On-Page SEO: The Ultimate Guide (2021)

When it comes to optimizing your website for search engines, there’s no excuse for dragging your feet with on-page SEO.

Yup! That’s right.

On-page SEO can help your website rank higher, bring in more traffic, and convert more visitors into customers. And you’re about to find out how.

But first, let’s make sure we understand what on-page SEO is and why it matters.

What is on-page SEO?

Also known as on-site SEO, on-page SEO is more than just sprinkling a few keywords here and there. It’s the practice of optimizing web pages for search engines so they can rank higher, and for users so they can get a better website experience.

It involves optimizing visible content and the HTML source code and is different from off-page SEO which involves optimizing for signals that happen off of your website. 

Why is on-page SEO important?

Backlinks, which are a part of off-page SEO, remain a key ranking signal for Google and other search engines.

On-Page SEO: The Ultimate Guide (2021)

Google has also confirmed that backlinks remain one of its three most important search engine ranking factors.

So, should you even bother optimizing your web pages for on-page signals in 2021?

Yup!

The same search giant states that:

On-Page SEO: The Ultimate Guide (2021)

On-page SEO tells Google everything it needs to know about your website and how you provide value to your visitors. What’s more, Google uses your page’s content to determine whether it’s a relevant result for a user’s search query.

Unlike off-page SEO, on-page SEO is one of the few things you have full control over. You get to decide on the target audience for each page on your site. You get to establish what the topic and goal of those pages will be. And, of course, you get to choose the target keywords and phrases to focus on.

That’s why it’s crucial that you do it correctly. 

Now that you know why on-page SEO is important, it’s time to start optimizing your website’s on-page signals.

How to prepare your website for on-page SEO

While on-page optimization is less straightforward than it used to be, it’s still arguably the easiest part of SEO.

Here are the elements you need to focus on when optimizing your website’s on-page SEO signals.

1. Create high-quality content

Content is at the heart of any SEO strategy. And on-page SEO is no different. 

For one thing, it tells search engines and users alike what your website is all about. It tells the search bots that your website provides value and should be served up to searchers.

Truth is, the more valuable your page’s content is, the more likely you are to rank and grow your traffic

The first step to creating high-quality content is choosing relevant keywords and topics for your site. Choosing the right keywords and topics to focus on will help you create content your audience is searching for.

Here’s the thing.

When people search on Google, what they want, are answers, and it’s Google’s job to deliver those answers. The most relevant ones for that matter.

Before you start creating content for your page, think about what your audience is interested in and is searching for. Think about what resonates with them because this will guide you to create content they’ll love to read. Most of all, it’ll guide you to create content that adds value to their lives.

The inevitable question pops up: “how do you find topics your audience is searching for?”

You’ll find the answer in this detailed guide on How to Create Content That Gets Tons of Traffic.

2. Update HTML elements on your page

Page titles

Also known as title tags, your site’s page titles are one of the most important SEO elements. They tell search engines and your visitors what they can find on a particular page.

Include the focus keyword for each page in the title to ensure that the different pages on your website rank for the keywords you’re targeting. Page titles are usually wrapped in an H1 tag and including your keyword here will help your page rank better.

In fact, Google even confirmed the importance of using heading tags in 2020.

You’ve probably spotted keywords in our post titles before:

On-Page SEO: The Ultimate Guide (2021)

However, be sure to include these keywords as naturally as possible.

Here are some best practices to follow when writing your page title:

  • Avoid stuffing the title with keywords. Today’s search engines are designed to identify and penalize content that is unnaturally stuffed with keywords. 
  • Make sure you’re using a relevant keyword on the page you’re optimizing.
  • Keep the title under 70 characters, according to Google’s update. If your title is longer, part of it will be cut off in search results.
  • Include your brand in the title. For instance: “The Ultimate Guide to On-Page SEO in 2021 — Digital Hama”.
  • Front-load your keywords.

Hint: There will be occasions where it might not be appropriate to use the exact keyword in your page title. If you can’t insert your keyword naturally, don’t force it. You can always use a close variant. For example, the main target keyword for one of my posts is “website ranking,” but the title is “How to Rank a Website in 2021 (The Latest Approach).”

Headers

For readers, headers help to organize the content on your page. For search engines, they distinguish what part of your content is most important and relevant to a searcher’s intent.

Make sure you include your most important keywords in your H1 and H2 headers. However, use different keywords from those in your page title.

Meta descriptions

Google and other search engines often show a page’s meta description as the descriptive snippet in the SERP. In other words, meta descriptions are those short page descriptions that appear under the title in search results. 

While meta descriptions are not an official ranking factor for search engines like Google, they are still important because an enticing description can lead to more clicks and traffic. So, it’s important to always have a meta description when doing on-page SEO. 

Here are a few tips you can use to create a compelling meta description:

  • Address the searcher directly by using the active voice.
  • Be concise with your meta description. It’s a good idea to keep it around 120 characters or less.
  • Include your keyword or keyword phrase in your meta description.
  • It should not reflect the content verbatim as it appears on the page. 

Image alt-text

Apart from text-based content on your site, images can also rank in Google’s image search and drive traffic to your website. Alt-text (alternative text) is an HTML attribute used on <img> tags to describe an image. It’s not visible on the page itself but it helps to improve accessibility for visitors who use screen readers.

Think of image alt-text like SEO for your images. For one thing, an image alt-text tells Google and other search engines what your images are about. Here’s the thing. Not all traffic comes from your text-based SEO efforts as users may also discover your website through your images. However, for users to discover these images, you have to add alt-text to your images.

In fact, Google’s John Mueller has stated that alt-text can help you rank in Google Images:

On-Page SEO: The Ultimate Guide (2021)

Here’s what to keep in mind when adding alt-text to your images:

  • Name your images appropriately. In fact, Google says that filenames give them clues about the image’s subject matter. So, bed.jpg is a better filename than IMG_67493.jpg. 
  • Make it descriptive and specific (big-bed.jpg).
  • Make it contextually relevant to the broader page content.
  • Keep it shorter than 125 characters.
  • Use keywords sparingly, and don’t stuff keywords in your alt-text as keyword stuffing can be detrimental to your site’s SEO and it can feel spammy to your visitors.

3. Optimize your site architecture elements

Page URLs

Keep your page URLs simple to digest for both users and search engines. Page URLs also help to keep your site hierarchy consistent as you create blog posts, subpages, and other types of pages on your site.

To make sure your page URLs are SEO-friendly, keep them short by removing all extra, unnecessary words and ensure you only use one or two keywords per URL. Plus, you want to make sure you use HTTPS as Google now uses that as a ranking factor. 

Need more tips on how to write SEO-friendly URLs? Read this guide from HubSpot.

Internal linking

Linking to relevant internal resources helps visitors navigate your website and find more information. Internal linking is important for on-page SEO because internal links send readers to other pages on your site, keeping them around longer and thus telling Google your site is valuable and helpful. And when users stay on your site for longer periods, it reduces your bounce rate and increases your chances of ranking higher in the SERP.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should link anywhere and everywhere for the sake of it. Just link to internal resources that make sense. As you might have already noticed, we’re linking to plenty of internal resources throughout this guide.

Mobile responsiveness

Mobile responsiveness matters today. A lot. 

In fact, Google favors websites that are optimized for faster mobile speeds, even for desktop searches. So, it’s important to make sure your website is mobile responsive. 

To make sure your website is optimized for mobile, choose a website hosting service, site theme and design, and content layout that is readable and is easy to navigate on mobile devices. 

If you’re not sure whether your website is mobile responsive, use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool:

Site speed

When it comes to on-page SEO, page speed counts big-time. For one thing, page speed is an important ranking factor on both desktop and mobile

The truth is, if your website loads slowly, it’s likely your visitors aren’t going to stick around. Plus, site speed can have a huge impact on your conversions and ROI

To check how fast or how slow your website speed is, use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. 

If your website is loading slow, check out How to Speed up Your WordPress Website in 2021 (Simple Guide).

4. Include external links

It may seem counterintuitive to include external links on your page considering we’re focusing on on-page SEO. For one thing, external linking is an off-page SEO technique. In fact, some say linking to other websites is bad for SEO. That’s a myth and Google says:

On-Page SEO: The Ultimate Guide (2021)

When it comes to on-page SEO, externally linking to credible and trustworthy sites tells Google your page is also credible and trustworthy. In fact, not only does Google want to know your website is well-referenced, but your visitors do, too.

Put Your On-Page SEO to Work

SEO is not a one-and-done deal. It’s something you continually improve upon. 

Now, I’d like to hear from you:

Which tip do you want to try out first?

Are you going to optimize your page titles?

Or maybe you want to improve your site’s loading speed. 

Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below right now.

Before you go…

Wouldn’t you love something to help in your on-page SEO journey? A template of sorts.

To help you easily track these on-page SEO elements and ensure you’re hitting all the right targets, I’m giving you this On-Page SEO Template for free. 

This template will allow you to plan your on-page SEO in advance, so you can either implement your strategy step-by-step or hand it off to your marketing team to execute easily. 

If you’re ready to track your on-page SEO, download your free copy of HubSpot’s On-Page SEO Template below:

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