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On-Page SEO Guide & Optimization Checklist

On-Page SEO is the cornerstone of every well-rounded SEO strategy. Done. We can probably wrap up the intro right here and now for many of you.

But for those of you that are more green when it comes to SEO, here’s the gist.

Being on the first page of Google can be a game changer when you rank for the right keywords. The impact those targeted #1 rankings will have on your bottom-line, simply can’t be understated.

Search engines like Google work to deliver the best results every time a search is entered. Higher search engine placement means more traffic.

When you increase the amount of people discovering your business, the number of people contacting your business goes up. More leads, means more sales. Simple right?

The hard part is earning top rankings in the search engines.

If you want to get more mileage out of your SEO campaign, you’ll want to focus on these 3 key areas:

  • The quality of your content and site structure (on-page SEO)
  • The number, relevance, and quantity of backlinks pointing to your domain (off-page SEO)
  • The consistency and exposure of your local visibility (local SEO)

Today we’re going to cover the first topic in great detail.

Here is what you need to understand about SEO: the company that hones in and executes first is usually the one that dominates their market.

When someone types a phrase like “locksmith” into their search bar, Google will also show local results, even though the specific city is not mentioned.

With local SEO, you’re dealing with a much smaller geographic area. You’re not targeting a national audience, so the competition pool is much smaller. You’re dealing with less businesses vying for the same customers.

This gives you an advantage that is twofold:

  1. Easier to rank for geo-targeted keywords.
  2. Easier to attract local customers that are ready to buy.

By optimizing for your city or service area the majority of your website traffic comes from people who are local to you, interested in your services, and looking for a solution — right now.

Do yourself a favor: optimize your website from the get-go.

SEO takes time. We like to say that it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

The longer you put off optimizing your site, the longer it will be until you see results. No way around it.

What is On-Page SEO?

On-page SEO, at it’s most basic level, is the practice of optimizing your site’s pages and posts. That includes both content, and under-the-hood code.

To get an idea of where your problem areas might be, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is your site mobile responsive?
  • Have you done keyword research for all of your major pages?
  • Do all of your images have targeted alt-tags?
  • How long does it take your site to load?

On-page SEO is critical. Before you even think about local listings and building high-quality links, your first priority is to optimize your website with on-page SEO best practices in mind.

So what are some on-page SEO factors to consider? Glad you asked!

On-Page SEO Factors

When Google looks at a web page, it considers a number of factors. How well it is able to process the page contents is a good indicator of how well your page is optimized.

But let’s take an even closer look at how Google does this, and how you can improve Google’s understanding of your website content.

Now that you have a basic understanding of on-page search engine optimization, let’s dive in to the checklist itself.

Follow these techniques (that range from beginner to advanced) to optimize your own content.

On-Page SEO Checklist (How-To Guide)

Backlinks may still be going strong as the most important Google ranking signal, but statements like that can be deceptive. After all, you could have the best backlink profile ever seen, but if your page isn’t optimized for smart keywords, you won’t get any traffic out of it.

Here’s how you can start to optimize your site, page by page.

#1 Title tags

First and foremost, you want to have your focus keyword in the title of your page. The closer your keyword is to the beginning of the title, the better. But above all, make sure that your title makes sense and the keyword use is natural.

Title length also matters. You’ll want it to be somewhere between 40 and 70 characters. Any longer than that and it will often get cut off in the search results.

#2 Meta descriptions

You’ll also want to make sure you include your keyword in the page’s meta description. While meta descriptions do not actually affect rankings directly, they can increase CTR when they’re well-written and convincing.

That in turn can have an impact (albeit modest) on rankings. So these deserve some love.

Even though Google has increased the possible length of meta descriptions in recent months, it’s still probably best to keep it under 160 characters.

Think about what would compel a reader to click your result over your competitors. If you’re lacking in the inspiration department, check out some top-ranking pages in the SERPs to see what they’re doing.

#3 URLs

When you’re picking what URL to use for a new page or post, be sure to consider your target keywords. This isn’t as important as it used to be, but it’s still best practice to be mindful.

For instance, your URL should never look like this ->

Ugh. Users will find that unhelpful. So will search crawlers.

Instead, keep your urls neat, keyword-focused, and descriptive. Just like we did for this post 😉

#4 H1 tags

The H1 tag is the most important tag you’re going to use on any page. So pay attention!

Just be sure to make it your first heading tag, and include your keyword (with a modifier where appropriate).

#5 Optimize images

When dealing with images, there are actually quite a few things to consider.

For starters, it’s wise to use your focus keyword in the filename of your image, as well as in the tile, and alt-tags.

For example, using the example from Mary’s chocolate donuts, you would add an image to the page with a url structure like this:

<img src =”chocolate-donuts.jpg” alt=”Delicious Chocolate Donuts” title=”Delicious Chocolate Donuts” />

Notice how the image is named with the keyword? You’d also include image and alt tags that further described the image.

#6 The beginning of your post

Make sure you use your keyword in the first paragraph of your post. This is one of a variety of ranking factors looked at by Google and other search engines.

Tip: If you use WordPress, install WordPress SEO by Yoast. You’ll get clear instructions on how to optimize each page of your site in a very easy to understand way.

#7 H2 and H3 tags

On-Page SEO Tips

Adding H2 and H3 heading tags helps structure your content for readers and search engines. They provide a hierarchy for the page that tells search engines which heading should have more weight.

You should include variations of your keyword in your headings to give your on-page SEO a boost.

#8 Use variations throughout

Your keyword should appear throughout your post. Include your keyword (and variations) in your body text, headings and images. Synonyms of the word or alternative phrases are also important to add.

Advanced On-Page SEO Techniques

#9 Use outbound links

Link to 1-2 authoritative sites. Do not use a “nofollow” tag. Linking to reputable sources adds trust to your site in Google’s eyes. Plus, it’s a great way to offer your readers additional value by pointing them to new resources they can discover.

#10 Make your content easily consumable

People read differently online. We scan pages. In fact, very few of you will read every word of this post. Part of the reason is the sheer volume of content that is published online. The other half is the fact that our new digital lives offer far too many distractions.

Brevity is key. Breaking up the text in your posts makes your content more consumable and easier to read. Break up the text on your page and be sure to ditch publishing big blocks of text.

#11 Publish long form content

Content over 1,000 words performs better in search and gives you ample room to naturally add keywords throughout the page.

Ideal length of a blog post

SerpIQ analyzed the top 10 positions on search results pages and counted the words in each article. Their data included all text on the page (including sidebars and comments), so that’s something to keep in mind. As you can see, the higher the word count, the higher the rankings.

What it really comes down to is effort. Good content gets links. Great content gets shared.

#12 Link to other posts and pages

Link internally within your site to important posts and pages. This keeps Googlebot on your site longer, which means more pages get crawled on your site. It also helps improve visitor “time on site” — meaning more opportunities to convert traffic into conversions.

#13 Improve pagespeed

A fast website is one of the quickest (no pun intended) paths towards better conversions. Google measures bounce rate and dwell time. A slow website impacts the user experience, and therefore can ding you in the SEO department. The speed of your server is just one more factor that plays into good on-page SEO. A fast website is a must-have.

There are a number of things you can do to speed up your website.

  • Minimize HTTP Requests
  • Reduce server response time
  • Enable compression
  • Enable browser caching
  • Minify resources
  • Optimize images
  • Optimize CSS Deliver
  • Prioritize above-the-fold content
  • Reduce the number of plugins you use on your site
  • Reduce redirects

Get more info on speeding up your website here.

#14 Add social sharing buttons

Social SEO is here to stay. Give your visitors the opportunity to amplify your message by adding social sharing buttons throughout your site. Looking for a solution? Check out You can grab a free social sharing widget, just like the one we’re using right here on the site.

#15 Maximize CTR

If your search results listing isn’t getting clicked on it sends a strong signal to Google that visitors are not finding your content useful.

The opposite is also true: more clicks, more relevancy. Google will usually give you a bump in search results. You can maximize your CTR by writing extremely compelling copy that is geared towards making people click.

Hint: Check out Adwords listings under the keyword you are targeting. You should be able to come up with some ideas from the ads. Ads that are higher up on the page have typically proven to have good click-through.

#16 Use rich snippets, schema, and microdata

Using snippets for on-page SEO


The short version is that adding markup to your web pages gives you more visibility in search and helps improve your on-page SEO.

Here’s what Google has to say:

Including structured data markup in web content helps Google algorithms better index and understand the content. Some data can also be used to create and display Rich Snippets within the search results. For example, the Rich Snippet at the right shows search results for a movie, including review stars, an aggregate rating value, and vote count — very useful to anyone searching for information about this movie.

Check out this resource for a more complete breakdown of rich snippets, schema, and microdata.

#17 Make fonts easy to read

Hard to read fonts make it hard on visitors. If people have trouble reading your content, it’s almost a sure bet they will click the back button. Use easy to read fonts and make sure that your font type is not too small. Avoid typefaces that are too complicated or don’t display well on the web.

#18 Optimize clicks to content

The closer a page is to your home page the better it will rank. You have to ask yourself this one important question:

What page do you need visitors to reach?

Make it no more than 3 clicks from the home page. You’ll get better rankings and conversions.

#19 Reduce bounce rate

All you have is 3 seconds. Make it count.

What you want your visitors to do should be immediately obvious within 3 seconds of landing on your site. Check Google Analytics and see what your bounce rate is, from there work to reduce the number by testing different value propositions and calls-to-action.

#20 Make your site mobile-friendly

Google’s mobile update means sites that are not mobile-friendly will have a harder time showing up in mobile search. This doesn’t affect desktop search results, but if you get heavy mobile traffic your site will definitely see a dip in traffic. Regardless, moving to a responsive website should be top priority.

Feeling Overwhelmed?

You’re not alone. In fact, so many of our customers felt frustrated with on-page SEO that we started offering our own content optimization service. It’s specific purpose is to help small businesses improve their on-page SEO.

Plans start for as little as $59/month, and can be cancelled at any time! Click here to learn more.

Marketing jack-of-all-trades, ascendant wordsmith, and self-proclaimed World’s Best Dog Dad. I write about SEO, social media and content marketing.