On-page SEO Checklist – The Complete Guide

Written By Andi Wilkinson. Updated 14th January 2021
Creative Director of Made By Factory. UX Designer & SEO Nerd, Andi is also a board member of Manchester Digital, and speaks and writes on a variety of web-related topics.
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A complete step-by-step guide to on-page SEO. If you want to get more visitors to your website and rank higher on Google, then this SEO checklist is for you. Suitable for anyone who has a website and thinks their SEO strategy needs a boost (let’s be honest, that’s all of us). It is written in easy to understand, jargon-free language so that even beginners will get it.

This checklist for optimizing on-page SEO contains loads of ideas to improve your website and make it ultra-attractive to Google (other search engines are available but not half as popular).

Don’t get overwhelmed though – even if you only pick a few ideas from the list you’ll be doing your web traffic and your business a favour. And, if you opt to work through them all then there’s a damn good chance you’ll knock the competition out of the water and end up top of the Google charts.

Technical On-Page SEO

SEO Content
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I was tempted to start with ‘content’ as the first area to optimize, as I still believe that ‘content is king’ when it comes to SEO. However, there are some huge technical mistakes to avoid and some super-quick wins that are easy to tick off – so technical on-page SEO won. Here we go …

1. HTTPS

Right, this is an absolute must. Does your website have a little padlock in the browser bar? And does your URL start with ‘HTTPS’? If not, then your web page will probably have a warning sign and the words ‘Not Secure’ in front of it.

Google doesn’t like this and neither do potential customers (it’s not very reassuring as the first thing they see on your website). Luckily, this is quick and easy to fix, and it won’t cost much either. You’ll need to purchase an SSL certificate and have it installed on your server. Get in touch with your domain host or web developer and ask them about buying and installing an SSL certificate for your website.

2. Sitemap

A sitemap is the list of pages in your website and the structure they follow. If you’ve created a new website or made changes then it’s worth submitting your sitemap to Google. This lets Google know which pages are most important and how best to crawl or search and index the site.

You can do this via Google Search Console: https://search.google.com/search-console/about

Search Console has tools and reports to help you fix issues, maximize performance and measure performance. It isn’t the most intuitive tool you’ll ever use but you definitely need to get hooked up to it.

Sitemap
Website planning. Web designer working on website sitemap. Flat lay

3. SEO plugin

Another quick win here. Have you installed an SEO plugin to your website such as YOAST SEO on WordPress? If not, get one – they even have a free version! It has a neat little traffic light system to tell you how SEO-friendly your content is (the competitive amongst us really want to turn those red lights to green). It also gives suggestions on how to optimize page titles, meta descriptions, URLs and content.

Like any technology, you still need to use your common sense when applying its recommendations, but it is great at making you stop, review and think about what you are publishing.

4. Clean URL

First up – include your target keyword in the URL, the earlier the better. Secondly, ensure the URL is easy to read and understand both for Google and visitors.

URLs are used by search engines to determine the relevance of a page and if your URL is full of random bits of text and squiggles it won’t be easily found. Here are some examples of nice clean URLs:

https://www.beachyjax.com/yoga/

https://alexjonesdentistry.com/what-are-dental-implants/

https://www.madebyfactory.com/google-ads-agency-manchester/

Here’s one that’s not so nice, it’s probably randomly generated, making it pretty meaningless and confusing – get it?

https://example.co.uk/products/index.jsp?category=golf&id=accessories

5. Page titles

It can be easy to get carried away with clever titles and, as much as we all like a bit of fun and humour, don’t forget that your page title should be clear, concise and include your keyword. Limit it to no more than 65 characters as this is what Google displays in search results.

Web Page Titles
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The title is an important indicator to search engines and visitors of what they will find within – so hold off on the jokes until you’ve got the reader’s attention. Just provide a page title that spells out what you are covering. Don’t forget to use the H1 tag as this signifies to search engines what your page is about and helps to display it on the browser.

6. Meta descriptions

A meta description is the couple of lines of descriptive text that you see underneath the title and URL in search results. Think of it as your 2 sentence pitch to convince a distracted scroller to click through to your page.

Whilst meta descriptions don’t directly improve your ranking they do encourage people to choose your website. Also, if visitors like what they find and don’t bounce straight off your page then that will help you rank higher.

Don’t let Google make up meta descriptions for you. Take the time to carefully craft a unique and persuasive meta description for every web page. Be sure to include:

  • Your keyword
  • A brief description of what they will get from the page
  • A call to action such as ‘Learn more’, ‘Find out about’, ‘Discover why’, ‘Get it now’.

If you got that SEO plugin we suggested earlier, then you can see how it will look on Google and get some suggestions to improve it.

Metadata
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7. Alt tags

Alt tags are the image descriptions that Google uses to understand what an image is and to include it in their search results. E.g. Smiling girl blowing out birthday candles.

It can sometimes feel a bit tedious having to go through your media gallery adding descriptions in, but it is worth it. Having accurate alt tags gains you SEO brownie points and if it is relevant to include your keywords then that is a bonus.

Leaving out alt text means that your images can’t be seen by search engines and it will count against you in rankings. So, best put it on your SEO checklist.

Known as ‘position 0’, a featured snippet is the answer box you see at the top of a Google results page. It’s a little summary and list of bullet points from what Google thinks is the best answer to a query (think of it as being top of the class). And, if you get chosen to be the featured snippet you’ll be rewarded with more visibility and more web traffic.

Tips to optimize for featured snippets

- You’ll need to already be ranking in the top 10 results for the search query, ideally in the top 5. If you aren’t in the top 10, take baby steps and focus on that first.

- Think about the common words that appear in featured snippets (you can find lists of these online) but they include best, vs, decision, recipe, cost, meaning.

- Ensure you are asking and answering a question, so first ask the question, then in your first paragraph answer it concisely. Then go on to explore the topic further in your article and answer it fully.

- Make sure the rest of your article is well-structured with logical questions, answers and detail. Use headings wisely to both draw the reader and the search engine through your content.

9. Custom 404s

Nobody likes a 404! Those pesky little messages that pop up and interrupt the flow of a user’s website viewing experience. They occur when a page is missing or the link is broken, and they can happen to the best of us.

Creating a custom 404 is a neat way of bringing a bit of personality and humour to the situation (if brand-appropriate). By this, we mean designing your 404 page to have some custom branding and wording that should hopefully diffuse the frustration of the user and redirect them to useful content.

On your custom 404 include:

  • An apology and wording authentic to your brand
  • Links to most popular content
  • A search box
  • An eye-catching image.

10.  Fetch as Google

Remember the Google Search Console we suggested you set up? Well if you’ve just added a new page or piece of content to your site then you can head over to it and request your new page to be indexed. Just select ‘Fetch as Google’. This can help you to rank faster by prompting Google to index your page.

Optimizing Content for SEO

So, we’ve got through 10 technical tips for improving your on-page SEO, and if you’re not shouting keywords and content, OMG what about the keywords?!’ Then you should be. Focused keyword-rich content is right up there in the list of super-important SEO things you should be doing on your website. Let’s jump right in …

Keywords
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1. LSI keywords

All the cool kids are talking about LSI keywords these days – but what does that mean? Don’t be scared off by another piece of SEO jargon, it’s easy once you get your head round it.

LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) keywords are related words or terms that Google uses to understand content on a webpage.

Search engines look at the web page and try to figure out the page’s overall topic - as well as determining how useful it will be - based on the combination of keywords and phrases and the depth of knowledge displayed. This plays a big part in deciding whether you are on page 1 or 10.

How to find LSI keywords

If you’re writing a good-quality, in-depth piece of content with your customer or visitor in mind, then LSI keywords should come fairly naturally. That said, it is well worth trying out some of the free or paid keyword generator tools.

E.g. If you’re writing a blog on homemade yoghurt then you might have LSI keywords such as:

  • How to make yoghurt culture
  • How to make yoghurt at home
  • Yoghurt making process
  • Homemade yoghurt recipe
  • Calories
  • Yoghurt maker
  • Yoghurt starter
  • Raw milk, fresh milk etc.

LSI keyword tools such as LSI Graph or SEOsurfer can give you ideas for what terms to include on your page, provide alternative words to use, and can even tell you if you’re using the keyword too much or not enough.

2. Headings and sub-headings

I keep coming back to this, but a well-written piece of content should include a lot of these things as standard. So, for an easy and intuitive read, you will need to have a clear structure with content grouped together in themes.

Giving your themes headings helps the reader to navigate through your page without feeling overwhelmed by a wall of words. When you do this using LSI keywords and H2 or H3 header tags, it also helps Google make that crucial decision about how useful and comprehensive your page is.

3. Include important information at the top of the page

Another classic writing skill – tell them what you’re going to cover and why it is important to them right at the beginning. This will hook visitors in and ensure they stay on your page all the way to the end.

Having a succinct intro paragraph helps search engines to quickly identify whether your page is worth ranking. Plus, see, point 8 under ‘Technical on-page SEO’ about optimizing for snippets. Do the intro well and you’re upping your chance of the coveted ‘position 0’.

4. Content structure

We already mentioned having a clear and logical structure under ‘headings’ but this is more about the flow and ease of reading. Try to keep sentences and paragraphs short. People like to scan read quickly and so do search engines. If you have long convoluted sentences and never-ending paragraphs it is off-putting.

Try using the following techniques:

  • Bullet points
  • Numbered lists
  • Highlight important points in bold, italic or underlined
  • Box up quotes or takeaway tips.

The longer visitors spend on your page and your site, the more highly Google thinks of you and the higher up the search results you will go. It is worth putting some time into planning your content. Then once you have finished, read and reread it to ensure it makes sense and flows well.

Grammar
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5. Spelling and grammar

Proofread your content to check for typos and poor grammar – these errors can negatively affect your search ranking. If you struggle with this area then ask a colleague or friend to read your content for you.

You can get a free version of Grammarly that points out when you make mistakes. Just sense check its suggestions though, as it’s not always right and it uses US spelling!

6. Long copy – 2,000 words

If the sound of ‘2,000 words’ fills you with dread and takes you right back to school essay days, then look away now. Sorry, but search engines like a decent amount of content. It’s all part of them ensuring they are putting the most authoritative and useful content at the top of the results pages.

Pages with 2,000 words or more of good-quality content tend to rank higher – but it has to be good quality. If you can’t manage that, then aim for a bare minimum of 500 words.

7. Avoid duplication

Don’t copy big chunks of text across multiple pages on your website – or worse from anyone else’s website!

Web Development
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Links are good for SEO – as long as they link to good-quality relevant content. Search engines can then see that you are proving the visitor with other appropriate sources of information that will enhance their experience.

Try linking:

  • Internally – to other content that has a natural fit
  • Externally – to authoritative content (but be careful not to send people off too early on your page in case you lose them and they don’t come back).

And don’t fall into the ‘click here’ link trap! ‘Click here’ doesn’t tell Google anything.

When you add the link anchor text, make sure you use keywords. E.g. Use ‘Get your free homemade yoghurt recipe.’ Rather than ‘Click here for your free homemade yoghurt recipe.’

Also, make it easy for visitors to share your content on social media – thereby creating links back to your site. Include social sharing buttons on your blogs.

9. Images

Images are an essential part of the online user experience and will draw people into and guide them through your content. I’d even go so far as to say they can make or break how successful your website is.

Content with a lack of images or poor quality pictures makes an instant bad first impression. People have so much choice online that if they don’t like what they see within the first few seconds they are gone. It doesn’t matter how good the words are or how whizzy your SEO is – looks count.

Branding is a whole other topic for another day but take some time to find good quality images that fit and represent your brand. There are no excuses these days with masses of free photos on sites such as Unsplash and Pexels, plus, free design tools like Canva.

Include images every few paragraphs and ensure you add a description of it in the alt tag (see point 7 in technical tips) and use keywords in your captions.

10. Videos

Video killed the radio star – and it’s killing it online too. So, think about including videos in your content as an embedded link to your YouTube channel.

By doing this you are catering to all tastes – some people don’t like to read but they’ll happily watch a 3 minute video. By hosting the video on YouTube you’re keeping your web page nice and speedy and, crucially, you are creating another way to feature in Google search results.

Google owns YouTube so is understandably quite partial to including YouTube videos high up on results pages. Ignore video at your peril!

Site Speed

Website Speed
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Right, back to some techie stuff to finish with. You may find these stages a little dull but they all play a part in ensuring you smash your SEO.

Here’s the thing about site speed, Google likes pages that load quickly so people aren’t sat around twiddling their thumbs. If your website’s average load time is slow then you will be penalised in search engine rankings – and we don’t want that.

Complete these final stages of the on-site SEO checklist to speed up your site.

1. Loading time

There are free services you can use to find out your website’s loading time and get tips to speed it up. Try Pingdom or Google Pagespeed Insights.

2. Optimize image sizes

Uploading multiple images that are 5,000 pixels wide is a big no-no. Having lots of these across your website will slow things down. You can probably manage with images around 1,200 pixels wide – which load faster and still look great.

If you have lots of images to resize, run them through a bulk resizer such as bulkresizephotos.com

3. Compress images

This is a tip that I only discovered recently, thanks to Andi at Factory. Reducing your image size isn’t the same as compressing your image, who knew?! You need to do both for a super-fast website.

First, resize your images, then run them all through a bulk compressor such as tinypng.com. It is quick to use and compresses all your images without affecting image quality.

4. Upgrade hosting

Not all hosting is created equal. Like many things in life, if you want the best you need to pay for it. Investigate whether upgrading your hosting could improve your site speed.  

5. Caching plugin

A cache is a temporarily stored version of your web page for quick access on request. Using a caching plugin means that you can speed up your site’s speed and boost performance. Unless you are technically minded, this is one to ask your web developer about.

Step by step SEO

And there we come to the end of this guide to on-page SEO, phew. When it comes to SEO there’s a lot to take in – and it can feel a bit scary at times. However, once you get started and look at small, manageable steps, you can really make a difference to where you rank on Google search pages.

I hope this 25 point on-page SEO checklist is useful to you and gives you some ideas to take away and implement. If you’ve got SEO tips that we’ve missed please share them below and get some discussion going.

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