On-Page SEO: What It Is and How to Do It

Kelly Lyons

Nov 29, 202216 min read
On-Page SEO

What Is On-Page SEO?

On-page SEO (sometimes called on-site SEO) is the process of optimizing parts of your webpages so they rank higher on search engines and get more search engine traffic.

This includes updating on-page content, title tags, internal links, and more.

Search engines like Google look at keywords and other on-page SEO cues to check whether a page matches a user’s search intent. And if the search engine decides the page will be useful to the user, it will display it higher in search results.

Below, we’ll cover how to do on-page SEO optimization and a variety of on-page SEO examples.

What’s the Difference Between On-Page SEO and Off-Page SEO?

On-page SEO covers anything you can do on a webpage (or internally) to improve your rankings. 

While off-page SEOcovers anything you can optimize outside of your site (or externally) in an attempt to boost your rankings. Backlinks are arguably the biggest off-page SEO factor. Other examples include social media and PR.

Both are important parts of any good SEO strategy.

But you have more control over on-page SEO factors. So focusing on those is a good place to start when building out your SEO strategy.

on-page seo vs off-page seo

Why Is On-Page SEO Important?

Search engines use keywords and other on-page SEO elements to check whether a page matches a user’s search intent. 

And if the page is relevant and useful, Google serves it to the user.

In other words, Google pays attention to on-page SEO signals when ranking pages.

The Google algorithm is always changing, but Google continues to prioritize user experience. Google recommends focusing on “people-first content.” 

Meaning creating valuable content that matches user intent is more important than ever.

Now, let’s take a look at how you can update your content to reflect on-page SEO best practices.

How to Optimize Your Content for On-Page SEO (+ Examples)

On-page SEO is much more than just adding keywords to your webpages.

Here’s a brief explanation of how the ranking process works:

Google starts by “crawling” or assessing pages on the web. 

Next, Google may “index” the page. It uses many factors—including on-site SEO factors—to determine what the page is about and how it should be ranked.

If Google decides to index a page, it can then be accessed via Google Search. 

But Google doesn’t guarantee that every page will be indexed. Or show up in search results at all. 

So it’s important to tweak the on-page SEO elements covered below to best communicate to Google what your page is about. 

That way, it can rank you for relevant queries in the search results.

Let’s get started.

Write Unique, Optimized Content 

One of the most important on-page SEO steps you should take is to create high-quality content that matches your readers’ search intent.

Start by performing keyword research to find relevant topics and target keywords.

For this example, we’ll use Semrush’s Keyword Magic tool.

Enter the topic you want to research and click“Search.”We’ll use the keyword “audio book” as our example. 

keyword magic tool

You’ll get a list of keywords related to your seed keyword, sorted by search volume.

keyword list

High search volume can be useful to target. But pay attention to the keyword difficulty (KD%) level, too. It’s much more difficult to rank for more competitive keywords (which have higher KD% scores).

keyword difficulty list

Target less competitive long-tail keywords, too. They often have lower search volume but lower keyword difficulty. Which means they can be easier to rank for.

The Keyword Magic tool automatically sorts related keywords into relevant categories.

They’re located in the left-hand sidebar. You can narrow your research by selecting one.

long-tail keyword list

Once you’ve selected your keywords, it’s time to create your content.

Read our guide to formatting a blog post when you’re ready to get started.

In the meantime, here are a few best practices to follow to create optimized, high-quality content:

  • Incorporate keywords naturally into your content (and avoid keyword stuffing)
  • Make sure your content matches the search intent of your target keyword
  • Fully answer the query—your content should be useful to users
  • Write unique content that offers something competitors don’t
  • Include visual content (more on that later)

Pro tip: When planning content, come up with topic clusters, or groups of posts and pages that revolve around a central topic. This will help you brainstorm important topics to cover. And make sure you cover all relevant subtopics.

Place Target Keywords Strategically

So you have your target keywords. Now it’s time to strategically place them in your content. 

Google scans your content to see what a page is about—and readers will likely do the same.

So you should include your target keywords in these key areas:

  • H1
  • First paragraph
  • Subheaders (H2s, H3s, etc.)

This will help Google gain context about the topic of your page. And users will be able to quickly tell whether the page matches their search intent.

You can begin analyzing your content with Semrush’s On Page SEO Checker

Start by configuring the tool for your site.

Once you complete the setup, you’ll see a page that looks like this:

on-page seo checker

You can click on a specific page from the recommended “TOP pages to optimize” list, or review the “Optimization Ideas” tab for a complete overview.

optimization ideas tab

Click on the “X ideas” green button to see recommendations.

optimization recommendations

The content section will let you know whether you’ve used your target keywords in key places like the H1 and body of the of the page (and whether keyword stuffing is detected):

target keywords in key places check

If the tool does detect issues, it will provide recommendations:

recommendations

It also provides helpful information about semantic (related) keywords you can add to your text to further optimize it.

recommendations to optimize page

When you’re ready to start updating your page, you can use the SEO Writing Assistant, which grades your content for readability, SEO, originality, and tone of voice.

seo writing assistant

Optimize Title Tags

Title tags are pieces of HTML code that indicate what the title of a page is. And display that title in search engines, social media posts, and browser tabs.

Additionally, title tags are a ranking factor. And can influence whether a user decides to click on a page.

They look like this on the SERP (search engine results page):

title tag on SERP

Here are a few tips to follow when writing your title tags:

  • Keep it brief. We recommend keeping title tags between 50 and 60 characters so Google doesn’t cut them off.
  • Include your target keyword. This helps both Google and users determine what your page is about.
  • Be unique. Avoid duplicate title tags so that each individual page’s purpose is clear to Google (and users know what they’re clicking on).

To find duplicate title tags, head to the “Issues” tab in the Site Audit tool.

site audit issues

You’ll see a list of errors to fix on your site. 

Site Audit also checks for duplicate title tags. Click on the highlighted blue text to see which pages have duplicates.

duplicate title tags

The report will show you what title tag appears on multiple pages.

pages with duplicate title tags

Write Engaging Meta Descriptions

A meta description is an HTML element used to describe your webpage’s content. 

It usually shows up on the SERP below your page’s title. Like this:

meta description

Meta descriptions don’t directly influence Google rankings. 

But they can be the deciding factor between a user clicking on your page or choosing another one. Which means they can encourage more search traffic.

And if your meta description doesn’t match the user’s search intent (or the content on the page), Google may choose its own description for the SERP. 

So it’s best to follow these best practices to increase your chances of Google using your chosen meta description:

  • Consider mobile devices. Google truncates meta descriptions after about 120 characters on mobile. So it’s best to keep them on the shorter side.
  • Include your target keyword. This helps users determine if their page matches their search intent. Google also bolds keywords (and synonyms of keywords) that match the user’s search query. Which stands out visually and could boost clicks.
  • Use active voice. Active voice saves space and communicates your message more clearly.
  • Add a CTA (call to action). Entice users to click with CTA phrases (like “try for free,” or “find out more”).

And check Site Audit to see if you have any duplicate meta descriptions. 

duplicate meta descriptions

Use Headings and Subheadings to Structure Your Page

H1 tags and subsequent headings allow users to easily skim your page. And allow Google to understand the hierarchy of your page.
See how difficult it is to read a page without organized headings (compared to one that has them)?

visual hierarchy helps readers

The right is an example of on-page SEO done right. It’s easy to skim and find specific information.

Headings also help Google better understand your page’s structure and determine whether your page matches a user’s search intent. Which can help you rank higher for relevant keywords.

You can use keywords and keyword variations in headings to give Google more context about the structure of your page and what information you cover.

Use the H1 as your page title or headline, and include H2s to cover subtopics. If you need to cover content in further detail, use H3s, H4s, etc.

headings help on-page seo

Optimize URLs

Google recommends using simple URLS that don’t look “cryptic” or intimidating. In other words:

Use words that are relevant to your content so users can tell what your page is about.

And not random numbers, publish dates, or full sentences. Website themes will often use these by default, so it’s important to update your URL before publishing.

Using your target keyword in your URL is a good way to ensure your URL matches the topic of your content.

An “unfriendly” URL might look something like this:

unfriendly url example

And this is how you could update it to be more useful and easy to understand:

optimized url example

The more context Google has about a particular page, the better it can understand it. And if Google understands what a page is about, it's able to match it with relevant search queries.

Internal links are hyperlinks that point to different pages on the same site. Here’s what an internal link looks like on a webpage:

internal link on a webpage

Internal links are an important part of on-page SEO optimization. Here’s why:

  • They help search engines understand your site’s structure and how pages are related to each other
  • They allow Google crawlers to discover and navigate to new pages
  • They signal to Google that the linked-to page is valuable
  • They help users navigate through your website (and keep them on your site longer)

Adding internal links from one page to another signals to Google that these pages are related. And helps Google understand whether the pages could match a user’s search intent—which can help your rankings.

To learn more about internal linking strategies and best practices, read our guide to internal linking.

External links are links on your site that point to other sites.

External links are important because they enhance user experience and build trust with your audience.

There’s been debate over whether external links directly impact rankings.

But Google has said that adding links to authoritative external sources is a great way to provide value to your users. 

And providing solid user experience is always a good thing.

So, make sure you’re including links to authoritative, trustworthy websites in your content. A good rule of thumb is to link to your sources, but you will likely find other external linking opportunities.

Include and Optimize Images 

Including images in your content increases your chances of ranking in Google Images—which accounts for 22.6% of all searches. This is a great way to get more traffic to your site.

A good place to start optimizing your images is by writing descriptive alt text for them.

Alt text (short for alternative text) is text included in HTML code that describes an image on a webpage.

It has two main purposes:

  1. It provides context for search engine crawlers
  2. It allows people using screen readers to hear descriptions of images

Here’s an example:

image alt text helps on-page seo

Here are some tips for writing good alt text:

  • Keep it brief. Screen readers stop reading alt text after about 125 characters.
  • Include a target keyword. Include your target keyword for context (but don’t spam keywords for the sake of it).
  • Don’t add alt text to decorative images. Graphics like horizontal page breaks, a magnifying glass in a search bar, etc., don’t require further explanation.
  • Don’t include “image of” or “picture of.” Alt text implies that it’s describing an image, so there’s no need to waste characters on these phrases.

To find missing image alt text on your site, head to the “Issues” report in the Site Audit tool. 

You can search for “alt attributes” in the search bar if you have multiple errors to comb through.

missing alt text site audit

Aside from adding optimized alt text, here are a couple of ways to optimize images you add to your content:

  1. Write descriptive file names. Google learns about a page’s subject matter through file names, captions, and more. So something like white-dress-pants.jpg is more helpful than a generic name like IMG353.jpg.
  2. Compress images. Use free options like ImageOptim to compress images for faster load times. You can also use lazy loading, which tells web browsers to wait to load images until the user scrolls to them. 

Find more tips in our guide to image optimization.

Optimize for User Engagement 

Google may also rank your page higher if users spend more time on it. If users leave too soon or without completing certain actions, Google might think there’s something wrong with your page. 

You may have heard of terms like dwell time and bounce rate—but do search engines actually care about these metrics?

They sure do. Google uses what they call “interaction data” to determine whether a search result is relevant to a search query. 

This data helps Google better analyze the relevance of a page via machine learning.

One way to ensure users get what they’re looking for when they land on a page is to put important written content “above the fold” (where users can see it before scrolling). 

Like this: 

content above the fold

The above example directly addresses the query. So the user gets their answer right away.

Beginning your page with an ad or a large image, on the other hand, may create a poor user experience.

Like this example, where you can’t see any written content without scrolling down:

content below the fold

It’s also useful to write content that’s easy to skim.

Most users won’t read every single word on your page. So you need to make it easier for them to skim to find the information they need.

Subheaders can help a lot with readability:

skimmable headers and subheaders

As do short paragraphs:

short paragraphs

And bulleted lists:

bullet points

And, of course, include useful images and visuals to support your written content.

Another way you can encourage user engagement is to include relevant CTAs in your content. Say a user just read a piece about on-page SEO (like this one).

A logical next step would be to audit their own content for on-page SEO factors. Which they can do with the Semrush tool in the CTA below:

Just be sure your CTAs don’t dramatically increase page load time or negatively affect user experience.

Advanced On-Page SEO Tactics

Once you’ve got the basics down, you can try out some more advanced SEO page optimization techniques. 

Let’s start with an important on-page SEO factor—page speed.

Optimize for Page Speed

We may never know every Google ranking factor. But we do know that page speed is a confirmed ranking factor.

So it’s more important than ever to optimize for page speed.

You can use Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool to get an overall performance score for both mobile and desktop, in addition to actionable suggestions for improvement.

This tool assesses Google’s Core Web Vitals, which are factors that impact page experience. 

The Core Web Vitals are:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): amount of time it takes for the main piece of content to load
  • First Input Delay (FID): amount of time it takes for your website to respond to the first interaction from a user (like a click on a link)
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): amount your webpage shifts (or “moves down”) as more content (e.g., banners, images) loads

To get started, enter your URL and click the “Analyze” button:

pagespeed insights

Here’s what the report looks like:

pagespeed report

And here’s the full list of errors that might slow down your site:

pagespeed errors

There’s also an “Opportunities” report that gives suggestions for improvement:

pagespeed opportunities

For more in-depth information on technical errors, you can use our Site Audit Tool.

In Site Audit, find “Core Web Vitals”under “Thematic Reports.” Click “View details.”

core web vitals report

You’ll see the overall status of your pages’ performance over time. 

core web vitals dashboard

In this report, you’ll also see technical details like we talked about earlier. Such as LCP and CLS. 

The Core Web Vitals report includes Total Blocking Time (TBT) to closely estimate FID.

Under each column, you’ll find top recommended improvements and the pages affected.

core web vitals technical details

Click on each underlined suggestion to read more about the issue and how to fix it.

core web vitals-how to fix

Run this report once a month to keep up with any errors. You can also send automated reports to yourself or clients in the “My Reports” management tab in Semrush.

site audit report

Because featured snippets appear in “position zero” above other organic results, they can help boost your click-through rate (CTR).

featured snippet on google

There are different forms of featured snippets, including:

  • Definitions
  • Tables
  • Lists
  • Videos

To check if a keyword has a current featured snippet, go to the Keyword Overview tool. We’ll use the example “can dogs eat watermelon.”

Enter your keyword and click “Search.” 

keyword overview tool

You’ll see information about search volume, keyword difficulty, and more.

keyword overview dashboard

Scroll down to the “SERP Analysis” section of the page. 

To the right of this graph, you’ll see a link that says “View SERP.” Click it to view what the SERP looks like for that keyword when it’s not influenced by location, user behavior, etc.

view serp

Now we can see that “can dogs eat watermelon” does indeed have a featured snippet. And which pages are ranking underneath that.

view serp featured snippet

If you want to take the top spot, update (or create) your own page following on-page SEO best practices.

Some ways to target a featured snippet include:

  • Answering the query in a concise, user-friendly way
  • Understanding the user’s search intent
  • Formatting the answer accordingly—could be a quick one- or two-sentence answer, a table, a video, etc.

Add Schema Markup

Schema markup allows search engines to better understand information on your website. 

It adds code to a page that better communicates the page topic. So you can convey to search engines that your page is about an event, contains a recipe, etc. And the SERP result can reflect that.

Using schema can provide rich snippets in the SERP. They look like this:

rich snippet in serp

In addition to taking up more valuable space on the SERP, schema markup also can improve your page’s CTR.

The above example uses recipe schema markup. But you can add many different types to your pages. 

Common types of schema include:

  • Reviews
  • Products
  • Events
  • People
  • Local businesses
  • And more

You can find information on every type at Schema.org.

Let’s look at an example of schema markup in action. Say you type “new york events near me” into Google.

The top of the SERP looks something like this:

event schema markup

To better your chances of showing up above the normal search results like this, you can use “Event” schema markup.

Which communicates the event date, address, and location to Google.

Google may then feature these events above other results because they’re more useful.

Here’s Google’s resource on adding Event structured data. And here’s what the Event schema might look like in your page’s code:

schema markup code

You can use Semrush’s Site Audit tool to check if you’ve implemented structured data correctly.

To get started, set up a Site Audit project.

After you run your audit, you’ll see a report labeled “Markup” under “Thematic Reports.”

markup thematic reports

Click the “View details” button.

Site Audit will score any pages that have schema markup, break down pages by schema type, and alert you of any existing issues.

markup report

If Site Audit does flag any issues with your markup, we recommend running those individual pages through Schema.org’s markup validator. It will let you know if you’ve implemented the markup properly.

Pro tip: Read our guide to schema markup to follow the step-by-step instructions to adding schema to your site.

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Writer, editor, SEO strategist, and supporter of the Oxford comma. There‘s little I enjoy more than lounging on my couch playing video games and snuggling with my dog.
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