On-page SEO is an important part of SEO because it tells Google what each piece of content on your website is about. The better Google understands your content, the higher you’ll rank in search results, which means more organic traffic, conversions, and revenue. Even better, if you do on-page SEO right, it can improve the user experience.
In this step-by-step on-page SEO guide, I’ll explain the most important best practices for optimizing each page and why they’re so important to your overall SEO strategy.
What is "SEO on the page"?
On-page SEO, also called on-site SEO, is the process of optimizing web pages so that they rank higher in search engines for specific keywords, which increases organic traffic. It means making sure that a page’s title tags, headings, content, and search intent are all in line with a certain set of keywords.
Technical SEO vs. SEO on the page
Some SEOs use the terms technical SEO and on-page SEO interchangeably. But I’d rather keep them apart. In my opinion, technical SEO includes things like page speed and site speed, duplicate content, site structure, crawling, and indexing. In other words, technical optimization looks at your whole website, while on-page optimization looks at certain URLs.
Off-page SEO is everything that happens outside of your website, like building links and mentioning your brand.
Why the page? SEO is so important
Google’s search algorithm is always getting better. It did 800,000 tests and changed its search algorithm more than 5,000 times in 2021.
And yet, even though it keeps getting better, it’s not perfect. Google still needs help to figure out what new content is about. On-page search engine optimization (SEO) is what helps with this.
On-page SEO strategies aren’t as hard as some people say they are. In fact, there are only a few things you need to worry about when it comes to ranking. Your top priority should be giving users a great experience, not just making sure your content is optimized for bots.
URLs are helpful on-page SEO
Google has said that URLs help them understand what a page is about better. So, how do you make your URLs work best?
- Include a keyword: Putting your main keyword in your URL will help search engines and people understand what your page is about.
- Think about the page’s purpose. Along with the main keywords, use descriptive words to help show what the page is about.
- Use real language: Use real words in your URL instead of the numbers and letters that some content management systems generate.
- Be succinct: Keep the structure of your URLs short and simple so that search engines can understand them. Also, Google’s search results often include URLs. Users won’t be able to figure out what your page is about if the URL is a long list of random letters and numbers. The more they know about what your page is about, the more likely they are to click on it when it comes up in a search.
- Use hyphens between words: The use of hyphens make URLs easier to read. Use the URL www.yourcompany.com/coffee-bean-grinders for a page about coffee bean grinders.
- Avoid session IDs: If you can, don’t put session IDs in your URLs because they create a lot of URLs for the same page. Google says that you should instead use first-party cookies.
The title tags and meta descriptions
Meta tags, which are part of page titles, are one of the most important on-page SEO factors. Every page has a title tag, which shows up as a headline in search results. The meta description is a short summary of the page that shows up in search results under the title. Both are important because they tell search engines and people what a page is about.
The title tag directly affects a page’s SEO ranking, but meta descriptions do not.
Both the title and the meta description have a lot to do with whether or not a person clicks on a search result. When both the title and the meta description are optimized, the Click-Through Rate (CTR) goes up. This means that more people click on your link, which means you get more traffic.
Google changed how it handles title tags in August 2021, which is bad news. After the update, Google may change the titles of pages based on other parts of the page, such as headings or anchor text from links. Even though this change has no effect on rankings, if the new title isn’t good, it can have a huge effect on CTR.
In fact, Wordstream’s CTR went down by 37%. See how they fixed it here in their article.
On-page SEO for meta tags
Your title and meta description should be the first things you look at when doing an on-page SEO analysis. do these things:
- Put your main keyword close to the start of the title.
- Keep the title to about 55 or 60 characters so it doesn’t get cut off in search results. If your meta tags are too long, a WordPress plugin like Yoast can tell you.
- Don’t use all caps in title tags.
- Give each page a different title so that Google doesn’t think you have pages that are exactly the same.
- Write titles that are clear and interesting so that people will want to click on them.
- In the meta description, you should include your main keyword. Google will make that keyword stand out in the search results when someone looks for it.
- Don’t use more than 155 characters in the meta description.
- Make sure your meta description says what the page is about. Think of it as an ad and try to word it in a way that makes people want to click.
Data that is set up (schema)
Structured data, also called schema, makes it easier for Google to understand your content. It should be a key part of your on-page SEO audit. Say, for example, you have a page for a product that has information like prices, availability, ratings, etc. Google won’t be able to understand that information unless it is set up in a certain way in the HTML.
Structured Data Types
Structured data is SEO code that you add to your pages that helps Google understand what they are about. There are structured data formats for many different things, such as:
- Local business info
- Star ratings
- Job postings
Google often shows “rich snippets,” which are pieces of structured data right in the search results. If your result has a rich snippet, more people are likely to click on it.
Tools for Structured Data
Keyword research tools like Semrush and Ahrefs look at the Google search engine results pages and show all the SERP features for a target keyword. This helps you figure out what kinds of data you’ll need to add in order for those features to show up.
If you don’t have either of those tools, here is a short list of some Ahrefs alternatives that might help.
Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper is the easiest way to put structured data into place. If you put in the URL of a page, Google will show you how to add structured data. The structured data can then be put to the test with Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. Or, you can use Bing’s guide to structured data to mark up your site.
When you’re done, you just copy the new information to your own website.
Website crawlers like DeepCrawl and Screaming Frog can show what the website’s structured data is. When crawling your own site, the tools can also help you find and fix bugs. This is a great way to see everything your competitor is using on their site if you are crawling their site.
Headers help with SEO on a page
Using more than one header (H1 tag, H2 tag, H3 tag, etc.) on your pages helps SEO in more than one way. First, it makes it easier for people to read what you have to say. When people come to a page and see a wall of text, they are much less likely to want to read it and will often leave the page. Users can quickly understand the content with the help of multiple headers, which improves the overall user experience (an important factor for Google).
Second, subheadings help Google figure out what a page is about. Make sure to use your main keyword in at least one or two H2 headers when writing them. If it makes sense in the context, repeat the main keyword in the H3 or another header.
Writing SEO copy
Copywriting can boost your SEO efforts on a page. When you spend time and money on good content for your landing pages, users will be more interested. It’s important to remember that the best practices for SEO copywriting aren’t just good for search engines. They also improve the marketing of your content for users.
The best bloggers are experts at writing SEO copy, and these are some of the things they do:
- Write introductions that are clear and interesting. Explain the problem and how you plan to solve it.
- Long sentences and paragraphs should be avoided. But don’t get rid of paragraphs altogether, or your writing won’t flow well.
- Use subheadings to break up parts that are longer than 300 words.
- Use the SEO keyword in a natural way all over the page copy.
- Align your content with what people are looking for.
- Write for the people who will read it.
- Use “bucket brigades” to get people to keep reading. Bucket brigades are transitional phrases that make your writing sound more conversational. Think of phrases like “here’s the thing,” “no wonder,” “but that’s just part of the story,” and “as it turns out.”
- Include stories and feelings to get people interested.
Use the main keyword right away
In general, you should try to use the keyword you want to rank for within the first 100 words. This tells Google that it’s your page’s main topic and lets people know they’re in the right place.
Think about how people use the internet to find things. They click on a search result, quickly look at the page, and leave if they don’t think it’s relevant. Using your target keyword in a catchy introduction will keep users from leaving quickly.
Does keyword density help on-page SEO?
Keyword density is how many times you use a certain keyword on a website. If a page has 100 words and you use your target keyword five times, this is called 5% keyword density.
There are no hard and fast rules about how many keywords should be on a page for SEO. But you should use target keywords in your content in a natural way. Aim for a keyword density that is similar to the content that ranks highest for that search term.
Add other keywords, synonyms, or long-tail keywords that are related to your main keyword and could help your page rank. These are not the same as LSI keywords, which Google says it doesn’t use. Instead, they just search queries that are related to your topic and give you more information about it.
Content that matches what people are looking for
Google wants to show people good content that answers their questions. In other words, it solves the problem of a searcher quickly and completely.
There are four main types of search intent, which are:
- Informational: People who search for information are looking for it.
- Users want to go to a particular website or page.
- Advertisement: People want to compare products or services before they buy them.
- Transactional: Users want to buy something.
Look at the first page of search results for a keyword to get a good idea of what it is being used for. Titles with words like “how,” “ways,” or “methods” show that the searcher is looking for information. On the other hand, words like “best” and “top” show that a business is involved.
Next, you have to make content that fits the purpose.
If it’s meant to be informative, include as much useful information as you can. Cover the topic in detail, answer the most common questions, and help the user understand the problem.
If the goal is to make money, give searchers the information they need to make an informed decision about what to buy. This could include things like reviews, prices, comparisons, photos, frequently asked questions, etc.
If the goal is to make a purchase, make sure your pages are optimized with structured data so that products can show up in the Google Shopping carousel. Also, you might want to highlight certain selling points in the title of your page, such as discounts, product quality, a large selection, etc.
Write text that can be read
Even though readability doesn’t directly affect your ranking, it should still be a part of your on-page SEO. This is because the text that is easy to read is easier for Google and users to understand, which is good for your SEO in the long run.
If your text is hard to read, people may leave your site quickly, which hurts conversions, revenue, and return on investment (ROI).
To make your writing easy to read:
- Make the page easy to read. Break up your content into pieces that are easy to understand.
- Use a lot of different headings and subheadings.
- Use a lot of paragraph breaks so you don’t end up with big walls of text.
- Make bullet points out of lists.
- Use images and other visuals to back up your points.
- Use clear, actionable sentences.
- Most people will look at your website on their phones, so make sure it is responsive, easy to read, and easy to skim.
Internal linking is an important part of on-page SEO because it shows Google how your pages relate to each other. With a lot of internal links, you can show context, relevance, and how much you know about a subject.
Links inside a website are also great for the user experience. They make it easier for people to find more of your content, like more blog posts or a useful case study.
A strong internal linking strategy is also a great way to lower your bounce rate and improve other Google Analytics metrics like conversion rate and average session length.
When it comes to on-page SEO, you should link to and from other pages on your site that are relevant. Linking out from authoritative pages like your homepage is especially important.
Use anchor text that is short, descriptive, and focused on a keyword. It’s also important to link the most important parts of your content to other pages that talk about the same thing.
As a side note, don’t use keywords you want to rank for in links to other websites.
Internal links don’t help your site’s authority like backlinks do because you can add them yourself. Instead, they use your backlinks to spread the authority and relevance that are already on your site. Keeping this in mind, if your domain already has a lot of authority, linking to other pages on your own site can make a big difference in how it ranks.
External links are not a direct ranking factor, so linking out to trusted websites won’t help your on-page SEO rankings. But putting links to your sources builds trust, which is important for users. So, it’s best to add external links when you need to, especially when you’re quoting someone or talking about a statistic.
But don’t use anchor text that includes keywords you want to rank for when you add external links. Read my article What Is Anchor Text in SEO to find out why.
For SEO, images also need to be fixed up. Start by giving them file names with words separated by hyphens that tell what the file is about. Next, make the file size as small as possible while still keeping the image’s quality. For example, if your website is full of images that are always over 400kb, your page load time will be slowed down, which will hurt your ability to rank high on Google.
Lastly, add text to the image alt tags, and sometimes use the right keyword in that text. The alt text tells search engines what the picture is about.
Review of on-page SEO factors
Let’s go over the most important things you need to do for on-page SEO:
- Use short, descriptive page URLs
- Optimize title tags Write compelling meta descriptions
- Implement structured data
- Improve headers
- Use best practices for SEO copywriting
- Use the keyword you want to rank for in the first 100 words.
- Make sure your keyword density is right.
- Make content that answers what the user wants.
- Write text that is easy to read and add both internal and external links.
- Optimize your images for Google
Remember, SEO on the page is important. If you build your web pages with these things in mind, you’ll be well on your way to better organic search engine rankings. Want to go even deeper? Check out our ultimate list of SEO tasks.