Many people tend to think of search engine optimization (SEO) as simply inserting keywords into your content—but there’s a lot more to it.
In fact, it can be divided into two categories: on-page and off-page SEO.
What exactly is the difference?
On-page SEO refers to all the optimization techniques practiced directly on a website to affect its performance on search engine page results (SERP). Beyond using keywords wisely, this includes enhancing your webpages’ copywriting, multimedia, and even user experience.
Off-page SEO, on the other hand, describes external search signals that influence ranking, like backlinks.
Both are crucial elements to your content strategy, but in this article, we’ll discuss the former and provide a handy on-page SEO checklist. It’s broken down into three main parts, and walks you from start to finish to help your content maximize its ranking potential.
On-Page SEO Checklist – Free Download
Want to save our checklist for later? Download it for free as a PDF.
You can use this checklist as a guide for whenever you create a new web page, or if you happen to be cleaning up SEO on already published content.
Page & URL Info
The first part of our on-page SEO checklist concerns page and URL info—that is, the components that describe your individual webpages to both users and search engines. Here’s what to look out for.
Make your page indexable.
The first step to getting your content to perform well in SERPs is giving it the chance to even appear on them in the first place.
If your page isn’t indexed, that means Google and other search engines can’t crawl it. As a result, they won’t display it in their search results.
To see whether your page is already indexed, simply input its URL into Google’s search bar.
If the correct webpage appears, you’re good to go.
If not, you’ll have to dive into your content management system (CMS) to enable your content to be indexed.
Fortunately, most platforms provide setting options so that your content can be indexed by default—that way, you won’t have to toggle each individual page as such.
Include your target keyword in your URL.
URLs help both users and search engines understand what your page is about.
Just take a look at the following examples:
Can you see how the first one paints a clearer image of what to expect from a webpage? Meanwhile, the second URL tells readers nothing.
But aside from improving user experience, there’s another reason why you should include your target keyword in your URL: it helps clue in search engines on what a page is about.
Make your URL short.
Besides including your target keyword phrase, you should make your URL short.
Why? Concise URLs help both users and search engines understand the nature of your content.
But what exactly counts as “short”?
Research from Brian Dean suggests that on average, websites that rank in the top 10 on Google’s SERPs have between 50 and 60 characters—and the shorter the URL, the higher their position generally is.
So avoid getting too lengthy, and aim for creating URLs within this 50-60 character range.
Use hyphens to separate words in your URL.
Rather than using underscores, unsafe characters, or no punctuation whatsoever, use hyphens to separate words in your URL. Google registers hyphens as word separators, and although it’s begun to view underscores in the same way in recent years, there’s no harm in sticking to hyphens to be safe.
Include your target keyword in your meta tags.
Meta tags can be thought of as “hidden information” in a webpage’s HTML code, and they help inform search engines what a page is about.
While many types of meta tags exist, there are specifically two to focus on in your optimization process:
- Meta title: Also known as a “title tag,” a page’s meta title is simply the name of a webpage. It’s displayed at the top of a browser window and also shown in Google’s search results.
- Meta description: This snippet of info appears on SERPs below each result’s meta title, and serves as a brief summary of your content. It’s significantly longer than the title, though, with a maximum of roughly 155 characters—although Google has been known to experiment with its length.
Since meta tags are used by search engines to understand your content (much like URLs are), you should insert your target keyword(s) to improve your page’s SEO.
Of course, that doesn’t mean stuffing your keyword into these elements. Both your meta title and description should integrate your target keyword(s) naturally.
Write a compelling meta title and description.
Aside from including your target keyword in your meta tags, you also need to make the actual tags themselves interesting.
Your pages’ meta title and description appear on search engine results pages, competing with other websites for users’ attention. Pages that have more interesting and enticing meta titles and descriptions get more clicks than those with dry, boring ones—making these snippets of information crucial for driving traffic to your site.
To write better meta tags, follow these three best practices:
- Make it unique.
- Show what you have to offer, e.g., a free resource or downloadable goodie.
- Be specific—a description with more relevant details for your target audience will get more clicks than one that’s more general.
Images & Other Multimedia
Images and other forms of multimedia come with their own optimization best practices. For that reason, our on-page SEO checklist includes a specific category for addressing them.
Incorporate multimedia into your content.
Including visual content like charts, infographics, and videos in your webpages can benefit their SEO. That’s because humans are visual creatures by nature, and tend to linger on a page longer if something catches their eye. That can ultimately translate into a lower bounce rate and more clicks and shares.
In fact, users are more likely to share content when it includes some form of multimedia. In a study by BuzzSumo, articles with an image once every 75-100 words were shared twice as much as articles with fewer images.
Include descriptive alt text for your images.
“Alt” text, also commonly known as “alt tags” and “alt attributes,” refers to the part of an HTML code that describes images on a webpage. This text is used for screen readers for the blind and visually impaired as well as for Google crawlers to understand the subject matter of images.
That makes alt text doubly important for both user experience and SEO purposes. Optimize your images’ alt text with the following best practices:
- Be specific in describing your images.
- Avoid keyword stuffing your alt text.
- Keep your alt text under 125 characters.
- Avoid beginning your alt text with “picture of” or any similar phrases.
What level of specificity should you aim for? Take a look at Google’s examples below.
Reduce file size
Images and other multimedia content affect pages’ loading speed and in doing so, affect user experience.
And if you’ve ever been to a slow-loading website, then you know that the wait can be annoying. Though patience is a virtue, it’s not always enough to keep users from clicking on the “Back” button and bouncing from a webpage.
That’s why your content will benefit from reducing unnecessarily large file sizes; compressing images and videos can boost your page’s loading speed significantly.
So if you’re planning on displaying a small thumbnail image in your content, make sure the actual image size corresponds. There’s no need to upload a giant graphic that’s 3,000 by 2,000 pixels if you’re going to make it display as 300 by 200.
Of course, file size shouldn’t come at the expense of quality. When reducing image, video, or any other multimedia sizes, look for a happy balance that does not sacrifice quality for more efficient loading time.
Last but certainly not least, your text content needs to be optimized for search engines. Pay close attention to these items to make your page more SEO-friendly.
Enhance your content’s readability.
Readable content is easily consumed by website visitors. And when content is more readable, it encourages readers to stay longer and even explore other pages on your site. It’s the difference between having an eyesore of a website and a pleasant one that’s easy to scroll through.
To enhance your content’s readability, ask yourself:
- Is my font a legible size and color?
- How does spacing look in my text—are lines crammed together or is there too much white space?
- Is my text broken up into short paragraphs?
- How long are my sentences?
- Are there any glaring typos or grammar errors?
- Does my content use bullet points or numbered lists?
Look for opportunities to improve your users’ reading experience—your page will benefit by becoming more visually appealing and capturing your readers’ attention for longer.
Include your target keyword in a few header tags.
Header tags, e.g., h2, h3, and so on, are the pieces of HTML code that create subheadings.
And when incorporated correctly in your webpage, subheadings serve as a kind of framework and outline for your content. They guide readers along just as headings do in an essay, and can even benefit you, the content creator, by organizing your writing more clearly.
In addition, header tags also benefit search engines by providing more insight on what your content is about. It’s for this reason that you should include your target keyword in a few subheadings—just don’t overdo it.
For a general rule of thumb, include your target keyword in every 3 to 4 subheadings. (So if your content has 10 subheadings, only 2 or 3 should have your page’s target keyword in them.) Just be sure to do so in a natural way, rather than stuffing them in for the sake of SEO.
Include both internal and external links.
Internal links, or inbound links, encourage users to stay on your website rather than navigating away. That means a longer amount of time on site and more pages per session—metrics indicative of user engagement.
But that doesn’t mean you should only link internally.
Believe it or not, external links, or outbound links, also benefit your content—so long as you link to quality, authoritative websites, though, and not spammy ones.
This is because linking to your references and other helpful resources builds up your website’s own credibility and trust with readers. On top of that, it demonstrates to the larger web and SEO community that you’re willing to participate and engage with others.
Identify and fix broken or redirecting links.
Broken links are links that don’t work, often leading to a 404 page error rather than the originally intended page.
To clean these up:
- Use Screaming Frog (or a similar SEO tool) to identify any broken links hiding in your content. (Screaming Frog will tell you about crawl errors across your entire website. For a quick and free check of just one page, you can try the plugin Check My Links.)
- Make note of these broken links. Depending on the amount you have, it may be helpful to export them into a spreadsheet or record them in a document somewhere.
- One by one, go through each link and fix them. That could be by:
- Removing the link
- Correcting the link, e.g., fixing a typo so that it properly links to the originally intended page
- Replacing the link with an entirely new one that’s relevant
Left unattended in your content, broken links hurt user experience and can make your site seem unreliable.
Optimize your content’s anchor text.
Anchor text refers to the clickable text used in hyperlinks. Whether outbound or inbound, your links are critical for SEO, as Google uses their anchor text to understand a page’s topic.
To optimize your links’ anchor text:
- Be concise. There’s no exact limit on how long your anchor text should be, but brevity is better for SEO purposes as well as user experience. Look for phrases that encourage users to click—making a whole paragraph anchor text looks spammy and can be hard to read.
- Make anchor text relevant to the page it links to. Otherwise, your anchor text will be misleading and negatively affect user experience. For instance, a link with the anchor text “best video game releases of the year” should not direct users to a culinary blog. It should go to an appropriate page, like a blogger’s review of their latest favorite games.
- Keep keyword-dense internal links to a minimum. When linking internally, aim for a variety of relevant anchor text. Repeating the same phrase for anchor text—and making it an exact match for your other page’s target keyword—looks spammy to Google. For instance, instead of repeatedly linking the phrase “pescatarian dinner recipes,” try “meal ideas for pescatarians,” “seafood dishes for pescatarian diets,” and so on.
- Spread your links out. In the olden days, before 2014, putting nine different links in one sentence benefited SEO; today, it’s a form of link over-optimization. Avoid linking aggressively in your text by spreading them out—remember that there’s a time and place for hyperlinks, e.g., when referencing a helpful resource.
Add social share buttons.
Including social share buttons in your content is a simple way to increase traffic to your site.
These buttons make it easy for your readers to share your content with their own audiences. And with more sharing comes greater exposure for your website, which comes with plenty of SEO benefits.
To get started, activate one of these social media plugins:
And there you have it—a complete on-page SEO checklist.
As you put together new pages on your website, or even review older, existing content, it never hurts to use this step-by-step checklist to optimize your work for better search engine performance.
What on-page SEO practices do you find most important? Let us know in a comment below.