- Google’s organic search algorithm incorporates many different on-page factors.
- On-page SEO, coupled with high-quality content, is a solid formula for greater organic search success.
- On-page SEO goes well beyond keywords, and includes everything from headers to title tags, structured data, image optimization, and more.
How often does Google change its search algorithm? In 2020, Google ran over 600,000 experiments and updated its algorithm more than 4,500 times. The company is on a mission to create the smartest search engine in the world, and they’re doing a pretty good job.
And yet, despite its constant improvements, it’s not perfect. Google still needs help understanding new content. That’s where on-page search engine optimization (SEO) comes in.
On-page SEO helps Google better understand your website. And that improves your rankings, which leads to more organic traffic.
Google ran over 600,000 experiments and updated its algorithm more than 4,500 times in 2020.Google
In this step-by-step on-page SEO guide, I’ll explain the most important page-specific optimization best practices that you should implement on your own website, and why they’re a vital part of your overall SEO strategy.
What is on-page SEO?
On-page SEO (or on-site SEO) is the practice of optimizing web pages for specific keywords in order to improve search visibility and traffic. It involves aligning page-specific elements like title tags, headings, content, and internal links with keywords.
Technical SEO vs on-page SEO
Some SEOs conflate on-page SEO with technical SEO. But, I like to keep them separate. In my view, technical SEO addresses things like page speed and site speed, duplicate content, site structure, schema, and indexing. In other words, technical optimization focuses on your entire website, while on-page optimization focuses on specific URLs.
There’s also off-page SEO which includes everything that happens outside your website, such as link building and brand mentions.
Why on-page SEO is so important
You need to take your on-page SEO strategy seriously if you want search engines to reward you with page-one visibility. And a lot has changed over the last two decades. Although Google still looks at keywords in your content, keyword stuffing stopped working long ago because it ruins user experience.
As the Google search algorithm gets more sophisticated, user-focused on-page SEO factors will be more important. When done properly, on-site SEO enables search engines to understand your content in order to rank the most relevant URLs for specific queries. And users will appreciate the organization and clarity that on-page optimization delivers.
So with that in mind, let’s look at specific on-page SEO best practices.
URLs help on-page SEO
Google has explicitly stated that URLs help them better understand what a page is about. So, how do you optimize your URLs?
- Include a keyword: Including your primary keyword in your URL helps both search engines and users understand the content of a page.
- Focus left: Place the keyword as far to the left in the URL as possible.
- Use real words: As much as possible, use real words in your URL instead of the indecipherable gobbledegook that some content management systems pump out.
- Keep them short and sweet: Ideally, your URL structure should be short and easy for both search engines and users to understand. The easier it is for Google to understand the type of content on the page, the better. Also, Google often shows URLs in search results. If a page URL is a long string of random letters and numbers, that doesn’t help users understand your page. The better they understand the purpose of your page, the more likely they are to click on the search result.
- Use hyphens between words: Hyphens make URLs more readable. For example, if a page is about coffee bean grinders, use the URL www.yourcompany.com/coffee-bean-grinders.
Title tags and meta descriptions
Meta tags are one of the most important on-page seo factors — specifically page titles. Every page has a title tag which appears in search results as a headline. The meta description is a short summary of the page that appears under the title on search results. Both are important to help search engines and users understand the purpose of a page.
The title tag is a direct on-page SEO ranking factor, while meta descriptions are not.
Both the title and meta description play a significant role in whether a person actually clicks on a listing in the search results. When both the title and meta description are optimized, it increases the Click-Through Rate (CTR) which shows means you get more traffic.
Unfortunately, Google updated the way it handles title tags in August 2021. After the update, Google may rewrite page titles based on other on-page elements, including headings and even anchor text from inbound links. Although this change doesn’t impact rankings, it can have a massive impact on CTR if the new title isn’t good.
In fact, Wordstream saw a 37% decline in CTR. Check out their article here to see how they fixed it.
On-page SEO for meta tags
The first step in your on-page SEO analysis should be to look at your title and meta description. follow these steps:
- Place your primary keyword near the beginning of the title.
- Keep the title around 55 or 60 characters so it doesn’t get cut off in search results. WordPress plugins like Yoast can tell you if your meta tags are too long.
- Avoid all caps in your title tags.
- Give each page a unique title so that Google doesn’t think you have duplicate pages.
- Write clear, compelling titles that users will want to click on.
- Include your primary keyword in your meta description. When someone searches for that keyword, Google will bold it in the search results.
- Keep the meta description to 155 characters.
- Craft your meta description so that it accurately describes the page. Treat it like an advertisement, and wordsmith it so that people are compelled to click.
Structured data helps Google understand your content even better, so should be a crucial part of your on-page SEO audit. For example, say you have a product page that includes things like prices, availability, ratings, etc. Unless you structure that information in a specific way in the HTML, Google won’t be able to understand it.
Types of Structured Data
Structured data is specific on-page SEO code you put on your pages that helps Google understand the content. There are specific structured data formats for a wide variety of things, including:
- Local business info
- Star ratings
- Job postings
Google often includes structured data directly in the search results, showing it as a “rich snippet”. Having a rich snippet increases the chances of someone clicking on your result.
Structured Data Tools
Keyword research tools like Ahrefs include an analysis of the search engine results pages that reveals the SERP features shown for a target keyword. This helps you understand which types of data you’ll need to implement to show up for those features.
The simplest way to implement structured data is to use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper. Enter the URL of a page and Google will guide you through the process of adding structured data. You can then test the structured data using Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. Or, you can reference Bing’s guide to marking up your site with structured data.
Once you’re done, you simply copy the updated information over to your own site.
Website crawlers such as DeepCrawl and Screaming Frog can reveal the structured data on the website. If you’re crawling your own site, the tools are also useful for debugging errors. If you’re crawling a competitor’s site, this is a great way to see everything your competitor is using.
Headers improve on-page SEO
Using multiple headers (H1 tag, H2, H3, etc.) on your pages helps with SEO in several ways. First, it makes it much easier for users to read your content. If visitors encounter a wall of text on a page, they’re much less likely to want to read it and will often abandon the page. Multiple headers help users quickly grasp the content, which improves overall user experience (an important factor for Google).
Second, subheadings help Google understand the contents of a page. When crafting headers, be sure to use your primary keyword in at least one or two H2 headers. If it makes sense contextually, include the primary keyword again in the H3 or other headers. Add long-tail keywords in some headers, as well, to strengthen the signals to Google about the overarching topic.
Copywriting can supercharge your on-page SEO efforts. When you invest in great content for your landing pages, users will be more engaged. It’s important to note that SEO copywriting best practices aren’t just good for search engines. They also enhance your content marketing for users.
The best bloggers are masters of SEO copywriting, and these are the techniques they use:
- Write concise, compelling introductions. Clearly articulate the problem as well as your solution.
- Avoid long sentences and paragraphs. However, don’t abandon paragraphs entirely or your content won’t flow properly.
- Break up sections that are longer than 300 words with subheadings.
- Incorporate the target SEO keyword naturally throughout the page copy.
- Align content with search intent.
- Always write for your readers.
- Use “bucket brigades” to keep people moving down the page. Bucket brigades are bridge phrases that add conversational value to your copy. Think of phrases like, “here’s the thing…,” “no wonder…,” “but that’s just part of the story…,” or “as it turns out.”
- Incorporate stories and emotion to pique readers’ interest.
Use the target keyword early
Generally speaking, you should try to use your target keyword within the first 100 words. This signals to Google that it’s the primary topic of your page and also tells users they’re in the right place.
Think about how people search the internet. They click on a search result, quickly scan the page, and then leave if they don’t think the page is relevant. Creating compelling intros that include your target keyword keep users from quickly bouncing.
Does keyword density help on-page SEO?
Keyword density refers to how often you use a specific keyword on a web page. If there are 100 words on a page and you use your target keyword five times, your keyword density is 5%.
While there are no hard and fast on-page SEO rules about keyword density, make sure your target keywords appear naturally throughout your post. You should aim for an optimal keyword density that’s in line with the top ranking content for that search term.
In addition to your primary keyword, include synonyms, long-tail keywords, and related terms that could help your page rank. These aren’t the same as latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords, which Google says they don’t use. Instead, they’re just terms related to your topic that help you build context.
Content that satisfies search intent
Google wants to show users high-quality content that satisfies their search intent. In other words, it solves a searcher’s problem completely and efficiently.
At a high level, there are four types of search intent:
- Informational: People are looking for information.
- Navigational: People are trying to find a specific page.
- Commercial: People are doing research before they purchase something.
- Transactional: People are actively wanting to buy something.
A simple way to figure out the intent behind a particular keyword is to look at the first page of results for the query. Titles that include words like how, ways, or methods indicate informational search intent. While words like best and top reveal commercial intent.
Next, you need to craft content that satisfies the intent.
If it’s informational, provide as much relevant content as possible. Thoroughly cover the subject, answer common questions, and help the user understand the issue.
If the intent is commercial, provide searchers with the information they need to make an informed purchasing decision. This could include reviews, pricing, comparisons, photos, FAQ, etc.
If the intent is transactional, make sure your pages are optimized with structured data so products can show up in the Google Shopping carousel. Also, you may want to emphasize specific selling points in your page title, such as discounts, product quality, wide selection, etc.
Write readable text
Although readability isn’t a direct ranking factor, it should still be part of your on-page SEO process. That’s because readable text is easier for Google and users to digest, which ultimately is good for your SEO.
If your text is hard to read, then users may quickly bounce, signaling to Google that the content is not valuable and should be ranked lower.
To make your text readable:
- Make the page skimmable. Break up your content into easily digestible chunks.
- Use multiple headers and subheadings.
- Utilize plenty of paragraph breaks so that you avoid large walls of text.
- Break down lists into bullet points.
- Incorporate supporting images and other visuals.
- Use clear, actionable sentences.
Remember, a majority of people will be reading your content on mobile devices, so make it easy for them to scroll and skim.
Internal linking is important to on-page SEO because they help Google understand the relationship between pages on your site. An extensive internal linking framework reinforces context and relevance as well as your depth of coverage on a topic.
They’re also amazing for user experience. Internal links help people discover more of your content — like additional blog posts, or a valuable case study. A strong internal linking strategy also improves Google Analytics SEO metrics like bounce rate and conversion rate.
When it comes to on-page SEO, you should include internal links to — and from — other relevant pages on your site. It’s especially important to link out from authoritative pages like your homepage.
The anchor text of these links should be a keyword or key phrase that you want the linked page to rank for. Just be sure not to use the same anchor text again and again across various pages as Google may interpret this as keyword stuffing and trying to game the system.
Unlike backlinks, internal links don’t boost your website’s authority because you can add them yourself. Instead, they funnel existing authority and relevancy from your backlinks throughout your website. With this in mind, if your domain already has a massive amount of authority, then internal linking can really move the needle on rankings. In certain cases of extremely high domain authority, internal links can be more important than even backlinks.
Images also need to be optimized for SEO. Start by giving them descriptive file names with words separated by hyphens. Next, optimize the file size so that it loads quickly while still maintaining the quality of the image. If your site is filled with images that are consistently over 400kb, for example, your page load time will be negatively impacted, and this hurts your ability to rank high in Google.
Finally, add text to the image alt tags, with the appropriate keyword occasionally included in the text. The alt text helps search engines understand the image.
On-page SEO factors
Let’s recap the most critical on-page seo techniques you need to follow:
- Use short, descriptive page URLs
- Optimize title tags
- Write compelling meta descriptions
- Implement structured data
- Optimize headers
- Implement SEO copywriting best practices
- Use the target keyword within the first 100 words
- Maintain an appropriate keyword density
- Create content that satisfies user intent
- Write readable text
- Add both internal and outbound links
- Optimize for Google images
Remember, on-page SEO matters. Develop your web pages with these elements in mind, and you’re well on your way to better organic search engine rankings! Want to go even deeper? Check out our ultimate SEO checklist.