What is On-Page SEO?

Search Engine Optimization refers to the practice of optimizing your website content to get it to the top of the page. When most people hear it, they think of keyword research and content marketing, but it’s so much more than that. SEO factors can be divided into two categories: On-Page SEO and Off-Page SEO. On-page factors include:

Content Elements

  • High-Quality Page Content

HTML Elements

  • Page Titles
  • Headers
  • Meta Descriptions
  • Image Alt-text [link to accessibility article]
  • Structured Markup

Site Architecture Elements

  • Page URLs
  • Internal Linking
  • Mobile Responsiveness
  • Site Speed

Off-page SEO includes, you guessed it, anything unrelated to the content on the page. It has a lot of overlap with technical SEO.

  • Site performance
  • Backlinks
  • Domain authority
  • Signals created by social media channels directing traffic to your site
  • Site Speed
  • Data Structure
  • Management of indexing and crawling errors

One person’s hand points at a laptop screen while another person’s hand uses the mousepad.

Why is On-Page SEO Important?

Let’s face it. If you’re not on the first page of Google, you might as well not exist. When was the last time you looked at the second page of search results? The higher up on the SERP you can get, the more potential customers you can reach. The #1 organic search result is 10 times more likely to get a click than #10.

On-Page SEO Checklist

  • Set Up Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a free tool to measure your site’s organic traffic and other search performance metrics. It can help you fix your SEO mistakes and understand how Google sees your website.

  • Set Up Bing Webmaster Tools

Bing may not be as popular as Google, but it gets 1 billion visits each month and is used in Microsoft products like Cortana. It also has its own standards and ranking factors. Setting up their webmaster tools will help you rank on Bing as well as Google.

  • Title

The title of any page or piece of content should match the user’s search intent. If they can’t see that it answers their search query, they’re unlikely to click on it. The page title also has to be visible and relevant to crawlers.

That’s where the title tag comes in.

The title tag is recognizable to people as the clickable headline that goes with the page on the SERP. It doesn’t have to be the same as the title of the page since Google can only display 60-70 characters of a title, but it should be similar. Be sure to use target keywords in both the title and the title tag.

Google search result for HTML title tag

The blue text in this image is the title tag. It’s short and it tells you what the page is about: title tags.

  • URL

SEO-friendly URLs are short, clear, and don’t use strings of numbers and letters that aren’t related to the content of the page. The URL is also a great place to use your main target keyword.

https://bestwebsiteever.com/cool-blog-post is a much better URL structure than https://bestwebsiteever.com/294687_39874.

If you change the URL, make sure to set up a redirect properly. You don’t want any broken links!

  • Meta Description

A meta description is the description that shows up under the title tag and URL of your page on the SERP. It should:

  • Expand on the title
  • Double down on search intent
  • Use an active voice
  • Be 140-160 characters long
  • Include your primary keyword (where it makes sense)
  • Be specific enough to motivate viewers to click on it
  • Include a call to action

Google search result from Moz for Meta Description

The black body text under the title is the meta description.

  • Keyword Research

You may be thinking,“You keep talking about keywords, but how do I choose them?” Follow these steps using a keyword research tool like SEMRush, Moz, or Ahrefs.

  • Perform keyword research to find the top keywords that are:
  • Relevant to the main topic or theme of the content.
  • High in traffic from your target audience.
  • Low in keyword difficulty percentage.
  • Choose one primary keyword for your content and make sure it isn’t assigned to another piece of content.
  • Choose three to five secondary keywords for your content.
  • Determine the appropriate keyword density for your content.

SEMRush keyword overview results for keyword research

This keyword overview of “keyword research” tells us that it is nearly impossible to rank for, which means it should not be a primary keyword.

  • Header Tags

Breaking up your pages into short, easily digestible sections with a heading above each doesn’t just make your content easier to read, but it signals to crawlers which keywords are important.

The H1 tag is for the title of the page. H2 tags are for the subheadings. If you have subheadings within subheadings, break them down further with H2, H3, H4, all the way down to H6

  • Internal Linking

Congratulations! Someone clicked on your website! Ideally, what do you want them to do next? Move them along to that web page with strategic calls to action and internal linking.

Every page should link to at least one other page. Blog posts and other content marketing pieces are great places to lead people elsewhere on your site. If you mention something relevant to any page or feature, drop a hyperlink.

End it with one big call to action like “make a purchase,” “Schedule an appointment,” “Create an account,” or whatever else the main purpose of your business may be.

Pink paperclips form a circle against a light blue background

  • External Linking

Outbound links to your site raise your credibility. But how do you get people to link to you? The best way to do that is to reach out to businesses associated with yours, ask them to link you, and offer to do the same. However, don’t use services that sell outbound links. Those are called link schemes and are frowned upon in the SEO community.

  • SSL

Not only does an SSL certificate keep your customers’ data safe, but sites with https:// are prioritized over sites with just http:// by search engines. You know, because secure sites are better than non-secure ones.

  • Duplicate Content

Having the same content on different pages will ding your SEO score. It signals low quality to search engines. 45% of websites have duplicate content and 50% have duplicate titles, so it’s a good idea to check if yours is one of them. Fortunately, it’s an easy problem to fix. Many site audit services look for duplicate content.

A circular mirror reflecting the ocean

  • Crawlability

In order for your content to rank on Google, little robots have to be able to crawl it and determine what it’s about and how good it is.

These problems can prevent bots from crawling:

  • Broken links
  • Not enough internal links
  • Missing a clear sitemap.xml.
  • A noindex tag implemented
  • Missing schema markup
  • Page Loading Speed

Everyone knows fast websites are better than slow websites. Even bots. Here are a few things could be slowing down your website:

  • Having a large amount of HTML on the page
  • Redirect chains and loops
  • Uncompressed Javascript or CSS files
  • Large Javascript or CSS files

You can improve your page speed by:

  • Not having a lot of HTML on the page
  • Fixing broken links and redirects
  • Compressing Javascript and CSS files
  • Sticking to simple designs
  • Hosting video content with a third party platform
  • Keeping your content concise

Site audits typically include pagespeed insights.

Cars speed past on a highway at night

  • Mobile-Friendliness

More than half of all web traffic worldwide comes from mobile devices. That’s why Google ranks mobile-friendly websites [link to mobile friendly article] higher than those that are not. A mobile-friendly website is one that:

  • Uses a responsive theme
  • Keeps designs simple
  • Uses large and readable fonts
  • Simplifies all forms and menus
  • Loads fast
  • Optimizes images
  • Makes good use of space
  • Has large, hard-to-miss buttons
  • Includes a search bar
  • Includes a site map with URLs
  • Doesn’t use pop-ups

There is a lot of overlap between SEO best practices and mobile-friendly design.

A person looks at their mobile phone and smiles

  • Quality Content

Content marketing is a popular, effective way to raise the SEO profile. Not only is longform content a great opportunity to rank for a lot of keywords, but it allows you to inform and entertain your customers, fill out your social media calendar, and establish your company as experts in your field.

High quality content can include:

  • Blog Posts
  • Videos
  • Social media posts (unpaid)
  • Infographics
  • Ebooks and White Papers
  • Webinars

No matter what format it takes, content becomes high quality when it is:

  • Comprehensive.
  • Useful.
  • Helpful.
  • Educational.
  • Accurate.
  • The best answer for the searcher’s query.

The average word count for #1 ranked content is 1400-1450, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. Just keep your content long enough to cover the subject in depth, but short enough to keep the reader from getting bored.

  • Readability

Readable content is good for visitors and your SEO profile alike.

  • Use simple words and phrases
  • Avoid jargon
  • Write in an active voice
  • Alternate between graphics and text
  • Break long paragraphs into more digestible ones
  • Add subheadings to every paragraph
  • Use bulleted Lists
  • Use video content
  • Reference relevant content
  • Provide summaries
  • Use a table of contents for blog posts

Content for general adult audiences should usually be at an 8th to 9th grade reading level on the Flesch reading scale.

  • Video Content

Videos aren’t just for entertaining your visitors. They can add structure to your page and attract attention from people who prefer visual content to reading. Adding video content won’t affect your SEO in the same way keywords and links do, but for some search queries it can establish search intent. How-to and tutorial topics are great for videos since a lot of people like to be shown how to do things instead of just reading instructions.

  • Images

Visuals are an important component of any website. But too many images and too big images can slow down your load speed. Here are some image best practices:

  • Include at least one image per page
  • Name images descriptively
  • Add descriptive alt text
  • Size images properly
  • Add the primary keyword to the image file name, image title, and image alt tag

A person takes a picture with a Canon brand camera

  • Social Sharing Buttons

Having a strong social media presence associated with your business improves your reputation and increases your SEO credibility. Make it easy for visitors to follow you and share your content with their circles with social media icons and social sharing buttons.

  • Schema Markups

Schema markups are what allow search engine bots to crawl your website to understand the content of the page. You can add one using a generator.

  • Sitemap

A sitemap is a blueprint of your website that helps search engine bots crawl and index it. There are different types of sitemaps, but the most relevant one to SEO is an XML sitemap that links to different pages of the site. The Google XML plugin can create a sitemap for you.

An example of what a sitemap looks like when someone creates one. It includes square icons with arrows demonstrating the flow.

  • Follow SEO Ethics Standards

Tactics that cheat the algorithm and provide no benefit to users are called Black Hat SEO. Legitimate SEO practices are often called White Hat SEO. The penalties for engaging in black hat SEO include a negative impact on search rankings and visibility and possibly getting banned from Google.

Here are some examples of these practices:

  • Keyword Stuffing: using the same keyword repeatedly and unnaturally
  • Content automation: creating automatically generated content for no other purpose than ranking higher
  • Hidden text or links: turning links or lists of keywords the color of the background so they are visible to search engines but not to humans
  • Sneaky redirects: sending users to an unrelated website to falsely inflate traffic.
  • Cloaking: showing one piece of content to users and a different piece of content to search engines
  • Link schemes: mass buying and selling of backlinks
  • Duplicate content: deliberately copy and pasting content across different domains
  • Article Spinning: using a software to rephrase duplicate content so it’s not as obvious copying
  • Abusing Rich Snippets: providing inaccurate information in structured data to manipulate Google into using them for a rich snippet.
  • Comment spam: spamming blog comments with links to your website
  • Phishing, viruses, trojans, and other malware

There are some grey areas in SEO ethics, but it’s better to stay on Google’s good side. If it feels like a loophole, it’s not worth the risk.

A series of green symbols in cascading columns against a black background as visual shorthand for hacking

  • Repeat Every Time You Create a New Page

SEO isn’t a one and done task. Keyword trends are always changing. Google even changes their algorithm from time to time. That’s why it’s important to treat your website’s SEO as an ongoing project. Every time you create a new page, follow this checklist again. Regularly scheduling a site audit will also keep you on top of your game.

How Sav Can Meet Your On-Page SEO Needs

At Sav we know that building the website isn’t where small business owners stop needing our support. These features can help you build a world-class SEO strategy whether you’re a beginner or an expert.

  • All website plans come with SEO tools
  • All of our templates are responsive for mobile use
  • SSL is free for all users
  • Our professionally designed templates are intuitive for users and crawlers alike
  • Use our Google Analytics integration to track your metrics

Start your free trial today to start succeeding online.

Luca Harsh

Luca Harsh

Luca Harsh is an in-house content writer for Sav. They live in Chicago with their cat, Polly. Yes, Harsh is their real last name.