Face it…you’ve read countless SEO articles online. You’ve consumed hundreds of tips and tricks for enhancing your website’s SEO. You’ve even (over)paid a “professional” to develop an SEO strategy that aligns with your business goals. However, after all of your reading, learning, and strategizing, you realize that you haven’t acted on anything yet! You can easily brush this off due to intimidation, or even lack of time. Regardless of your rationale, there simply isn’ an excuse for dragging your feet when it comes to on-page SEO. On-page SEO has the ability to reel in new visitors and customers directly to your website.
On-page SEO is totally up to you. You get to:
- Establish the topic and/or goal for each page
- Decide on the target audience for each page
- Choose the target keyword(s) and phrase(s) you want to focus on
All you need to do is get started, and this guide will help you do just that!
What is on-page SEO?
On-page SEO (aka on-site SEO) is the process of optimizing different front-end and back-end elements. The goal is to enhance your website so that it dominates in search engines and attract new visitors. A few of the more essential on-page SEO components include content elements, site architecture elements, and HTML elements.
Google’s algorithms rank websites on three core factors: on-page SEO, off-page SEO, and technical SEO.
- This post will focus on on-page SEO
- Off-page SEO has to do with social sharing, external linking, and other off-page factors
- Technical SEO involves all the SEO elements not included in on-page and off-page practices, such as structured data, site speed, and mobile readiness.
Note: It is important to note that this SEO trio isn’t always divided into three clearly defined sections. Some of these SEO elements will overlap. You will see how and why as we work our way through this post.
Why is it important?
On-page SEO is vital because it tells Google all about your website and how you provide value to both visitors and customers. In short, on-page SEO ensures that your site is optimized for both human eyes and search engine bots.
Simply creating and publishing your site isn’t enough these days. You need to optimize it for Google and other search engines in order to rank and attract new traffic.
On-page SEO is called “on-page” since the tweaks and changes you make to enhance your website are visible to visitors on your page. Whereas off-page and technical SEO elements aren’t always visible to the naked eye.
Every piece of on-page SEO is totally up to you. This is why it’s vital that you do it the right way. Now, let’s walk through the elements of on-page SEO.
On-Page SEO Elements
All on-page SEO elements fall into one of three core categories:
- Content elements
- HTML elements
- Site architecture elements
Content elements are the elements within your site copy and content. This section will focus on crafting high-quality page content that benefits your visitors and tells Google that your website is rich with value.
High-quality page content
Sound content is the heart and soul of on-page SEO. Page content tells both search engines and readers what your website and business is all about. It also shares how you can help.
The first step towards creating high-quality content is choosing relevant keywords and topics. You can conduct keyword research by searching Google for terms and seeing what surfaces for competitors and other websites. You can also use tools such as Ahrefs, AnswerthePublic, and UberSuggest.
Next, you’ll want to consider how your page content falls into the buyer’s journey and visitors’ search intent. These will impact how you will use your keywords and what types of content you will create:
Now, it’s about high time to write your page content – or clean it up if you’re in the process of auditing your on-page SEO.
Here are a few of the top practices for writing high-quality page content:
- Incorporate both short and long-tail keywords naturally
- Include engaging and relevant visual content
- Write with your ideal buyer persona(s) in mind
- Actively solve your audience’s problems
- Craft content that people will share and link to
- Optimize for conversions with CTAs to offers and product pages
Your page content is a prime opportunity to convey value to both Google and your site visitors. In short, it’s the very heart of the entire on-page SEO process. All other on-page SEO elements extend from high-quality page content, so it’s important to invest ample resources to both develop and optimize it.
HTML elements have to do with the components in your source code.
Your website page titles (aka title tags) are one of the most vital SEO elements.
Titles tell both visitors and search engines what they can find on the corresponding pages.
To ensure your site pages rank for the proper intent, make sure to include the focus keyword for each page in the title. Furthermore, make sure to incorporate the keyword as naturally as possible.
Here are a few of the best practices when it comes to developing a page title:
- Keep it under 70 characters – any longer and your title will be cut off in search results. Mobile search results will show up to 78 characters
- Don’t stuff the title with keywords. Keyword-stuffing not only presents a spammy and tacky reading experience, but modern search engines are smarter than ever – they’ve been designed to specifically monitor (and penalize!) content that’s unnaturally stuffed with keywords
- Make it relevant to the page at hand
- Don’t use ALL CAPS
- Feature your brand in the title, i.e. “On-Page SEO: The Ultimate User Guide – Andrew Roche”
Headers, also known as body tags, refer to the HTML element <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, and so on.
These tags are great since they help organize your content for both readers and search engines. In short, they help distinguish what part of your content is most important and relevant, depending on the search.
Make sure to incorporate important keywords in headers, but choose different ones than what’s in your page title. You can make this happen by featuring your most important keywords in your <h1> and <h2> headers.
Meta descriptions are the short descriptions that appear under the title in SERPs (search engine result pages). While it is not an official ranking for search engines, it can influence whether or not users click on your page. That being said, it’s just as important when doing on-page SEO.
Meta descriptions can also be copied over to social media whenever users share your content, so it can encourage click-throughs from there, too.
Here are a few tips for what makes for a strong meta description:
- Keep it under 160 characters, even though Google has been known to allow longer meta descriptions – up to 220 characters. The 160 character limit is a good cutoff point since mobile devices cut off meta descriptions at 120 characters
- Include your entire keyword or keyword phrase
- Avoid alphanumeric characters like -, &, or +
Image alt-text is like SEO for your images. It tells Google and other search engines what your images are about…this is important because Google now delivers almost as many image-based results as they do text-based results. This means that consumers could very well discover your site via your images. In order for them to do this, you have to add alt-text to your images.
Here’s what you need to be mindful of when adding image alt-text:
- Make it descriptive and specific
- Make it contextually relevant to the broader page content
- Keep it under 125 characters
- Use keywords sparingly
- Don’t keyword stuff
Structured markup, or structured data, is the process of “marking up” your website source code to make it easier for Google to find and better understand different elements of your content. It is the driving force behind those featured snippets, knowledge panels, and other content features you experience when you search for something on Google. It is also how your specific page information shows up cleanly when someone shares your content via social media.
Note: Structured data is technically considered technical SEO, but we’re including it here since optimizing it creates a better on-page experience for users.
Site Architecture Elements
Site architecture elements refer to the elements that make up your website and site pages. How you structure your website can help Google and other various search engines easily crawl the pages and page content.
Page URLs should be simple to process for both readers and search engines alike. They’re also important when keeping your site hierarchy consistent as you create subpages, blog posts, and other types of internal pages.
Here are a few tips to help you write SEO-friendly URLs:
- Remove the unnecessary words
- Use only one or two keywords
- Use HTTPS if at all possible – Google now uses this as a positive ranking factor
Internal linking is the process of hyperlinking to other helpful pages throughout your website. Internal linking is important for on-page SEO since internal links send readers to other pages on your website, which keeps them around longer and in turn tells Google that your site is both valuable and helpful. Furthermore, the longer visitors are on your website, the more time Google has to crawl and index your site pages. This ultimately helps Google soak up more information about your website. This could potentially make it rank higher on the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Are you aware that over the course of 2019, Google has started favoring sites that are optimized for faster mobile speeds…even for desktop searches? That being said, mobile responsiveness matters!
It’s critical to choose a website hosting service, site design and theme, and content layout that’s easy to read and navigate on mobile devices. If you’re not sure about your own site’s mobile readiness, be sure to check out Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool.
Whether you’re viewing your site via a mobile device or a desktop, your site must load quickly. When it comes to on-page SEO, page speed counts big-time!
Google genuinely cares about user experience first and foremost. If your site loads slowly or in chunks, it’s likely your visitors aren’t going to stick around. Google knows this to be true. Moreover, site speed can impact conversions and ROI.
You can check your website’s speed anytime using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.
Note: Mobile responsiveness and site speed are both considered technical SEO, but we’re including them here because optimizing them creates a better on-page experience for visitors.