It’s 2020 and SEO is an altogether different ball game today than what it used to be 10 years back.
With multiple ranking algorithms in play (like Penguin, Panda, RankBrain, etc.), the focus has now shifted to how well a web page answers a specific search query.
It’s not just about backlinks or keyword stuffing anymore. SEO is much more holistic and brand oriented in 2020.
Despite that, a successful SEO campaign still starts with some important on page SEO factors that you must optimize before you do anything else.
But first, the evergreen rule of SEO: Content is the King
Any successful SEO campaign starts with high-quality content. You have been told this multiple times.
While quality can be a highly subjective word, it refers to how well your content answers the user query, also known as intent-based content writing.
That’s the reason you often find a 300-word content ranking right on the top, while even a 3000-word content fails to make it to the elite spot.
That’s because Google finds a particular piece as highly relevant, irrespective of the content length.
If Content is the King, On Page SEO is the King Maker
On page SEO refers to the rules and principles that one must apply on the web page to rank higher in search engines.
All these factors have just one ultimate goal: to help the user get his query answered in the shortest possible time.
If your content can do that, Google will love it (and rank it right on the top).
So when it comes to any SEO campaign, your first step should be to optimize the page for most important on page SEO elements so that you have a solid foundation for your search campaigns.
These also include a couple of technical parameters (known as on-site SEO or technical SEO) that happen site wide. These factors are also in your direct control and help improve the user experience.
Let’s explore some of these SEO techniques to make your web page rank higher in the search engines.
17 Pointer On Page SEO Checklist for 2020
A. Important on page SEO factors
1. Write impressive page titles
This is a one-liner description of your content and is visible to the user when he makes the search.
Ensure you drop your main keyword in the page title, as close to the beginning as possible.
2. Write clear meta descriptions
While this is not going to impact the page ranking, meta description is important from clickability perspective.
Always ensure you have your primary keyword or a close variant as part of your meta description, again as close to the beginning as possible.
This ensures your user sees your content as a possible solution to his query.
3. Optimize page URL
Have an instance of your focus keyword in the URL, without using any special character, symbol, commas, etc.
Use hyphens (instead of underscore) to separate different strings. This makes the URL clean and easier for the user to guess the content on the page.
In addition, opt for a user-friendly URL structure for your entire website. Something that both search engines and the user can remember and relate to, but without any compromise to your business goals.
For e.g., a permalink structure like ‘yourdomain/this-is-test-post’ is preferred by many websites, but if you are a news website you may want to follow a date wise structure like ‘yourdomain/2019/08/15/this-is-a-test-post’.
Read our detailed URL SEO Best Practices Guide.
Heading tags are extremely important because they provide a logical structure to your content and make it skimmable.
There should only be one H1 tag and it should summarize the content of your post.
Then comes H2-H6 tags which can be multiple in number but should be at the same logical level.
Consider the case of this post where all the SEO factors are put under the H3 tag because they stand at the same logical level. Do observe the content of other tags as well on this page and look for logical partitioning that each tag helps achieve.
Have your focus keyword in the H1 tag, and focus or related keywords (or LSI keywords) as part of other tags.
5. Include your focus keyword
Remember, on page optimization is not about gaming the system. It’s about sending the right signals, both to the user and to the search engine.
Essentially, on page SEO is all about optimizing your content to answer a particular user query.
For that, use strings (technically called keywords) that relate to the user query.
Use a combination of exact match keywords and related keywords, but don’t overdo that.
Ideally, an exact match keyword density of 1.5 to 2%, sprinkled with a few more LSI keywords is good enough to send the right signals to the search engines.
6. Sprinkle LSI keywords
LSI keywords are those strings that are contextually relevant to a user query.
For example, if you are searching for Windows (the OS), LSI keywords may include words like software, version history, features, computer, download, etc.
With RankBrain reading your content through it’s Natural Language Processing (NLP) algorithm, LSI keywords make your content look natural to a search engine.
7. Optimize image alt-text (and other parameters)
Search engines can’t read images. Writing proper keyword-optimized image title & alt-text helps both the user and the search engine understand the context of that image.
More than that, the right title and alt-text can help the user understand what the image wants to convey, especially in cases where the image may not load properly.
Images (and media) also help in better user engagement rates, thereby passing a signal to Google of high-quality content.
Optimizing images become even more critical since Google also maintains an image search index, and you can read more about image SEO best practices in this blog post.
8. Link internally (and externally)
Interlink your website content so that the user can explore other areas of your website.
This results in generating higher engagement.
At the same time, also link out to high-quality authority websites.
After all, you are known by the company you keep.
Here’s a very good video from Neil Patel explaining the concept of link building.
B. Important onsite SEO factors (aka technical factors)
Schema tags can help search engines better understand your on page content.
By using schema, you give context to the small areas of your website which a search engine might have missed (e.g. your office address, your support number, your support email ID, etc.)
Google can use this to show specific information in case of a query and can help drive traffic to your website.
10. Implement ‘https’ without any delay
Google views the security of its users with extreme seriousness, therefore it considers ‘https’ as an important ranking signal.
Https protocol ensures the data exchange between your web server and the user’s browser happens through a safe channel and is a step towards making the internet more secure.
Wayback in 2014, Google announced its inclination towards using https as a ranking signal and clearly pointed out that the importance of https in the future. Here’s one video from Matt Cutts.
11. Have an XML sitemap in place
An XML sitemap is like a map of your website that helps the Google crawler discover important parts of your website, thereby resulting in an SEO boost.
Generally, Google tends to look out for linked pages in the already crawled pages to explore new additions to the website.
But if you have a sitemap in place, Google can discover new pages even though they may not be linked from any other page.
Sitemaps also have ‘last updated’ timestamp against each page/image/media asset. That tells the Google bot about the freshness of your website, thereby resulting in faster indexing.
You can check the sitemap of your website by typing yourdomain/sitemap_index.xml in the web browser.
If you are running a WordPress based website you can use Yoast plugin to automatically generate and update your sitemap.
12. Create a robots.txt file
Always ensure that a robots.txt file is available in the top-level directory of your website. You can find the robots file for your website by typing in yourdomain/robots.txt (case sensitive) in the web browser.
This file sets the rules for each search engine bot and directs their site-wide crawling and indexing behavior.
You can also use this website to keep sections of your website private and non-indexable or to avoid getting your duplicate content crawled.
User-agent: [user-agent name]
Disallow: [URL string not to be crawled]
13. Improve page load speed
Page load speed (defined as how fast the content on a web page loads) is one of the most important ranking signals used by Google search bot.
While Google has stayed quiet on how it measures the page load speed, it’s an open secret that it considers parameters like time to first byte and full-page rendering time.
You can use free tools like GTMetrix or Pingdom to find page load speed of any web URL.
For you as a web admin, there is another disadvantage of slow loading pages.
Slow-loading web pages will reduce the crawlability of your website since the Google bot allots a fixed crawl budget to every website.
Slow loading pages mean less number of pages being indexed with every Google crawl, thereby resulting in increased time for your pages to start ranking.
You can take a number of measures to improve page load speed (like compressing images, reducing redirects, using CDN, getting the faster server, minifying CSS/JS/HTML, etc.).
14. Ensure mobile responsiveness
Today, almost 60% of users worldwide access the internet through their smartphones.
With such a large audience to serve, Google views the mobile-friendliness of a web page as an important criterion as part of its ranking algorithm.
After all, a poorly optimized website will disrupt the user experience on the small screen. This is something that Google doesn’t want, hence it pushes down the websites with no or poor mobile responsiveness.
15. Opt for Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
This one is an extension of point #13 and #14 above.
Accelerated Mobile Pages result in fast page loads over mobile devices, thanks to the stripped-down version that shows only the essential elements on a mobile device.As a result, pages with AMP version are pushed higher in mobile search rankings by Google.
However, AMP may not be required for all the websites. Before opting for AMP, you should do a thorough cost-benefit analysis to understand the impact it will have on your website.
Sometimes it makes sense to improve the UI/UX of the existing pages rather than switching to AMP.
16. Check for duplicate content issues
Duplicate content refers to the content that is accessible on the internet through multiple URLs.
Most of the time, duplicate content gets created by mistake (for e.g. using a session ID for every user visiting a web page. This will generate separate URL but all having the same content).
The problem arises because Google bot gets confused on which URL to rank, and therefore the original content doesn’t get the search value it deserves.
As a result, it gets extremely important for webmasters to handle duplicate content issues (through canonicalization, 301 redirect or by deleting the duplicate content pages).
Here’s Matt Cutts again to explain how Google handles duplicate content issue.
Web links in a page add context to the information and allow the user (and the crawler) to discover more information.
However, a nonworking link (termed as a broken link) results in bad user experience and is therefore not liked by Google. Such links can be both internal links or external links.
Websites with too many broken links indicate poor quality and can be penalized by Google.
On page SEO is not a one time task.
You need to keep optimizing your content to gain and maintain your search ranks.
This indepth on page SEO checklist highlights some of the most important on page SEO factors that you should include in your web pages. These include page level as well as site wide elements.
I know that implementing all these factors may become a daunting task for you, especially when you have multiple unoptimized pages on your website.
The best way to get started is to ensure you optimize the content of your new pages right at publication, and review a couple of previously published pages every month.