29-Point On-Page SEO Checklist for 2021

On-page SEO is a crucial aspect of improving your online visibility. You’re probably wondering what on-page SEO is, why it’s essential, and what you need to do to optimize your pages and posts to get more relevant organic traffic to your website. 

Here’s everything you need to know.

What is on-page SEO?

On-page SEO involves optimizing pages to rank higher in search engines and receive more relevant traffic. On-page is about everything on the page, including the content and HTML code of the page. Conversely, off-page SEO refers to factors that affect the search rankings outside of a page, such as external backlinks.

Why is on-page SEO important?

On-page SEO is important because it helps provide users and search engines with information about your page. Google wants to provide users with accessible and accurate information, and good on-page SEO helps structure and create your content in a way that delivers a positive user experience.

On-page SEO checklist

1. Focus on search intent

Search intent is the intent behind searches. To create content that ranks well long-term, you must provide users with the information they want. Focus on writing content that appeals to the right search intent, rather than focusing on how many times you repeat a specific keyword.

2. Increase page speed

Fast page speed provides a good user experience. It’s essential to keep your website fast to give yourself a competitive advantage over competitors with slower sites to offer a superior user experience.

Google is placing increasing importance on website page speed as part of their “core web vitals” assessments in 2021.

Use Google PageSpeed Insights to check your score. 

3. Use JPEG images

Images take up a lot of room. The smaller you can make your images, the faster your web page will load. Uploading your images as JPEGs rather than PNGs will generally reduce file size without compromising quality, which increases your page speed.

4. Write a 50 to 60 character meta title

Write a meta title ideally between 50 to 60 characters (including your brand name). A meta title that’s too long won’t be shown in search results, while a meta title that’s too short likely won’t provide adequate context for users about your page.

5. Write an 80 to 160 character meta description

Write an 80 to 160 character meta description. This length should provide you with enough characters to accurately describe the contents of your page. Write your meta description in a compelling way that entices users to click through to your page. Meta descriptions that are longer than 160 characters likely won’t show. 

6. Add internal links

Internal links are links between pages on your website. These are important as they help establish a clear website architecture for your page. Internal links are essential for search engines to understand the structure of your website. Internal links are also crucial for user experience as they help people navigate around your website with ease. 

7. Use anchor text for internal links

To further help search engines understand your linking architecture, use anchor text for internal links. If you’re linking to a page that is targeting the term “SEO copywriting,” then hyperlink a word such as “SEO copywriting” or how to write SEO copy” to navigate to that page, rather than hyperlinking “click here” or “read our article.” 

8. Add external links

Add external links to authoritative and trustworthy websites. If you’re citing a statistic or another author’s work, be sure to link to our to this content. The main reason we encourage this is for user experience and also the credibility it helps establish for your brand. 

9. Choose a focus keyword

Each page or post you publish for SEO purposes should have one precise focus keyword you’re targeting with one clear search intent. It would help if you didn’t have multiple pages targeting the same focus keyword, or you’ll suffer from “keyword cannibalization.”

Make sure you choose a distinct focus keyword for each page that won’t “fight” with other pages on your website.

10. Add alt tags to images

Alt tags are attributes you give to images on your website that describe what they are for visually impaired people. Writing alt tags can also help you rank in image search, which can help bring in additional traffic.

Write an alt tag as if you were describing the contents of your image to a blind person. When naturally possible, include your focus keyword or a secondary keyword. 

11. Add image filenames

It’s essential to add filenames to your images. For example, rather than having the image filename be untitled_1232323.jpeg for the featured image of this post, it’s “on-page SEO checklist, jpeg” as this gives clear context about your page.

But be sure not to force keywords into every image on your page, or you’ll suffer for keyword stuffing.

12. Write image captions (optional)

The main reason you should add an image caption is if it helps improve the user experience. If it’s not clear what your image is about with the image itself or the text around it, add a clear caption describing the image and its meaning. 

13. Include your focus keyword near the start of your meta title

There is a correlation between having your focus keyword in your meta title and having it closer to the start of your meta title. When possible, include your focus keyword at the beginning or near the front of your meta title.

But don’t force it in if it naturally doesn’t fit. Aim to write the best website title for the search intent behind your target keywords.

14. Include keywords in your meta description

Including keywords in your meta description does not directly help you rank better as they do for your meta title.

In general, including your target keyword in your meta description matches the actions of the people searching for your content, which is why it makes sense to do. So it typically makes sense to include your keyword(s) in the meta description if they naturally fit. 

15. Use keywords in your URL

It’s generally good practice to use your focus keyword (or a close variation in your meta title). The focus keyword of this post is “on-page SEO checklist,” and so the URL is “on-page-seo-checklist,” as this perfectly describes the contents of the page.

16. Use short URLs

While you can rank using a long URL, it’s generally best practice to keep your URLs concise. If you can describe the same thing with fewer words, then do so. There’s also a general correlation between shorter URLs and higher rankings on Google. 

17. Check for spelling and grammar

Spelling and grammar aren’t a “ranking factor,” but user experience is. Content that contains multiple spelling and grammatical errors will provide a worse user experience and discredit your content’s authority and legitimacy to some extent. That’s why you should always aim to publish error-free content.

18. Create a logical HTML heading structure

In this post, there are clear headings that are in a logical order. We have “on-page SEO checklist” as an H2 subheading, and we have all the checklist points within this H2 heading as H3 headings.

Logically structure your content using HTML headings that helps users navigate through your page or post to find the exact information they want.

19. Use keywords in your HTML headings

Using keywords in HTML headings can help you rank for many keywords for one post or page. It also helps your users get the exact information they want. 

“On-page SEO checklist” is an essential keyword for this post, and so it’s placed before the checklist itself to help Google understand what we’re showing. But more isn’t better. It serves no benefit to put “on-page seo checklist” into each checklist point, as the “parent” H2 heading already provides enough context. 

20. Write a minimum of 300 words 

300 words are the minimum you should write for a page or post. Anything less than 300 words won’t give Google sufficient context about the page to compete against other search results. Try always to write at least 300 words. But, always write for user experience.

21. Don’t aim for arbitrary word counts

Don’t write to target specific word counts. There are correlations between longer posts and higher rankings, but this doesn’t mean you should write a 5,000-word pillar post for every topic.

See what’s ranking well for your target keyword, study the search intent behind the keyword(s), and then write the most concise content possible to fulfill that search intent. If you need to write 3,000 words + then that’s fine, but if you only need to write 1,000, then that’s fine too. 

22. Write 100% original content

Plagiarized content is not going to rank on Google, and it compromises the integrity and reputation of your brand. It’s great to include external points of reference for your content, but be sure to cite them properly and give credit where credit is due.

23. Perform keyword research for your page 

Keyword research is a fundamental step in creating SEO content. It all starts with the aim of finding a focus keyword to target. You’re also looking for a focus keyword that has sufficient search volume and ideally isn’t overly competitive for your current domain’s authority. 

It saves a great deal of time to look at your competitors’ best-performing pages and target similar keywords for your pages.

24. Select a few secondary keywords

Once you’ve determined your focus keyword, find some relevant secondary keywords too. Secondary keywords are keywords that share a similar search intent to your focus keyword.

For example, suppose your focus keyword is “SEO writing.” In that case, a close secondary keyword could be “SEO writing tips,” which gives you an excellent opportunity to understand how to structure your content. For example, one H2 heading could be “What is SEO writing?” while another could be “SEO writing tips.” 

25. Write for an eighth-grade reading level

The simpler, the better. Write for an eighth-grade reading level. Keep your writing simple. Of course, the complexity of your writing and the jargon you include highly depends on the target audience, but regardless, aiming to write more simply is never a bad thing as it increases readability.

If you can use a smaller word to describe the same thing, then do so. Using big words to sound smart achieves nothing but providing a more tiring reading experience for your audience.

26. Set outbound links to open in a new tab

When people are reading your content, you want to stay on your website as long as possible. It’s a great idea to include high-quality external sources on your website, but it’s a good idea to set outbound links to open in a new tab so that people don’t prematurely leave your website.

27. Assign your post to a relevant category

It’s essential to categorize posts on your website. Categories help search engines and users navigate your content, and it keeps things organized. For example, this post is about SEO, and so it’s placed in the “SEO” category for our blog. It’s good practice to start with a few broad and simple categories. You can then get more specific with time.

28. Cite authoritative and credible sources

With so much information online, Google only wants to show the most credible and trustworthy content. Try to cite the most credible sources only, especially for statistical facts.

If you’re writing an article about cancer, then be sure to use credible medical search engines to find your sources instead of citing “opinion-based” pieces on other blog posts. Primary sources > secondary sources. 

29. Use active voice more than passive voice

It’s generally best to use active voice more than passive voice for SEO writing. According to Grammarly, “Active voice means that a sentence has a subject that acts upon its verb. Passive voice means that a subject is a recipient of a verb’s action.”

The benefit of active voice for SEO is readability. Active voice is more short, clear, and direct. But active voice can also be a bit impersonal and direct. Context matters and you should write with a natural mixture of both, siding on a preference for active voice where possible.

The bottom line

This on-page SEO checklist is by no means everything there is to on-page SEO, and it’s worth reading more about many of these points to best understand how to create the best SEO content possible.

But overall, this checklist should provide you with a great starting point for the best practices to follow. Overall, good on-page SEO comes down to providing a pleasing user experience and providing users with the information they’re looking for in a simple and accessible format.

Learn more about on-page SEO services here.

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