This search engine optimization (SEO) guide explains how to do on-page SEO.
Below, you’ll find a practical, step-by-step outline of the most essential on-page SEO best practices to follow so you can make sure your content is fully optimized to rank in the search engines, drive more organic traffic, and deliver quality user experiences.
There’s also a section with additional resources that explain more about on-page optimization to help you create a better SEO strategy that empowers your business to grow online.
How to Do On-Page SEO
1. Research and Select Your Keywords
The first step for how to do on-page SEO begins with keyword research.There are numerous benefits of conducting keyword research, though ultimately, they all come down to two things:
- Discovering what your audience is looking for online so you can give it to them through your content.
- Knowing which keywords to target in specific areas on the page to improve the on-page optimization signals.
The process of choosing the right keywords is straightforward:
- Start by brainstorming all the possible search terms people might use to find products, services, or businesses like yours.
- Next, use a top keyword research tool to look at the search volume and ranking difficulty of each term.
- Finally, keep the keywords that have a combination of high search volume and low keyword difficulty. These types of terms will be easy to rank for in search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing while producing a good amount of organic traffic.
2. Use an Optimized Title
The page titles are one of the first things that search engines pick up when crawling your website. Located within the HTML <title> tag, page titles tell the indexing and ranking algorithms what the content is about so they can properly index and rank it for relevant search results.
More importantly, your page titles are also the first element users see when exploring the search engine results pages (SERPs). The page title is the clickable link for your web page listing which acts as a headline to attract people to visit the content.
With that in mind, your page title alone could make all the difference between whether a user clicks through to your website or one of your competitors in the SERPs.
To make sure your website is getting those click-throughs, optimize the title tag using the on-page SEO best practices:
Include Your Primary Keyword
This should be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who don’t do this and then wonder why they’re not getting the SERP positions and traffic they were expecting.
Remember, your primary keyword tells people what the content is about so that they can determine its relevance and value and decide whether to check out that content, so it has to be there. Therefore, your page title should include the primary keyword as the first element in this HTML field.
For example, the title of this guide is “How to Do On-Page SEO (10 Best Practices)”. The primary keyword phrase being targeted is “how to do on-page SEO”, which is why the page was titled that way.
Keep It Under 60 Characters
If your page title is too long, it may be cut off when the title is displayed in search results. So a best practice for on-page SEO is to keep the page title under 60 characters.
Not only does keeping your title short and sweet prevent it from being truncated, but the length can also influence whether people click through to your site.
Think about it this way: If a SERP listing has an excessively long title that gets cut off in Google, then potential visitors may not know if the content will need their needs. When users see the ellipsis (…) in the SERPs, it raises uncertainty about what lies on the other side of the hyperlink which can cause hesitation to click. However, short and succinct optimized page titles instantly let people know what you have to offer without any ambiguity, making it easier to decide if they want to click through to the content.
Make It Engaging
Ultimately, what you’re trying to do here is write a title that is so compelling visitors can’t resist clicking through. How to Make Bread is a good title if that’s your primary keyword phrase, but How to Make Bread In 5 Minutes (My Secret Process) is more intriguing and appeals to people’s desire for convenience and quick, simple solutions, that can generate higher click-through rates.
3. Add Optimized Meta Descriptions
Meta descriptions are the short, one or two-sentence descriptions that appear under your page title in the search results. These descriptions provide both users and search engines with more information about your content.
Although missing meta descriptions are considered a technical SEO issue, most website creation platforms have either built-in or third-party plugins that allow you to add the meta descriptions while preparing your content, so it’s worth taking care of during the publishing stage to ensure you don’t overlook it.
Much like the title itself, your meta description should be informative and engaging and include your relevant keywords.
As explained on our on-page SEO checklist & template page, meta descriptions should be optimized in this way:
- Keep the text between 150-160 characters.
- Include the primary keyword at the beginning.
- Included 1-2 secondary keywords in a natural way.
4. Meet User Search Intent
Search intent is a term used to describe the purpose of an online search. Contemporary SEO strategies revolve around understanding the motivation behind a query and matching the searcher’s expectations on the web page.
If there’s a mismatch between the search intent and the content, then it will affect the rankings in the SERPs.
The concept of search intent for on-page SEO has been around since 2013 when Google introduced the Hummingbird algorithm update. Google Hummingbird works by matching search results to user queries by parsing intent. This means Google’s algorithm systems can understand the true intent behind users’ searches as opposed to just returning results based solely on keyword frequency.
For example, a web page won’t rank for the search term “dog beds” just by stuffing the keyword phrase multiple times in the content. The page must also include on-page elements that match the user search intent, such as a list of dog beds to purchase, images of the beds, current prices, hyperlinks to purchase each bed, and key information users expect to see like specifications and materials used in the dog beds.
Essentially, there are four types of user search intent, and your web page must include the right type of content and be structured in a way that matches that intent while also being optimized for its target keywords with on-page SEO elements:
- Informational Intent: The user is looking for general information on a particular topic.
- Navigational Intent: The user is looking for a specific website, web page, product, service, or business to visit or contact.
- Transactional Intent: The user is looking to buy something or complete a specific action.
- Commercial Intent: The user is looking to compare products or services before making a purchase.
Analyze the top-ranking results in Google to find out what the user search intent is for your primary keyword phrase. Then, create something similar so you meet the search intent of the user.
5. Create Premium Quality Content
Creating high-quality content is often one of the most challenging, yet highly rewarding, parts of the on-page optimization process.
After all, you could have the most compelling and optimized titles and descriptions, but if people click through to your content and it’s not as valuable, relevant, or engaging, they’ll leave, signaling to Google that your content isn’t the best at answering the targeted search query and should be demoted in the search results accordingly.
To ensure you’re creating content of the highest quality, consider the following on-page SEO best practices:
Incorporate Keywords In a Relevant and Natural Way
Your content should contain a combination of primary and secondary keywords but don’t make the rookie mistake of believing that the more times you mention your keywords, the better you’ll rank.
It simply doesn’t work that way with Google’s ranking algorithm. In fact, repeating your target keywords over and over again to manipulate search rankings is called keyword stuffing, which can do your website more harm than good.
Instead, you want to focus on keyword prominence, which is an SEO practice that uses a target keyword in prominent locations on a web page to send a strong signal to search engines about what keywords the page should rank for in the SERPS.
To take advantage of keyword prominence, here’s how to perform on-page SEO in a safe and effective way that doesn’t result in keyword stuffing:
- Add your primary keyword to the H1 header. A best practice is to just duplicate the page title (previously mentioned) into the H1 heading.
- Include your primary and secondary keywords one time each in their H2 subheaders.
- Use each of your target keywords once in the introduction.
- Include each keyword 1-3 times naturally throughout the main body content. Longer articles (e.g., 2,000+ words) can handle more repetitions of the keywords (e.g., 3 times) while shorter articles (e.g., 500 words or less) should only have the keyword repeated once.
- Repeat your top 2-3 keywords in the summary section of the page.
Provide Something New and of Value
If your content is nothing more than just a well-written clone of other websites, then your visitors won’t have much reason to stick around. When the same information already exists in the top-ranking results, users won’t find your content unique enough to keep reading or worth bookmarking or sharing.
As mentioned in our guide on how to optimize content for SEO, you want to do more than just optimized it for on-page search engine optimization signals by including elements that boost E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust) which are part of Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines:
To provide maximum value and convince your visitors that your website is a helpful resource worth returning to, give them something new that the other sites are missing like the examples on this list:
- Include quotes from relevant experts and sources.
- Include statistics and facts that help improve the accuracy and depth of the content.
- Back up data points with outbound links to trustworthy websites.
- Add more images than the top competitors.
- Include relevant videos.
- Add charts, tables, and graphs, where appropriate.
- Explain your first-hand experience with the subject matter.
You also want to follow these best practices for improved on-page SEO:
- Eliminate fluff and only include key information.
- Prioritize the important information for the user by placing it at the top of the page.
- Write clearly, concisely, and grammatically correct.
- Follow journalistic ethics and best practices.
Structure Your Content Well
Your content can’t be considered high-quality if it isn’t easy to read and arranged in a logical, ordered fashion.
To do this, use header tags (H2 to H6) to structure your content, dividing key points into small, digestible sections, each with its own title, making it easier for readers who may be scanning your page looking for specific information.
You can also use bullet points and tables to ensure that lists and data are easy to follow.
Header tags are important for SEO because header tags help search engine crawlers understand the main topics of the content for indexing and ranking in the SERPS as well as make web pages more user-friendly, readable, and accessible.
The main topics for the page should be wrapped in H2 tags, and under each H2 should be H3 subheaders to provide additional context for the topic, where appropriate. The most SEO-friendly content uses only H2s and H3s because these header elements offer the most ranking value for on-page SEO.
7. Add Relevant, Optimized Images
Photos, infographics, and other images play an important role in content optimization, giving your pages visual appeal and breaking up large chunks of text to make the content easier to consume.
Using high-quality images with relevant ALT text can also be invaluable for driving traffic from Google Images or platforms like Pinterest.
Once you’ve chosen images that enhance your content, you’ll want to do on-page SEO for those image elements to boost the relevancy signals for the target keywords with these tips:
- ALT Text: Insert your target keywords (one per image) to improve the topical relevance of the content. As explained in our image ALT text optimization guide, you want to make sure to describe the image accurately while also including your target keyword phrases. The ALT text information is used by screen readers to help people with disabilities understand the context of the image. So you don’t just want to stuff your keywords in this HTML field without proper context for the user.
- Filename: Put the target keyword in the image filename for added SEO value. Just use dashes between the words like this: keyword-phrase.jpg.
- Image Meta Information: If you use an image editing software like Photoshop, you can edit the meta information that’s attached to the image. You can optimize the image’s meta title, description, and keyword tags for search engine spiders to crawl and use for indexing in the Image Search database.
8. Add Schema Markup
Schema Markup (also referred to as Structured Data Markup) is HTML code that provides search engines with more information about the content to help improve organic visibility with enhanced rich results such as star ratings, rich cards, product listings, business contact details, etc.
By adding relevant Structured Data Markup to the HTML code, you can quickly improve the chances of your content obtaining those enhanced listing features.
You can use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper to get started tagging sections of your site to take advantage of these on-page SEO elements. This tool will automatically create the markup for you in JSON-LD or Microdata to quickly copy and paste into your article’s HTML source code for immediate SEO benefits.
9. Build Your Internal Links
Internal links connect one page of a website to another, helping users to navigate your website and find more helpful content related to the topic while at the same time providing search crawlers with information about your site’s structure and hierarchy.
Adding internal links not only distributes the link equity throughout your site to improve your entire website’s search positions but also delivers more valuable experiences for readers, which can likewise benefit your SEO.
To use this article as an example, there have been internal links placed throughout the page to provide additional information about the key concept for on-page optimization. This helps SEO Chatter provide readers with a definitive and comprehensive resource for all their questions on how to do on-page SEO.
You, as the reader, are getting actionable information on how to perform better on-page optimization in this guide, while also being able to dig deeper into the key concepts if you want to expand your learning beyond the instructions provided here.
As a result, users will spend more time on the website, which will contribute favorably to improving search rankings for this content and other pages on the SEO Chatter site.
As explained in this other guide on how many internal links per page for SEO, each page should have 3-5 internal links pointing to it at a bare minimum, with the most important pages having upwards of 50 or more internal links.
A basic on-page SEO strategy to follow for internal linking is to pick the top 3-5 keywords you want the target page to rank for in Google, Yahoo, and Bing, and then rotate through those keywords as you build internal links to the content.
10. Improve Page Speed
When it comes to on-page SEO, page speed is a critical factor that can impact user experience, and ultimately, the keyword positions for your content in the SERPs.
Whether viewed on a mobile device or desktop, your pages must load quickly to ensure visitors stay engaged and satisfied with their experience. Google’s algorithm, in particular, prioritizes user experience based on a set of page experience factors called Core Web Vitals.
As stated in the Page Experience documentation, “Google’s core ranking systems look to reward content that provides a good page experience.” Therefore, if your web page loads slowly or haphazardly, it’s likely that visitors will have a poor experience, which the algorithm ranking systems assess for keyword ranking positions.
The top on-page SEO best practices you should focus on to improve Core Web Vital scores include LCP, FIP, and CLS, which can be measured using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
LCP measures page loading speed and marks the point at which the majority of the page content has been downloaded. You can improve this metric by:
- Optimizing images with compression and using a content delivery network (CDN) for your website.
- Lazy loading of non-critical resources until they are needed.
- Using a fast web host.
First Input Delay (FIP)
FIP quantifies the speed of the first initial engagement a user can have with a page. You can improve this on-page SEO metric by:
- Using browser caching.
- Using a fast web host.
Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
CLS measures the amount of layout shift on the visible content of the page (i.e. the visual stability as the page loads and is scrolled through). You can improve this page speed experience metric by:
- Always include width and height size attributes on images and video elements.
- Specific dimensions for ads and iframes.
- Host and preload fonts on your web server or switch to using only system fonts.
- Add the font-display:swap property to your font’s CSS to ensure the layout doesn’t shift due to a flash of invisible text (FOIT).
- Do not dynamically inject content on the page.
Learn More About On-Page SEO
The links below explain more about on-page SEO and how to use it correctly for search engine optimization. Use these resources to improve your knowledge of the subject.
- What Is On-Page SEO?
- On-Page SEO Checklist & Template
- Best On-Page SEO Checker & Analysis Tools
- Free On-Page SEO Checker Tools
- On-Page SEO vs Off-Page SEO
- On-Page SEO vs Technical SEO
On-Page SEO Best Practices Summary
We hope you enjoyed this guide explaining how to do on-page SEO.
As you discovered, there are a number of on-page SEO best practices, with the most important activities including the selection of the best keywords to target for SEO, using an optimized title, adding optimized meta descriptions, meeting user search intent, creating premium quality content, optimizing images, using Schema Markup, building internal links, and improving page speed. Following these guidelines for doing on-page SEO can help your web pages rank higher in the search engines, drive more organic traffic, and deliver quality user experiences.
The Editorial Staff at SEO Chatter is a team of search engine optimization and digital marketing experts led by Stephen Hockman with more than 15 years of experience in search engine marketing. We publish guides on the fundamentals of SEO for beginner marketers.