NOTE: This post was originally published on SERP Co on October 4, 2019. SERP Co has since undergone a website redevelopment/rebranding.
On-page SEO is by far the most important component of search engine optimization. Before you even think about building links or optimizing technical SEO, you need to start with the content. You must optimize the things you can control on your own website first and foremost.
Are you interested in learning more? Keep reading: we’re going to cover everything you need to know about on-page SEO.
Table Of Contents
- What Is On-Page SEO?
- Why Is On-Page SEO Important?
- On-page SEO Elements (The Fundamentals)
- Content Elements
- HTML Elements
- Page Titles (Title Tags)
- Meta Description
- Image Optimization
- Geotagging (For Local Related Queries)
- Structured Data
- Keyword Density
- Website Architecture Elements
- Final Thoughts
What Is On-Page SEO?
On-page SEO (also known as on-site SEO) is everything we can do on our website to affect SEO. Every page is unique and has its necessary optimization. The concept both refers to individual webpages and the whole site.
Comparatively, off-page SEO is actions taken outside of your website to influence SEO. Linkbuilding, for example. It’s essential to know the difference.
Why Is On-Page SEO Important?
On-page SEO is important because it helps search engines recognize what your content is about. Google wants to find out how relevant content is to keywords. It wants to understand websites in the context of what people are searching for.
On-page SEO is about telling Google what it’s crawling, indexing and ranking. It’s telling them what it should look like on SERPs.
On-page SEO Elements (The Fundamentals)
To understand how any concept works, you need to know the fundamentals. On-page SEO is not complex—there are specific ranking elements that affect on-page SEO. Once you understand these elements, you can easily optimize any webpage.
There are 3 main on-page SEO elements:
- Website Architecture
Content on-page SEO ranking elements are the elements of your website’s copy and content. Here we are focusing on the quality of page content. Content quality has 2 main implications we must consider.
- How it affects user experience—did they like it, were they informed/educated/entertained
- How user experience is communicated to Google—time on page/dwell time, bounce rate, backlinks
The focus is user experience.
Keyword research is the process of analyzing words/phrases that people are searching for. These words/phrases are called keywords. Keyword Research will let you know:
- What keywords people are searching for
- How often/frequently they are searching for keywords
- How they are searching for those keywords
The right keywords will allow you to rank well on SERPs—putting you in a prime position to reap organic traffic.
- Related Reading: Check out our full article on Keyword Research.
Search Intent, or user intent, is the primary goal an individual has when they type search queries into search engines.
Search Intent: What they are looking for
Search Query: What they type into Google
The search queries people type into Google don’t always line up with what they’re looking for. However, over the last decade, search engines have gotten better at ensuring this doesn’t happen.
Common types of Search Intent include:
- Informational – Information on something
- Commercial – Buying something
- Navigational – Directions to somewhere
Search Intent is important for SEO because it’s a ranking factor. It’s the primary, idealistic goal of all search engines, especially Google. It wants its search results to display what users/people are searching for accurately.
Would you use a search engine that didn’t show you what you searched for? Exactly.
Google’s algorithm is intelligent: it closely watches user activity on different search queries. It notices which ranked webpages are being clicked on—they’re rewarded with higher rankings and priority positioning on SERPs.
When you create content, you need to have search intent in mind. The more closely aligned your content is to what searchers want, the better.
- Related Reading: Check out our full article on Search Intent.
With the right keywords and search intent in place, you can now begin to write the content. Writing content for the internet is not complicated. It’s simply a matter of writing a specific style that’s optimized for online users. You want to write scannable content, which is defined as:
Scannable content maximizes readability—it’s written at a level everyone can understand. You don’t get points for writing like an academic. Here are some keys to follow.
- Incorporate keywords in a natural fashion, no stuffing
- Keyword in 1st 100 words
- Keep sentence length under 20 words
- Keep paragraphs 3-4 lines max
- Use subheadings to break up/structure post
- Keyword in at least one subheading (H2/H3)
- Use bullet points/lists to breakdown specific points of information
Great content is not complete without some media content. Media content is the visual assets of webpages—images, GIFs, and videos. It is important to include media content because it simply makes your content better.
- Blog posts with images get 94% more traffic than those without.
- Images are also processed 60,000x faster than text.
The age-old saying a picture is worth a thousand words is true. Litter your content with media content to improve readability and further break up the monotony of walls of text. Some types of media content you can use include:
- Interactive Content
- Page Titles (Title Tags)
- Meta Description
- Image Alt-Text
- Image Filename
- Image Title
- Image Caption
- Geotagging (For Local Related Queries)
- Structured Data
- Keyword Density
HTML Markup relates to the elements that make up your web source code. HTML is a basic coding language that’s used to make websites and webpages. HTML looks like this:
Before CMS platforms like WordPress and Squarespace made web design easy, it was left to coders. Aside from the design of websites and webpages, HTML also communicates to search engines, telling them what it is.
This is important because search engines like Google use that information to rank web pages in the context of things people search for.
You can view the HTML of any page; simply right-click on any webpage and click ‘View page source.’
(This is for the Google Chrome browser)
HTML has 2 focus points you need to consider for on-page SEO:
- Keyword Placement: page titles, headings, image alt-text/filename
- SERP Representation: meta description, geo-tagging, schema markup/SERP features
It doesn’t need to get more complicated than this.
- Related Reading: Check out our full article on SEO HTML Elements.
Page Titles (Title Tags)
The page title is the most important place to put a keyword. The page title tells people and search engines what that webpage is about. This is what the page title looks like on SERPs:
It can also be seen on web browsers:
In the HTML source code, the page title will look like this:
This is also why the page title is referred to as title tags.
- Related Reading: Check out our full article on Title Tags.
The meta description is your webpage SERP blurb—it looks like this:
It does not directly affect SEO: It is not a ranking factor. Putting a keyword here will not have direct search engine implications like it would elsewhere. It does however affect click-through rates. The meta description acts to entice and persuade search engine users to visit.
A better-quality meta description will have a higher CTA—click-through rate—sending more traffic to your webpage. Increased traffic will increase your chances of generating backlinks, social shares, and even conversions.
So, meta descriptions can indirectly influence SEO, which is why they’re important.
Images have their own HTML optimization for on-page SEO. We may only see the image, but search engines see more: they see the HTML code. The image might always look the same to us, but depending on the HTML it can be very different to search engines.
You can view the HTML source code for any image. Right-click on the image and select ‘Inspect.’
The HTML code should come up—it’s highlighted in blue:
There are 2 things we must consider for image on-page SEO:
- Image Alt-Text
- Image Filename
There’s also the image title and caption, which don’t influence SEO but can improve the user experience for certain individuals. We’ll cover both anyways.
The image alt-text is also known as the alt attribute or alt description. It’s used to tell search engines what an image is about. It also helps those who are visually impaired and those with low bandwidth internet connections.
The alt-text is essentially a long-tail keyword for images. This is important because people can find your website through image searches. When people do an image search, they often click through to the website the image came from.
If you sell anything on your website, you’ll have product images. Potential customers will likely do an image search to see what your product looks like. They’ll come to your website, and your product page this way.
Image search results can create extra traffic pathways to your domain. The image alt-text ensures that you show up on the search results page.
- Related Reading: Check out our full article on Alt Text.
The image filename is the unique name given to images. It’s used by search engines to help rank and index images. Just like alt-text, it’s important because image searches are a pathway to your website.
- Related Reading: Check out our full article on Image Filename.
The image title attribute is used to provide additional information. It doesn’t impact SEO, therefore it’s not as important as alt-text or filename. It’s the little pop-up that can appear when you put your cursor on an image.
Most images don’t have an image title, but some do. It can help improve the user experience for visually impaired individuals. It provides additional information that can help them understand what the image is.
Geotagging (For Local Related Queries)
Geotagging is when you attribute a geographical location to a specific webpage and/or its content. This content can include images and videos for example. When you geotag an image or video, you’re giving search engines very specific information.
It allows you to appear on SERPs for search queries with a location. ‘Pet stores in Manhattan’ for example.
When you geotag webpages and content, you’re giving search engines more and more information. The more information you give them, the better. It’s an effective SEO strategy for local-related search queries.
- Related Reading: Check out our full article on Local SEO.
Structured Data are HTML tags you can add that make crawling, indexing, and ranking easier. It improves the way search engines read your web pages, resulting in better SERP representation.
Utilizing structured data can help the content of your webpage show up as SERP features:
SERP features are special results you see on search engine results pages. Here’s an example:
The incentive of SERP features is that people can get answers to questions without clicking through. It’s a priority positioning with unique, additional information. Although structured data is not considered a ranking factor, SERP features generally have higher click-through rates.
Much like a good meta description, this can indirectly affect SEO. There are many types of SERP features—with Google creating more almost daily. Here are a few of the main ones:
- Rich snippets
- Paid results
- People also ask
- Knowledge graphs
- Featured snippets
- Local packs
- Image packs
Google likes SERP features because it keeps search users on Google more. They don’t have to click on a result to acquire information. Google’s main revenue source is from the paid ads you see on SERPs.
Even despite this, it’s still in your best interest to use structured data to try and rank for SERP features.
- Related Reading: Check out our full article on Schema.
Keyword density is the frequency, or how often keywords are used on a single webpage. This isn’t just how many times a keyword is used, but how often it is used.
- Keyword Density = number of times keyword used ÷ total number of words on the page.
Keyword density used to be extremely important for SEO. Because of that, low-quality keyword-stuffed content was considered ideal. That’s no longer the case. Google evolved its algorithm in 2013, to punish black hat (illegal) keyword stuffing.
Google wants high-quality content, not cheap tricks to game the system.
“Keyword density, in general, is something I wouldn’t focus on. Search engines have kind of moved on from there.”
(2014) John Meuller, Senior Google Webmaster Trends Analyst
As such, keyword density is no longer as important—but it still needs consideration. What’s more of a focus is the use of secondary keywords and LSI keywords. Phrases that are semantically related to the primary keyword.
- Related Reading: Check out our full article on Keyword Density.
Website Architecture Elements
Website architecture is less about optimizing a specific page and more about optimizing the website as a whole. Better structuring of your website architecture allows search engines like Google to crawl and index it easier.
This is usually done by your technical SEO team, and we have a dedicated resource for this. However, it’s worth mentioning here briefly, as any on-page SEO guide would not be complete without at least covering the basics.
- Related Reading: Check out our full article on Website Architecture / Sitemaps.
How fast the pages of your website load is very important for SEO. Google analyzes user experience to better rank your site and content. What does it say about your site when visitors leave before the page even loads?
A slow site speed has several negative consequences. Research from Google found that when page load time increases, bounce rate does as well.
Image Source: ThinkWithGoogle
Page speed is also a Google ranking factor for mobile searches, which makes up the majority of searches nowadays. Maximizing site speed is best to get the best user experience possible.
- Related Reading: Check out our full article on Page Speed and SEO.
A responsive design is a website design that adapts to the screen dimensions of the device used. It doesn’t matter whether you use a desktop, laptop, smartphone, or tablet, you’ll be able to optimally use the website.
In a world where mobile now accounts for 55.01% of global website traffic, responsive design is essential to maximize user experience.
The main benefit of a responsive design has always been about user experience—that hasn’t changed. In recent times, however, search engines have evolved to reward websites with responsive designs. This is mostly to do with the ever-increasing focus on mobile usage.
The infamous 2015 ‘Mobilegeddon’ Google update prioritized webpages with optimal mobile design, giving them priority positioning on mobile SERPs.
The focus on mobile has only gotten more dramatic since then. Google’s index now prioritizes mobile—websites with features like a responsive design will be rewarded. Responsive design is commonplace, a necessity going into the future. It’s essential to improve your SEO efforts.
- Related Reading: Check out our full article on Mobile SEO.
URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator; it’s also known as the website address. It’s located in the top left corner of internet browsers:
There are 4 main parts to a URL:
- Protocol: Either HTTP or HTTPS
- Domain Name: The unique purchased domain name
- Subdirectories: Category/group of pages
- Specific Page Name: The specific individual page
Image Source: SEOPressor
Some websites (like ours) don’t show the ‘protocol’ HTTP/HTTPS section of the web address URL. It’s purely a marketing/aesthetic decision, even though it still is technically there.
How you structure your URLs is important because it can impact SEO. URLs are small ranking factors for search engines. Brian Dean of Backlinko reported URLs featuring a keyword increased the click-through rate by 45%.
A good URL structure can also improve user experience, indirectly influencing SEO. Microsoft discovered that ‘descriptive’ URLs had 25% higher click-through rates. The URL is something you should not forget to address.
- Related Reading: Check out our full article on URL Structure.
Duplicate Content (Avoid it)
Duplicate content is content that is a copy, or similar to other content on the web. This can be either on different sites or the same one.
Image Source: Moz
“Duplicate content generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar.”
Duplicate content can negatively impact SEO; Google doesn’t want to index duplicate content. It prioritizes indexing original, unique informative content. This is what Google wants to appear on SERPs. You must avoid creating duplicate content.
- Related Reading: Check out our full article on Duplicate Content.
On-page SEO is everything you can do on your website to improve your search engine efforts. In this post, we covered the basics: everything you can do on-site, to improve your search engine efforts. It is all right here.
Got any questions? Leave a comment below.