Step-by-Step On-Page SEO Checklist for Organic Traffic in 2021
You’ve already put work into great content. How are you getting your website pages and posts in front of people?
You want visitors flowing into your site, but to get them there, they have to be able to find you. By optimizing on-site SEO, you can increase those new leads and grow your company with organic traffic.
This guide for on-site page SEO factors can help you do just that.
Table of contents:
What is On-Site SEO and Why Should You Care?
Google, Bing and other top search engines with high search volume have announced components and practices that are important for higher search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is determined by algorithms with robots (or SEO spiders) that crawl your site to determine topic and value.
With algorithms changing 500-600 times a day, there is a lot they don’t tell you about SEO best practices. The goal for the search engine is to rank answers that are most relevant and valuable to their users first. If searchers struggle to get results that are helpful, they might start using a different search engine.
Ultimately, many of these important on-site SEO practices are going to be beneficial to your site and searchers too.
On-site SEO is just optimizing the posts and pages on your website. It will include making changes to the visible content and back-end web structure.
So, how are you strategically improving your content to get in front of your customers?
Your Helpful On-Site SEO Tips Guide
Whenever you are creating new pages, writing new blog posts or updating the old stuff after an SEO audit, you can turn to this trusty on-site SEO guideline. We’ve boiled down a lot of important tips to give you a step-by-step list to boost your SEO and improve conversion rates. Improving your content is absolutely worth your time and effort when it starts bringing in new leads and earning more shares.
1. Cover the Point in the First Paragraph
You should present the main point of the page briefly in the first paragraph for two reasons:
On one hand, you want to assure your reader that you are asking the right questions and covering the right topics in your page. They clicked on that page or article for a reason, so assure them you are going to align your message with their expectations. You provide a better user experience when they don't have to dig to determine value. The other reason you want to include that paragraph, is for the sake of Google. The first paragraph is typically looked at hardest for search engine rankings.
Don’t take a long time to get to the point. State it in your first paragraph and then use the rest of your content space to support that claim and improve dwell time.
- If you are creating a landing page for sales, make sure the service or product is clearly listed at the top
- If you are creating a blog post answering a question, answer it briefly in the beginning section
- If you are writing about an event or telling a story, start with an overview
You might feel like you are giving away some of your content, but you aren’t. You are assuring your reader that what they want to know is just below. Lead them down the page by first letting them know you are on board with their needs.
2. Add Inbound and Outbound Resource Links
If Google sees your web page as a dead end, it will not rank well. Instead, use inbound links to strategically take your users to various parts of your site. Use outbound links to point visitors to helpful resources (ones that aren’t competitors). It might seem counterproductive to send visitors off your page, but it is actually
- Use anchor text to link your internal resources within your content. These aren’t CTAs, but they are optional rabbit trails your visitor can take if they want to learn more about that topic.
- Use resourceful links from authorities in your industry to help SEO crawlers understand your content purpose and the value you are presenting. You can use “open a new tab” (or window) links if you want to ensure they don’t completely leave your page (your site will still be open in the original tab).
3. Use Images (And Include Alt Tag Descriptions)
Images help break up long blocks of copy and keep your readers from bouncing off the page. However, too many large images is a problem if your site loads slowly. A general rule of thumb is to use compressed images that are under 200k in size. You can add alt tags descriptions to help your images get listed in image search and increase the keywords the search robots (or SEO spiders) can see.
Here are some image best practices to improve your SEO.
If you are saving the picture yourself, you should save for web at 72dpi and limit the width to 800px for faster page load time. This size would look very pixilated for print, but it looks good on a screen, loads faster and is easier to store. Thumbnails can be even smaller, which is important for product pages or galleries that could get sluggish with a ton of images.
The alt text is also used for the hearing impaired and describes the image. You can increase SEO by naming your image file names with appropriate keywords and then using the alt tag to describe the image. If you use a picture of hands typing on the computer for a SaaS page, don’t just use “hands typing on the computer” for the alt tag. You could use something more like “searching for top SaaS accounting software products.”
- Focus more on what will matter to the user and less on what matters to your company: don’t just throw a bunch of keywords on there.
- Be specific, not generic: “hands typing on computer” is too generic and not designed to attract anyone in particular.
- Get to the point: alt tag descriptions should stay under 125 characters.
- Jump into the description: don’t lead with unnecessary words, like “picture of…”
- Be sparing with keywords: only use your keyword on the image that best represents your post or page and use a wide variety of words on the different images you include.
4. Use Headers with Keywords
Your H1 tag or title tag should be your title and you should already have that front-loaded with a keyword. Within the copy itself, you should use keywords in your H2 and even H3 subheadings to improve SEO. As the search engine spiders crawl your site, they will skim headers and page titles as part of their check to see what the overarching message is about.
Not only will these headers help prove to the search engine that your content is answering the question, but it will help your visitor scan the content before settling in to read the details.
Google says that content creators should always use headers sparingly and avoid using them where they don’t fit. You should never put text into a header that won’t help with structure and your formatting (size/font/color) should remain the same for each header and not vary erratically.
5. Use Keyword Variants
Don’t force a specific primary keyword and make it read strangely in your text. If you are trying to create content optimized for the search engines, you will need to work on quality content that is original, in-depth and reads naturally. That means you will have defined keywords, but you will want to do keyword research to find variants, long-tail keywords and related keywords. So, for this checklist to cover more keywords, we might include variations of “on-page SEO” like:
- “What is on page SEO”
- “On page optimization”
- “SEO factors”
- "Optimizing a piece of content"
- “Improve search engine optimization”
- "Building organic traffic"
Get the picture? These are all variations or related to an underlying primary keyword, but offer different ways the user (in this case—you) might type the query into the search engine. If every single instance only used the term “on-page SEO,” it would read very unnaturally.
Packing in a singular keyword was once a popular practice (called keyword stuffing) when search engines looked for keyword prevalence and exact matches. But it became a black hat practice when Google updated their algorithm in 2003 and a high keyword density (without variants) will get your site penalized. Yoast offers a helpful SEO plugin if you are working on Wordpress.
6. Write Longer (High Quality) Posts
Answering topics in-depth is important for better rankings, lower bounce rates and higher shares.
There is a lot of buzz right now on content length. What was once considered adequate at 300-500 words is now considered woefully short. You will see many large blogging companies, like Buffer and Moz, create content that is thousands of words long for their blog alone.
This gives you a chance to offer in-depth insight. This blog post is over 3,000 words. Imagine what would be cut out if we had to trim it to 500 words. But, make sure your content is valuable to the reader and not fluff.
A tool like Clearscope or Frase can give you high quality insights on your content, and how it does compared to other content that is already out there with similar keywords.
7. Work on Flow to Boost Dwell Time
It's crucial to keep your reader engaged and moving down your content.
Whether you are creating a product landing page or a blog post about a pain point, you should always work to improve dwell time.
You have less than 10 seconds to engage. Some say 3 seconds and people are bouncing (especially if that load time is bad).
As we already discussed, that first paragraph is crucial. But what follows can’t be a boring block of text.
- Break it up with headers
- Use bullet points
- Include images and graphics
- Use pull-out quotes
- Get to the point
- Offer real value
8. Include a CTA or “Next Step”
Don’t leave your visitor hanging around. Your buttons and links are going to show search engines that you aren’t a dead end, but links alone won’t encourage users to visit other parts of your site. Use a CTA at the bottom to send them somewhere else.
A CTA might be clearly self-serving: “schedule an appointment with us today!” or it could be more user-minded: “for more, check out this post on ______!” It really depends where your visitor is at in their journey.
Think about who the content is written for and what the next logical step would be. Are they just coming in to learn about a valuable topic (no clear understanding of the pain they could solve with your products or solutions)? Or are they there to learn more about why your product or service is different from the competitors?
This understanding should shape the very clear CTA to drive page performance.
9. Determine Where the Content Will Thrive
Determining who is looking at your article is a big part of creating an effective one. The two ways for people to see your article is when they are either searching for it or they stumble across it.
Search Content: We often think about how searchers are going to find us on search engines. You are reading this checklist to improve SEO, so this will be most applicable to the pieces you are currently working on. When a user searches for content, they are using specific terms—and your content needs to use that same language. Searched-for content is something that answers a direct question or problem the user already has. While your solutions might be new, your article headline can’t be anything very surprising or off-beat.
Shared Content: The content that users share is very different. What makes someone stop and share an article on social media or get snagged into clicking on the PPC link you’ve decided to share with them? The kinds of articles that are going to get email click-thrus or passed on to a coworker are far more provocative. They snag attention, but they probably won’t land high in any search results.
Realize there are two types of content and create both. The content that gets shared will help build your domain authority (DA). The content that fulfills search queries is going to directly impact the SEO of that page.
10. Write a Captivating Title and SEO-Friendly URL
Frontload long titles! And don’t neglect your URL structure!
The title is what stops the scroll and earns the click. Don’t get sloppy when it comes to titles. Consider what provokes your various user. This is why it’s super important to consider where your content is destined to be and the search intent of your target audience for this piece.
For SEO purposes, content that is designed for the search engine should be informative and based on the keywords people are using to search with. People tend to like actionable and authoritative titles when they are searching Google—titles that clearly answer their question and don’t waste time beating around the bush.
Trim down your URL to be as concise as possible and include a target keyword. It will look prettier and help the user see that you are planning to deliver on what you promised through that catchy title.
11. Structure the Search Data
You want your article to appear enticing.
Have you ever noticed that some listings in the Google search results show ratings or location data?
Some results show thumbnail images.
Some of the listings have nothing but a title.
Some have a snazzy meta description that further entices you to click, while some results will have just a clip of the content (or the super-awkward plate text that says metadata has not been added).
If you do a basic search for just about anything, you will notice these formatting differences. With a great picture and a high review, you are more likely to grab the attention of the person seeking solutions on the search engine.
In order to structure your data, you will need to update the code of your site (or your Wordpress theme) to include information about the page and type of content. These can make your content more searchable, since the structured data label can contain recipe ingredients, product materials, sizes, opening hours, location, logo and more.
We recommend that you use structured data with any of the supported notations markup to describe your content. You can add the markup to the HTML code to your pages, or use tools like Data Highlighter23 and Markup Helper24 (see the Best Practices section for more information about them).
12. Link from Old Post
When you’ve finished your new content or page, go find an old page to link from. Don’t count yourself fully finished with your on-site content until it has other pieces of content pointing to it. It will help direct your visitors to your new content (especially if you link from a high performer), but it will also ensure your site has virtual doors (internal links) that connect all pages on your site.
Give your new content a boost by linking from an old post or page that performs well and would be a natural stepping stone. You can use Google Analytics to determine which relevant posts are getting a lot of traffic.
13. Improve Site Speed and Use Responsive Design
If your visitor is only giving you a few seconds, then you certainly don’t want to waste it with poor loading or awkward formatting. If your site loads slowly, you will get knocked on search engines too.
All the way back in 2018, Google updated their algorithm with a page speed-specific update called “The Speed Update.” Google’s research had shown that nearly a third of all visitors left the page if the page took more than 3 seconds to load and it spiked to 90% bounces at five seconds.
Surprisingly, there are a lot of sites without a webmaster working on their site speed.
This study found that the average page speed loading time is 10.3 seconds on desktop and 27.4 seconds on mobile!
And formatting for pads, laptops and mobile devices with responsive design is important for user experience. No one wants to pinch and scroll just to view a page not formatted for mobile.
14. Get External Link Backs for DA
Domain authority (DA) is the ranking factor score for websites that runs between 1-100 and represents likelihood for outranking. A website with a DA of 94 is going to have a higher page rank than a site with a DA of 14. While DA doesn’t impact SEO, it is a good indicator of how close you are to a high level of authority in the eyes of Google and other top search engines.
Use social sharing buttons to increase those off-site SEO backlinks (not a lot of authority, but still proves value).
One of the best ways to increase your DA is through link building through other sites with a high DA (this is off-page SEO). News sites are usually on the high end of the DA spectrum. Blog posts ran by beginner bloggers often start very low. You can use a Domain Authority Checker to see where your site lands currently. You can also use it to see what the DA of another site is if you are contemplating trying to get a backlink. So, getting your site mentioned by Forbes, CNN or site with a high ranking factor is one way to rise in the search engine page ranks.
15. Update Old Content
You can improve SEO by keeping content updated. As your pages age, many will lose credibility. What was once a useful blog post on current trends or laws will age out if you don’t update. What is true and popular now will change within days, months or years (depending on your industry and topic). You may find the readability isn't great with new best practices or that you have broken links.
While some content (like company news or events) should age out, other content will improve SEO if you keep it updated.
Audit your content and determine what needs to be updated and delete any duplicate content. Start by updating your best performers and work your way through all old content that isn’t strictly date-based (like content covering events).
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