Like dogs, SEO comes in different breeds.
(I’m currently persuading my other half to let us adopt a dog, so I’ve got dog breeds on the brain. Bear with me.)
Each breed of SEO has its own set of best practices and expected results.
On-page SEO is one of the more “popular” breeds, because it brings faster ranking improvements than off-page SEO tactics like building backlinks.
But that doesn’t make it easy.
On-page SEO isn’t a breed of SEO that you can hit “apply to all” and roll out the amendments to your entire website.
…Nor is it a breed where you can harness the power of another, stronger website to boost your own.
It’s a different breed entirely—and I’m going to show you how to tame the beast that’s on-page SEO to make a real dent in the SERPs.
What Is On-page SEO?
Defined as the actions which help a single page to rank higher in the SERPs, on-page SEO is a category of SEO tactics that you need to do on a page-by-page basis.
Sounds time-consuming, right? Clicking through every page on your website, and applying individual tactics to make it rank higher—especially when you have hundreds, or potentially thousands, of live URLs.
But that doesn’t mean it should be stricken off your SEO to-do list.
In fact, on-page SEO should take pride of place near the top.
Why? Well, because the set of on-page SEO techniques we’re about to discuss have the power to transform your entire SEO strategy.
But don’t just take my word for it.
Now that’s a change I’d love for you to experience!
On-page SEO: A 13-Point Checklist to Supercharge Your Page Rankings
1. Find Your Keywords
Ah, the one word that always comes to mind when we say “SEO”—keywords.
As much as these little SEO buddies make our lives easier, it’s tough to find the right ones. (Harshly similar to IRL buddies.)
You see, finding the right keyword for your page isn’t as simple as plucking a word out of the air that best describes it. SEO takes more work than that, I’m afraid.
Your page shouldn’t have one lone keyword. You don’t want it to get lonely, yes, but more importantly—2-5 additional keywords cater to Google’s LSI indexing, where Google knows when similar words mean the same thing.
Let’s use an example. If I had a page for my collection of “cat toys,” I wouldn’t stuff “cat toys” into the text wherever I could. Instead, I’d sprinkle in a variety of keywords like:
- “toys for cats”
- “kitten toys”
- “best cat toys”
- “interactive cat toys”
…on the same page.
Not only does this make the content sound more natural (and boost user experience), but it shows Google that you’re writing for humans, not bots.
And that’s always a good thing.
So, are you ready to find the keywords your page should be using to optimize it for on-page SEO?
Block out a couple of hours in your diary and follow our ultimate guide to keyword research. It might take a while to crank through, but it’ll be worth it—especially when you’re ranking on page #1!
2. Keep URLs Clean and Tidy
Google’s main aim is to always show the best results for a searcher’s query. Because of that, a small tweak to your page’s URL structure could skyrocket its rankings.
Put simply: Cluttered, untidy and unstructured URLs look spammy.
Which one of these links would you be wary of clicking on?
I’ll bet it’s option A. It looks spammy, and like you’d be at risk of downloading fishy files to your PC, should you click it.
Google uses this same ideology when deciding where a page should rank.
Don’t believe me? When Backlinko analyzed over a million SERPs, they found a shocking correlation between URL length and ranking:
That means you should keep your URLs clean and easy to understand.
Avoid using numbers, use your keyword, and opt for dashes instead of underscores—as explained by former Head of Web Spam at Google, Matt Cutts:
(Psst… If you’re changing the URL of a page that already exists, don’t forget to redirect the old URL—and its backlinks—to the new one, as soon as it’s been changed!)
3. Take Care When Writing Your First 100 Words
When it comes to the content being used on your page, the first 100 words are critical—no matter whether it’s a blog post or category page.
It’s the first thing a search engine reads on the page, and the first thing a user reads, too.
(If that’s not important, I don’t know what is.)
Because of this, you’ll need to put some thought into the first section of text on the page when implementing on-page SEO.
As a general rule of thumb, each page’s introduction should:
- Appear high on the page, ideally above the fold and not hidden behind images.
- Convince people to keep reading. This will boost time on site (known to be a ranking factor).
- Include your primary keyword where it sounds natural, like this example on negative SEO:
Wondering whether your introduction is doing the job? Before uploading it to your site, ask a friend to read it and hazard a guess at the keyword you’re targeting.
If they’re along the right lines, you’ve done well!
4. Don’t Be Afraid of Going into Detail
Although the first 100 words are the most important, don’t forget about the other words that fill your page, too—especially when it comes to blog posts.
You see, long-form content (over 2,000 words) is well-loved by Google, as shown in this data:
The simple answer is this: A long-form piece of content is likely to cover everything a searcher needs. Unlike a 500-word piece that answers a single question, long-form pieces go above and beyond—and deserve to be rewarded for it.
Because of this, don’t be afraid to go in-depth.
Follow Moz’s 10x content framework:
…and make your piece of content much better than anything else already available on the same topic.
You could do this by:
- Adding more data
- Explaining certain points in more detail
- Using graphs and/or other visuals
Granted, 10x content takes time to create. But, considering long-form pieces helped one law firm to jump their page’s ranking from 8-9th position to position #3 within 30 days, it’s a fantastic investment.
5. Use Heading Tags Properly
Numerically ordered from 1-6, another key element of on-page SEO is heading tags.
(Find them in your WordPress editor by clicking the text formatting button.)
Contrary to popular belief, these heading tags aren’t just used to make text appear pretty on a webpage. Although they can be formatted to do that, too.
The main reason for these heading tags is to allow search engine spiders to understand what the page is discussing, and what phrases it should rank for.
So, it goes without saying that including keywords in your heading tags is a good way to get started.
However, you might not realize that the order of these tags is just as—if not more—important than what you put in them.
Here’s why: Google spiders use the tags to understand the page. If you’re adding an <h6> tag before an <h2>, Google will assume that your heading 6 is nearing the end of the article.
What happens then? They exit, and don’t get an accurate understanding of your content.
So, avoid random heading hierarchies like this: H2, followed by H5, followed by H3.
…and stick to ordered ones like this: H2, followed by H3 for sub-section, followed by H2 for a new section.
That way, you’re not confusing Google, but still ordering your page’s content in a clear, easy-to-understand manner.
6. Add Multimedia
Following on from creating 10x content as part of your on-page SEO strategy, I wanted to explain one point in more detail: using graphs and/or other visuals on the page.
There are hundreds of possibilities when looking to improve the quality of your page. I’d add multimedia pretty high up there, purely because of the SEO benefits it can bring.
Earlier, I mentioned that high time on site (also known as “dwell time”) is a ranking factor used in search engine algorithms. Google wants to know the pages they’re directing searchers to are solving their query. If searchers are investing time into that page (and not clicking off instantly), it shows you’re doing your job.
An awesome way to boost your time on page is to add video. Simply browse YouTube, and insert the URL into your content.
The best part about this on-page SEO tactic? The video doesn’t have to be your own. Use it like you would an external link to another reputable website—to provide more information and add value.
Graphs and Visual Data
Percentages, statistics and facts all add authority to your page. If you’re able to prove the topic you’re discussing can be backed up by other websites, it’s instantly more credible.
Having said that, a list of data can be boring to read.
So, try livening up the page by adding visual representations of the data you’re sharing, like this example by Printerland:
You can do something similar for your own content by:
- Turning original data into graphs
- Collecting statistics on a specific topic and turning it into a pie chart
- Hiring an illustrator to create comics, funny images or quotes, based on content already on the page
Using original images on your page helps with image SEO, too—an SEO tactic that’s set to make a dramatic return from the dead.
Infographics are liked and shared 3x more than any other type of content. Considering Google uses social signals in their ranking algorithm, infographics are a fantastic way to diversify the appearance of your page—and cater to the return of image search, too.
So, fancy creating your own? Here’s what you’ll need to do:
1. Use Pinterest to gain inspiration for your infographic. Search “[topic] + infographic” in the main search bar.
2. Pick an infographic template from Canva.
3. Insert the stats, data or information you want to show.
4. Save and upload the infographic to your site, with ~250 words to give search engines an understanding of what the piece is discussing.
7. Name Images Properly
Because image SEO is making a dramatic return, naming your images properly is an important on-page SEO tactic to add to your to-do list.
Why? Because correctly naming your image files before uploading them to your website can help them to be found on Google image search—like this lovely bunch:
You can improve the chances of your page ranking for its keyword by naming your image files properly. Here are some tips to get started:
- Use your main keyword when naming the file on your PC
- Add optimized alt text to the image when uploading to your website
Get ready to see “Image search” make an appearance in your traffic source data!
8. Add Internal Links
Did you know that internal links aren’t just to direct people to other pages on your site?
(Although that is a good thing. Remember what I said about high time on site?)
Internal links also help Google’s spiders to find, crawl and index new pages, rather than waiting for them to find them naturally—which could take a while.
When adding internal links, there’s one thing to be hyper-aware of: the anchor text you’re using. Unlike off-page SEO, where you don’t have control over the anchor text of the backlink, you have full control over the anchor text of internal links.
Use that to your advantage!
For every internal link being inserted on your page, optimize it for the keyword of the page it’s linking to.
By adding optimized internal links to your page, you’re:
- Contributing to the page’s backlink profile
- Passing link juice through
- Encouraging Google to index each page faster
That’s bound to lead to higher rankings, if you ask me.
9. …and External Links, Too
On a similar note, make sure you don’t fill your page with internal links. Create a balance of internal and external links.
Why? Because, after an experiment which tested the impact of outbound links on rankings, Reboot found a strong correlation. They said:
“Outgoing relevant links to authoritative sites are considered in the algorithms and do have a positive impact on rankings.”
This happens for several reasons, the main one being that your own page looks more credible if you’re backing up your content with facts.
In the SEO world, links are trust signals. If you’re connecting your data points with real, third-party sources, Google will believe the content you’re sharing is factually sound.
10. Optimize Your Meta Title
The meta title of your page is the first thing:
- spiders see when crawling your site, and
- users see when your site appears in SERPs
In short: It’s pretty important.
But, we’re not going to focus on the search engine side of meta titles, because the tip to optimize them is pretty self-explanatory: Use your keywords.
What I will focus on is the human element, because persuading people to click your result boosts click-through rate—an element proven to boost rankings.
You can improve the organic CTR of your page with these tips:
- Category pages: Add power words like “buy” and “shop.”
- Blog posts: Add words like “best” and “2018.”
11. …and Your Meta Descriptions
Got your meta title down to a T? You’re off to a great start—but you’re not finished, just yet.
You should also think about the meta descriptions you’re using when optimizing for on-page SEO.
Despite meta descriptions not having huge SEO weight, they still impact CTR, so you’ll need to use this space to convince a searcher to click on your page over someone else’s.
Meta descriptions have historically had a 160-character limit, but that changed at the end of 2017, and meta descriptions now show about 200-300 characters.
With more space to play with, you can make the most of your meta descriptions and increase your click-through rate by:
- Using power words like “special offer” or “ultimate”
- Including your USPs
- Featuring key product details
However, when writing your meta descriptions, there’s one thing to remember: Make it clear. Don’t use clickbait—this could skyrocket your bounce rate, and have an adverse impact on your rankings.
Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
12. Make It Easy for Readers to Share Your Content
The impact of social shares on SEO has been debated for a long time. But, taking a look at this data by Hootsuite, you can see a positive relationship between social shares and rankings:
In short: Your page needs to be prominent on social media if you’re looking to boost its chances of ranking in the SERPs.
The simplest way to do that? Make it easy for your readers to share.
That way, people are reminded to share your page (if they’re enjoying it), and you can see a boost in the number of eyeballs on your content through social media.
Talk about a win-win!
13. Boost the Page’s Loading Speed
Running the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious over here, let’s clear one thing up: Google’s main priority is to show the highest-quality, most relevant results for a user’s query.
You already knew that, right?
But what you might not realize is the impact your page’s loading speed can have on how quality-packed your site is, in Google’s eyes.
You see, a page with a loading speed of 30+ seconds doesn’t really fit the “high-quality” bill. Because of that, Google is unlikely to rank the URL high—and potentially frustrate their own audience, should they be pointed in your site’s direction.
In fact, Google is so concerned about this that they’ve made mobile loading speed part of their new algorithm, to be rolled out from July of this year.
So, here’s a nifty little tool that’ll make your life easier: PageSpeed Insights.
Created by Google, simply plug your URL into the tester, and be greeted with a rating for your page’s speed as well as suggestions for improvement:
Stuck with a rating of “slow” or “average?” Don’t let it drag down the ranking power of the page. Instead, try and make these changes to speed up loading times:
- Compress images before uploading
- Delete unnecessary files
- Switch to a better website hosting provider
Remember: Try to make your loading times as fast as possible. Nobody likes having the time to pick their kids up from school and finish the weekly grocery shop before your page finally loads.
When using this on-page SEO checklist to boost the ranking power of your page, remember: It may take a while for the changes to make an impact.
SEO can take a few months to bed in, but don’t give up. These techniques have been proven to work, time and time again.
Follow this guide to a T, and your page-by-page rankings will soon be shooting up the SERPs.
Plus, make sure you’re tracking those rankings—and the backlinks you’re getting—with Monitor Backlinks to see the results of your on-page SEO in action.