On-Page SEO: What Is It & How On-Site Optimization Works

In this guide, we’ll answer the question, “what is on-page SEO?”

But we’ll go over more than just the definition of on-page optimization. We’ll also explain how on-page SEO works, why it’s important, and how to improve the on-site optimization signals using specific on-page SEO activities.

By the end of this article, you’ll have a good understanding of the search engine optimization practice of using on-page SEO to improve the keyword rankings and organic traffic for a website.

On-page SEO

What Is On-Page SEO?

On-page SEO is the practice of optimizing web pages to improve search engine visibility and traffic for target keywords. Good on-page SEO makes your website more relevant, authoritative, and user-friendly for both search engines and humans by optimizing everything from the content and keywords to the HTML code and speed.

Why Is On-Page SEO Important?

On-page SEO is important because it helps search engines understand your website and its content so it’s easier to match the page to relevant search queries. The importance of on-site optimization is to achieve higher rankings and search engine visibility for your site.

When a search engine like Google crawls your website, it takes into account various factors of each web page and adds them together to develop a ranking score for specific keywords. By optimizing your on-page SEO, you can generate more organic traffic which leads to more customers, conversions, and revenue.

On-page SEO is also important for creating a better user experience and engagement for your visitors, which can increase your site’s credibility and trustworthiness. As explained in my article on what is SEO content writing, when on-page search engine optimization is done well, you can target specific keywords and topics that match your audience’s intent and needs, which can help you attract more qualified visitors to your business.

Now, let’s discuss how on-page SEO works.

How on-page SEO works

How On-Page SEO Works

On-page SEO works by increasing the relevance on a web page for specific keywords to improve search engine visibility and traffic for those queries. For on-page SEO to work well, you must optimize on-site elements like the HTML code, body content, images, and internal links.

Google’s documentation on “How Search Works” states:

“The most basic signal that information is relevant is when a webpage contains the same keywords as your search query. If those keywords appear on the page, or if they appear in the headings or body of the text, the information is more likely to be relevant.”

It goes on to say:

“Beyond matching the words in your query with relevant documents on the web, Search algorithms also aim to prioritize the most reliable sources available. To do this, our systems are designed to identify signals that can help determine which pages demonstrate expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness on a given topic.”

Taken together, these statements are saying that Google crawls your website and scans each web page for on-page SEO elements to identify the best keywords for the content. It also looks for other on-page and off-page signals that demonstrate E-E-A-T (experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) for the surrounding topic.

Once that work is complete, Google will then compare your content to other pages in its index to determine how relevant your page is for specific queries and at what position it should rank in the SERPs.

The work of on-page SEO activities is what helps increase your site’s rankings for the keywords that matter most for your business.

Factors Included In On-Page SEO

With on-page SEO, there are several different factors to focus on to optimize your content for higher rankings and traffic. The top on-page SEO factors are listed below for you to focus on to improve organic visibility in the search engines for new content and when you’re updating existing content during SEO analysis.

Meta Title Tag

The meta title tag is the main heading that appears for your listing on the search engine results page (SERP). And it’s one of the most important aspects to optimize for keyword rankings.

Using specific keywords in the meta title tag for each page makes it easier for search engine crawlers to understand the content is about and rank it accordingly.

Meta Description

The meta description is a brief summary of the page that appears below the meta title tag in the SERPs.

Although it’s not a direct on-site SEO ranking factor, the meta description is still a good place to put your keywords because those words become bold when they match a target query.

Also, you can ignore the meta keywords tag because it’s not crawled or supported by major search engines anymore. To learn more about this, check out my post on what are meta keywords here.


Headings are also known as header tags and these HTML elements are what provide the outline and structure for the content.

Headings consist of H1 to H6 tags.

The H1 tag is the most important tag for on-page SEO optimization and it should include your main target keyword. The H2 to H3 tags are the next important elements for on-page SEO. Using your main and secondary keywords in these tags can improve topical relevance for those phrases.

The H4 to H6 tags are not as important as the H1 to H3 tags. You can add keyword variations into these headings if you’d like, but it’s not too important for ranking purposes.


The URL is what appears in the address bar of a web browser for each web page on your site. Having an SEO optimized URL can improve your on-page search engine optimization. Therefore, it’s best to include your target keywords in the URLs for each page.

Page Content

The page content is the main body of text that the user reads. It can also include images (mentioned next). Optimizing the page content for on-page SEO is important because it helps Google understand what queries to rank the content for.

A good rule of thumb for this on-page SEO activity is to include your target keywords at least 3-4 times throughout the page to improve the topical relevance for those phrases.

But in addition to just using your keywords on the page, you also have to make sure that the content is meeting the search intent for the visitor and displays expertise, trust, and authority (E-A-T).

The best way to do that is to cover a topic in full on the page. Answer any and all questions surrounding the keyword phrase and add signals on the page that prove your authority on the subject.

You can also link out to other websites to back up your claims so that Google can crawl other sites to verify the information you’re giving the user.

Image Optimization

On-site optimization for images includes four things:

  • ALT text
  • Filename
  • Title Attribute
  • Metadata

And when you add your keywords to these fields, you can improve the on-page SEO and topical relevance for the target queries you want the content to rank for.

Internal Linking

Internal linking refers to the process of linking two pages on your site together. Internal links are good for the user experience because they get exposed to more content on your site and they’re also good for search engine crawlers because it helps the robot find relevant pages.

A good internal linking strategy is one of the easiest on-page SEO strategies you can use to give your content a boost in rankings. By using keyword-rich anchor text on your internal links, you can increase the keyword relevance and topical authority for that page for those terms.

Structured Data

Structured Data is also known as Schema Markup and it is a set of code that can be added to any web page to help search engines better understand the content.

Search engines like Google also use certain types of Structured Data to display rich results in the SERPs. So it’s a good idea to add Structured Data elements to your pages if you’re trying to rank your content in the rich results features like product reviews, recipe information, and image carousels.

Page Speed

Page speed is now a ranking factor and Google has certain criteria for measuring a site’s performance (mentioned next). Essentially, page speed refers to how fast your web pages take to load before a user can interact with them.

Google has discovered that users prefer faster-loading web pages, and if a page takes longer than 3 seconds to load on a mobile device, the user will often bounce from the page. So improving your page speed is a good on-site optimization activity to consider.

Core Web Vitals

Core Web Vitals is a common set of signals for websites that Google deems to be critical to all users on the Internet. And in 2021, Core Web Vitals became a search engine ranking factor so it’s good to optimize for these elements.

The purpose of Core Web Vitals metrics is to quantify the user experience with a website by factoring in the visual stability of a page and the load time before it’s interactive.

The key metrics for Core Web Vitals include:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): This measures page loading speed and marks the point at which the majority of the page content has downloaded.
  • First Input Delay (FIP): This quantifies the speed of the first initial engagement a user can have with a page.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): This 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).

Mobile Optimization

Search engines like Google have moved to mobile-first indexing which means that the mobile version of your content will be the predominant source for indexing and ranking a web page.

To optimize for Mobile SEO, you need to focus on having a responsive design, improving mobile speed, specifying the correct viewport, improving mobile legibility and tap target sizes, and not using interstitials or pop-ups that impair the user experience.

By optimizing your entire site and specific on-page SEO elements, you can easily pass the mobile optimization requirements for Google.

On-Page Optimization Benefits

Benefits of On-Page Optimization

Improved Keyword Rankings

The top reason why on-page SEO is important is that your keyword rankings will improve in the search engine results pages (SERPs). The better optimized your content is for specific keywords, the more Google will match it to specific search queries. See this related guide

Increased Organic SEO Traffic

Another good benefit of on-page SEO you can experience is an increase in organic search traffic. As your keyword rankings improve, so will the visibility of your pages in the search engine. And that can lead to more people visiting your pages from Google.

See my guide on what does organic keywords mean if you need more information on this topic.

Improved Local Search Results

On-page search engine optimization is not just beneficial for getting traffic from general keywords, but it works great for local SEO too. By optimizing certain elements for your local area, you can increase the chances that your site will be discovered in the local search results.

Local SEO is important for any brick-and-mortar business that wants to increase its local customer base.

Boost In Click-Through Rate (CTR)

When on-page optimization is done correctly, it can boost the click-through rate (CTR) for your listings in the search engines. A page listing that includes target keywords in specific areas, such as the meta title, meta description, and URL, often gets a higher CTR than under-optimized listings.

We’ll go over the top areas you can optimize for on-page SEO later in this guide, but for now, just know that well-optimized content can capture more clicks from the SERPs. And it’s a good strategy to outrank your competition.

Also, copywriting is a good strategy to use to increase the CTR of your pages. If you’re new to this concept of writing, check out my post on what is SEO copywriting to learn more about it to improve your overall on-site optimization.

Increased Conversion Rates

Now that you understand how on-page search engine optimization can improve the CTR for your website, the next thing you may be wondering is “what is on-page optimization going to do for conversion rates?”

Well, content that’s been properly optimized for on-page SEO often has better conversion rates and produces more leads, customers, and sales. That’s because users see various signals on the page that confirm the content is relevant to their search terms. Without those on-page SEO activities in place, a visitor may bounce from the page because it doesn’t seem like a good match for their search.

Better User Experience

Google likes to reward content that offers a good user experience and meets the search intent of the user. And if you do on-page SEO correctly, then your visitors will enjoy your pages more.

This goes along with the previously mentioned benefit because if you’re getting higher conversion rates, then your users are clearly happy with your SEO content. See my guide on why is SEO content important to learn more about SEO content in particular.

Least Expensive Optimization Strategy

On-site SEO is the least expensive optimization strategy for increasing visibility and rankings in the search engines. And if you perform the optimization techniques yourself, then it costs nothing but your time to implement.

When compared to building backlinks and doing paid advertisements, on-page optimization wins every time. So if you want the most cost-effective on-site search engine optimization strategy to follow, on-page SEO is the activity to pursue.

Higher ROI Than Paid Ads

In our article on what is organic SEO, we posted the following two facts:

  • 40% of business revenue is captured by organic traffic, which has no financial cost.
  • The average cost per conversion is $56.11 on the Google Ads search network and $90.80 on the display network.

As you can see, organic SEO, which is controlled mostly by on-page optimization, has the highest return on investment (ROI) for any business with a website.

Easily Managed and Updated

Unlike off-page SEO, where you have no control over the optimizations, on-page SEO is easily managed and updated.

In fact, you change your on-page optimizations at any time to see how your rankings and traffic will be affected by Google’s algorithms. And if you see a positive result, then you can replicate that strategy on other pages throughout your site.

However, if you experience a ranking drop from those on-page updates, you can easily reverse them and try to reclaim your lost rankings.

With off-page SEO, you have to wait for Google to crawl the backlinks, assess their quality, and assign your page a new SEO score. This process can take several weeks to many months to measure the effect.

More Brand Awareness

The final benefit of on-page SEO is an increase in brand awareness. Achieving higher rankings for your content will improve the visibility of your brand in the search engines. And that can enhance the value of your brand in a potential customer’s eyes.

It’s no surprise that brands that have more pages ranking at the top of Google for queries related to their niche have more brand equity than the businesses on page two or lower in the SERPs.

So it pays to learn how on-page SEO works and the methods you can focus on to increase exposure for your site in the search engines, which we’ll go over next.

Difference Between On-Page SEO and Off-Page SEO

The opposite of on-page SEO is off-page SEO, which is a set of search engine optimization techniques that improve the off-site signals that ranking algorithms consider when ordering the keyword ranking positions in the SERPs.

The list below gives a general overview of the differences between these two optimization strategies. You can also read the full on-page SEO vs off-page SEO guide for a deeper level of understanding.

  • On-page SEO refers to the actions you take on your own site, such as optimizing your content, keywords, title tags, meta descriptions, headings, images, internal links, and site speed
  • Off-page SEO refers to the actions you take outside of your site, such as building backlinks, social media marketing, guest posting, influencer outreach, and online reviews
  • Both on-page and off-page SEO are important for improving your website’s authority, relevance, and trustworthiness in the eyes of search engines and users
  • On-page SEO is more under your control but it also requires more technical skills.
  • Off-page SEO is dependent on external website factors and harder to track than on-page SEO, but it also has more long-term benefits and can help generate more visibility for your content.
  • The best way to do on-page SEO is to follow the best practices and guidelines from Google and other search engines, conduct routine site audits, and test new strategies to determine which factors deliver the best results for your content.
  • The best way to do off-page SEO is to create high-quality content that attracts natural links from other sites, build relationships with other site owners and influencers in your niche, and promote your content on social media and other platforms.
  • On-page SEO and off-page SEO are not mutually exclusive; they work together to complement each other and boost your site’s overall ranking potential in search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

Learn More About On-Page Optimization

The links below explain more about on-page optimization and how to use it correctly for SEO. Use these resources to improve your knowledge of the subject.

On-Page SEO Summary

We hope you enjoyed this guide answering the question about what is on-page SEO.

As you discovered, on-page SEO is the practice of optimizing web pages to improve search engine visibility and traffic for target keywords. And good on-page SEO makes your website more relevant, authoritative, and user-friendly for both search engines and humans by optimizing everything from the content and keywords to the HTML code and speed

Now that you know what on-site optimization is, how on-page SEO works, and the importance of this SEO activity, you can focus on ways to improve the optimization of your own site to increase its organic rankings and traffic in search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing.