If you’re looking to rank your pages higher on Google, then you need a checklist to keep your SEO in line.
This is that checklist.
Before I get into what you can do to optimize your page for search engines, I want to clarify…
What is On-Page SEO?
On-page SEO (search engine optimization) is the optimization of various elements and aspects of a website to improve its visibility and rankings on search engine result pages (SERPs). This includes (and I will cover) all of the following:
- Target keywords
- Title & headings
- Meta description
- URL structure
- Internal linking
- Mobile optimization
- Schema markup
The goal of on-page SEO is to ensure that search engines understand the content of a web page, interpret its relevance to specific search queries, and rank it accordingly.
By optimizing on-page elements, website owners aim to improve their chances of ranking higher in search engine results, driving organic traffic, and ultimately increasing conversions or achieving other desired goals.
Now that that’s cleared up, without further ado, here is our definitive on-page SEO checklist.
First (and most obviously), is target keywords.
While semantic keywords are important to rank for a target keyword, if you never mention that target keyword in your page title, headings, meta descriptions, or content as a whole, then you’re shooting yourself in the foot in search engine rankings.
Since you’re looking to actually rank for a specific keyword or keywords, you’ll need to do research on those keywords to determine whether or not you have a chance of ranking. If you do have a chance of ranking, great! If you don’t, you can either take advantage of longer-tail keywords with less competition or go elsewhere with your content ideas.
To do keyword research, you can use popular tools like Semrush or Ahrefs, which provide detailed information on whatever keyword you want to target like search intent, keyword search volume, keyword difficulty, and more.
Once you have a target keyword that is feasible to rank for and understand the search intent, you can start optimizing your content accordingly.
Title & Headings
Arguably the most important place for you to put your target keyword is in the title tag, as it is what appears in the SERP. It should be clear to readers what your page is about, and entice them to click.
Use your primary keyword in your title tag, preferably at the start.
One thing to be careful of is keyword stuffing in your title tags, which is when you start adding secondary keywords to your title in an attempt to rank for more keywords but ends up with your title tag looking spammy or try-hard. Avoid keyword stuffing, and keep your title tag around 50 to 60 characters.
The number is around 50 to 60 because of Google’s title length limit. It isn’t based on characters, but on pixels, and will truncate your title once you go over 600 pixels in title length.
As for headings, include your target keyword in your H1 tag. The difference between your H1 tag and the title is that the H1 tag is what shows up on your page, not in the SERP.
The meta description is what appears under your title in the SERP, and gives you a little room to engage searchers and persuade them to click on your page.
While the meta description isn’t a direct ranking factor, it does play a role in your CTR once you’ve ranked your content.
The goal of a meta description is to entice people to click even further once you’ve caught a searcher’s attention with your title.
Make sure you include your primary keyword in your meta description, and describe what a searcher will get from your page if they click.
Similarly to the title, you’re limited by the pixel length of your meta description at around 920 pixels (or 158 characters at the standard font size).
However, instead of truncating your meta description after the first line, your meta description can continue in the second line and will be truncated after reaching a certain length on that line. You can use this truncation to inspire interest in readers, making them wonder what comes next and enticing them to click on your page.
The URL slug is what appears in the search bar after you click on a page after the website’s domain. For example, for this article the URL slug is “on-page-seo-checklist”; short and to the point.
When writing your URL slug, keep the following in mind:
- Separate words with a hyphen (“-“).
- Use your page’s primary keyword as or in your URL slug.
- Avoid mentioning things that might change, like years (e.g. “best-thing-2023“).
- If you ever change your URL slug, make sure all links are redirected to the new URL.
If there’s one thing I can say about your URL structure, it is never change it if you don’t have to. Make sure you get your URL right the first time, because if you ever change your URL slug, then any backlinks that went to that original URL will no longer follow to the right page. This can be remedied with a 301 redirect, but it isn’t ideal.
If you include images in your content (which you should; Semrush research shows that articles with more images tend to get more unique page views, shares, and backlinks), make sure those images are optimized.
For example, make sure your images have descriptive alt-text so they can rank in the images section of Google as well. Additionally, resize and compress your images so they don’t interfere with your website’s loading times.
Internal links are links between pages on your site, and they help Google (and users) navigate your site.
When you use internal links, you connect the pages on your website and make backlinks that you get to each page infinitely more valuable, as that “link juice” is passed on to any other pages that you’ve linked to.
When internal linking, use descriptive anchor text instead of general things like “click here”, as this will help Google (and users, again) navigate your website and understand what the linked page is about.
As more than 60% of Google searches are done on mobile devices, Google takes mobile optimization seriously when evaluating a page’s quality and determining its rankings.
Luckily, it’s fairly easy to test whether or not your website is mobile-optimized using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.
Schema markup is a coding language that helps Google understand the different types of data on your site, and the more Google understands your page, the more accurately it can rank your content.
Google supports 32 types of schema, including article, event, FAQ, how-to, local business, and more.
This is an advanced SEO-related task, but it is helpful if you want to rank as high as possible and get those rich snippets.
Once you’ve done everything I’ve listed, make sure your page is indexed using Google Search Console. After all, if you’re not indexed, you won’t be shown in Google Search results, A.K.A. SERP.