What is On-Page SEO? A Comprehensive Explanation (With Tips)

On-page SEO is the practice of optimizing your website to improve its visibility within search results pages.

SEO, or search engine optimization, is a broad set of practices that are broken down into smaller components, including off-page, local, technical, and on-page SEO elements.

  • Off-site SEO focuses on building the popularity or authority of a domain or page by building links and optimizing digital assets. In short, it is focused on brand assets that are not website-related.
  • Local SEO is the practice of optimizing the visibility of a business within a particular geographical area. This involves optimizing business listings such as Google My Business or Yelp profiles.
  • Technical SEO involves optimizing how search engines, like Google and Bing, access and index your site. It further looks at site speed, schema markup, and the structure of the site.

This article focuses on search engine optimization efforts for on-page SEO, outlining the most important elements of on-site SEO and explaining why each of these components is critical.

What is on-page SEO?

On-page search engine optimization is the practice of optimizing pages on a website for a chosen topic or keyword to help the page gain better visibility on a search results page.

When it comes to on-site SEO, the essential elements that are often overlooked but, if implemented correctly, can help elevate a particular page’s rankings are:

  • Title tags
  • Meta descriptions
  • Header tags
  • Internal linking
  • Content and content quality

Optimizing these elements influences how accurately search engines can index your web pages and understand the topic that a particular page on your site is targeting.

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Why is on-page SEO important?

On-page SEO is important because it helps online users better navigate through our websites. Having poorly optimized pages often leads to bad user experiences and can impact a web page’s visibility for a particular search.

On-page SEO is also critical to the success of any SEO campaign. Google has stated time and time again that the most basic relevancy signal is if a webpage contains the same keyword as a search query.

However, going beyond a simple keyword, we also need to optimize a page further to ensure that search engines understand that our pages provide the best answers for a particular search query.

How search engines evaluate pages

Search engines, such as Google and Bing, crawl and index each page on a website individually; if you have 50 pages on your website, Google will look at every page as a separate ‘event’ to save the data. This is to pull any relevant web pages from its database (or index) onto a results page for a related online search. Because each page is reviewed on its own, having a sound, on-page SEO strategy for each page is vital to your search optimization strategies.

Recent changes in Google’s ability to index and understand the context for a page further elevates the importance of a well-structured page. Google can now index and rank particular passages on your site, not just the page. The ability for Google to index passages of content on your site is facilitated by a combination of clear content structures, good content, and the correct use of heading tags (h1, h2, h3, h4, and more) throughout.

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Critical components of on-page SEO

While we may know the basic principles of helping search engines accurately index a page, how do we make it easier for them to understand our webpage in relation to the search query?

Quite simply, we add good content structures, and we optimize the webpage, using keywords, URLs, title tags, meta descriptions, and internal links.

SEO

Keywords

A keyword or key phrase is the target or focus-word that aims to answer or match a particular online search query. It indicates the purpose or point of a particular web page.

Keywords (or SEO topics) are important because they help search engines and users understand a web page’s focus. For example, if I want my pizza restaurant in New York to rank in an online search query, I will incorporate the keywords ‘pizza’, ‘pizza restaurants,’ ‘New York’, and ‘pizza restaurants in New York’ on my webpages.

I won’t rank, or be found, as a pizza restaurant in New York if I don’t mention the term anywhere on my website.

Finding the right keywords

Keywords are often broad and mismatched to search intent, which can influence how your content is matched to a particular search query. Usually, this leads to missed opportunities.

To find the correct keywords for your webpages, start by answering the following questions:

  • What are people searching for in my industry or field?
  • How many people are searching for this thing? (i.e., search volume)
  • And what type of information are they looking for (this is referred to as search intent)?

These are the base questions for determining your keywords. You can dive deeper by expanding your query to include questions around user location, device (mobile, tablet, or desktop), and the seasonality that influences their search behavior. ‘Winter coat’ won’t be a popular search term used during the summer months, for example.

SEO tools for keyword research

Armed with this information, you can understand the primary keywords that you should incorporate into your content. The next step would be to use tools. The most commonly used SEO tools that you should be using are:

  • Google search
    • People also ask
    • Suggest results while you’re typing in a query
    • Answer boxes
    • Related searches
  • Ubersuggest
  • Moz Keyword Explorer
  • Google Trends

All these tools provide data-driven insights to understand better which search terms are essential for your SEO strategy. You can also identify the ones to ignore. Data provided includes the number of searches for a particular keyword over a month, the keyword difficulty rating, and what related keywords you should include in your content, etc.

Keyword frequency

When SEO was just in its inception, SEOs would place the keyword on the web page as often as possible. Today, this is called keyword stuffing and is regarded as black SEO.

The challenge with keyword frequency is finding the balance of keeping content natural and engaging while also optimized to target a set of keywords. The most crucial factor to remember is that people read your content. If you have used your keyword so much that you can’t even stomach your writing, your online readers will likely feel the same.

Today, there is no set rule for how often a keyword can appear on a page; our one suggestion is to use your keyword within the first 150 words of a webpage. Beyond that, your primary aim would be to ensure your content matches user intent.

 

URLs and URL structures

A URL is another item in on-page SEO that is often overlooked or remains unoptimized in a manner that adds value.

For example, the URL of this page is https://sitecare.com/learn/seo/on-page-seo/

URLs are meaningful because they highlight a website’s structure, which helps search engines better understand how webpages relate to each other. Having a sound URL structure is critical today.

A bad example of a URL structure would be something like this: https://sitecare.com/?fwp_category123-seo_on-pageseo

To ensure your URLs are optimized correctly, you need to include the primary keyword and follow the actual website’s structure.

For example, if look at this page’s URL again — https://sitecare.com/learn/seo/on-page-seo/ — the structure would be as follows:

You also don’t want a URL that is too long. Keep it short and to the point so that it is easy for a search engine to understand.

Web design and development

Metadata

Title tags

Title tags are the most crucial on-page SEO factor. A title tag is the first thing a search engine uses and the first thing that your target audience sees in a search result.

Title tags

A title tag is a descriptive element that highlights or specifies the title or focus topic of a webpage on your site.

  • Tip 1: To optimize the title tags on your website, ensure that your primary keyword is at the front of the title.
    For example, the pizza restaurant in New York title would be: Pizza restaurant in New York | Authentic Italian Pizza NYC. Having the focus key term at the front of the title clearly expresses what the page covers. There is no room for confusion.
  • Tip 2: The second portion of the title tag includes secondary keywords or terms closely related to the primary word. In this case, above, it would be ‘Authentic Italian pizza NYC.’
  • Tip 3: Remember that the title tag has a maximum length of between 55 and 65 characters. If you exceed these, they can be cut off in search result pages much like the below:

Title tag cut off

Meta descriptions

Meta descriptions are the snippet of text you would see on a search results page under the title tag. Descriptions act as a summary of what the page can offer the user.

Meta Description

Google and other search engines have often emphasized that these should be written for every page. However, they can be overridden when perceived that the provided description doesn’t match the search query in question.

Meta descriptions don’t directly influence your rankings per se. However, a powerful description on a search results page helps convince a user that your page is what they are looking for and entices them to click through to your page.

Tip: To have a well-optimized meta description, make sure to include your focus keyword. Make each description unique to the page and answer the search query. Once this has been done, include a call-to-action to get a person to click through to your website.

Just remember that you have 150 characters for your meta description.

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Content

More importantly, content is the purpose of having a website. Without content, what is the point? First, let’s break down the different content elements, or purposes, on a webpage:

Service-based content

These are content pages that target a specific service. These pages don’t change often and are focused on getting a conversion or lead. The purpose is business, and the intent is transactional. We often refer to these as ‘static pages.’

Information-based content

This type of content is often placed on the blog or articles section of the website. These content pages aim to support the service pages and inform the target audience around a specific topic.

Understanding the different intentions or purposes of content is critical. Each content purpose requires a different approach and style.

For example, your service page needs to speak directly to solving a problem. The tone is going to be one that is more sales-based. The content length will not be so long that it forces users to read it for 10 minutes before they are convinced of your service offering or product.

The content on these pages needs to be direct, solve a problem, and offer a solution as efficiently as possible. Ultimately it needs to be optimized for more transactional search intent-based queries.

In terms of your articles, these take on a different tone and form. An article needs to be detailed and concise. More importantly, it needs to be unique and long-form.

In terms of uniqueness, we refer to bringing something new to the table. Remember, there are a host of websites and people creating content around a particular topic. Your objective is to stand out from them.

To do this, you need to ensure that your content is:

  1. Unique
  2. Incredibly valuable
  3. Optimized for search intent
  4. It covers the subject clearly.

Here, content structure is also critical. How has content been broken up? Are heading tags being utilized on the page?

Take this page that you are reading. You might notice we have several headings introducing each new sub-topic on the page.

This structure aims to make sure that the content is more comfortable to consume and understand. It also helps users find the information for which they are searching.

Further, as highlighted at the beginning of this article concerning passage indexing, having a well-structured content page helps Google better understand each section and, in turn, index specific passages within the content.

Tip: To create structure, make use of keyword-optimized header tags. Each new section within an article should be an h2 tag. If you are introducing sub-topics, look at using the other header tags, such as h3 tags. Have a look at this article on creating structured content.

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User experience (UX)

UX, or user experience, optimizes a page to improve users’ overall experience on the web page.

When it comes to SEO, the user experience is becoming critical. Google and other search engines have stated that they look at metrics such as the Bounce Rate, pages visited per session, time spent on a site/page, and the exit rate, making it crucial to your SEO efforts to include a UX portion within your on-page factors.

In short, a bad user experience is going to impact your SEO negatively. To ensure users have a positive experience on your site, make sure that you are structuring your content in a manner that makes sense.

Here are three easy-to-implement UX content tips:

  • Use heading tags. Doing this can improve how a user can digest and consume content.
  • Add images. Images help break up reams of text but also add context to a particular section on the site.
  • Use lists. As you can see on this page, we include several bullet point sections to provide order to the content.

Bringing together all on-page SEO factors

The factors that we have mentioned above are just the start. Implementing them on a page can help improve the visibility of a web page considerably.

  1. You need to understand the search intent for your services or products by performing keyword research. Once you know this, you need to create content that will solve the problem online users are trying to solve. Structure this content in a manner that makes sense.
  2. Don’t forget to include internal links to pages on your site that can further explain the topic.
  3. From there, craft a title tag and description that stands out from the rest but, more importantly, directly matches the user’s expectation.
  4. Lastly and most critically, remember — you are optimizing your webpage for a user first. A human needs to read and engage with your web pages. If you focus your efforts on a search engine alone, your efforts will be in vain.
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On-page SEO

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On-page SEO FAQs

  • What are long-tail keywords?

    Long-tail keywords are terms that contain three or more words. The intention is typically more transactional in nature.

  • How often should I update my blog?

    The answer here is to focus on quality over quantity. Freshness is a factor that search engines consider, but the quality is far more important in the long run.

    To better understand how often you should be publishing content, you need to review what your competitors are doing. How often are they publishing content, and can you match the same amount of posts per day or week? If not, ensure that you are creating valuable content as often as time allows you.

  • What is a good length for a post or article?

    Again, review what your competitors are doing in terms of content length. Studies have shown that the top ten sites ranking on page one have an average word count of 1,447 words on average. However, this is not the rule. The more direct answer is how long it takes to answer the question as directly and concisely as possible. It’s also important to think about how much value you can add with a longer-form piece of content.

  • Where do I start my SEO strategy?

    The starting point is understanding what people are searching for (keywords) and how you can solve their problems.

    The next starting point would be to do an SEO audit on your website to gauge where there is room for improvement. Setting the foundation is critical to a successful SEO strategy.

  • Is SEO dead?

    No, SEO is not dead. Tactics and methods within the search engine optimization field have changed, and new tactics are available, but as long as people use search engines, SEO is still going strong.

  • What is the most important on-page SEO element?

    The most important on-page SEO element is the title tag. It is what search engines such as Google use to understand what your page is about.

    The title tag is also what users see on a search results page, and use this to determine if your page is the page that will answer their question.

  • On-Page SEO glossary of terms

    Above the fold

    Above the fold is content or a section that person sees first when they land on a page.

    Anchor text

    Anchor text is a word or several words of a link. The purpose of anchor text is to provide context to users and search engines as to what the page being linked to is about.

    Branded keyword

    A branded keyword is a keyword or set of keywords that incorporate your company or brand name. For example, a branded key term for SiteCare would be:

    ‘SiteCare WordPress Maintenance’ or ‘SiteCare SEO services’

    Non-branded key terms

    Non-branded key terms are keywords that do not include the brand or site name in the word. For example, a non-brand key term for SiteCare would be:

    ‘Inbound marketing’ or ’email lead generation services.’

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    It’s time to level up your SEO strategy. SiteCare’s experts can help.

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