On-page SEO is one of the only things you have full control of in SEO. And today I’m going to take you through an on-page SEO checklist that we use to grow our search traffic consistently. Now, if you’re new to on-page SEO, it’s basically the practice of optimizing webpages to help them rank higher in search engines. And while on-page work likely won’t be enough to rank for competitive terms. It’s a foundation to higher Google rankings and more traffic for your site. With that said, let’s get to the checklist.
The first step is to understand and match search intent. Search intent basically means the reason behind a search query. For example, if someone searches for “buy headphones”, they likely want to see category pages from e-commerce stores. And you don’t have to guess what search intent is. Since Google gives preference to pages that their users are happy with just search for your target keyword and analyze the types of pages that show on the first page, after all user happiness essentially means satisfied search intent.
So, let’s say you had a website where you sell supplements and you want to create a page targeting the keyword “best protein powder”. If you look at the search results, you can tell right away from the titles that they’re all blog posts that follow a list, style format. So, for this scenario, I wouldn’t advise creating a product or category page targeting this keyword, because if you’re not matching intent, you probably won’t rank. Now while it’s easy to stop here and start writing, I highly recommend actually visiting these pages to get a better understanding of what they’ve included in their posts. For example, if you look at this post, you’ll see that they’re primarily focusing on categorizing protein powders by type. “Best grass feed whey protein powder”, “best tasting protein powder”. They then go on to give you a description of that specific product and ended off by breaking down the pros and cons.
And if you look at another one of the top three results, you’ll also see that the focus is on types before brands. Analyzing the top results is like looking through the lens of Google. Their job is to return the most relevant results for any given query. Take note of search intent and make sure your page matches it. Step two is to increase topical relevance of your page. We ran a study and found that on average, the number one ranking page for a target keyword ranks for nearly a thousand other relevant keywords in the top 10. So, what you’ll want to do is find related subtopics to ensure your piece is thorough. And there are a few ways you can find these related subtopics. First, analyze the top-ranking pages and look for relevant keywords. So, this time you’ll see related keywords like “whey”, “isolate”, “concentrate”, “grams” and “calories”.
Second, use Google’s auto-suggest. Just type in your target keyword and you’ll see a few suggestions like “for women”, “for men”, “weight loss”, “weight gain”, “smoothies”, and “bulking”, which are all related to protein powder. Just make sure that these are in fact related subtopics and not standalone topics of their own. To do that, Google the suggested keyword and if the results are completely different to the results for your main target keyword, chances are you should target the keyword with its own page.
Number three, use the people also ask box to find points worth covering here. You’ll see common questions people are asking like, “what is the healthiest protein powder” and “which way protein is best for muscle building”. Finally, you can scroll down to the bottom of the page to see additional keywords and potential subtopics for your posts. Now, the downside to these methods is that you’re kind of guessing. So, a better way to do this is to use a content gap tool, which is going to show us common keywords that the top pages rank for in Google. And to me, this is much more valuable since you’re essentially looking at the exact keywords Google has ranked a single page for. So why wouldn’t your page be able to rank for those same keywords?
So, I’m in the content gap tool, and you’ll see that I’ve pasted in a few of the top-ranking pages for the query “best protein powder” in the top section. And I’ve left the bottom section blank. What we’re asking the tool to do here is show common keywords that any of these pages rank for where at least one of them ranked in the top 10 and this to ensure that our results are relevant since keywords in position 50, probably won’t be very helpful. So, let’s run the search. And now you can see data that shows you which subtopics you should cover, to narrow your list down even further, let’s change the number of intersections where all three pages need to rank in the top 100. And we’re down to around 140 relevant keywords to skim through. So, you should talk about whey protein. You’ll also see that “for women” is a recurring theme here. And people are also specifically looking for vanilla protein powder. Now that you have a data-driven outline, you should be able to write your posts and create content that perfectly matches the intent of your future visitors.
Let’s move on to step three, which is to use short and descriptive URL’s. In our study on various on-page ranking factors. We found a clear correlation between the number of characters in the URL in a page ranking position in Google. Now correlation doesn’t mean causation. So, I don’t want you to take us advice as a be all end all. So, let’s say that your page title was “11 best protein powders in 2019”. Now, if you’re using a CMS like WordPress, it’ll automatically change the URL slug to the title and replace spaces with dashes. This URL is longer than it needs to be. So as a general rule of thumb, use your target keyword as the URL slug. So, in this case, I’d leave it as just “best protein powder” because it’s short and descriptive.
Now there are a couple other benefits worth noting. The first people are most likely to click the search results that best match their search query. And descriptive URLs could help cement your page as that result. Second, descriptive URLs tend to include your target keywords. And since people often use URLs as anchor texts, when linking to a page, it can be helpful. Now, if you already have URLs that are long and or not descriptive, I wouldn’t worry too much about changing them if you’re getting a good amount of search traffic. For example, Medical News Today gets around 53 million search visits per month. And if we go to the top pages report, which shows us their pages with the most organic traffic, you’ll see that their pages still get a ton of search traffic despite having numeric URL slugs.
Now step four is to add your target keyword in your title, meta description and H1 tag, if and when it makes sense to. And there are two reasons why I highly recommend including your target keyword in your title tag, description and H1 tag. Number one, when we studied 2 million keywords, we found that there was a small correlation between rankings in the strategic placement of exact match keywords. And number two, it can help searchers quickly understand that your page is the most relevant for their search query. For example, let’s say you want to find an article with reviews on refrigerators. So, you go to Google and search for “refrigerator reviews”. Now, if you were to see these two results, which one would you be more likely to click? Probably the first one, since it uses the words you use in your search query. In other cases, exact match keywords can look quite spammy. For example, you wouldn’t create a title like this, simply because the keyword has a bit of search volume. So bottom line, you don’t need to stuff, exact match keywords into your titles or even content for the sake of it. You can use synonyms, stop words and connecting words. Google is smart enough to figure things out, just make sure your content is on point.
Step five is a super low-hanging way to improve your on-page SEO. And that’s the optimize your images with alt tags. Image alt tags allow you to provide descriptive texts for images on your page. Here’s what the code for a typical image looks like. And when you add the alt attribute, you would basically describe the image by adding alt=”your description”. Now, there are a few reasons why this is important to do. First, when your image fails to load on your page, the alt text will appear as a replacement to the image. Second, 8.1 million Americans have a vision impairment, and oftentimes they may rely on a screen reader, alt texts can help provide a richer experience for your users. And third, alt texts can help you rank your images in Google images. John Mueller confirms this by saying “alt texts is extremely helpful for Google images if you want your images to rank” Looking at our Google search console data, you’ll see that in the past three months, we’ve had around 4 million impressions from our images alone, which led to over 5,000 clicks to our pages. Bottom line, it doesn’t take much effort to add a few words and describe your images, which could lead to big returns.
All right, step six is to add structured data where it makes sense. And I’m sure you’ve seen search results with things like star ratings. This is the result of review structure data, which could have a positive impact on your click through rates. But using this, isn’t just about increasing visibility in Google search since not all schema types create additional details in the SERP. It’s about making it easier for search engines to understand what your pages are about. So, while it isn’t a direct ranking factor, it may still help you rank higher on Google.
Here’s what John Mueller had to say. “There’s no generic ranking boost for structured data usage. However, structured data can make it easier to understand what the page is about, which can make it easier to show where it’s relevant, improving targeting and maybe ranking for the right terms”. You can use Google structured data, markup helper to quickly generate your own code. So, for this article, I’ll select the title of the article and set the property as the name, and then I’ll do the same thing for the author property. Once you’re all done, click the create HTML button and a piece of JSON code will pop up, which you can then add to your page as instructed here. Or if you’re a WordPress user, there are plugins out there that make adding markup super easy.
All right, step seven is to make sure your content is simple and easy to read. Creating clear and concise content can help search engines piece together what your content is all about, but what’s even more important in my opinion is making it simple and easy to read for real people. It’s believed that Google looks at user signals like dwell time and time on page to influence rankings. So, if your content is complicated and difficult to understand your visitors will be heading straight for the back button, which is never a good thing. Here are a few tips to improve readability. Avoid big words if you don’t have to use them. For example, don’t say proximity, when you can say nearby. Use short sentences and paragraphs, this can simplify the read for users as big walls of text can be intimidating. Finally, as a general rule of thumb, write as you speak. In fact, everything that you’ve watched in this video is scripted. And if you’ve made it this far, it’s because it was easier to digest. Had I written the script in an academic tone; you would have probably been gone a while ago.
To benchmark readability, you can use a free tool called Hemingway Editor, just paste your content in there, and you’ll get a readability score. I suggest aiming for a round of fifth to sixth grader level. For the most part, this is the on-page SEO checklist we use at Top Digital Marketing Agency & SEO Services and it works tremendously well.