On-page SEO includes quite a long checklist of tasks to do. A few years ago, on-page factors meant meta tags, headlines structure, content stuffed with repetitive keywords and optimized images. These were meant to achieve high rankings in search results. From those times, search engine algorithms went a long way and became more sophisticated.
Don’t get stuck in the past, you’ll regret it. One of the biggest improvements of search engines is human factor and engagement consideration.
You are targeting real people, not search engines.
Meta tags are a part of HTML. They describe contents of a website. The most important are meta titles and meta descriptions.
It’s known that meta keywords aren’t important for some time. Additionally, Google’s shift to more semantic view on search calls into question other meta tags, too. Believe it or not, meta titles and descriptions packed with keywords don’t positively influence your rankings in search results page. On top of that, Google changes meta titles to better indicate their relevance to the search query.
Whatever you type into Google search, only a few results will rise with the exact match of meta title or description. That being said, you don’t need to spend hours creating tags or headings packed with focus keywords.
On the other hand, don’t get confused by blogs saying that meta tags aren’t important at all. They can improve your SEO indirectly. It’s all about user experience, right? And a bit of a psychological point of view. Meta title and meta descriptions are visible in SERP, so they remain strong factors for users before they click.
There are many tools or plugins (e.g. Yoast for WordPress in the screenshot below) analyzing your content in terms of focus keyword usage in meta title, meta description, headings, overall keyword density, alt image attributes and others. They offer a lot of hints, yet can hardly follow Google’s algorithm focusing on user experience, … and you should do the same, so keep your focus on human beings.
On-page SEO checklist
Let’s start with things you can do in WordPress or any other Content media studio software.
1. Find out what people are searching before you start writing
Do you plan to write about a topic that matters? Does it need any adjustments or a different point of view? This applies not only to beginners. It’s same for everyone willing to create unique content and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a blog or an e-shop. There are many ways how to find out. Keyword research is an inevitable part of it. We’ll talk in-depth about content and keyword research in the next part of SEO Academy.
2. Meta tags and headlines
Create an appealing name of the post or website (meta title), introduction text (meta description) and overall headlines structure. Keep in mind what we mentioned earlier. Your main focus keyword should still be there, so users know what is your website about. Use meta description as a great opportunity for call-to-action (CTA) emphasis. Give a clear reason both to users and search engines why your website is the one to be clicked on.
Once again, think of user engagement, so don’t overact by cheap or too cheesy words. Look at your competitors, analyse what works for them and build your own strategy.
- Most search engines will show whole meta titles if they’re up to 70 characters and meta descriptions up to 160 characters
- Make sure to use correct <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, … structure for good readability
- Check the search results preview in various plugins or tools such as SEOSiteCheckup
3. Use SEO-friendly URLs
Avoid using URLs with various figures and characters:
Use URLs corresponding to your content and its title:
If you use WordPress, you can set permalinks under settings.
They say shorter URLs ranks better in Google. We think it depends on the content itself.
Are you looking for an engagement? Get familiar with images, infographics, charts or videos. They lead to lower bounce rates and higher engagement rates. Of course, some things have to be written in the good old-fashioned way but multimedia are a must. For example, video streaming has been one of the hottest marketing trends over the last couple of years. Furthermore, they motivate people to like, share or comment your content.
- Optimize images by using relevant file names (how-to-bake-pizza.jpg), alt image attributes and file size
- Embed interactive multimedia such as videos or charts
5. Outbound and internal links
Using outbound links gives a relevancy signal of your topic to Google. Make sure to use only relevant links.
Internal links are a perfect way to create a buzz around your other articles or website sections. It makes easier to visit them and leads to higher engagement.
- Outbound links don’t improve your rankings
- Use up to 2-3 internal links, depending on content length
- Search engine crawlers scan these links, so don’t try to cheat and watch out for broken links
6. Let people engage
Great content shares itself. Yes, maybe in the past. People tend to be lazy, so share buttons should always be on your website. Consider adding specific and topic related social networks besides Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin.
Technical on-page SEO checklist
We can classify technical SEO as a part of on-page SEO that deals with more technical stuff. It usually demands development skills or a web developer. That’s why we decided not to put all on-page SEO factors into one basket.
1. Search console
Every marketer is familiar with Google Analytics but how about other Google tools? Search Console helps you “… monitor and maintain your site’s presence in Google Search results.” We talk about content submission for crawling, choosing what you want to be indexed or not, site errors, structured data or code errors and in-depth analysis with Google Analytics.
- Every property (website or app) needs to be verified to use Search console features
- Connect Search Console with Google Analytics
2. Website speed
Website speed is one of the important ranking factors. Moreover, slow website causes that people will leave. It’s known that 50% of web users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less. If it doesn’t load in 3 seconds, they will leave.
- Test the speed in PageSpeed Insights or WordPress plugins
- Optimize images, enable GZIP compression, HTML compression, JS and CSS minification and decrease server response time
3. Mobile optimization
Mobile optimization is a must. The world is shifting from desktop to mobile. In fact, Google penalizes websites that aren’t mobile-friendly. When creating a website, make sure it’s responsive. Many web developers, UX specialists and designers start a new website project with the mobile version scheme before developing the desktop version. The
The AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) is another reason to optimize. AMP is HTML extended with custom AMP properties that enable to render static content fast. Google says it’s one of their main projects when it comes to mobile search.
A sitemap helps search engines to crawl your content. It’s a file where all website sections are listed. It’s good to have one especially when the website is large with a complicated structure or uses rich media content. Having a sitemap doesn’t mean your rankings will improve. According to Google, it’s a benefit and you”ll never be penalized for it.
- Place the sitemap at the root directory of the website:
Robots.txt is a file that tells crawlers which website sections you don’t want to be accessed. It’s located at https://example.com/robots.txt and it’s public. It’s handy when you don’t want some scripts, unnecessary files or images to be indexed.
User-agent: * (e.g. Googlebot) Disallow: / (e.g. /images/pizza.png)
- Don’t use robots.txt to hide content from search engines
- Violating or malware robots are able to ignore robots.txt
Other technical SEO hacks ;)
SEOSiteCheckup is a great tool for on-page SEO analysis, you can download a PDF report without registering and do analysis for one URL per day.
Use Google Tag Manager for advanced tag management, so you don’t need help from web developer.
HTTPS vs. HTTP: Back in 2014, Google announced they will boost rankings of HTTPS/SSL websites. We can now say it’s a lightweight ranking factor influencing a small percentage of search queries. However, security is a strong psychological factor.
URL/IP canonicalization: IP canonicalization is important when a website is indexed under both its IP address and domain name. URL canonicalization means that:
https://example.com and https://www.example.com/ should resolve to the same URL
Part 4: Content & SEO
Do you manage on-page SEO on your own or do you cooperate with other professionals? Let us know in the comments below.