On-Page SEO | An In-depth Guide [2021]

02/23/2021 12:00 AM by Seocatly in On-page seo

How To Rank Higher On Search Engines With On-Page SEO

Welcome to the realm of on-page SEO.  In this guide, we will go over:

1. What it is

2. Why it's important

3. Keyword Research

4. The Three Big Hitters

5. Subheadings & Content

6. Internal Links

7. Image ALT Tags

8. Click-Through Rate

9. Page Speed

1. On-Page SEO In A Nutshell

What is it?  To put it short, On-Page (on-site) SEO refers to the optimization or change of elements on your website to improve search engine ranking.  Elements on your site can be the title tag, meta description, internal links, image size, site URL, content structure, and headers.

A few examples of on-site changes for search engine optimization:

  • Changing the title on a page.  Also known as the <h1> tag
  • Modifying a page's meta description
  • Updating site structure such as color, spacing, site-hierarchy, etc

As you can see, these are all actions taken on your website, which results in them being classified as on-page optimizations.  This is a good way to differentiate on-page from off-page as off-page SEO are any off-site actions taken for increasing website visibility.  Such as backlinks from external pages.

2. Why Is On-Page SEO Important?

To put it simply, on-page SEO is the foundation that keeps your website readable, not only for search engine crawlers but for potential visitors as well.  With proper on-page SEO, search engines can easily navigate, index, and understand your website's relevancy, which will improve your website's visibility/ranking.  Also, visitors can comfortably navigate and understand your site's content, which will result in a good user experience.

So how much of a difference will on-page search engine optimizations make? 

There are many ways to adjust your pages with on-page SEO, but for this section, we will go over the most basic on-page optimizations you can do to improve your site's visibility.  These basic optimizations involve keywords, which search engines use when determining your content's relevancy compared to search results.  For example, if you were to go to Google and type "cute polar bear," the keyword would be 'cute polar bear.'  It would be the entire search phrase and not the individual words like "cute" or "polar."  

By looking at how Google's search algorithm works (see the image below), we can see that including specific keywords in the content of your web pages (headings, body, URL, etc.) will heavily impact that page's relevancy.  For example, if your content contains the keyword "chocolate ice cream" more than once, Google will determine that your content is relevant to anything involving chocolate ice cream.  As a result, Google will make that content visible for any search query with the keyword "chocolate ice cream."  

how Google determines a webpages relevancy

Of course, it's important to know that Google and other search engines will see too many of a specific keyword as spam.  Therefore, typing in "chocolate ice cream" repeatedly on a page will have the opposite effect of on-page SEO.  With this information, we can safely say that including the right amount of specific keywords will make a huge difference when ranking on Google and other search engines.

In the next sections of this guide, we will cover how to correctly implement keywords and more advanced on-page optimizations that you can do to increase organic traffic on your website further.

Recap:  Why is on-page SEO important?

Both basic & advanced on-site optimizations will increase the relevancy of your content, which will result in:

  • More organic traffic
  • Page longevity
  • A higher ranking in search engines

3. Keyword Research

Before we go further into on-page search engine optimization, it is important that you know which keywords you are willing to place into your content.  The main variable that needs to be considered when choosing a keyword is search volume, but knowing that keyword's competition will also be useful.  Search volume is the average number of monthly searches for a keyword, and competition is the degree to which a keyword is being implemented for search engine ranking.

Because this article is focused on on-page SEO, we will not go too in-depth on keyword research.  

What is the most simple method to effectively find a good keyword?

There are many great keyword research tools out there; however, the best free keyword research tool is Google's Keyword Planner tool.  Before you're able to use this tool, it is required that you create a Google Ads account.  By following the link mentioned previously, Google should automatically take you through the steps to use their tool.  And no, you do not have to run an ad campaign.  All you have to do is set up an inactive campaign, and you should be able to use Google's Keyword Planner freely.  

Once you're in the keyword planner tool, it's as simple as looking for a keyword relevant to your niche.  We used the keyword "chocolate ice cream" as an example in the image below.

Google Keyword Planner Tool In Action

We suggest focusing on search volume first and competition afterward when choosing a keyword.  We want to ensure that more than enough people search for our keyword every month through search engines.  Knowing the competition of a keyword will give you an idea of how much research you should do to beat the competition.

Once you decide which keywords you want to place into your content, you can optimize your page for on-page SEO.  When placing keywords on your pages, it's important to account for keyword density.  We recommend 1 to 2 keywords every 100 words or a 1-2% keyword density.

If you're interested in various methods for choosing the right keyword, feel free to check out our guide to keyword research.

4. The Three Big Hitters

When optimizing your website for search engines, certain areas on your pages are more impactful than others when keywords are placed in them.  These areas are the Page URL, the Page Title, and the SEO Title Tag.  Although every area on your page matters, we find that these three placeholders rank at the top when it comes to on-page importance mainly because they define what your page is about based on a first impression.

3.1. Optimizing Page URL

Optimizing for your page's URL is fairly simple.  Two things to keep in mind when optimizing your URL are:

  • Keeping your URL short and concise
  • Avoiding word repetition 

For our example, we will use the keyword "gaming mouse."  Below, we will compare a good URL to a bad one using our chosen keyword (gaming mouse) and the domain name "yoursite.com."

  • Good URL:  yoursite.com/gaming-mouse
  • Bad URL:  yoursite.com/the-most-underpriced-gaming-mouse-best-for-all-gamers

As shown in the example above, our good URL is short and concise.  To avoid word repetition, it's important to consider your site/domain name.  In this next example, we will use the domain name "computergaming.com" and the same keyword from the previous example.

  • Good URL:  computergaming.com/mouse
  • Bad URL:  computergaming.com/gaming-mouse

Because the word "gaming" is already in your domain name, it is unnecessary to repeat that same word in your URL.  Word repetition in a URL can be seen as spam by search engines.  

If your page is currently decently ranked on Google and already has backlinks, we do not recommend that you change your URL.  A change in your URL will turn any backlinks into broken links and will result in a decrease in ranking.  We recommend leaving it and only optimizing the next best placeholders. 

3.2. Optimizing SEO Title Tag

The SEO Title Tag is the clickable heading text displayed in search engine results defined by the HTML element, <title>.  In the image example below, the text underlined in red is the title tag for the site "hyperxgaming.com."

SEO Title Tag example in search results

The HTML version of this title tag is <title>Gaming Mice - Wired and Wireless | HyperX</title>.  When optimizing your page's title tag, there are a few things to consider.

  • Place your keyword first, toward the front of the title tag
  • Add the current year
  • Avoid word repetition
  • Avoid keyword stuffing
  • Include single keywords when possible
  • Ensure that the whole title tag is visible when displayed in search results

The image above is a good example of an ideal SEO title tag.  The keyword "gaming mice" is placed first without keyword stuffing and includes the single keywords "wired" and "wireless."  The whole title tag is also evident in Google's search results and has no word repetition.  Adding the current year to the title would also help with SEO as it would increase your click-through rate from search results.  We will cover more on this in the later sections.

If we were to take that example and turn it into a bad one, the title tag would look like this:

Bad Title TagThe Best Wired and Wireless Mice For Gaming - Efficient Gaming Mice | HyperX

The bad example includes keyword stuffingword repetition, and is most likely too long when displayed in search results.  Ideally, it's best to keep the character count of your title tag below or equal to 60 characters. 

3.3. Optimizing Page Title

The Page Title, usually the <h1> tag in your page's content, is not only the first thing visitors see when landing on your page but is also one of the ways search engine crawlers understand the contents of the page.  Structuring your page with a "main" header gives visitors and web crawlers an idea of what the rest of the page is about, increasing relevancy.  

Like the other two big hitters, optimizing your page title for on-page SEO is as simple as placing keywords into it.  Although this method is similar to optimizing your title tag, you must avoid making the page title an exact match with your title tag.  We suggest that you rearrange the words a bit or add a few single keywords.  For example, if we take the title tag from the previous sub-section (3.2), we can whip up a good page title while keeping the title tag in mind.

SEO Title TagGaming Mice - Wired and Wireless | HyperX

Good Page TitlePrecision Gaming - View Our Wired and Wireless Mice

Per the example, we have added the keywords "precision" and "view" while rearranging the words.

5. Sub-Headings & Content

Once you've optimized the three big hitters, you can move on to your structure and content.  Your content structure is significant for ranking because it affects user experience and search engine crawl rate.  The best way to structure your page for search engine ranking is to section your content with sub-headings.  Doing so will help organize your page and make it easier for visitors to navigate and web crawlers to read/index your content, which is important to Google and other search engines. 

When optimizing for on-page SEO through your content, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Keyword Density
  • Word Count
  • Content Quality

Keyword density is the keyword to content ratio.  For example, if you have 100 words in your content with a specific keyword being accounting for 2 words, you have a keyword density of 2%.  If you plan on ranking for a specific keyword, it is recommended that the density for that keyword falls between 1% and 3%.  If you are ranking for multiple keywords, you must consider each word's density individually. 

Word count is important for ranking because it directly relates to search engines' understanding of your content.  It has been shown that articles with a higher word count tend to rank higher in search engines.  When determining your article/content length, it's best to scout your competitors.  The easiest steps to scouting your competitions' word count are:

Step 1:  Query your keyword or search phrase on Google or other search engines.

Step 2:  View 3 to 4 pages that are ranked highly.  This means any page that is not an ad but is on the first page of search results.

Step 3:  Use a word counter tool to count each page's words.  It's as simple as copying the page text and pasting it into the tool.

Step 4:  Find the average word count between the 3 or 4 chosen pages

For example, the average word count for 3 pages with word counts of 1560 words, 1620 words, and 1590 words can be calculated by summing the total words from all pages and dividing by the number of pages which is 3.  Formula:  (1560 + 1620 + 1590)/3 = 1590 

This suggests that your content should be at least 1590 words to receive a good rank.

Content Quality is about grammar, clarity, accuracy, engagement, and delivery.  Your content's quality will increase your site's chances of success through repeat traffic and search engines' algorithm.  Because search engines aim to display the best results for a query, quality is crucial for page visibility.  From here, it's a matter of checking your sources and writing top-notch content without plagiarizing.  One of the few third-party apps we recommend is Grammarly.  Grammarly is an online writing assistant app that will make your life easier.  The free version grades your writing and helps you correct any grammar errors, while the paid version helps with engagement, delivery, plagiarism, and anything else writing-related.

6. Internal Links

One of the underrated ways to optimizing for on-page SEO is internal links, which are a great way to increase the relevancy of specific pages on your website.  If you're unsure what an internal link is, it is simply a link on a page from your website that directs you to another page that is also on your website.  For example, this is an internal link that will direct you to our collection of SEO tools, which is also a part of our website.

Adding internal links to your pages will increase the relevancy of the page you're linking to.  For example, if I have a page about "gaming mice" that already has a decent ranking on Google and I place an internal link to a page about "gaming headsets" that is also on my site, I am telling Google that my page about gaming headsets is as relevant as my "gaming mice" page.  As a result, this will make my "gaming headsets" page visible in search engine results. 

Another pro about internal links is that they help with website navigation.  Visitors will find it easier to navigate through your website via internal links, improving user experience and result in a boost in on-page SEO.

7. Image ALT Texts

Image ALT text is used within an HTML code that describes an image's function and appearance that resides on a web page.  Image ALT text serves two purposes:

  1. Web accessibility for visually impaired users.  Visually impaired users going through content with a screen reader will be able to read the alt text of an image to understand better what that image is about.

  2. It helps web crawlers index images properly as it provides context on how the image is relevant to the content on your page.

  3. Replaces any image file that browsers cannot load, making it easier for visitors to understand it without actually seeing it.

Most website builders provide a convenient way to add image alt text to your images.  If you're looking to add alt text to your image via HTML, all you have to do is add "alt=text" to your <img> tag.  An example with an image source would look like this:  <img src="img_cat.jpg" alt="Cute fluffy tabby cat" width="500" height="500">.

When optimizing for on-page SEO, it's best to put a short description of the image in the alt text.  Adding alt text to the images in your content provides a great experience for both users and web crawlers, which will boost your ranking.  

8. Organic Click-Through Rate

Click-through rate (CTR) through organic search is a great way to boost your page's search engine optimization indirectly.  CTR is the percentage of people who click your link over the total number of people who see your link.  More visitors to your page give you the chance to show Google and other search engines that your content provides value and is relevant to search results for a keyword.  Of course, the opposite effect will happen if:

  1. Your page takes too long to load

  2. Your content is incomprehensive

  3. Your content holds no value.  Meaning your content is clickbait, spammy, untrue/outdated, etc.

If you feel that your content is ready for viewers to digest, you can improve your clickthrough rate with the following methods below.  

1. Adding A Meta Description
The meta description is the displayed description that appears under the clickable headline (SEO title tag) on the search engine results page.

An example of a meta description on Google's search engine results page 

The meta description can be considered a marketing function and is basically a way to preview what your page is about on search results.  When used effectively, it can encourage users to click on your link; therefore, increasing your CTR.

2. Adding The Current Year To Your Title Tag and Meta Description

One of the best ways to encourage users to click on your link is to add the current year to your title tag and meta description.  This will ensure users that your content is up-to-date and, as a result, will give them the incentive to click your link over the other ones. 

We encourage you to keep your content up-to-date and update the year in your title tag and meta description per your content.  Because let's face it, a post about "gaming mice" that has the year 2012 in it will result in a low CTR.  

3. Correctly Optimizing Your Title Tag For Emotional Targeting

Emotional targeting is when your content appeals to a person emotionally.  This is a widely used marketing strategy, and it works wonders.  A great example of emotional targeting can involve something a person cares about. 

For example, if your page sells a specific tool or gives information that helps a person remove stains from their clothing, you can create a title tag that asks them a question or gives them the idea that you can help them remove stains from their favorite shirt, dress, etc.  We suggest that you avoid exaggerating your title tag as it will look like clickbait and result in a lower CTR.  

9. Page Speed

Once a user clicks on your link and visits your page, the key variable that stands in the way between visitor and content is your page speed.  Page speed is a huge on-page SEO factor, and if your page takes too long to load, users will leave your site before seeing your content.  This will result in a high bounce rate and a poor user experience, which Google and other search engines frown upon.  Not only will your ranking go down, but you will lose out on many potential subscribers and customers.

A good page speed is under 3 seconds (3,000 ms).  If your page speed is over 8-9 seconds (9,000 ms), we recommend you do the following:

1. Check with your hosting company

For all websites, page speed and site uptime go hand in hand.  The main source of an uptime issue is usually the hosting provider and server.  If uptime issues persist after your hosting provider has given you all the help they can offer, then your slow page speed might be caused by something else, or you might need to change to a more reliable hosting company.  If the issue is something other than your hosting company, please see the rest of the recommendations.  

2. Reduce your image sizes

When it comes to page speed, image size is usually the main culprit.  Images are one of the best ways to appeal to your audience visually; however, most site owners don't consider their images' size.  A page packed with big image files will slow down your page speed.  We recommend that you reduce your image sizes to at least 70 kb or 100 kb if any size lower affects image quality.  A good habit is to check your image sizes before placing them into your content, as it will save you the headache of having to adjust the file sizes later on.  

To reduce an image's size, you can use free tools on your computer or a web browser such as Photopea or Canva.  If you're using a site builder like WordPress, you can install free image compression plugins like Optimole or EWWW Image Optimizer, which can reduce the image sizes already on your WordPress website.  

3. Reduce HTTP requests

HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) is what the internet uses to exchange data files.  When someone accesses your site through a web browser, that browser sends an "x" amount of HTTP requests to your server.  The number of requests depends on the number of elements on your web page.  The more elements you have, the more HTTP requests from your server are required to render your page, resulting in a longer load time.  

Reducing the number of elements on your page will minimize the number of HTTP requests needed for rendering your page, which will improve load time.  One way to check the number of HTTP requests your browser makes is to use Google's developer tools using the Google Chrome web browser.  To start, you want to:

  1. Visit your webpage using Google Chrome
  2. Right mouse-click anywhere on the page
  3. Follow by clicking "inspect,"; which opens the developer tool
  4. Navigate to "network" (shown in the image below)
  5. Follow by refreshing the page

Example image for the network tab on the web console

If done correctly, you should have a window on your browser that looks like the image above.  For the example image, we have boxed (red) the location of the "network" tab and the request count.  For our homepage, the browser makes 48 requests to our server.  If your page is long, there may be more requests that haven't loaded yet, so make sure to scroll through your page while leaving the tool open.

Now it's up to you to go through the list and see which elements are unnecessary for your page.  

4. Reduce the size and number of JavaScript and CSS files

Our last method for improving page speed is by reducing the size and number of JavaScript and CSS files.  This method does sound a bit tech-savvy, but with a simple search on YouTube or Google, you can find reliable guides on the subject matter.  The good news is that if you're using WordPress, you can install a free plugin that will do the work for you.  The plugin we recommend is Autoptimize.

This is what the Autoptimize plugin looks like

The plugin allows you to choose which files (JavaScript, CSS, HTML) you want to optimize for.  To access these options, you want to activate the plugin and go to the settings.​​​​​

To wrap up this section, we have listed three tools on our tools/home page to help you analyze your page speed.  

Here is a detailed guide to improving your WordPress page speed if you own a WordPress website.

On-Page SEO Recap

Optimizing for on-page SEO is the first step we recommend you take to improve your ranking, as it is the foundation of any webpage.  Any changes made on-site can affect your site's appearance, load time, functionality, user experience, and click-through rate.  Optimizing everything on-site may sound like a daunting task, but there will be a huge jump in organic traffic if done correctly.  When done properly, on-page SEO has the following benefits:

  • Increase in organic traffic
  • Easier indexing for search engine crawlers
  • High page longevity from content value, high CTR, user experience, and visibility in search engine results
  • Increase the chances for natural backlinks from high-authority websites 

The bottom line is that on-page SEO will help your site's long-term success, and even the "basic" on-site optimizations will make a difference.  Of course, there are also ways to increase SEO off-page, but we'll get to that in another post.