“On-page SEO is the practice of optimizing individual web pages in order to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic in search engines. On-page refers to both the content and HTML source code of a page that can be optimized, as opposed to off-page SEO which refers to links and other external signals.”
It’s the part you see – content, images, keywords, etc. – as well as the not-so-obvious parts like meta tags. It’s anything you can control in the code or content.
And that’s the beauty of it. You’re in control here (so you better do it right).
Let me show you how with this SEO list.
1. First, Do Your SERP Research
Successful SEO requires a proactive approach.
SEO and Google algorithms go through almost constant changes, and before you go through the efforts of optimizing all your pages, make sure you’re doing it the right way.
Start by researching the SERPs. Enter one of your keywords into Google and see what comes up.
The results will show you what Google thinks are the most relevant results for that particular search term. Really examine the first few results to get a feel for what it’s doing well – the URL, title, featured snippet, etc.
Click the first few results and the page it leads to. How does the page look? Is it a long-form blog post? An optimized product page?
More importantly, look for any gaps you can fill. If you think there’s a question about your keyword that isn’t being answered in the search results, it may be a great opportunity for you to create content that has a great chance of ranking.
2. Keyword Research On-Page SEO Checklist
In the world of ever-changing SEO practices, one thing remains constant: the need for keywords and keyword research. That keyword research is one of the most important criteria in your on site SEO checklist.
As a marketer, you’re familiar with this and the hundreds of tools to help you choose the best keywords for your biz.
But here’s what you don’t want to: rely on those tools too much.
Keyword research doesn’t begin with tools. It begins with your target market. They’re the ones who will be searching for your content, so it’s crucial to understand their demographics, interests, and needs.
Once you’ve identified who your audience is, the next step is to segment your market by splitting it up into smaller sub-groups based on different needs, demographics, and interests.
Why? Because different people in your target audience will search for different things, and you want to cover all your bases.
Those just browsing will use words like “review,” “best,” and “top 10”, while those intending to buy will likely use terms like “buy,” “affordable,” and “discount.”
In 2019, this categorization is especially important. Google is prioritizing user intent more than ever when it comes to search rankings. So if Google determines that a search query has purchase intent, then the results list will heavily favor e-commerce sites because the user is looking to buy something.
These days, you also have to take voice search into account.
One of the biggest differences from traditional search lies in how the query is framed. With voice search, the query is more than often in question form.
That means taking into account all possible questions your content might answer, and including direct answers throughout your copy (especially towards the top). Q&A and FAQ formats will also help you rank better in voice searches.
3. On-Page SEO: Short, Descriptive URLs
Let’s start this off with a little show and tell.
Of the two, which URL do you prefer?
I’ll go ahead and assume you chose the first.
You picked for all the obvious reasons: it’s shorter, cleaner, easier to read and to the point.
Those are all the reasons Google will like that one better as well. Google’s own Matt Cutts confirmed in 2008 that Google’s algorithm prefers URLs with 3-5 words.
Granted, that’s a long time ago and you can certainly get away with a few more words, but as a rule of thumb: the shorter the better.
Always make sure your URL contains the main keyword and accurate portrayal of what the page is about. If Google doesn’t know what your page is about, it won’t be able to crawl it effectively.
4. Clean Title Tags
Next up in your on page optimization checklist: title tags.
Title tags are an incredibly important part of on-site optimization.
Title tags are what search engines crawl, and like URLs they use keywords in the title tag to determine the intent of the page.
If Google bot sees the keywords included in your title tag, it will consider ranking you for that page.
They’re also what Google takes and displays within the search results. So when you perform a search in Google, the results you see are likely taken straight from the title tag.
As a best practice, you want to try to include 2-3 keywords within your title, and keep the main keyword towards the front of the title.
Generally speaking, you want compelling text to bookend each side of your keywords. A general formula will look something like this
<compelling text>primary keyword, secondary keyword<compelling text>
Also, keep in mind that Google will limit your title text to 50-60 characters, so you don’t too have much space to work with here.
With that in mind, you’ll find yourself in plenty of situations where only one keyword can be included. That’s perfectly fine, as long as it makes sense for the topic and can clearly be identified as the target keyword.
For more information, check out my full guide on structuring the perfect title tag for SEO.
No onsite SEO checklist would be complete without addressing H2 tags.
Your H2 tags are your subheadings.
These are used throughout the body of your text to divide your content into logical, scannable blocks.
The obvious benefit here is that it makes your content more user-friendly. These days, a good website is all about positive user experience, and a big part of that is delivering easy to digest content.
Clear headings act as a roadmap to help users navigate your content, and have the ability to help increase a user’s time spent on your site.
From an SEO standpoint, it represents an opportunity to maximize the number of times you can include your target keyword. Unlike H1’s, which are only used once per page, you can use multiple H2 tags throughout your page.
But remember, H2 tags still have to obey content laws: include the keyword only where it’s relevant and natural, and don’t include it in every H2 subhead.
As a rule of thumb, try to include your target keyword in ever 3-4 subheadings.
6. On-Page SEO: Meta Descriptions
Meta descriptions are another important SEO factor to pay attention to.
Meta descriptions are small snippets of text that describe a page’s content. Its purpose is to explain to search engines what a page is about.
You’ll sometimes see these descriptions in Google, though not always. Sometimes, Google will select a piece of text from within the page instead if it deems it more relevant.
Either way, your meta description can still have an effect on your SEO and click-through rate (CTR).
At the end of last year, Google increased the maximum description link from 160 to 320 characters (twice what it was previously).
Thanks to the change, snippets that used to be cut off can now be shown in full, giving viewers a fuller summary of what a page is about. In that way, this new change can also have a positive impact on your CTR.
So if you weren’t paying attention to your meta descriptions, it’s time to.
7. Relevant, Longform Content
I can’t stress this one enough.
Your content is the bread and butter of your site, and will ultimately have the biggest impact on where your page ends up in the SERPs.
Specifically, for a modern SEO content checklist, you need to be focusing on longform content.
There’s no exact length for a post to be considered longform, but as a general rule, it should be over 1,5000 words. 2,000 words? Even better.
Posts that long may seem counterintuitive. Given readers short attention spans, you may think that the shorter the post, the better chance you have a reader actually consuming it.
But when it comes to onsite SEO, that simply isn’t the case. Longer posts perform better.
serpIQ conducted a study of the average length of the content in the top 10 results of search queries and found that the top-rated posts usually were over 2,000 words.
Longer posts attract more backlinks than shorter ones, which will increase its page authority and position in the rankings.
Beyond that longer, more comprehensive posts will help you seal your position as a thought leader in your industry.