On-page SEO is the practice of optimizing individual web pages in order to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic in search engines.
It refers to both the content and HTML source code of a page that can be optimized, as opposed to off-page SEO which refers to links and other external signals.
This guide will show you how to optimize your content for a huge impact on its ability to rank and while I strive to provide information that is as comprehensive as possible, this guide covers pieces of the overall puzzle when it comes to online presence.
Recommended On-Page SEO Optimization Tools
Focuses Keyword Phrase
Focused Keyword Phrases (“keywords”) are two or more words typed as a search query, to find desirable resources on the web. Website owners can target and use keywords by placing them strategically throughout their website.
There are many no-cost tools and methods to determine the best keywords to use. There may be some cases where a paid solution is needed, but I always recommend starting with no-cost solutions.
If someone tries to sell you expensive SEO tools right from the jump, this should send up red flags.
Keyword Phrase Density is a factor, but it’s often given more attention than it should.
In the past, the thought (or action) was to place keywords all throughout a website, whether it made sense or added any value to the content.
This practice, known as keyword-stuffing, is highly frowned upon and will have a negative impact on a website’s ranking.
Calculating the ideal density is not an exact science. It’s best to let the keywords appear naturally as you compose your website copy. With that said, as you are coming up with your website content, your keywords should always be kept in mind.
In the end, the goal should be to produce amazing content that visitors will find useful.
If you want to take a deeper dive into calculating your density, simply do a Google search for “keyword density analyzer”.
Post/Page Titles & URL
Let’s look at the current page as an example. The title of this page is “Successful On-Page SEO for WordPress Websites” and it contains the Focused Keyword Phrase for this page, which is “On-Page SEO for WordPress Websites”.
You want the title of your post/page to include your Focused Keyword Phrase, as close to the beginning of the title as possible, without completely sacrificing the readability for your visitors.
For the URL (slug), you want to keep it as short as possible, while containing your Focused Keyword Phrase and maintaining as much readability as makes sense.
The best practice format for title tags is one of the following:
- Primary Keyword – Secondary Keywords | Brand
- Brand Name | Primary Keyword – Secondary Keywords
Headings / Heading Tags
Use heading tags (H1, H2, H3…) in the correct sequence, starting from the top. After a post/page is constructed, I use Tota11y to verify a proper heading structure prior to publishing.
I use the ExactMetrics Headline Analyzer to find headlines that have a better ranking potential. Simply plug your headline idea into the analyzer and tweak it from there, shooting for a score of 70 or better.
Try to add a Focused Keyword Phrase to the H1 or H2 heading as close to the beginning of the heading as possible.
It is important to look at how your theme and/or page builder handles the assignment of the H1 tag and how you choose to display/not display your page titles.
You want to make sure that you are not missing the H1 tag altogether and/or assigning the H1 tag twice (title and heading).
- Problem: Missing H1 tags or multiple H1 tags.
- Why It’s an Issue: Without an H1 tag, search engines will have a more difficult time determining the content structure.
- Root Cause: Poorly coded WordPress theme or user configuration.
- Discovery: Use the Tota11y browser applet or an app such as Screaming Frog.
- Resolution Options: Change to a new WordPress theme or page builder, override the theme’s code via a child theme or edit pages and posts with the proper heading structure.
Meta titles and descriptions give Google and other search engines an idea of what the page is about and what they should expect to see as they digest the content.
- Problem: Missing meta, multiple instances of meta, same meta across the entire website, too short or overly long meta.
- Why It’s an Issue: Makes it difficult for search engines to understand the content’s subject matter.
- Root Cause: Lack of SEO plugin or incorrect plugin settings.
- Way to Discover: Use Google Search Console’s HTML Improvements section or an application like Screaming Frog.
- Resolution Options: Install and properly configure the SEOPress plugin, which will guide you in fixing current issues and potential future issues.
SEO Friendly URLs
SEO-friendly URLs help search engines understand a website’s architecture and the structure of the content. URLs should be structured (when possible) to be clean, short, memorable, and shareable.
- Problem: Set to numbers and/or funky characters, and a lack of hierarchy.
- Why It’s an Issue: Makes it difficult for search engines to understand the hierarchy and nature of the content.
- Root Cause: Incorrect settings in WordPress.
- Way to Discover: Review the website in a browser, use the Screaming Frog app to crawl the website.
- Resolution Options: Set permalinks to Post name (WordPress Dashboard > Settings > Permalinks), using SEOPress to further optimize URLs.
The image file name should be your Focused Keyword Phrase, with each word in the phrase separated by a hyphen.
Given that the Focused Keyword Phrase of this page is “on-page-seo-for-wordpress-websites”, the primary image for the post/page should have a file name of “on-page-seo-for-wordpress-websites.jpg”.
If you have multiple images on your post/page, you’ll want to name those files using variations of your keyword. If you are SEO optimizing for your brand, entirely or partially, your brand should also be included in the file name. Your brand will appear at or near the beginning or end of the file name.
Image File Name
User-friendly image filenames are more likely to be recommended by Google.
Filenames should be descriptive, include applicable keywords, and use hyphens instead of spaces to separate words.
Maintaining proper filenames is something you should address going forward but don’t worry about going back to re-upload and rename all your images.
The image title doesn’t have an impact on keyword rankings. That said, image titles are displayed when visitors hover over an image, so it does improve the user experience.
So, for an image on this page, I could use something like “WP Turned UP | On-Page SEO for WordPress Websites”.
Image Alt Text
We want to include a written sentence as if we were describing the image to someone who is visually impaired. This sentence can include your keyword(s) as long as they are related to the surrounding content and not spammy.
This is the on-screen text that accompanies an image. Captions have no direct value for SEO, but they can enhance the overall user experience, as some visitors choose to read content based on image captions.
Not every image needs a caption, so deciding to use one should be made on a case-by-case basis.
For the image-surrounding text, the paragraph just before the image should essentially be a full description of what the image illustrates and should be between 3 to 5 sentences.
The paragraph after the image is bonus material regarding the image or is an afterthought and should also be between 3 to 5 sentences.
Uploaded image files should be the appropriate dimensions for their specific application and should be optimized to reduce their overall size.
Within every page or post, I try to include at least 2-3 links to other content on my website. Depending on the length of the content, more than 5 links would be recommended.
This helps people navigate within a website, helps establish a hierarchy of information, and helps spread link juice throughout a website.
Within every page or post, we try to include at least 2-3 links to other content on my website. Depending on the length of the content, more than 5 links would be recommended.
This helps people navigate within a website, helps establish a hierarchy of information, and helps spread link juice throughout a website.
Backlinks are still very important when it comes to SEO. When a high domain authority site links to your website, this has a positive impact on your website’s rankings.
Generally, a good sign is seeing that the number of referring domains linking to you is on an upward trend.
This file is created to instruct robots (from search engines) how to crawl and index website content.
- Problem: Missing entirely or incorrect usage and errors.
- Why It’s an Issue: Causes sensitive content to be indexed or incorrectly blocks search engines from searchable content.
- Root Cause: Lack of education or outdated configurations.
- Way to Discover: Visit domain.[com]/robots.txt (it’s publicly accessible on the web) or use the Google Search Console, looking for entries that are inadvertently blocking content.
- Resolution Options: Review periodically and monitor Google Search Console.
An XML file that helps search engines better crawl and understand your website, while assisting with the prevention of duplicate content.
- Problem: Missing, the wrong version submitted to search engines, unstructured and without hierarchy or segmentation.
- Why It’s an Issue: Makes it difficult for search engines to locate all content and/or understand the hierarchy of a website.
- Root Cause: Missing a plugin that produces a proper sitemap and/or users that lack the proper knowledge.
- Way to Discover: Google Search Console’s Crawl section.
- Resolution Options: Install and properly configure the SEOPress plugin, add a sitemap to Google Search Console, and routinely review for errors.
Duplicate content, in this particular example, refers to the same content displayed under different URLs within the same domain.
- Problem: Content that is the same but can be accessed by two URLs. For example, a blog post might be accessible by both of these URLs: https://www.blogpost[.com] and https://blogpost[.com].
- Why It’s an Issue: Confuses search engines and forces them to select one version, while also being messy for human visitors.
- Root Cause: URL variations using HTTP vs. HTTPS or WWW vs. non-WWW pages.
- Way to Discover: One of the easiest ways to discover duplicate content is to enter “site:yourdomain[.dom]” enter Chrome’s address bar. Then, browse through all the results ensuring that there are no URL variations as mentioned previously above.
- Resolution Options: 301 Redirect duplicated content to the correct/original content, set a preferred domain within Google Search Console, and no-index the following taxonomies within the SEOPress plugin: Categories, Tags, and Author archives.
Google now sees more search traffic from mobile devices than it does for desktop computers. It is becoming more and more focused on mobile, while also adjusting the algorithms to handle mobile differently than desktop.
- Problem: A website that doesn’t adapt to mobile devices or themes that display poorly on mobile devices.
- Why It’s an Issue: Reduced search ranking in search engines and a bad experience for human visitors.
- Root Cause: Poorly coded “responsive” themes and/or misconfiguration of CSS by the web designer.
- Way to Discover: Browse your website on a mobile device, and/or review it from sites/tools that test mobile responsiveness (i.e. mobile emulators).
- Resolution Options: Switch to a WordPress theme or use CSS to assist with website responsiveness.
Website Speed & Performance
Site speed is part of Google’s algorithm and the importance of fast websites is a growing concern to Google and other search engines.
- Problem: Slow website.
- Why It’s an Issue: Makes it difficult for search engines to crawl content and creates a bad user experience for human visitors.
- Root Cause: Insufficient web hosting, bloated database, poorly coded themes, resource-intensive plugins, huge images, and overall implementation/design flaws.
- Way to Discover: GTMetrix and/or webpagetest.org.
- Resolution Options: Switch to a better web host/hosting plan, optimize the database, switch or edit themes, remove/replace plugins, optimize images, implement multiple layers of caching, implement minification and look at CDN solutions.
The term “malware” covers all sorts of malicious software designed to harm a computer, website, or network. While there are lots of different kinds of malware, the common ones include viruses, worms, spyware, or trojan horses.
- Problem: Content modifications, content additions, phishing, and/or loss of administrative control.
- Why It’s an Issue: Loss of traffic from human visitors, loss of ranking in search, and/or loss of credibility.
- Root Cause: Outdated software, low-grade hosting, weak passwords, and lack of overall security measures.
- Way to Discover: Web-based scans and/or plugins.
- Resolution Options: High-quality hosting, security plugins, CDN, strong passwords, and following best practices for overall security.
The ability of search engines to analyze website content and index that content.
- Problem: Search engines may be able to crawl a website, but might not necessarily be able to index all of its pages or posts.
- Why It’s an Issue: If search engine crawlers are unable to properly crawl content, website owners may find their pages are not indexed.
- Root Cause: Poorly structured content, lack of internal linking to relevant content, broken links, and/or blocking crawlers.
- Way to Discover: In the Chrome address bar, enter “site:yourdomain”. Review the results shown with the actual number of pages and posts.
- Resolution Options: Submit a proper sitemap using Google Search Console, strengthen internal linking, regularly update/add content to existing pages and posts, eliminate duplicate content, and speed up the overall performance of your website.
- The index and actual counts are roughly equivalent – this is the ideal scenario; the search engines are successfully crawling and indexing your site’s pages.
- The index count is significantly smaller than the actual count – this scenario indicates that the search engines are not indexing many of your site’s pages. Hopefully, you already identified the source of this problem while investigating the site’s accessibility. If not, you might need to check if the site’s being penalized by the search engines (more on this in a moment).
- The index count is significantly larger than the actual count – this scenario usually suggests that your site is serving duplicate content (e.g., pages accessible through multiple entry points, “appreciably similar” content on distinct pages, etc.).
Google prefers sites that are trusted and certified. Implementing SSL is another way to get in Google’s good graces.
- Problem: Website communication is not properly encrypted.
- Why It’s an Issue: Data can be intercepted by external threats.
- Root Cause: Missing SSL certificate and elements not being securely configured.
- Way to Discover: Browse the website or use a tool such as Why No Padlock?.
- Resolution Options: Implement an SSL certificate and configure website elements to use secure settings.
Ideal Content Length
There are a lot of differing opinions out there, and it’s hard to know which sets of advice to take. It’s my practice not to pay attention to the length of the content at all.
What I do is write naturally (i.e., nothing is deliberate in terms of stuffing in keywords, post length, etc.), and I stop when I feel I’ve provided all the information I have to share at that moment.
Over time, I circle back to my posts, adjusting them for accuracy, adding more valuable information, etc.
Below, you will find a general guideline when it comes to how many words to use:
- 200-400: These concise posts are best for discussions and engagement. They don’t get as many social shares and are not adequate for SEO. They are strictly geared for descriptions of products or services and commentary.
- 400-600: These are considered smaller blog posts, although some say they are “the minimum length.” These are not educational posts, more just bite-size, digestive reads for those less invested. They are pretty good for social shares and engagement; however, too short to drive website traffic or affect SEO.
- 600-1,000: These are considered educational posts with a journalistic style. These posts are great for including influencers, reference links, and building SEO slowly.
- 1,000-1,500: Depending on your audience, these longer articles can make an impact on your lead conversion. If you write valuable content, the length is a powerful tool to drive organic website traffic through link building, partnerships, and calls to action.
- 1,500-2,500: These articles are known as your “Google go-getters” because the search engines love longer posts! I’ve heard that the highest-ranking posts are 2,450, so that may be Google’s sweet spot.
On-page SEO Checklist
Be sure to look at the solutions I use and recommend when completing this checklist.
- Determine your focused keyword phrase.
- Create an SEO-optimized title (“headline”) for your post/page.
- Edit the permalink, inserting your keyword as close to the beginning as possible, keeping the permalink as short as possible while maintaining readability.
- Under the SEO section (depends on your SEO plugin of choice) of your page/post, edit the Title, placing your keyword as close to the beginning as possible, and finish with your brand/company name.
- Under the SEO section (depends on your SEO plugin of choice) of your page/post, edit the Meta Description, placing your keyword as close to the beginning as possible, and finish with your brand/company name. (Tip: End your meta description with text that leaves the visitor curious to read more (e.g. “Get your FREE…”).
- Include the keyword in the primary heading (H1).
- Include any additional keywords in the subsequent headings (H2-H6), keeping in mind that synonyms of keywords are great to use here.
- Test post/page heading structure, making sure the headings (H1-H6) flow in the correct order.
- Write naturally (i.e., nothing is deliberate in terms of stuffing in keywords, post length, etc.).
- The keyword should be within the first 100 words of your copy.
- Link to internal content where possible, pointing to other relevant content on the site (up to 5 links).
- Link to external content where possible, pointing to other relevant content on trusted/authoritative websites (up to 2 links).
- Referring to the images section of this post, insert images that add value to the content and help break up long sections of text.
- Under the SEO section (depends on your SEO plugin of choice) of your page/post, attempt to fix as many recommendations that are provided.