What is on-page optimization?


On-page optimization is a crucial part of any SEO strategy. It includes optimizations made directly to the elements of a webpage to improve rankings in search engines and provide a better user experience.

While off-page techniques like link building also play a role, you have full control over on-page factors, making them the foundation of SEO success.

This article covers the key elements that should be optimized on every page for the best SEO results. This includes both content-focused aspects and technical elements.

Understanding on-page SEO

On-page SEO is about improving the different parts of a webpage so that both people and search engines can easily figure out what the page is about. It includes making the page more user-friendly and providing helpful information.

On-page SEO is completely under your control, and that’s why some companies can go overboard trying to make everything perfect for search engines. Still, “over-optimizing” your webpages can harm user experience and lead to devaluations.

When you create a good user experience by focusing on their needs vs. your own, you have likely created the perfect experience for a search engine. 

Search engines aim to display the most relevant result to a query in the most easy-to-absorb format and in the fastest way possible by creating content accessible to most users. 

Aim to design your content to meet user needs, deliver information effectively, and remain accessible to all users, including those with disabilities and without a reliable internet connection.

Below are the on-page elements to optimize.

Content

  • Header tags
  • Titles
  • Description
  • Content
  • Internal links
  • External links
  • Details from customer questions and complaints
  • Images (alt text, descriptions, names)

Technical

  • Naming clickable elements
  • Page speed (caching, fetch priority, deferring and lazy loading)
  • Canonical links
  • Meta robots
  • Schema

Content elements for on-page SEO

Content can be anything from texts, videos, images, sound clips, or their combinations. Search engines can use the words, associations between them, phrases you link to from one page to another, and anything else that renders for their spiders.

Not every page has to rank or be optimized. Homepages may only need to appear for brand searches. Prioritize optimizing product, service, and category pages. Use the homepage and navigation to pass authority to these pages through text links.

Here are some of the contextual elements you may want to check. 

Also known as H tags, header tags are how you define the topic of the page and the individual sections. Clear and specific language improves the user experience for both visitors and search engines compared to using fluffy words or branding.

If the visitor cannot see images because of visual impairment, they cannot make the association if the header isn’t specific because there is no supporting imagery. And you don’t have to keyword-stuff your headers.

There should only be one H1 tag on a page (which includes navigation and menus), and the keywords and topic should pass to H2s. If the topic and H1 is “t-shirts,” you don’t have to repeat that in your H2s. You can simply do “Blue Crew” and “Red V Neck” as your H2s. And the copy below will take care of the rest.

Header tags must be used in a specific order and should not skip levels. For instance, you shouldn’t go directly from H2 to H4. However, going back up is OK, like moving from H4 to H2.

Avoid using header tags for font size styling or in navigation. While using them in menus isn’t the worst thing, it’s not a best practice.

The one exception to having multiple H1 tags is blogs. Blog titles are normally H1 tags, but with proper coding, you can fix this. More than one H1 tag on a page is not a good idea, so avoid it when you can. 

Titles

Title tags appear within a search result and can be used to help entice a user to click through to your page and a search engine to understand the page is topic. It’s very similar to the title of a book. It should match the theme of the H1 tag, but they don’t have to be identical.

Title best practices change depending on the tool you use, as the space depends on pixels, not characters. Most tools give a character count. Because a phrase with multiple letters like “m” or “w” takes more pixels than phrases with more “i” or “t,” some titles can have 55 characters with spaces and others 60.

Description

While meta descriptions don’t directly impact rankings, they are crucial for on-page SEO.

If your description is more relevant, you might get clicks over a higher-ranked site with an inadequate description.

Content

Think of content as the fuel for search engines. It includes text, images, sounds, videos, and any other type of media. If your content is clear and to the point, it improves the user experience and helps Google know when to display your page for certain queries and to the right audience.

If you bury useful information behind unnecessary words or use fancy branding instead of clear language, Google may struggle to determine your page’s purpose. 

Also, don’t worry too much about word counts or keyword density for SEO. These are just measures used by tools to assess content and not by search engines like Google or Microsoft Bing.

Provide a strong answer with evidence, support it with facts, and don’t hesitate to link to specific blogs, websites, or studies. Even if a site is new or has a low score in SEO tools, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s unreliable. 

For instance, an article might be written by a licensed professional on their new blog, and they could be a recognized expert. Linking to their study is better as it leads to the original source, not a third-party journal.

Metrics like domain authority, authority score, etc., are from third-party tools, not search engines. If a tool suggests not linking to a site, it doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t.

Focus on the quality of the site, content, and author when deciding on your external linking strategy, rather than relying solely on tool metrics.

These are links from one page on your website to another page. They help search engines understand the topic of each page and help build your site structure. Internal links include:

  • Menus
  • In content
  • Footer links
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Buttons and CTAs
  • Sidebar links
  • Redirects
  • Canonical links (depending on who you talk to)

A best practice is to map out your internal links to make sure you’re not linking off of the same words to multiple pages or into redirect chains (daisy chains).

Internal links may also pass authority built from backlinks from one page to another. I personally believe they do hold some weight, but some of my peers say they do not anymore.

Some say the position of internal links in content is crucial, but Google has debunked this myth. The idea is that internal links placed higher up on the page are more important, but I disagree. 

Internal links should be natural and placed where they benefit the user. For example, it might make sense to have a link at the bottom if you’re citing a definition rather than forcing it into the middle of a paragraph.

Studies and claims suggest that you can sculpt rank by building more internal links to specific pages. I have seen this work, and I’ve also seen where it doesn’t. My recommendation is to use internal links naturally to benefit a user on the page – not to sculpt rank.

Another SEO theory is that menu and footer links may pass more authority than an in-content internal link because they exist on every page as they’re part of the template, keyword-rich, and navigational. This one can make sense and be tested. But it doesn’t always work or move the needle, so use your data and control groups.

A last internal linking myth is the more links on a page, the less authority they can pass. I see the merit in the claim but have not seen an impact in any test I’ve done, so for me, it is just a myth. Go with what will benefit the end user; don’t use internal links for SEO ranking purposes.

Linking to resources, sources, and other websites is part of SEO; you should not be afraid to do it. Multiple search engine representatives have said it is ok and a best practice when the link is earned.

If the website provides valuable content that supports your article, link to it. If you are paid to give a link, mark it as sponsored. If you don’t trust the site, but the resource is good and worth linking to, use the nofollow attribute. 

Details from customer questions and complaints

Search engines are always looking for unique perspectives and experiences. If you sell products from other people, like a department store, or you have an affiliate website, look up customer complaints and questions.

You can use forums and reviews to find these. Then, incorporate the accurate answers and definitions into your product descriptions and specs. This helps the end user decide, showing search engines that your content is more beneficial to an end user than a competing website. 

It could be sizing, compatibility, user experience level needed, actual color in real life vs. photos, etc. These are beneficial to consumers and can give you an advantage. 

Images (alt text, descriptions, names)

Make sure to name your images for what the image is about and/or the section of the page. 

If it is a featured image for display and in your meta, matching the post’s topic could make sense. 

If it is a diagram, label what the diagram is and what the person will learn. Have a formula or calculation, name the image for it and you can add “example” or “infographic” if it is relevant.

Once you’ve done the name, fill out the alt text and description. These can help people using browsing assistants and search engines further understand what is on the image.


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Technical on-page SEO elements

These refer to non-visible elements search engines use to understand your page and page experience. I’m not including items like .htaccess because they’re related to SEO but not essential to the day-to-day tasks of an SEO specialist. 

Also, robots.txt and sitemaps, even though they’re crucial for SEO, aren’t considered here because they deal with how search engines explore and find your site, not what’s directly on the webpage.

Naming clickable elements

Clickable elements include buttons, links, calls to action (like phone numbers, emails, icons, logins), and sometimes form submissions. They can signal to search engines which pages are meant for conversions and, like internal links, the topics of the pages being linked to.

Search engines can also potentially determine if a page experience is a direct conversion or contextual and informative based on the clickable elements and the action being taken.

Page speed (caching, fetch priority, deferring and lazy loading)

If the goal of a search engine is to show the most relevant result in the fastest way possible, page speed and site speed make sense. But don’t obsess over them. 

Page speed provides a good user experience, but SEO-wise, there are more important things than Core Web Vitals.

In my view, these factors come into play only when everything else is the same, and search engines must choose between two pieces of equally good content.

In such cases, the page that loads faster and becomes interactive sooner should be preferred. However, different people may have different opinions on this, and that’s perfectly fine.

A canonical link is a meta tag that helps deduplicate content for search engines by defining where the official version of the content lives. They are used:

  • When you have products or articles in multiple categories.
  • For split tests, when you have similar or identical content on two different layouts.
  • When you syndicate content to a third-party website.

Canonicals are also vital to migrating URLs as you want to define where the new page exists.

Meta robots

Meta robots are meta tags that tell a search engine if they should index or not index the page, and follow or nofollow the links on the page.

These are different from robots.txt, which defines which folders, pages, URLs, parameters, and backlinks should count and not count.

A temporary landing page, for example, could be noindex, follow because it is not something that should be indexed as it is temporary, but you have internal links and want Googlebot to follow and crawl your website. 

The temporary page could be linked to by a journalist in the media if it is a promotion, and that’s how it gets discovered. Make sure to do these correctly, and they’re always situational.

But here’s a rule of thumb if you get stuck:

  • If you want your page to show up in search results for a long time, go index. 
  • If the links go to your site, are not paid for, and should be followed, make them follow.
  • If the page is temporary or not valuable, go noindex, and do the same with the links. If the links are going to temporary folders, paid partnerships, or partnership companies, use nofollow in the meta robots. It’s simpler than handling each one separately.

Schema

This is the code way of saying what the page is about and what the user will experience. You can define just about anything from the area you offer a service in and what that service is to a piece of art created by someone who is a known person. 

There is schema for hours of operation, ticket sales, reviews, recipes, videos on a page, and pretty much everything. If you don’t see a library relevant to your page, you can use additional types and build one to help search engines understand what you’re providing to searches. 

Schema warnings can be nerve-wracking, but they’re not an end-all. Sometimes, a specific recommended field isn’t relevant. However, errors need to be resolved as they can impact your site.

Although some may not be used by all search engines, you can find all available schemas here on Schema.org.

Make your webpages more SEO-friendly

Optimizing just a few of these elements can provide a rankings boost. However, addressing the on-page SEO basics discussed here will put your pages in the best possible position to rank.

Follow these on-page optimization best practices, and you’ll see improved organic visibility and more qualified traffic to your site.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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