On-page SEO is the practice of optimizing web pages to earn organic traffic and improve a website’s rankings in the SERP (search engine results pages). This includes optimizing a page’s HTML, internal links, and metadata (meta title, meta description, and keyword density) along with posting high-quality, relevant content and images. When you add all these aspects of a webpage together, you are left with an improved webpage, thanks to on-page SEO.
Similarly, there are ranking factors for search engines that lie outside the site owner’s control, this is called off-page SEO. Things like backlinks from other sites, social media, brand mentions, and shares can all have a direct or non-direct effect on a site’s rankings in the SERP.
Either way, this is the main area of focus for search engines, which means it should be the main focus of any SEO marketing strategy.
Some SEO’s use the terms on-page SEO and technical SEO interchangeably. But I like to keep them separate. In my view, technical SEO addresses things like page speed and site speed, duplicate content, site structure, crawling, and indexing. In other words, technical optimization focuses on your entire website, while on-page optimization focuses on specific URLs.
There’s also off-page SEO, which includes everything that happens outside your website, such as link building and brand mentions.
On-page SEO helps search engines analyze your website and the content connected to it so that it can identify if a searcher’s query is relevant to your site. Google is constantly updating their algorithm so that it can better understand a searcher’s intent and deliver search results that meet that user’s needs. As Google’s algorithm develops, so should your website.
It is essential that your website and its content, including what is visible to users (i.e. media, content, images) and what is visible to search engines (i.e. meta data, HTML), are optimized to the latest practices used by companies like Google and Bing. This way search engines can understand your site and how to rank it.
Whether you have a big or small business, it is important to optimize a website’s on-page SEO. SEO represents one of the most common digital marketing strategies, and it remains super popular because of its reliable return-on-investment. In fact, on-page SEO offers the best ROI out of nearly any digital marketing strategy with its relatively low-cost and long-term benefits that can help websites grow and bring in passive traffic for years.
As much as half of all website traffic comes from search engines like Google or Bing, this means that close to 40% of online revenue comes from search traffic as well. Here’s something else to think about: The top 1st result on Google gets more than 32% of keyword traffic, and the first page of search results grab as much as 91.5% of traffic.
This is why on-page SEO is important. Without it, your site could be seriously missing out on opportunities to rank for search queries specific to your business. Without an SEO strategy, then your site might get pushed down search results by competitors. This is a big part of why many companies hire an SEO agency, because the world of search marketing has grown to represent approximately $79 billion.
Aside from the on-page SEO strategies mentioned before, there are other important elements that are crucial to the success of a site. Optimizing these are key to maintaining an on-page strategy. The three main ways to do this are through meta data, content writing, and internal linking.
Your metadata will be in the HTML code of each page and specifically includes your page’s title-tag and meta description, which are used in search engine results to list your pages. When you use a search engine to look up a query, the meta title and meta description are all located in the link to that page. Having your metadata optimized with good keywords and detailed content will help users and search engines know what your page has to offer.
The first step in your on-page SEO analysis should be to look at your title and meta description. Follow these steps:
Structured data, or schema, helps Google understand your content even better, so should be a crucial part of your on-page SEO audit. For example, say you have a product page that includes things like prices, availability, ratings, etc. Unless you structure that information in a specific way in the HTML, Google won’t be able to understand it.
Structured data is specific on-page SEO code you put on your pages that help Google understand the content. There are specific structured data formats for a wide variety of things, including:
Google often includes structured data directly in the search results, showing it as a “rich snippet”. Having a rich snippet increases the chances of someone clicking on your result.
Keyword research tools like Semrush and Ahrefs analyze the Google search engine results pages and display all the SERP features for a target keyword. This helps you identify which types of data you’ll need to implement to show up for those features.
If you don’t have either of those tools, here’s a short list of some Ahrefs alternatives that might help.
The simplest way to implement structured data is to use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper. Enter the URL of a page and Google will guide you through the process of adding structured data. You can then test the structured data using Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. Or, you can reference Bing’s guide to marking up your site with structured data.
Once you’re done, you simply copy the updated information over to your own site.
Website crawlers such as DeepCrawl and Screaming Frog can reveal the structured data on the website. If you’re crawling your own site, the tools are also useful for debugging errors. If you’re crawling a competitor’s site, this is a great way to see everything your competitor is using.
Using multiple headers (H1 tag, H2, H3, etc.) on your pages helps with SEO in several ways. First, it makes it much easier for users to read your content. If visitors encounter a wall of text on a page, they’re much less likely to want to read it and will often abandon the page. Multiple headers help users quickly grasp the content, which improves overall user experience (an important factor for Google).
Second, subheadings help Google understand the contents of a page. When crafting headers, be sure to use your primary keyword in at least one or two H2 headers. If it makes sense contextually, include the primary keyword again in the H3 or other headers.
“Headers help search engines and users understand your content by breaking it down into manageable sections.”
Copywriting can supercharge your on-page SEO efforts. When you invest in great content for your landing pages, users will be more engaged. It’s important to note that SEO copywriting best practices aren’t just good for search engines. They also enhance your content marketing for users.
The best bloggers are masters of SEO copywriting, and these are the techniques they use:
Generally speaking, you should try to use your target keyword within the first 100 words. This signals to Google that it’s the primary topic of your page and also tells users they’re in the right place.
Think about how people search the internet. They click on a search result, quickly scan the page, and then leave if they don’t think the page is relevant. Creating compelling intros that include your target keyword keep users from quickly bouncing.
Keyword density refers to how often you use a specific keyword on a web page. If there are 100 words on a page, and you use your target keyword five times, your keyword density is 5%.
There are no definitive on-page SEO rules about keyword density. However, you should use target keywords naturally throughout your content. Aim for an optimal keyword density that’s in line with the top ranking content for that search term.
In addition to your primary keyword, include other relevant keywords, synonyms, or long-tail keywords that could help your page rank. These aren’t the same as latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords, which Google says they don’t use. Instead, they’re just search queries related to your topic that help you build context.
You need to be careful about how many pages you target for each keyword. Too many pages could lead to keyword cannibalization. And keyword stuffing can lead to a frustrating user experience. To avoid keyword stuffing, focus on relevant keywords only. Optimize your page by adding the right keyword phrases, that will help your page to maintain a healthy keyword density that is an important SEO strategy. Pages that lack keyword density or lack primary keyword usage can lose their authority with search engines.
This refers to the main goal a user has when they type in a query into a search engine. The goal with understanding user content is being able to optimize your keywords to match the content which that page includes.
For example, if someone searches for “Golden Retrievers,” are they looking to adopt one or just wanting to learn about them?
This is where being specific in your metadata is important.
At a high level, there are four types of search intent:
Think about user intent when beginning your keyword research and when starting to implement your on-page SEO adjustments. Having a professional SEO team or agency can help with valuable keyword research and integration to help you get the best results here.
As you build out your metadata and site content, you should make sure that your strategy is just as much about getting customers what they need as it is about improving SEO.
A simple way to figure out the intent behind a particular keyword is to look at the first page of results for the query. Titles that include words like how, ways, or methods indicate informational search intent. Alternatively, words like best and top reveal commercial intent.
Next, you need to craft content that satisfies the intent.
If it’s informational, provide as much relevant content as possible. Thoroughly cover the subject, answer common questions, and help the user understand the issue.
If the intent is commercial, provide searchers with the information they need to make an informed purchasing decision. This could include reviews, pricing, comparisons, photos, FAQ, etc.
If the intent is transactional, make sure your pages are optimized with structured data so products can show up in the Google Shopping carousel. Also, you may want to emphasize specific selling points in your page title, such as discounts, product quality, wide selection, etc.
Although readability isn’t a direct ranking factor, it should still be part of your on-page SEO process. That’s because readable text is easier for Google and users to digest, which ultimately is good for your SEO.
If your text is hard to read, then you might have a high bounce rate, reducing conversions, revenue, and ROI.
To make your text readable:
Most people will access your web page content on mobile devices, so focus on responsiveness, readability, and skimability.
Well written content associates the words on your site to the keywords in your metadata. Quality writing with proper keyword placement will both reassure the search engine’s queries and match the needs of users. Content marketing is also important for other areas of marketing.
Google has outlined guidance for website and businesses to create content that is EAT friendly for Google results. That means content that is Expert, Authoritative, and Trustworthy. EAT is not a specific ranking signal for on-page SEO, but content is. Make sure your content is high-quality and well focused on the intent of and meaning of your target keywords. Google’s Webmaster Guidelines give guidance on what content should be like:
As a content creator, you have to focus on both making new content and at the same time auditing your existing content, but this is a flaw because users are intended to read engaging content. You need to audit your existing content because it assists you to evaluate if your present content is meeting its gaining ROIs and goals, and it will also save from duplicate content. Your existing content may be inaccurate or out-of-date. You also want to identify what type of content is best for you. A content audit can significantly help your SEO strategies, and you should do them regularly to avoid duplicate content.
Mobile SEO is particularly important, especially today. When designing a website, you want to make sure your site looks good on all platforms – like phones and desktops – and is not strictly designed for one or the other. This will then reflect in your search engine results, meaning if a user searches for a query on their phone, your mobile-friendly website will show up higher than those that are less mobile-friendly.
Mobile friendliness is a complex and expansive topic. Because there are so many things that define mobile friendliness, it’s too difficult to get into here. But you’ll do best by making sure your mobile site is user-friendly, easy to navigate, easy to use, fast, and contains content that matches largely with your main site.
Things like site structure, intuitive navigation, site-speed, and design also all act as signals for SEO. These are on-page elements that web developers would do well to pay attention to for improving their site. Think about ways to improving your web design to help users better experience the main content of each page.
Website structure is essential for a search engine to be able to properly crawl your site. Having easy-to-use navigation bars, footers, and anchor links will allow engines to link a user to a page relevant to their query. If you have a site that is confusing to navigate, it might only result in the search engine struggling to identify your site’s pages.
Here too, Google’s Webmaster Guidelines emphasizes that a site should have a “clear conceptual page hierarchy” and that important links should be easily Crawl-able for Googlebot indexing.
Internal links are also amazing for user experience. They help people discover more of your content like additional blog posts or a valuable case study.
A strong internal linking strategy is also a great way to reduce your bounce rate and improve other Google Analytics metrics such as conversion rate and average session duration.
When it comes to on-page SEO, you should include internal links to — and from — other relevant pages on your site. It’s especially important to link out from authoritative pages like your homepage.
Use short, descriptive, keyword-focused anchor text for your internal links. It’s also critical to link out from the most relevant sections of your content to other pages that cover the topic.
As a sidebar, don’t use keywords you want to rank for in external links to other websites.
Unlike backlinks, internal links don’t boost your website’s authority because you can add them yourself. Instead, they funnel existing authority and relevancy from your backlinks throughout your website. With this in mind, if your domain already has a massive amount of authority, then internal linking can really move the needle on rankings.
External links are not a direct ranking factor, so linking out to trusted websites won’t boost your on-page SEO rankings. However, citing your sources with links builds trust which is important for users. So, it’s a best practice to add external links when necessary, especially when quoting someone or referencing a statistic.
When you add external links, though, don’t use anchor text that includes keywords you want to rank for.
Images also need to be optimized for SEO. Start by giving them descriptive file names with words separated by hyphens. Next, optimize the file size so that it loads quickly while still maintaining the quality of the image. If your site is filled with images that are consistently over 400kb, for example, your page load time will be negatively impacted, and this hurts your ability to rank high in Google.
A tool like TinyPNG, ImageOptim, or WP Smush makes the image optimization process easy.
Finally, add text to the image alt tags, with the appropriate keyword occasionally included in the text. The alt text helps search engines understand the image.
Site security (like with an HTTPS protocol) is at this point a no-brainer. However, many sites still function without the proper security needed for a website. Since 2014, Google’s ranking algorithm has included security as a signal in order to push the web towards more secure sites and has since become one of its most important elements.