Don’t let the title fool you. This is not “just another” on-page SEO checklist with a plain list of on-page SEO factors that you need to apply.
This is, in fact, a complete guide to all the crucial on-page SEO factors that make up the difference between an average optimized page vs. one that is super-optimized for SEO.
When we say it’s the “ultimate” on-page SEO checklist, we mean it!
For the purpose of clarity and convenience, we’re going to divide this checklist into three sections.
- Browser/SERP Based Elements
- Content Based Elements
- Technical SEO/UX based Elements
Yup, that’s right! We’ve got some technical SEO elements here too. Strictly speaking, these elements are not a part of your on-page optimizations. However, due to recent changes in Google’s algorithm, some of these elements now have a direct impact on your on-page SEO.
Let’s dive right in!
On-Page SEO Checklist: Browser/SERP Based Elements
The first section we’re going to discuss is based on elements that have more to do with the browser and the SERPS (Search Engine Result Pages). However, due to their nature, these elements directly affect your on-page SEO. Let’s have a detailed overview of these elements.
The Almighty Title Tag:
The title tag is one of the few elements that the visitors don’t usually notice once they’re on your page, yet it plays a vital role both in your on-page SEO, and in bringing traffic to your website from the search engine result pages.
Your title tag is the first thing potential site visitors will see in the SERPS when they search for the keywords you’re targeting. The title tag, along with the meta description, can make or break your organic traffic.
Write a captivating, meaningful title tag and a short and sweet meta description, and you’re likely to get tons of organic traffic (plus a high click-through rate, which also happens to be a ranking factor).
The other major role your title tag plays is telling Google what your page is all about. You should ALWAYS include your target keywords in the title tag. It’s best to put the keywords at the start because it has more weightage from an SEO standpoint.
Also, make sure to keep the length of your title tag under 60 characters, ideally under 55 characters. Longer title tags get truncated in the SERPs and result in a bad user experience.
Finally, make sure to write a compelling and intriguing title that people would be likely to click on. It is ideal to keep your target keywords in the beginning, but do not compromise on the meaningfulness of your title tag because good user experience always comes first.
- Keep it short, sweet, and on-point. Make it enticing enough for people to click it.
- Ideal length is under 55 characters.
- Ideal place for keywords is right at the beginning of the title tag.
Fine-tune Your URLs:
URLs are also of great importance not only for on-page optimization, but for bringing traffic to your website as well. Make sure to always keep your URLs SEO-friendly, without compromising on user experience.
SEO-friendly URLs are short and always include the target keyword, ideally at the beginning. Google has already told us that the first 3-4 words in the URL are given more weightage, so it’s best to put your keywords right there. Also, it has been observed by many industry experts that shorter URLs tend to rank better than longer ones.
Most content management systems, such as WordPress, will automatically generate URLs for your pages. Make sure to never use those and instead go for custom, seo-friendly URLs. Including the keywords in the URL also helps in driving more traffic as the potential visitors will know what the page is all about.
- Keep your URLs short and on-point.
- Try using your keywords right at the beginning of the URL.
- The URL should be descriptive enough for people to understand what the page is about.
Leverage Meta Descriptions:
Meta descriptions are a SERP level element. They are the small snippets of text that appear below your title tag and URL in the search result pages.
Google has been telling us for a long time that meta descriptions are not a ranking factor; however, they do have an indirect impact on your website’s SEO. A well-written meta description will entice visitors into clicking your link, resulting in a higher CTR (click-through rate) which is a direct ranking factor.
It is always best to write honest and transparent descriptions that give the users a picture of what your page is all about. A good meta description is short yet descriptive. It usually begins with a call to action such as “Read”, “Learn”, and “Watch” etc. Such descriptions have greater chances of getting clicks.
It is an SEO best practice to include your target keywords in the meta description. Google shows the keywords in bold text in the meta description when someone searches for those keywords. This assures the readers that the page is relevant to their query.
It is worth mentioning here that while meta descriptions can enhance your CTR, you should not never try deceiving either Google or the users by writing descriptions that do not properly define the page, or that are not relevant to the content of the page. If you do so, you may get a higher CTR but a higher bounce rate as well which will ultimately hurt your website’s SEO.
Finally, it’s best to keep your meta descriptions no longer than 155 characters. You can actually put in longer descriptions but Google usually truncates longer descriptions in the SERPs, resulting in a bad user-experience.
- Although not a direct ranking factor, meta descriptions can greatly enhance your CTR (click-through rate) which is a direct ranking factor.
- Your meta description should be concise and should be relevant to the content of the page.
- NEVER use deceptive or irrelevant meta descriptions. Doing so will probably get you a higher CTR, but a higher bounce rate as well.
- Start with a call to action such as “Read”, “Learn”, and “Watch” etc.
- Keep meta descriptions under 155 characters.
- Don’t forget to include your target keywords.
On-Page SEO Checklist: Content Based Elements
This section deals with all the content based elements that your website visitors see and interact with. Some of these elements carry more SEO weightage and others carry less; however, all of these are direct ranking factors.
Let’s get to it.
Make the Most Out of Your Headings:
Headings are perhaps THE most important on-page SEO element because headings help Google understand what your page is all about. The title tag lets Google know about the topic of your page, while the headings help Google in understanding the actual subject matter.
We have 6 heading tags in HTML, from h1 to h6; however, Google will only give weight to headings h1 to h3. h1, of course, carries the highest weight and h3 carries the lowest from an SEO standpoint.
You should only use one h1 tag per page, and it should be used for the title of your page. Most content management systems (like WordPress) will automatically wrap your page title in h1. However, you should always double check to be sure of it.
Use h2 (and h3, where necessary) to divide longer posts into logical, relevant sections; just like we did for this post. Make sure to use your target keywords in the h1 heading, and at least once in an h2 level heading.
- Headings let Google understand the subject matter of your page.
- Use h1 heading for the title of your page.
- h2 and h3 are great for building logical sections in your post.
- Use your keyword in the h1 heading, and at least once in an h2 heading if there are any.
- Only h1 to h3 headings get SEO weightage, with h1 having the highest and h3 having the lowest weight.
Go for Long-form Content:
Try producing longer pieces of content when you can. There is a ton of evidence proving that long-form content tends to rank much higher in the SERPs than your usual blog posts of 500-700 words.
Although there are no hard and fast rules regarding what exact length qualifies as long-form, many industry experts believe that long-form content should be nothing less than 1500 words.
So how does long-form content benefit your SEO?
First and foremost, it lets Google know that this is a detailed, information-packed article that people will likely find to be informative and useful. In fact, constantly producing such content can establish you as an authority in your industry.
Secondly, having long-form content means having multiple h2s and h3s in your post and putting your keywords in there will be an added SEO benefit. It also gives you more room for naturally sprinkling your main keyword, secondary keywords, and LSI keywords throughout the article.
- Use long-form content when it’s possible. Anything above 1500 words pretty much qualifies as long-form content.
- There is plenty of evidence that long-form content ranks higher than regular 500-700 word blog posts.
- Constantly producing such content can establish you as an authority in your industry.
- Long-form content gives you more room for using primary, secondary, and LSI keywords.
Produce High-quality Content:
Connecting to the previous point, you should never compromise on quality for the sake of length. Only produce super quality content that is free of spelling and grammar mistakes, and most importantly, free of any fluff.
While Google has no direct way of determining the quality of a page’s content, it does use some signals to reach a conclusion. Signals such as the average time users spend on your site, the bounce rate, repeat visitors, and social shares; all help Google in determining the quality of your content.
Quality content also means avoiding duplicate/plagiarized content. Always try producing unique, original content that charms both Google and your website visitors.
Producing such content will result in a lower bounce-rate (the percentage of visitors that instantly leave your site after landing on it), higher dwell-time (the average time visitors spend on your site), and more social shares. All of these contribute to the overall SEO of your website.
Finally, make sure to work on the ease of readability of your content. Generally, you should be using simple and straightforward language that even a 5th grader can understand with ease.
- Don’t compromise on quality of the content for its length.
- Google uses signals such as social shares, dwell-time, and bounce rate to determine the quality of your content and ranks you accordingly.
- Strictly avoid plagiarized/duplicate content, as well as fluff.
- Produce unique, informative, and engaging content that makes visitors stay longer on your website.
The Keyword Mantra:
Let’s now take a moment to talk about keywords in your content. Besides using your target keyword in the title, meta description, URL, and headings; your content should also contain the keywords.
It is an SEO best practice to use your main keyword in the first 100 words of your content, ideally in the very first paragraph. This makes it clear both to the visitor and Google that the content of the page is relevant to the title.
The most debatable topic regarding keywords is the keyword density. Keyword density basically means the number of times you use your target keyword, compared to the total number of words on your page.
So what exactly is an ideal keyword density?
Well, there are no definitive rules regarding keyword density and here’s our take on this.
You actually shouldn’t think about keyword density at all. Google wants you to write content for visitors, not for search engines. If your content is relevant, it will naturally have your target keywords and its variants throughout the article.
You should be aware not to overload your content with keywords. That’s something called keyword stuffing and makes Google really frown upon your site.
Yoast, the leading SEO plugin for WordPress, recommends a keyword density ranging from 0.5% to 2.5%. That means if you have a post of 100 words, it should have your target keyword no more than 3 times.
Use your keyword naturally throughout the article, as well as other contextually related keywords. These are commonly known as LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) keywords and help Google establish the topical relevancy of your content.
For example, if your target keyword is “English Literature”, then words like novel, poetry, criticism, literary analysis etc. would make great LSI keywords.
- Use your target keyword in the first 100 words, ideally in the first paragraph.
- Use your target keyword and LSI keywords naturally throughout the article.
- There is no hard rule for keyword density, but make sure not to do keyword stuffing.
- Yoast recommends a keyword density of 0.5% to 2.5%.
Link It Up:
Links play a major role in your on-page SEO. It’s best to use both internal and outbound links in your content.
Internal links are the links that go from one page or post on your website to another page or post, also on your website and usually, topically related. The purpose of internal linking is to potentially keep visitors on your web site for a longer duration, as well as to pass link juice to other pages on your website.
Outbound links on the other hand go from your website’s pages or posts to those of another website. Outbound links are usually used for referencing and backing up statistics. These are a great way to let Google understand the topical relevance of your content.
You should always link out from your pages and posts to relevant content on other authoritative sites in your niche. Linking to such sites establishes your website as “trusted” in the eyes of Google.
- Use internal links to make visitors potentially stay longer on your website, as well as to pass link juice to other pages on your website.
- Use outbound links to relevant, authoritative websites in your niche. It helps Google understand the topical relevancy of your website and builds your website’s trust level with Google.
Bring Your Pages to Life with Images & Multimedia:
Posting long-form content without any images and multimedia would be a really bad idea. If your content lacks images and multimedia, your website visitors will quickly get bored, no matter how informative and useful your content is.
Having some graphics and videos on your page means visitors will find your content more engaging, and will be likely to spend more time on your site resulting in higher dwell-time. That’s one advantage of using multimedia and images on your pages.
The other advantage directly relates to SEO. Pages that have optimized images tend to rank better than ones without images. Similarly, including videos on your pages also gives your page a minor ranking boost.
Rename the images you use on your pages and put your keywords in there. Also make sure to optimize the Alt tag for your images. Alt basically means Alternative. The text you put in this tag will show up when, for some reason, Google is unable to display the actual images. Put your target keywords in both the image name and the Alt text.
- For long-form content, it is crucial to incorporate images and multimedia in your page.
- Both images and multimedia play a role in improving your site’s dwell-time, as well as improving its SEO.
- Use your keyword in both the name of the image, and the Alt text.
On-Page SEO Checklist: Technical/UX Based Elements
The third and final section of our on-page SEO checklist deals with technical SEO and user experience elements. Technically speaking, these are not directly related to on-page SEO. However, due to many recent updates in Google’s algorithm, these factors have become so important that it only seemed logical to include them on our checklist.
Google loves fast loading websites so much that it was made an official ranking factor. That means websites that load faster will get a slight SEO boost as compared to slow loading websites, regardless of the optimization.
Ideally, your website should be fast enough to load in under 3 seconds. Anything slower than this will mean you’re breaking Google’s heart. There are various tools for testing your website’s speed including the official Google Page Speed Insights, Pingdom, and GTmetrix.
The majority of visitors today are using mobile devices to surf the web. That means if your website is not mobile-friendly, you’re seriously compromising on user-experience and SEO.
If you’re using a CMS such as WordPress, most themes you find will work fine on mobile devices right out of the box. However, if you come across anything broken or not working properly on mobile, you should get it fixed ASAP.
Dwell Time and Bounce Rate:
As discussed earlier, the bounce rate refers to the percentage of visitors that leave your website almost instantly as soon as they land on it. Dwell-time, on the other hand, refers to the average amount of time visitors spend on your site.
Both of these are ranking signals and both of those are actually a part of UX (User Experience). Bounce rate has a lot to do with the appearance and design of your website. If your website doesn’t look good, has too much text without any graphics, has bad fonts, or other such issues; it is very likely that visitors will jump off your site as soon as they hit it.
The solution is simple: make your website attractive and professional. Plan a neat and clear layout, incorporate graphics, and make sure your site looks good on both mobile and desktop.
Dwell-time depends both on the design and the content of your site. If either of these is not good enough, you won’t be able to achieve a high dwell-time.
If you’re new to SEO or don’t have the time to do it yourself, you can always hire a professional SEO agency to take care of it for you.
Have a look at our kick-ass SEO services, suitable and customizable for businesses of all sizes and all types. You can also schedule a free SEO consultation with us to see what we can do for your business.