alternative text to photos is first and foremost a principle of web accessibility. Visually impaired users using screen readers will be read an alt attribute to better understand an on-page image.
- Alt text will be displayed in place of an image if an image file cannot be loaded.
- Alt text provide better image context/descriptions to search engine crawlers, helping them to index an image properly.
The best format for alt text is sufficiently descriptive but doesn’t contain any spammy attempts at keyword stuffing. If you can close your eyes, have someone read the alt text to you, and imagine a reasonably accurate version of the image, you’re on the right track.
Keep Keyword Density Natural
There is no ideal keyword density percentage, but it should not be too high. The most important thing is to keep the copy natural.
Going back to the URL, it should be at most 75 characters long. Now, this is not always possible, but try to keep the URL as brief as possible. URLs should include your focus keyword and be definitive but concise. Keeping URLs as simple, relevant, compelling, and accurate as possible is key to getting both your users and search engines to understand them (a prerequisite to ranking well). By seeing only the URL, a user (and search engine!) should have a good idea of what to expect on the page.
Include outbound links whenever possible
Though this may seem counterintuitive, linking to external websites that are relevant and authoritative is a good thing. This brings further support and context to your content and keywords, and it demonstrates to search engines as well as users that your webpage/website is a useful resource. Just remember, when linking to other websites to make sure those links open in a new tab or window.
Don’t set all outbound links to nofollow
Nofollow links are links with a rel=”nofollow” HTML tag applied to them. The nofollow tag tells search engines to ignore that link and to not pass PageRank. We won’t go into PageRank, but PageRank Sculpting no longer works so pages should have a mix of nofollow and DoFollow links.
Link to other resources pages your website
Internal links decrease your bounce rate and improve SEO. Every website consists of internal and external links. Internal links connect pages and posts on your own website and external links connect your pages to other websites.
Search engines follow links to discover content on websites and to rank this content in the search results. If a post or page gets a lot of links this is a signal that it’s an important or high-value article. This counts for internal as well as external links.
By adding the right internal links sure search engines understand:
- the relevance of pages;
- the relationship between pages;
- and the value of pages.
To set up your internal linking strategy, there are several things to take into account. How you go about it exactly, of course, depends on your site and your goals, but the following steps are a good rule of thumb.
- Determine the ideal structure for your site
- Decide what your most important content is and add many links to it
- Add contextual links – When there are various pages or posts about a certain topic you should link them with each other. This will show Google – and users! – that those articles are topically related. You can link directly from sentences in your copy or add links at the end.
- Link hierarchical pages – If you have hierarchical pages on your website, link parent pages to its child pages and vice versa. Also, don’t forget to link sibling pages to each other.
Use the focus keyword at the beginning of the SEO title
The SEO page title should contain the Focus Keyword preferably at the beginning.
Use positive or negative sentiment
Headlines with a strong emotional sentiment (positive or negative) tend to receive more clicks.
Use power words
Power Words are tried-and-true words that copywriters use to attract more clicks.
Include a number.
Titles with numbers are 36% more likely to generate clicks, according to research by Conductor.