On-page search engine optimization is a process of internal website optimization. Like any process, it has a few steps and stages which we’re about to compile in a nice on-page SEO checklist.
Let’s say you’ve got your own website. Or a corporate website. You’re totally enjoying it, but there’s one little thing – there aren’t exactly many visitors. Now THAT is a problem, yet quite solvable. What you need to consider when promoting your website is on-page search engine optimization (SEO), specifically the optimization of code, text, content, meta data, tags, and structure.
On-page SEO is the most important part of the initial website promotion. It’s quite a complicated process, yet it’s inevitable for anyone who wants to attract visitors from search engine results page for free. This article is in fact an on-page SEO checklist for your professional needs. It does not contain many detailed explanations – if you’re SEO-savvy enough, you won’t find it hard to look up some stuff on the web; if you’re not, you might as well benefit from getting the idea of an on-page SEO.
Each of the items on the checklist below is important in its own right, so you’d better not miss any, otherwise it may turn out less effective than expected. So, here we go…
1. Build the semantic core (choose keywords) for On-page SEO
Building the semantic core is one of the most important parts of an on-page SEO. It may take up to three days for a specialist to build the semantic core for your website, depending on the subject. There are a few approaches to building a semantic core:
- You can do it by yourself, using specialized services by Bing and/or Google. If you’re not sure how to do it right, take my advice and get yourself a specialist, you’re welcome;
- Come up with the list of things that people may possibly look for on your website, put them all in one file. Run the items on this list through the search engine services to see how popular they are (see links above);
- Check the competitors’ websites and find out what items they’ve considered important for their visitors. You can use an online service called Semrush to parse the keywords of your competitors;
- Create a list of low-performing keywords for the first 100-200 articles (this one is mostly for news/informational websites).
2. Cluster the semantic core
The semantic core, that you created (can get huge sometimes), needs to be split in a few sister pages, or clusters. These clusters will help you figure out the keywords, which are to be used for each individual page when promoting your website.
There are three ways you can cluster the semantic core:
- Manually. Slow, albeit very precise process – can be done in MS Excel, for example;
- Using specialized software, e.g. Key Collector;
- Using specialized services.
3. Optimize each page for the keywords from the semantic core
Frankly, it could take a week to write a good paragraph on the individual page optimization. Here are just a few helpful tools used by most SEO specialists for page optimization:
- Paid software, such as Website Auditor off Seo Power Suite;
- Free software, such as instant Website review on Woorank, which can show you how your page can be optimized.
4. Optimize your meta data and tags
a) Title is the main meta tag, which is a definitive ranking factor when it comes to ranking websites by Google, Bing and other search engines.
It’s the first thing you need to add to your website; long before you start optimizing stuff.
Here’s what <title> looks like when it’s a part of the code:
<title> length: Google and Bing search engines can display only up to 70 characters in search results, but it’s possible to make longer titles (125 characters, for example). In this case, you need to realize that your potential visitors will be able to see only the first 70 out of your 125 characters; others will be hidden by an ellipsis.
Try not to stuff too many repeating keywords in your <title> tag; it is not a recommended practice.
Here’s what <Title> looks like in search results:
Meta tag <description> is required mostly for increasing the CTR (click-through rate) of search results. However, you can still add some of the main keywords to the description, and then it might get a higher rank. It’s not a proven fact, more of a theory – but still, can’t hurt to add!
It’s up to you whether to fill in the <keywords> meta tag or not. If your site code does have <keywords> meta tag in it, never leave it blank – put some keywords. If it doesn’t, just ignore it and move on.
There’s a slight (almost non-existent) possibility that it might affect the page ranking. However, if you don’t do it, nothing will really change in the grand scheme of things. When a page has its <keywords> filled in, it’s very easy to see the keywords your competitors use to promote their website.
d) Technical meta description tags:
- Content type
Depending on the situation, you can fill in some of these technical tags. However, there are tags that you should always do for each page of your website, such as <title> and <description>.
5. Set up tags and optimize them
This tag contains alternative text for images. When optimizing a website, always fill in this tag for main images (ideally, for all images) as people search and click on the images as well on Google and Bing.
You should also provide <title> for images. To view the <title> tag, hover your mouse over the image and wait for a few seconds. It may look somewhat similar to the one below:
Do not use this tag more than once on a given page. Headline <h1> is usually the title of the page, which is indexed by the search engine.
Here’s what it looks like in the code:
And here’s what it looks like on the website:
Just like its bigger counterpart <h1>, <h2> tag (sub-headline) is an important on-page SEO factor. When it comes to <h2> tags, search engines consider a few factors:
- correct positioning;
- relevance to the subject of the page.
The rules of writing good headlines and sub-headlines differ, so please take some time to do them both right. Every text, whether it’s an article or some piece of copy to go with the website, should have sub-headlines. This will bring your site much closer to the Top.
d) <strong> / <bold>
Putting certain words in <strong> used to work for SEO before, but now the importance of <strong> is quite low. Just like with any type of SEO, try not to get overexcited with using these tags.
You can put several key words in < strong > once or twice, but that’s it – otherwise it’s going to look like spam. Moderation is your key to the success in an on-page SEO.
6. Optimize your content very carefully
Your website content is created primarily for human users, and not for some search robots. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t optimize it.
Depending on the type of the website, content can be optimized differently – try not to be repetitive with your keywords, because search engines may consider them spam and apply restrictions to your website or put it under a filter.
Here’s what optimized content looks like:
This content was pulled from DigitalBranding.pro as an example.
Another simple example: this article, which provides visitors with relevant information about on-page SEO, was optimized to feature a few on-page SEO related keywords.
We’ll talk more about how to make great content in the article “What is Content Marketing: Guide to Successful Content Strategy“.
7. Scan your website for errors, duplicate pages and server responses
There are a lot of tools to help you out with this task. Most specialists would use one of the tools below:
- Netpeak Spider – free website scanning program;
- Screaming Frog – paid professional on-page SEO audit program.
Run your website through either of these tools and see if you have errors, duplicate content on multiple pages, or bad server responses. If you do, just fix ‘em.
8. Set up semantic URLs
Semantic URLs are intuitively meaningful to regular users. For example, “site.com/category/name” instead of “site.com/2011/post-31”. If you’re not a programmer, try not to set up these URLs on your own.
Semantic URLs can be set up in such popular CMS as WordPress, Joomla!, ModX, or OpenCart – directly or via plugins. If you are using a Custom CMS, semantic URL module has to be set up manually.
9. Set up sitemap.xml
Sitemap.xml is a prioritized list of pages, which are to be indexed by search engines. This document can contain page history. Learn more about Sitemap.xml from Google.
You can create automatically updated sitemap.xml in popular CMS using plugins, modules and extensions. If you’re using a custom CMS, you’ll have to write your own generation module.
Here’s an example of the sitemap.xml for this blog – https://vgamp.com/sitemap.xml (generated via WordPress plugin).
10. Set up HTML sitemap
HTML sitemap is required for creating low-level hierarchy for all website pages. It also serves as an additional navigation tool for visitors. Here’s an example of HTML sitemap for Apple.com.
Most CMS will let you set up HTML sitemap via specialized plugins, modules, or extensions. If you’re using a custom CMS, you will have to write your own generation module, or ask developers to do so. There is, however, a third option – parse all the links on your website and paste them manually onto the sitemap.
11. Set up robots.txt
Robots.txt is a text document located in the root directory of the website. It contains certain instructions for robots/spiders, including those of the search engines. You can learn more about robots.txt here.
Modern search engines require files, which are open for indexing in browser. They may include css, js files, and all files with audio/video extensions. Preferable directories in robots.txt are Host and Sitemap.
12. Add social buttons
Most SEO specialists agree that social network buttons can really make a difference when it comes to page ranking. There are a few ways to add social buttons to your website – you can pull them directly from the social network API or use special plugins.
13. Markup pages using microdata markup languages
Whatever your page may be dedicated to, the data on this page should always have certain type and subject. Depending on that, you can markup the data using structured microdata languages. Markup helps search engines grasp the essence of the page and present it in a certain way (by making a snippet of it). Perhaps, you noticed that some sites in Google search results have stars next to them – that’s one the microdata markup types called Schema.org Reviews.
14. Set up “www” to “non-www” redirects (slash/non-slash)
People have their different ways of typing in site names in the search box. Some of them use www, other don’t – the site will open regardless. However, in this case www and non-www sites will be indexed as two different websites. The search engine can tell they are the same website, but still can’t index them as one. To help search engine do this, you need to redirect automatically to canonical (main) version of the page. Learn more about setting up the www/non-www redirect here.
The situation is pretty much the same with the two versions of a page address – one URL has “slash” symbol at the end, the other doesn’t. If you have both variants, the search engine will consider it duplicate content. To avoid this, set up slash/non-slash pages using the link above.
15. Checking for errors using W3C validation markup service
The code on the page has to be neat. Most respected sources agree, that the “validity” of code affects page ranking in a positive way.
16. Check page load speed
There are many factors that contribute to the page load speed, you can learn more about them using Page Speed Insights, a service by Google. Here, you will be offered to download optimized files for images, css, html, js – everything you need to increase your page load speed twofold or even more.
You can learn more about this service in an article, coming soon on my blog.
17. Check how well your website is optimized for mobile devices.
There are many services for checking how well your page is optimized for mobile phones and tablets, but the best one comes from Google Page Speed Insights (“For mobile” tab). Learn more about mobile-optimized websites here.
If you don’t happen to be a front-end developer, I advise you to seek professional expertise in optimization for mobile devices.
18. Add internal links
In order for search engines to index your pages correctly, you need to add internal links. This is basically an internal link structure of your website.
19. Search engine tools
In conclusion about On-page SEO
On-page SEO is a very important part of your website promotion in search results. The better your site optimized, the easier it is to promote.
Well-balanced on-page SEO strategy includes very many aspects, most of which should be constantly improved as your website grows. Here in this article we covered just the basic on-page SEO techniques, which are essential to any website success.
I hope this article was helpful and now you know everything you need to kick start that project of yours – good luck!
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If you have further questions on the subject, please write them in comments – I’ll be glad to answer.