Below are the 27 page ranking factors you need to pay the closest attention to for on-page SEO in 2021.
All of these factors either:
- Directly influence the pages on your site
- Impact a factor that does affect your pages
At the end of this on-page SEO checklist list, you’ll find the five most important on-page factors to get your website ranking highly in the search results.
And if you need help with link building…
…I’ve got you covered with our downloadable link building checklist and training!
What Will I Learn?
- On-Page SEO Checklist
- 1. Your Primary Keyword At The Start Of Your Title Tag
- 2. Your Page Title In H1 Tags
- 3. Include Primary Keyword In Your URL
- 4. Length Of URL
- 5. Target Keyword In Your Meta Description
- 6. User Experience Focused Content Structure
- 7. Unique Content
- 8. Content Reading Level
- 9. Primary Keyword In First 50 to 100 Words
- 10. Subheadings In H2 Tags
- 11. LSI Keywords In Content
- 12. Synonym Rich Content
- 13. Keyword Order
- 14. Use Of Outbound Links
- 15. Internal Linking
- 16. Working Links
- 17. Optimised Image Alt Tags
- 18. Mobile Responsive Website
- 19. Fast Site Speed
- 20. HTTPS Security
- 21. Length Of Dwell Time
- 22. Bounce Rate
- 23. Length Of Content
- 24. Depth Of Content
- 25. Use Of Multimedia
- 26. Freshness Of Content
- 27. Spelling And Grammar
- The Top 5 On-Page SEO Factors
- Download The Ultimate On-Page SEO Checklist
On-Page SEO Checklist
Let’s get started on improving your on page SEO…
1. Your Primary Keyword At The Start Of Your Title Tag
Putting your target keyword at the start of your title h1 tag helps you gain favour in search engines:
Title tag optimization allows search engines to see what the main topic is going to be about, within the first few milliseconds of crawling your new page.
If you worried that you may not have the best page titles to send to your audience…
You can use Yoast to help you set up different title tags for readers and search engines to get the best value propositions. Make sure this factor is part of your content marketing process.
2. Your Page Title In H1 Tags
“<H1>” tags ensure that your keyword-rich title is crawled effectively by Google.
Google crawlers look for what is contained within HTML.
When the title isn’t inside these tags, it can be overlooked.
You don’t want that to happen.
WordPress websites should do this for you, but see if your theme is compatible. If you’re using another platform you’ll have to do this manually on every page.
So in order to format this title tag:
You’d add it into your blog posts code editing area and add the “<H1>” heading tags.
That should look like this:
You can learn more about heading tags over in this seo guide from W3Schools.
3. Include Primary Keyword In Your URL
A Google roundtable session in 2016 revealed…
Although it’s considered a “very small” ranking factor, I’d consider it part of your SEO best practices to add your primary keyword to all of your pages URLs from now on.
You can see that I do this for all of my URLs:
Keep in mind, every little helps when you’re trying to get to the top. That’s why it’s part of my SEO checklist.
4. Length Of URL
The shorter and clearer your content’s URL structure is the more favourable it is to search engines.
This is useful to a search engines crawlers because…
- It adds clarity to your page
- It requires less time to crawl through your site map
You’ll also see a benefit to your users because it’s easy to remember.
5. Target Keyword In Your Meta Description
Your meta description tag is a factor Google pays attention to.
Optimising your meta description to:
- Give an honest overview of what your page is about
- Include your primary keyword
So pay attention to your meta descriptions and ensure your primary keyword is optimized!
Note: You can also use structured data schema markup to get your result to stand out from the crowd.
Indeed, structured data schema markup will, where appropriate, give your result more info such as star rating, pricing, stock availability and review stars.
6. User Experience Focused Content Structure
This means your blog content layout and formatting should allow someone to quickly and easily navigate their way through your content to find the answer to their query.
Factors which influence a users experience are:
- Clear headings and subheadings
- Visuals like images or visuals
- Breaking your body text up into paragraphs
- Using bullet points and text boxes
You want to make sure that your page structure helps users find the answer to their questions as quickly and obstruction-free as possible.
Take a look at the image below:
You can see my content contains…
- Lots of white space
- Easy to read headings
- Bullet points
As you saw in the What Is On-Page SEO? section earlier.
Your user’s experience is one of the major focuses of on-page SEO.
7. Unique Content
Search engines work hard to reduce the amount of duplicate content in their results. This ensures the same content can’t rank for the same primary keyword twice.
If it detects the exact same content is being used on multiple sites, blog posts, category pages, and a product page…
Only one of those pages containing the “duplicate content” will rank for it.
You need as little duplicate content on your site as possible to avoid keyword cannibalization issues and other SEO issues.
(Where your site turns cannibal and eats its own rankings, in essence)
It shouldn’t just be unique… It should add unique value.
For example, if your content is teaching people how to cook rice, it should show them a new way to cook rice and not the way every other blog post on the internet is showing them. Search engines are looking for something new and unique.
8. Content Reading Level
Google used to tag content as:
From a copywriting point of view, a lower reading level as close to basic as possible is advised for most websites. This will make sure your content & blog posts are accessible to the most amount of people.
But depending on your niche this could change.
A scientific journal would be expected to have a higher reading level than other sites. The same goes for a broadsheet newspaper and a tabloid newspaper.
Now it used to be that Google allowed us to get a breakdown of our reading level-
That was removed as an option but it does mean that it’s something Google is paying attention to.
Tips: You can use the Rank Math (see my Rank Math review) or Yoast SEO plugins to get a look at your reading level now-
And irrespective of whether this is an active ranking factor or not – it’s a deciding factor for your visitors which have a direct impact on your ranking pages like dwell time or bounce rates.
9. Primary Keyword In First 50 to 100 Words
From an SEO standpoint, the sooner your target keyword appears in your content…
The sooner a search engine’s crawlers can determine what your content is about.
Many new SEO copywriters and bloggers forget about this…
They put the primary keyword right near the end of their introduction or even later in their blog post.
Be sure to check before you publish your blog content, if it’s within in the first 50 to 100 words and it should be like that for every page you’ve got on your site.
10. Subheadings In H2 Tags
Using header tags for your subheadings allows search engines to build a clear picture of your page, and the sub-topics you’ve written about.
Not only does this add structure to your web page for search engines, but all of your human visitors will also love it as well.
11. LSI Keywords In Content
LSI Keywords help give context to your content which basically just means words and phrases that are related to the topic you’re talking about.
There is much debate about whether they are still useful or not but they are still baked into my processes as I write this.
- Best podcast microphone
- Podcast microphone setup
- Cheap podcast microphone
- The Blue Yeti microphone
12. Synonym Rich Content
It’s possible for web pages to rank for primary keywords that aren’t even used on their page.
This is a byproduct of “Semantic Search”.
This often happens for topics that are closely related to each other or which have different dialectical sayings or spellings.
“Hoover” and “Vacuum Cleaner” are two words that relate to the same topic. But Google could choose to rank a piece of content focused on Hoovers to also rank for Vacuum cleaner terms.
Performing keyword research, finding primary keywords with an achievable keyword difficulty and search volume that can then be optimized for synonyms can help you gain more organic traffic through multiple keyword use.
13. Keyword Order
The order a keyword is searched for and where it appears on your page affects rankings.
People often use variations of a search term although they have the same user intent.
So it’s important to cover your bases.
Let me give you an example:
A group of people are looking to buy the book – Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss. If four people search for it, they may use the target keywords (in any of these four forms) in their search intent:
- Tribe of mentors tim ferriss
- Tim ferriss tribe of mentors
- Tribe of mentors by tim ferriss
- Tim ferriss tribe mentors
Especially in a highly competitive niche.
To combat this you should contain a mixture of keywords with a good keyword density throughout your content to ensure you maximize the reach of your optimized page.
14. Use Of Outbound Links
Outbound high-quality links can help search engines determine the overall value of your content.
Citations, quotes, and links back to research articles & case studies about the topic you’re discussing help add authority to your page and show you’re trying to add value.
Make sure you use a relevant anchor text and pay attention to the dofollow and nofollow tag (check source code).
15. Internal Linking
Internal link building is one of the most under utilised strategies in SEO, but it’s something you should pay attention to.
Internal links are links from one page on your site (page A), to another relevant page on your site (page B). You should use a range of anchor text.
Take a look at this example from my what are keywords page-
When I wrote a section about how keywords signal search intent, it made sense to link to my types of keywords page.
Internal link building adds extra value to the reader because it gives them an extra resource to read.
But it does something else too.
It helps make my site much easier for crawlers by giving a new access point to another part of my site.
And if that page has some good link juice, it makes sense to share that power between pages.
16. Working Links
Make sure that all of the external & internal links across your site are working and not leading to 404 pages.
Not only does this waste link juice, but it also does serious damage to the experience your users get, which has a knock-on effect on many other metrics.
17. Optimised Image Alt Tags
Images aren’t just about web design, alt tags help search engines like Google to interpret the images on your page.
Because image crawlers can’t identify every image with 100% accuracy, it’s better to help them figure out by adding alt text tag to your images.
Take the below image as an example:
Most website image uploaders would give this image a default alt tag like:
But this is hard for a crawler to understand.
Instead it’s better to use descriptive alt text to explain what the image is. Such as:
- My personal workspace
- Macbook and coffee cup
- Old wooden table with modern laptop
These tags, as well as file names, can also contain target keywords to help add relevance to your page.
18. Mobile Responsive Website
Meaning if your site doesn’t format on a mobile device, you’ll struggle to rank highly.
Why…? Well, because having a mobile-friendly website improve user experience and can generate traffic.
This was compounded further by the rollout of mobile first indexing in 2018.
You can check if your site is mobile friendly by using this mobile friendly test tool.
19. Fast Site Speed
It’s a factor you should be taking seriously because it’s in your full control and you can usually increase your websites speed significantly in a couple of hours.
My Nitropack review and case study will show you how to fix all of your site speed problems quickly.
20. HTTPS Security
And that this signal may get stronger over time.
If your website isn’t HTTPS yet, now is the time to switch.
21. Length Of Dwell Time
Dwell Time is the amount of time someone spends on your page consuming your content after finding you through search results.
Let’s say I want to check the Google search results for “How to cook jasmine rice”.
I pop that into Google search engine and because I’m human, I click the top search result:
What’s going to happen when I land on that page is one of three possible outcomes:
- I’ll leave immediately: I’ll take one look at the content and say, “Nah, not for me”
- I’ll spend a few minutes there: I’ll read the content and think, “Okay, this is helpful”
- I’ll spend a long time there: I’ll read the content and think, “Yes! This is perfect”
This can help Google or any other search engines determine the quality of the content.
If the majority of people leave immediately, it’ll be tagged as poor content.
If people spend a few minutes it’ll be tagged as average.
And if people spend a long time there it’ll be excellent.
You can improve your dwell time by improving the quality of content and using different SEO copywriting techniques throughout your writing.
22. Bounce Rate
But Moz has some interesting data to show that it correlates with higher rankings.
If you don’t know what bounce rate is…
It’s how many people come to your page and leave before visiting another page.
You can improve your bounce rate by-
- Appyling these internal link building strategies
- Creating awesome website content
- Using these SEO copywriting techniques
23. Length Of Content
Long-form content consistently outperforms short-form content in search rankings.
In fact, Brian Dean at Backlinko found the average blog post length that ranked number on the first page was 1,890 words.
If you take a look around my blog too, you’ll find that most of my articles start at between 1 000 & 2 000 words and even go all the way up to 10 000 words.
But, there isn’t any ‘perfect’ content length – What counts as a “long” word count will change between niches.
24. Depth Of Content
Depth of content is my way of saying your body content shouldn’t be “thin”.
Whilst your content should be long, it should also contain a depth of relevant information that helps people get the answers they need.
Let’s say there are two articles about cooking jasmine rice. The first one says:
- Step #1: Boil water
- Step #2: Put rice in water
- Step #3: Wait until rice is soft
- Step #4: Eat rice
- Step #1: Boil the water and add two pinches of salt
- Step #2: Rinse the rice before you add it to the water
- Step #3: Put the rice in the water and stir for the first two minutes
- Step #4: Begin to…
The more depth of information there is…
The more valuable it will be perceived by a search engine’s crawlers.
25. Use Of Multimedia
Using different content type such as images and videos can help to…
- Increase dwell time
- Decrease bounce rate
- Increase your social media shares (social sharing buttons help)
Images and video content brings in a wider target audience.
26. Freshness Of Content
Having fresh, up-to-date content can help you improve your rankings. It can also breathe life into content you’ve written in the past.
Google shows the date of the latest update for an article in its search results:
This means that Google (and your readers) cares about how up-to-date your content is.
From personal experience, I know that I’m more likely to click on a more recent link. So keep in mind, it could help to improve your click-through rates too.
27. Spelling And Grammar
Google have pointed out, you should ensure your spelling, grammar and font type makes sense.
Whilst the odd mistake and error won’t destroy your website…
Illegible content that doesn’t make much sense will be perceived as low value.
That’s the 27 on-page SEO checklist I would recommend you follow to make your search results stand out and increase your website traffic.
The Top 5 On-Page SEO Factors
From an SEO perspective, not all factors are created equal.
And some on-page SEO factors have stronger weights in the algorithm than others.
So here are the top 5x on-page factors for you to focus on (click the link to jump to that section of the guide) for a solid content marketing strategy:
- Mobile responsive: Ensure your site is optimised for mobile devices.
- Website speed: Make sure your site loads quickly and efficiently for users.
- Keyword at the start of your title tag: Get your target keyword into your headline, preferably towards the start.
- Internal links: Create internal links between this page and the other relevant pages of your site.
- Length of content: Make sure your content is as long and as in-depth as possible.
If you focus on these five seo tactics you’ll get the most bang for your buck.
But be sure not to neglect the other SEO performance factors for too long.
(If want to dive deeper into on-page SEO factors, optimization techniques and SEO in general, you should check out my list of SEO books that cover those topics in detail).
Download The Ultimate On-Page SEO Checklist
If you’d like a more actionable way of applying these SEO best practices to your site…
I’ve put together a free on-page SEO checklist for you to download.
It shows you all of the factors featured in this article, which you can use for reference when you’re preparing content for your site. (I print it off and keep it next to me).
Ensure you use this within your content marketing strategy & SEO campaign!
Note: choosing the right keywords is essential to rank but isn’t always an easy task. I use SEO tools to help me with my keyword research and find profitable keyword ideas and opportunities.
For example, I use SEMRush to get some serious keyword data researched such as search volumes, keyword frequency, level of competition, cost per click, and many more!
Best keywords & best content are the keys to improving your search engine rankings and archive SEO success.
PRO TIPS: You can measure the success of your entire SEO campaign with the SEO visibility scores metrics.
Wrapping It Up
As a website owner, you’re able to control each on-page SEO factor from this on-page SEO checklist.
And some of the changes can be made to your site in as little as 60 seconds to get your website in front of your target markets.
If you’re short on time you should focus mainly on:
- Mobile responsiveness
- Your website speed
- Putting the primary keyword at the start of your title tag
- Internal links
- The length of your content
When you’re editing your content to prepare it for your site, make sure you have a copy of my on-page SEO checklist handy.
And don’t forget to get a free copy of my downloadable link building checklist to keep you on the straight and narrow there as well.
If you are really struggling to complete an on-page SEO checklist you should take a look at my Surfer SEO review which takes the hard work out of it all.
But, if you don’t want to invest the time… consider an SEO consultant.
Or if you’re on a budget… use my free seo tools list to help you out.
Now you know which on-page SEO factors you should be focusing on to reach the top 10 of Google SERP’s, it’s time to complete an SEO audit and optimizes your content.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is on-page SEO important?
On-page SEO is the foundation layer of search engine optimization. It helps search engines spiders to understand your website and content to gauge its quality and relevance to searchers. It is important because until you build a website that Google loves, it won’t be rewarded with search traffic.
What is on-page SEO?
On-page SEO refers to all of the factors you can control on your website that influence your rankings on the search results (SERPs) such as content, your H1 tag, images and website speed.
What is off-page SEO?
Off-page SEO, also called “off-site SEO” refers to all of the ranking SEO practices that happen off your websites, such as link building, social sharing or any other form of promotion through social media platforms, intended to increase your search visibility.
What is included in on-page SEO?
On-Page SEO includes, but is not limited to – title tags, meta descriptions, keyword research, header tags, content, site structure, user-friendliness, load time and more! Please see the full 27x point on-page SEO checklist in my tutorial above for a detailed list of factors.
How do you do on-page SEO step by step?
You should start by doing a simple SEO audit to uncover any existing on-page SEO problems that need fixing to optimize your content. Once you have done that, just work through each of the on-page issues and fix them once at a time.
What are top 10 on-page SEO factors?
Here are the top 10 on-page SEO factors you should optimise to boost your SEO results:
- Mobile responsive
- Website speed
- Keyword at the start of your title tag
- Internal links
- Length of content
- HPPTS security
- User experience
- Use multimedia
- Unique content
- Social Signals