A Simple Guide to On-Page SEO in 2023 (+Tutorials)
On-page SEO. What’s involved and how’s it done? We’ll explain it all, plus an on-page SEO checklist and tutorials for optimizing your content & metadata.
On-page SEO. What is it? Why does it matter? Can I do it myself?
Solid questions, and we’ve got the answers. In this post, we’ll—
- Explain what on-page SEO is, and how it differs from off-page and technical SEO.
- Show you why it’s so important to ranking.
- Dig into the elements of on-page SEO.
- Give you a quick tutorial on optimizing your content and metadata.
- Share a handy on-page SEO checklist.
Master on-page SEO and you’ll ramp up your odds for ranking. Sound good? Let’s get started.
Search Engine Optimization Explained
SEO (search engine optimization) can be broken down into three types, based on how and where it’s applied. These include–
- On-page SEO
- Off-page SEO
- Technical SEO
Off-page SEO are activities performed beyond the website that impact search engine rankings. These involve social media sharing, guest blogging, media citations, and link building.
Technical SEO is a broader, site-wide application of SEO, and concerns itself with page and site speed, duplicate content, site structure, indexing and other considerations.
In each their own way, off-page and technical SEO factor significantly in the success of your pages. For now, let’s get a handle on on-page SEO.
What is On-Page SEO?
On-page SEO is the process of optimizing your article (or web page) so it ultimately ranks higher in Google search results. On-page SEO has Two Primary Goals—
- Produce a quality User Experience for the visitor.
- Enable search engines to find and crawl your pages, understand it’s subject matter, and index your content accurately.
On-page SEO are those elements of SEO directly visible or experienced by the reader. These include—
- Content quality and readability.
- Target keywords and words/phrases relevant to the target keyword.
- Images, Graphics, Screenshot and Video.
- Title Tags, Meta descriptions and URLs.
Some experts argue that of the three SEO practices, on-page SEO may be the most important. Read on to find out why.
Why Does On-Page SEO Matter?
For DIY content-creators hoping to rank in search results, knowing the basics of SEO is just the beginning. You need to know HOW to optimize your page so the reader comes away with a satisfying experience.
Knowing why you should bother is just as important. That means knowing how Google works.
On-Page SEO and Google Algorithms
Google makes most of its money through advertising, which is inextricably tied to its search engines. If Google delivers mediocre search results, people won’t use its search engines. And they won’t see the ads Google sells. So, Google really leans into satisfying the reader, and for that reason, they demand content that’s well-produced and RELEVANT to what the searcher is looking for.
And, each Google algorithm update is designed to better understand content quality and search relevance than the algorithm that came before it.
Relevance, and quality. Every element of on-page SEO is tied to one or both. So, now that you know why on-page SEO matters, let’s look at its primary components.
Elements of Effective On-Page SEO
User Experience (UX)
Ever visit a site where cluttered layout, endless popups and uber-long paragraphs had you hitting the back-button?
Which brings us to the first area of on-page SEO— UX. According to Brian Dean at Backlinko.com, when it comes to SEO, user experience is KEY. Google takes it seriously, and expects your on-page SEO to show it. Here’s a few things to keep in mind.
Fact– lead magnet popup offers work. But everyone hates them. Google included.
You won’t be penalized for using pop-ups, but give your readers a break. Let ’em see what they came for before bothering them. Better yet, use exit intent popups exclusively.
Go Bigger (14px+) With Your Fonts
It might look strangely large to you, but big is good. Especially if you want people to read more than your headline and subheads.
When it comes to ramping up readability, Subheads really come into play.
A blog post outlined with H2–H6 subheads gives readers a quick glimpse of your content and makes it easier for web crawlers to accurately index your page.
Break up your text with H2 subheads every 200-250 words. Use H3 and H4 subheads to break up larger H2 sections. And make sure every subhead is relevant, and content-clear.
Use a T.O.C.
What’s better than well-placed, relevant subheads? A table of contents that takes the reader straight to them.
A T.O.C. conveniently-placed after the intro lets your reader scan without scrolling. Include just the H2-H4 subheads, and make sure they’re jump-linked.
Your readers will love you.
Use Videos, Images & Other Media
Content works better when partnered with other media.
Box quotes isolate important ideas. Images set tone and lend theme to your content. Screenshots are essential for comprehension. Graphics lend trustworthiness.
And video is a platform-within-a-platform.
Use where needed, and natural, every 100-200 words.
Optimize Your Images
Use Descriptive Filenames & Alt Tags
Often overlooked in spite of it’s importance, the alt tag describes the image for sight-impaired visitors using screen readers. And, search engines pull their context and meaning cues from your alt tags and image filenames. Here’s a few simple tips–
- Be descriptive — alligator.jpg is better than IMG_976458.jpg. Monster-gator.jpg is better than alligator.jpg.
- Be succinct — Don’t say “Image of…” or “Picture of…” in your alt tags.
- Don’t ‘stuff’ alt text or filenames with keywords.
- Use dashes between words.
Compress & Resize
According to our friends at Semrush.com, oversized images slows site speed. Rule of thumb? Compress every image and resize to no more than 750 pixels with the following tools—
Get Mobile-Friendly Tested
In 2019, Google announced it would begin mobile-first indexing (using mobile versions of your content for indexing and ranking).
Use this checklist of mobile-responsive design factors to make sure your site passes muster for mobile-responsiveness. Then use this mobile-friendly test tool to check and be sure.
Unique, Quality Content
Thin content is now being targeted by Google algorithm updates. Here’s a few ways to make sure your content isn’t in the crosshairs.
Don’t Just Write Content, Build It
The Skyscraper Technique is a content writing approach pioneered by Brian Dean at Backlinko.com. Its premise is this—
For your article to rank, it must include the predominant ideas you find in ranking posts, because that’s what is relevant to Search Intent.
But, you’ll also want to make it better than the others by creating an extra value factor like–
- A different angle, better/more creative tips, a new twist on a proven strategy.
- Better, more relevant resources.
- A more efficient step-by-step process.
E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness)
Search engines rank content on Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness. The more you have of each, the easier it will be to rank, and rank quickly.
Your site authority will grow as other sites link back to your content. That, you have limited control over. (We’ll get to that topic another day).
Expertise and Trustworthiness? That’s all you. Google expects your content to show you know what you’re talking about, AND you’re linking out to highly authoritative sites (like I’ve been doing here).
When you create content from expertise and trustworthiness, your domain authority WILL grow.
Arguably the most important ranking factor (among many), the Target Keyword (TKW) is the strategic word or phrase you want your post to rank for. This keyword will anchor your article and appear strategically throughout your post, including–
- In your headline.
- In the first 100 words (preferably first two sentences) of your article.
- In at least one subhead, including the closing section.
The TKW is the rudder to your content, because when used correctly, it tells the searcher they’re reading the right relevant piece, and search engines will know your post is indeed about that target keyword.
Optimizing Your Content with Relevant Terms
Often confused with Secondary Keywords, Relevant Terms are words and phrases (relevant to the TKW) which commonly show up in ranking posts. Make a point of knowing them and using them in your article.
So, how do you optimize your posts with relevant terms? We’ll tell you how on the other side of this text box–
Relevant Terms vs Secondary Keywords
Relevant terms are words and phrases relevant to the TKW. These terms commonly show up in ranking posts.
A Secondary keyword is a keyword or keyword phrase that’s semantically-related to the TKW. It’s a keyword you’re trying to also rank your article for.
The two are not necessarily the same, nor should you focus on them the same way.
According to Smartblogger.com, the question of whether you should use certain secondary keywords comes down to search intent. If a secondary keyword is semantically related to the target keyword (think “floral shops” & “flower shops” or “literary techniques” & “literary elements”) and helps meet search intent, use ’em both.
But know this—you won’t satisfy search intent by using multiple keywords that are only loosely connected. And—it will muddy the indexing process, because it’s the standout TKW that tells the Google crawler what the post is about.
Takeaway? By trying to rank for several keywords, your chances of ranking for any of them go down.
Keep it simple– stick to one, clear TKW, and optimize your posts for relevant terms- words and phrases which support the TKW and are commonly used in ranking posts.
Because a great piece of content that ranks on-page 1 for a high-volume keyword will eventually rank for dozens or even hundreds of other keywords anyway.
Tutorial– Easy SEO Content Optimization
Optimizing your content is easy, and, depending on how much content you generate each month, either inexpensive or free.
Surfer SEO and Frase.io are solid tools for optimizing your content. But if you aren’t planning to publish more than 10 articles a month, I’m going to point you in the direction of MarketMuse.
(Note—MarketMuse gets monstrously expensive beyond the free query allowance so keep those other two in mind.)
MarketMuse gives you 15 free queries each month. You’ll need a business email address to sign up for it, but once you do, you’ll see how easy it is to optimize your content for relevant terms.
Start by finishing your edits and copy your document (images won’t appear in MMuse).
Log in to MarketMuse and click on Optimize.
You’ll then see an open doc field (if there’s a spec doc, delete it to clear the workspace) nestled between the admin panel and a sidebar. Using the screenshot below as a guide, enter your TKW in the field, leaving the URL window blank. Click Run/Fetch, and while it’s going through its paces, paste your article in the blank document area.
When Run/Fetch is finished, note your Content Score. Compare it to the Average, and the Target. Your goal is to match or exceed the Target.
How’s that done?
Take a look at the sidebar and you’ll see it’s been populated with all the relevant terms pulled from ranking posts—the Dist column is how often they’re used in your post (highlighted green in the document workspace), and the Suggested column is it’s recommended occurrence.
Your job now is to look for opportunities to naturally work these relevant terms into your content without changing meaning or flow. Don’t worry about matching the Suggested column, but note the red (0 occurrences) relevant terms and try to work those into the article.
Do this until your Content Score matches or betters the Target.
When you’re finished, hit the Copy for Publishing button at the lower right corner of the document screen. Paste that copy into your WordPress post and you’ll leave behind lots of gloopy code. You may have to do some bullet & number reformatting but your pages will load much faster.
If you’ve done your research and written expertly, you’ll find there’s not a lot of work that needs to be done. But this stage of things—optimizing your content—shows the search engines you’re relevant, so try to hit that target score.
Relevant terms matter. Don’t publish without them.
Care to see how your page 1 and 2 competition fared? Click the Compete button at the top of the sidebar.
Pro Tip—before you even begin writing, enter your TKW in the Optimize field and hit the Run/Fetch to cue yourself on the relevant phrases and related topics the ranking posts are using.
Search Intent is what the reader is looking for and expects to find when they’re typing out a search. Your first job as content creator, then, is to have a firm grasp of the search intent for your target keyword.
If you don’t get search intent right, your other on-page SEO is for naught.
Why Does Search Intent Matter?
Google wants people to use its Search Services because it’s where much of their ad revenues come from. So, they have a vested interest in ranking content that satisfies the searcher. That means articles that focus accurately on search intent and are enjoyable to read.
Search Intent is a process we don’t have time and space for here. But if you don’t nail it on the head, your article won’t rank in search results. It’s that important.
Metadata– Very Important, Pretty Simple
Metadata are on-page SEO details that are easy to stay on top of. We’ll take you through each and show you how to optimize them with a free and simple-to-use SEO tool.
The Title Tag, or meta title, is the clickable page title that appears with the search result. It tells search engines what your article is about, and instructs browsers how to display your page’s title.
Headlines are everything when it comes to getting search clicks, so you don’t want a title that gets truncated because it’s too long. Use a snippet tool to make sure your title is under 580 pixels, or 60 characters.
Meta descriptions are the short blurb just beneath the title tag telling the searcher what your article’s about. It’s a smart way to hook the reader and get them to click your post.
You’ll need to use your WordPress Post Settings Excerpt box to create the meta description. Otherwise, Google will use the opening of your article for the meta description instead.
Use the same snippet tool to measure off your meta description. Your limit here is 990 pixels, or 160 characters.
Every page has its own unique URL—it’s the website URL, followed by the Permalink.
Your URL is an easy, customizable way to help Google and your reader see what the post is about. Keep your permalink at < 75 characters.
Anytime you can link to your other work, it’s a good thing. Plugins like Link Whisper are handy this way, but if you’re well-versed in your own content, you’ll know which posts should be linked to from the article you’re writing.
External links are very important and should be used anytime you’re making a claim that cries out for authoritative proof (statistics for one), or when you’re borrowing ideas from authoritative sites.
Linking out to high-authority posts tells Google your content is trustworthy, and it’s a smart way to support your expertise. (You’ll even learn new stuff, as I did in writing this post).
We can’t do it justice here, but make sure your anchor text (<< the text you embed an external link into) tells your reader what they should expect to find when they click the link.
Maybe a Few More Words on Anchor Text
It’s pretty important, and people in the business talk about it all the time, so let’s get clear about anchor text, and doing it right.
Look at the paragraph that came before this text box. By using anchor text as, well, my anchor text, you should expect to be sent to a page telling you more about anchor text. Which you will. In fact, the very title of the post you’re being sent to offers an answer to the question that may pop into your mind when you first come across the term.
Which gets to the point of using anchor text correctly–it should be closely related to the subject (and title) of your external link. In this case, the anchor text I chose will lead the reader to a blog post penned by the people at Semrush.com, which details 8 types of anchor text and how to use them (It’s a read well worth your time).
Best tip I can give you before moving things along? Make your anchor text specific, relevant and obvious to where you’re linking the reader out to. Like this–
Don’t use “click here” or “see more” etc. You want the reader’s eyes drawn to meaningful hyperlinks as they scan your post.
Tutorial– Using RankMath for On-Page SEO
Title Tags, Meta Descriptions and URL Optimization is easily managed with RankMath. It’s an easy-to-use WordPress plugin that scores your post on a host of on-page SEO checkpoints. It’ll also give you a preview of what your Title, Page URL and Meta Description will look like in search results.
And you can do all of this with Rankmath’s free version. Here’s a quick primer–
After you install and activate it, click on the RankMath Score Box.
Click on the blue Edit Snippet button to open the window for previewing and making edits to your metadata.
- Check the Meta Title and make sure it’s not truncated.
- If you used your snippet tool and kept your title to under 580 pixels/60 characters, you’re good to go.
- If your meta description needs some tweaking, you’ll need to do it in the Post Settings Excerpt window.
- Keep an eye on your limits. Characters and pixels aren’t an exact match do use characters as your default.
- Separate the words in your Permalink with dashes.
- Be sure your TKW appears in both the Permalink and the Meta description.
On-Page SEO Checklist
Here’s an on-page SEO Checklist, courtesy of Wordstream.com–
On-Page SEO Resources
Rankmath (General On-Page SEO Checks + Metadata)
Link Whisper (Internal Link Optimization)
SEO Content Optimization
SEO Websites, Blogs, Research & Tools
Moz (Blogs, SEO Research & Analytics)
Ahrefs (Blogs, SEO Research & Analytics)
Semrush (Blogs, SEO Research & Analytics)
Higher Visibility (Snippet Tool)
Hubspot (Blogging, SEO & Digital Marketing)
Search Engine Journal (SEO)
Google Search Algorithm Update Info (Google’s Own Blog–very useful but you’ll have to do a lot of reading between the lines)
On-Page SEO— Ranking Firepower You Control
So, there you have it—the most indispensable elements of on-page SEO. And all of it’s ranking firepower at your fingertips.
We threw a lot at you, and hopefully, you have a better grasp of on-page SEO, why it matters and how to manage it.
Yes, off-page SEO, technical SEO, they’re important. But they do involve more time, a bit more expertise, and factors that can at times be out of your control.
Which makes on-page SEO so smart and essential. Make it an integral part of your work before you hit the Publish button, and you’ll put the odds of ranking squarely on your side.
See you in the search results.
Questions? Clarifications? Feel free to drop me a line. Check out our blog page for examples to model your own work on. You can shoot over to our portfolio page for inspiration too. And if you prefer to have an agency do it for you, read about our content writing and SEO services here.
In the meantime, Best of Luck. And Be Well.