The Best On-Page SEO Checklist for 2021
What is On-Page SEO?
SEO is all about creating content that is optimized to rank on the search engine results pages. SEO activities can be divided into two broad categories: on-page SEO and off-page SEO.
Off-page SEO broadly refers to link building activities that increase the domain authority of your website. When other websites or social media accounts link to your content, Google sees you as an authority in your niche and your content is more likely to rank higher.
On-page SEO deals with search ranking factors that can be influenced directly on your web page. To do well in search, a web page has to offer compelling content and a great user experience. It also needs to be configured properly, so search engines like Google can find the page and index it. Finally, web pages need to be optimized around a focus keyword – that’s how Google knows what they’re about and which keywords they should rank for.
We’ve created the best on-page SEO checklist for 2021 to help digital marketers learn how to do on-page optimization for SEO. We hope our list makes it easier for you to manage the growing list of requirements and optimization opportunities available for digital marketers in search of organic traffic.
Your On-Page SEO Checklist for 2021
We have divided this on-page SEO checklist into the twelve sections listed below. In each section, we’ll give our checklist of the most important optimizations and some advice on how to get started.
- Install On-Page SEO Tools
- Keyword Targeting
- Content Quality
- User Experience
- Meta Description
- Video Content
- Page Speed
- Social Sharing
- Linking & Navigation
- Indexing and Crawler Accessibility
Install On-Page SEO Tools
- Google Search Console is installed. The Google Search Console is an essential tool for webmasters. It tracks useful information, including who is linking to your website, which keywords you are ranking for on Google and feedback on your website performance.
- Google Analytics is installed. Google Analytics is the best tool for monitoring your website traffic. Google Analytics helps you track data about who is visiting your site, where visitors are coming from and what they’re doing when they arrive. You can link your Google Analytics and Google Search Console accounts to enable data sharing.
- Yoast SEO is installed. Yoast SEO is the leading on-page SEO plug-in for WordPress.
- A Focus Keyword is chosen. The first step to effective on-page SEO optimization is to choose a focus keyword. This is the keyword or key phrase that you will be trying to rank for on Google and other search engines. The Google Keyword Planner is a great place to start getting an idea for which keywords you want your page to rank for. You can discover new keywords or find information about search volumes and forecasts.
- Checked for Keyword Cannibalism (Make a Keyword Map). If two pages on your website are optimized for the same keyword with the same search intent, you’re effectively competing with yourself for search rankings. This is known as Keyword Cannibalism. Each page on your website should be optimized for a different keyword and search intent. It may be useful to map out the hierarchy of content on your website, including the keywords that each page should be optimized for.
- Checked for Keyword Competition. Another important aspect of keyword research is checking up on the competition. If you are attempting to rank for a highly competitive keyword, you may be facing a long and difficult uphill battle. Type your focus keyword into Google search and use a tool like Moz Link Explorer to check the domain authority of other pages currently ranking in the top ten for your focus keyword. If there are many high-authority sites already ranking for this focus keyword, you may want to choose a different one with less competition.
- Focus Keyword targets specific search intent. Google is increasingly using search intent to rank pages in their search results. Rather than ranking pages based on a specific keyword, Google maps each keyword to one of four search intents and then ranks pages in terms of how effectively they satisfy the user’s intentions. Your focus keyword should always map to one of the four search intents: informational, transactional, navigational and commercial investigation.
- Focus Keyword appears in the page title. You should place an H1 tag around the title of your page. The focus keyword should be mentioned in the title, and ideally, it should be the first word in the title.
- Focus Keyword appears in H2 subheadings. Google web crawlers read page headings and subheadings to determine how pages are structured. As a best practice, you should include your focus keyword in subheadings that are distributed throughout the page. Subheadings should be placed in an H2 tag. Subheadings also help readers navigate your content more easily.
- Focus Keyword appears in H3 subheadings. H3 headings aren’t very common, but if you make use of them, ensure that you incorporate your focus keyword.
- Focus Keyword appears in Page URL. An optimized URL is short and describes the contents of the page. Including the focus keyword in the URL establishes a strong alignment between the URL and page contents.
- Focus Keyword appears in the first 100 words of the body content. – The focus keyword should appear at least once in the first 100 words of content on the page.
- Keyword density is optimized. Keyword density simply means the number of times your focus keyword is used throughout the content relative to its overall length. If keyword density for your focus keyword is too low, search engines may have trouble figuring out what your article is about. If it’s too high, your content may appear spammy and low quality. A keyword density of 1-3% is usually acceptable.
- Synonyms of the Focus Keyword are used. Including variations of the focus keyword in your page content helps Google understand what your page is about and which search intention you should be ranking for.
- Related keywords are used. Including keywords and phrases that are related to your focus keyword is another way that you can optimize your content for search. Using related keywords can simply mean being thorough and covering your topic from all angles. Related keywords that also have high search volume can also improve your pages’ performance. By covering semantically related topics, you’re telling search engines that your page is a comprehensive resource that can benefit users looking for high-quality, in-depth content.
- Optimizing for feature snippets. Google now includes feature snippets at the top of many of their search results. These snippets highlight websites that offer clear answers to the most popular questions. To compete for snippets, you can use a tool like Answer the Public to find out what questions people are typing into google. By addressing those questions directly in your content in a preferred format, you can put your page in competition for a featured snippet.
- Content is unique. Google does not like it when you copy content that has already been published online and publish it somewhere new. Make sure that all content on your web page is 100% unique. Here’s a link to our favorite free online plagiarism checker.
- Content offers unique value. If you really want that #1 spot on Google, your content has to offer something uniquely valuable to your audience. We encourage you to look at the top-ranking pages for your focus keyword and make explicit plans to out-do them. If they made an info-graphic, you make a better one. If they did a study, you do a more in-depth version. You should be trying to write the most authoritative article possible that maps to your chosen focus keyword and search intention.
- Content is longer than the competition. If you want to outrank the competition, you should at least be willing to publish an article with a greater word count. Data shows that articles with a higher word count tend to rank more highly on Google search results.
- Bullet points or numbered lists are used. While not necessary for SEO purposes, including lists helps break up blocks of text and makes your content easier to read. This helps draw readers down the page, lowering your bounce rate and enhancing user experience.
- Spelling and Grammar are perfect. A simple spelling mistake can make your website seem less credible and trustworthy. You can use a tool like Grammarly to conduct spelling and grammar checks and make revisions before you publish your work.
- Writing level matches the target audience’s reading level. When creating content, try to match the level of your writing to the reading level of your intended audience. A tool like Read-Able can help you assess how difficult your content is for someone to read and whether you need to make changes.
- Content is evergreen. Evergreen content is designed to stay relevant into the foreseeable future. The key to writing evergreen content is to avoid writing about “news of the day” and focus on topics that stay relevant over long periods of time.
- Content is sourced with external links. When you source information or a quote from somewhere, use an external link to give credit where it’s due.
- Responsive design. Responsive design ensures that your web page loads properly on a variety of end-user devices such as mobile phones and tablets. If you’re using WordPress, just make sure you’ve chosen a responsive theme for your website.
- Navigation is intuitive. Your page should be easy for users to navigate. They should be able to quickly find what they want. You can include a table of contents, navigation menu, or any other tool necessary to make the experience go more smoothly for your visitors.
- Page loads quickly. Site speed has been a Google search ranking factor since 2010. High bounce rates are heavily correlated with slow page load speeds.
- Effective Page Layout. Your layout should make the page easy to scan for your visitors.
- Intrusive Advertising Minimized. Intrusive advertising can have a negative impact on user experience. In some cases, it can lead to high bounce rates when ads are used intrusively. If you want to optimize for search, its best to omit any intrusive advertising content that might drive away users.
The meta description for your page consists of a few short lines of text that will be featured as a snippet on search engine results. Since this is effectively free advertising space for you, you’ll want to make the best use of it. Meta descriptions don’t have a huge impact on SEO but they can provide users with information that makes them more likely to visit your page so they should always be optimized.
- Meta Description is under 160 characters. This is the maximum recommended length for a meta description.
- Meta Description contains the focus keyword. The best place to include it is near the beginning.
- Meta Description contains a value proposition. The best place to include it is in the middle.
- Meta Description contains a call to action. The best place to include it is at the end.
- Meta Description speaks to search intent. Both the value proposition and call-to-action should connect with the search intent that you are targeting with your focus keyword.
- Image Alt-Text is optimized. Alternative text provides a description of the contents of your image for users with disabilities including visual impairments. Include your focus keyword and take advantage of this opportunity to connect with a new audience by providing a rich alt-text description of each image.
- Image Caption is optimized. Each image should be captioned and the focus keyword or a variation should be included in the caption.
- Image File Name is optimized. Google crawlers read the HTML file for your web page, including the file names of images that are embedded in the page. Including your focus keyword in the names of image files on the relevant page can help with SEO and help you remember how images on your web server are being used.
- Image is unique and original. Google dislikes duplicate content, so it is always best to populate your web page with original pictures and images that you created.
- Image is relevant. If you take an image of a carrot and you optimize it for the focus keyword “cucumbers”, it is still never going to rank as a cucumber picture. In addition to being effectively optimized, images on your site should be relevant to your target audience and deliver on what they promise.
- Optimize the video title. Optimize the title of your video content to include your focus keyword.
- Video is relevant. Ensure that the contents of any video on your web page aligns with the search intentions of your target audience.
- Video is unique and original. The best way to optimize video content is to produce original and unique videos that are highly targeted. This is much more effective than embedding someone else’s video into your web page.
- Optimize video embedding. Decide whether to host your own video or embed it on a 3rd-party video hosting provider. We recommend Wistia for embedding videos as their embeds automatically pull over VideoObject Schema.
- Video content is responsive. Video content on your website should render perfectly and offer seamless experiences on all end-user devices, including desktop, mobile and tablet.
- Images on the page are compressed. Image compression just means decreasing the file size without impacting quality. Image files that take long to load can lead to high visitor bounce rates.
- Browser caching is enabled. Browser caching lets visitors save files from your website and re-use them on subsequent visits to enjoy faster page load times.
- Number of Plug-ins has been minimized appropriately. Every plug-in on your page can potentially add to the load time, so make sure you’re only running scripts that you really need.
- Number of redirects has been minimized appropriately. Redirects increase page load times, leading to elevated bounce rates and poor user experience.
- Check for render-blocking resources on Google PageSpeed Insights. Render-blocking resources are files or scripts whose loading time interferes with the timely loading of other on-page elements. The Google PageSpeed Insights tool can be used to identify and address issues with render-blocking resources and page speed.
- URL describes page content. Someone should be able to read your URL and know exactly what your page content is about without visiting the page.
- Content includes social sharing links. There are countless WordPress plug-ins for adding social sharing icons to your web pages. Make sure to link to platforms that are most relevant to your niche and make yourself available to engage with readers on those platforms to boost engagement.
- Content has shareable quality. To promote social sharing, the content has to have a shareable quality. Shareable content needs to be useful, entertaining, rewarding, visually appealing or affirmative to a particular cause or belief.
- Article author is identified. Google likes it when an author’s name is attached to a piece of content, as it lends it more credibility.
- An author box or biography is used. This little feature should provide just a little bit of extra information about the person who wrote the web page, including their areas of interest and expertise.
- A dedicated author page exists. Your website does not have to include dedicated pages for each author, but it can certainly be useful if your goal is to grow your personal brand and platform.
- Links exist to author profiles on social media. Authors and bloggers that are active on social media should include links to their social media profiles as part of their author box or bio. This facilitates social engagement by making it easier for readers to connect with authors, ask questions, and give feedback.
Linking and Navigation
- Internal links used throughout content. Google likes to see web pages that are interconnected with other pages, as they’re easier to crawl and provide a better experience for users. Use internal links to link readers to other useful areas of your website. Mix in internal links above the fold, in the middle of content and near the bottom.
- Internal links used to create content silos. Use internal linking to create content silos within your website and funnel visitors towards your product and service selling pages.
- Internal links use descriptive anchor text. When you create an internal link, use description anchor text. The words used to link to a page should accurately describe the contents of that page.
- External links to relevant high-authority websites are used. Linking out to high-authority domains in your niche can actually boost your own search rankings and gives you added credibility.
- External links are configured to open a new tab/window. This ensures that clicking on an outbound link does not cause the visitor to completely leave your page.
- Paid links include a no-follow tag. If your web page serves ads that link out to other websites, they should be tagged as “nofollow” links to prevent them from being crawled by Google’s bots.
- Links follow predictable formatting. Any text that hyperlinks to another page should appear in the standard formatting blue and underlined. Following the formatting standards established by other websites makes your website more accessible and user-friendly.
- XML Sitemap has been created. This document includes information about which URLs on a website are most important and serves as a guide for Google robots that are crawling your site.
- The page URL appears in the XML sitemap. The sitemap should be hosted at the root directory of your HTML server.
- The URL is not buried. Pages that are located too deep in your content hierarchy are less likely to be found by crawlers. No page should be more than four clicks away from the home page of your website.
- A static URL is used. Pages with dynamic URLs take much longer to be fully indexed than static pages.
We hope you get a lot of use out of our best on-page SEO checklist for 2021. You don’t have to follow all of our advice with every article you publish, but completing more of these optimizations will help you rank higher on Google and maximize the impact of your content marketing efforts.