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On-Page SEO: The Definitive Guide

This is a complete guide to on-page SEO in 2024. Explore the factors that can make or break your SEO success.

In this new guide you’ll learn how to:

  • Optimize your content for search engines
  • Create SEO-friendly URLs
  • Write compelling and click-worthy titles
  • Create original and helpful content
  • Seamlessly integrate keywords into your content
  • Lots more

Let’s get started!

On-page SEO: The Definitive Guide

Chapter 1: On-Page SEO Basics + Template

On-page SEO Basics

Welcome to the foundation of your on-page SEO journey!

In this chapter, we’ll demystify why on-page SEO remains a linchpin for digital success in 2024.

So if you’re looking for the key to enhancing visibility and user experience, this chapter is for you.

What is On-Page SEO?

On-page SEO (also known as “on-site SEO”) is the practice of optimizing web page content for search engines and users. Common on-page SEO practices include optimizing title tags, content, internal links, URLs, and other ranking factors.

This is different from off-page SEO, which is optimizing for signals that happen off of your website (for example, backlinks).

Other examples include social media marketing, guest posting, and PR.

On-Page SEO Off-Page SEO
Definition Optimization of elements on a website’s pages Strategies performed outside the website to boost authority and visibility
Goal Enhance individual page visibility and relevance Boost overall website authority and trustworthiness
Examples Keyword Optimization
Meta Tags
Schema Mark-up
Internal Linking
Images
Page Speed
Featured Snippets
Link Building
Social Media
Guest Posting
Public Relations
Influencer Marketing
Local SEO
Brand Mentions
Tools Used On-page analysis tools, content optimization tools, site crawlers, page speed insights, analytics tools, AI Backlink analysis tools, social media analytics and platforms, Google Business Profile, outreach management tools

Does traditional on-page SEO still make a difference in 2024?

Yup! Google’s “How Search Works” report states that, even with advancements in artificial intelligence, certain traditional SEO practices, like specific keyword presence, remain integral:

Google on On-page SEO

Even though Google is MUCH smarter than it was back in the day, it still uses old-school stuff (like looking for a specific keyword on your page).

Google still crawls your site for keywords

And there’s data to back this up.

Our analysis of 11M Google search results didn’t find a correlation between keyword-rich title tags and first page rankings.

Keyword optimized title tags don't correlate with higher first page Google rankings

But if you search for any competitive keyword, you’ll notice that the top-ranking pages almost all use that exact keyword in their title tag.

Google SERP – Life Insurance Quotes

Why is On-Page SEO Important?

Picture on-page SEO as the friendly guide helping your website communicate with Google. It’s like dropping hints about what your content is all about, but in a language Google understands – keywords.

That said: There’s more to on-page SEO than cramming keywords into your page’s HTML. It’s about rolling out the welcome mat for your visitors.

A well-optimized page ensures they find what they’re looking for without the online equivalent of a wild goose chase.

To rank your content in 2024, you also need to optimize your content for:

So, in the grand scheme of things, on-page SEO isn’t just a checklist; it’s your secret weapon for standing out and making both algorithms and people say, “Yep, this is the one!”

How to do On-Page SEO

On-page SEO has changed A LOT over the last few years. Back in the day, you only needed to do four or five basic things to optimize your page (like making sure that your keyword density was high enough). And you were pretty much done.

Today? Optimizing your site’s content is much more involved. There are more steps. And those steps are more complex than before.

But there are ways to make it simple to create content that helps you rank for your target keywords.

Semrush’s On-Page SEO Checker can help you analyze your content and provide actionable insights you can implement in minutes.

Semrush – On Page SEO Checker

This tool lets you know if you have your keyword in all the key locations like the H1 and body content but also offers suggestions for improvement and provides valuable information on semantic keywords to enhance your content.

Semrush – On Page SEO Checker – Ideas

Semrush also offers a suite of other tools that make it the all-in-one companion for on-page SEO.

But tools aren’t the only way to simplify your SEO process.

Our on-page SEO checklist helps you keep track of all the little things that you need to do to optimize your content.

On-Page SEO Template

Download Now: On Page SEO Template

You can use it like a checklist to make sure that you’re checking off all of the boxes that Google and other search engines want to see.

In fact, I personally use this on-page SEO checklist to keep track of things. Otherwise, I’ll forget something small (like adding my keyword in an H2 tag).

But when I have my handy on-page SEO template open in one tab and my page open in another, I make sure that every step gets done.

Chapter 2: Optimize Title and Description Tags

Optimize Title And Description Tags

In this chapter you’ll learn how to optimize your title and meta descriptions for SEO.

According to Google, title tags still “help a lot” with your rankings.

So they’re worth optimizing.

And it’s the same story with your description. Google may not use your description to understand the content on your page, but searchers use it to figure out which result to click on.

So if you want to write SEO-friendly title tags and descriptions, this chapter is for you.

Make Click-worthy Titles

In my opinion, your title tag is the most important on-page SEO factor.

That’s because your title tag gives search engines a high-level overview of what your page is all about.

In my experience, the closer the keyword is to the beginning of the title tag, the more weight it has with search engines.

Frontload your keyword in your title tag

Here’s an example from my image SEO post.

Post with frontloaded keyword

Your keyword doesn’t necessarily have to be at the very beginning of your title. It doesn’t always make sense to do that.

But the closer your title is to the front of your title tag, the better. For both search engines and users.

Users will know that your content matches their search query. But there are other ways to get them to click on your site.

Using modifiers like “best”, “guide”, “checklist”, “fast” and “review” can help you rank for long tail versions of your target keyword.

For example, our SEO tools post includes the modifiers “best” and “free”.

Backlinko – Best free SEO tools

That way, we can rank for long-tail versions of “seo tools” like “best free seo tools”.

You can even be more strategic than this.

I added the title tag modifier “for SEO” in this list of keyword research tools.

Title tag modifier

Why? So my page would show up when people used terms like “SEO keyword research tools”. And it worked!

Google SERP – SEO keyword research tools

Title tags ensure each individual page’s purpose is clear to Google, and users know what they’re clicking on.

One of the easiest ways to improve your title tags is simply by confirming you have one on every page. And it’s original.

Site crawlers, like Semrush’s Site Audit tool, can help to identify pages that don’t have a title tag or have a duplicate title.

Site errors

AI tools, like ChatGPT, can be a great place to brainstorm potential titles, offering a starting point for your creative process.

ChatGPT – Title ideas

Use Unique, Keyword-Rich Meta Descriptions

Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide states that:

Google Webmasters on Description meta tag

Even though Google can override them with their own snippet, Google recommended that you write your own meta descriptions.

Google says "Fill in your meta descriptions"

That’s because a good meta description helps your result stand out, which can boost your organic CTR.

A good meta description boosts your organic CTR

Here’s a description template that I use and recommend.

Meta description formula

You also want to include your keyword once in your description.

Why?

Because Google bolds terms that match the person’s query.

Bolded search term in SERP

Again, this can give you a nice little CTR bump.

Here are a few other tips for making your meta descriptions click-worthy:

  • Be Concise: Keep your meta description under 160 characters to ensure it displays fully in search results.
  • Unique Descriptions: Craft distinctive meta descriptions for each page to avoid duplication and enhance click-through rates.
  • Focus on Value: Highlight the unique selling points or key information that sets your page apart.
  • Clarity is Key: Communicate the content and purpose of your page to manage user expectations.
  • Front-Load Important Information: Place critical details near the beginning to ensure visibility and impact.
  • Avoid Clickbait: Ensure your meta description aligns with your content to build trust with users.

Chapter 3: Craft Captivating and Valuable SEO Content

Write SEO Content

Now it’s time to publish content that deserves to rank #1.

This process goes well beyond using keywords on your page.

To rank your content in 2024, your content needs to be:

  • Unique
  • Super valuable
  • Optimized for search intent

In this chapter I’ll show you how to make sure that your SEO content checks all of these 3 boxes.

Embrace Uniqueness

When I say “unique”, I’m not just talking about duplicate content.

I mean publishing something that doesn’t just regurgitate the same stuff that’s already out there.

In other words: fresh content that brings something new to the table.

That something new can be:

  • A new tip or strategy
  • A better list of curated resources
  • Strong design and UX
  • New case study
  • Streamlined step-by-step process

For example, this SEO checklist post ranks as number 1 for the keyword “SEO checklist”.

Google SERP – SEO Checklist

Do you think I rank because I used my keyword a bunch of times?

That helped. But for a competitive term like this, using keywords isn’t enough.

My page ranks at the top because it’s unique.

Sure, it has tips and strategies that you can find anywhere, but it also has lots of tips and examples that you can only find in my post.

Unique tip in post

Valuable Content

Publishing something that’s unique is a good starting point.

But it’s not enough.

(After all, literally millions of blog posts come out every single day.)

So for your content to stand out and get noticed, it needs to be SUPER valuable.

Here are a few ways that you can make your SEO content insanely valuable:

  • Detailed: Images, screenshots, and steps make it easy for someone to put your content into practice.
  • Crisp writing: Strong copywriting will make your content more engaging.
  • Updated material: Brand new strategies, steps and examples go a long way.
  • Expert authors: Most content is written by people that have never done the thing they’re telling you to do. Content from someone with first-hand experience is almost always more valuable than something written by a random freelance writer.
  • Accurate: Provide trustworthy, up-to-date information for your audience.

The main thing that makes my SEO checklist post so valuable is the checklist itself.
It starts off with beginner-friendly stuff.

Beginner-friendly tip in post

And gets more advanced as you work your way through it.

Advanced tip in post

Along the way, you get a ton of specific details:

Detailed tips in post

Up-to-date examples:

Up-to-date tip in post

And content written by someone that lives and breathes SEO every day:

Real-life example in post

Satisfy Search Intent

Unique, valuable content can get you to the first page of Google.

But if you want to stay there, your page has to satisfy Search Intent.

In other words:

Your page has to be EXACTLY what a Google searcher wants.

Otherwise, your page will likely be buried on the 3rd page.

SERP goes to third page

This is a mistake that I had to learn the hard way.

Some time ago, I published this comparison of the top backlink checkers on the market.

Backlinko – Best backlink checker

My goal was to rank for the keyword “backlink checker”.

A few days after I published that post, I decided to check out the SERPs for that term.

And I quickly realized that 100% of the type of content on the first page results were tools.

"backlink checker" SERP

Literally, 10 out of 10 results were backlink checker tools. There wasn’t a single blog post on the first page.

This means the chance of my post hitting the first page was basically zero.

Whoops!

Fortunately, I do rank for a long-tail version of that keyword (“best backlink checker”).

Google SERP – Best backlink checker

But if I spent more time looking at the Search Intent for that term, I would have realized that my content had zero chance of ranking for “backlink checker”.

And now it’s time for the next chapter…

Chapter 4: Optimize Your Content for SEO

Optimize Your Content For SEO

Embarking on the journey of on-page SEO involves more than just the art of crafting compelling content.

It’s about strategically placing your target keywords, creating a seamless structure, and employing tactics that signal to search engine crawlers that your page is an authoritative source on a specific topic.

In this chapter, we delve into actionable techniques that can elevate your on-page SEO game, ensuring your content not only attracts but retains its rightful place on the coveted first page of search results.

So if you’ve ever wondered “How do I actually use keywords on my page?”, you’ll love the actionable tips in this chapter.

Use Your Target Keyword In The First 100 Words

This is an old-school on-page SEO tactic that still makes a difference.

All you need to do is use your main keyword once in the first 100-150 words of your article.

For example, in my article optimized around the keyword “email marketing”, I mentioned that keyword right off the bat.

Keyword in post intro

Why is this important?

Google puts more weight on terms that show up early on your page.

Use your target keyword terms in the first 100 words

Which makes sense. Imagine that you just published an article about The Keto Diet. If your article really was about The Keto Diet would it make sense to first use the term “keto diet” halfway down the page?

Of course not.

This is why you want to drop your keyword somewhere in the first 100 words or so. This is one of those little things that helps Google understand what your page is all about.

Wrap Your Keywords Into Headings

Heading tags are like the guiding stars in the vast universe of your content, ensuring both search engines and users find their way through the cosmic landscape of your webpage.

In fact, Google has stated that using an H1 tag “helps Google understand the structure of the page”.

Google on H1 tags for rankings

It’s best practice to include a single H1 per page. You want to check your site’s code to make sure your title is wrapped in an H1. And that your keyword is inside of that H1 tag.

Title and keyword in H1 tag

You can use the Semrush Site Audit Tool to find pages that are missing H1 tags and write new tags with keyword incorporated into them.

Semrush – Site Audit – Warnings

Strategically incorporating your target keyword and other relevant keywords within the H1 to H6 tags not only communicates the topical relevance to search engines but also enhances the user experience by providing a clear hierarchy.

Will heading tags make or break your on-page SEO?

Nope. But it can’t hurt. And my own SEO experiments have shown me that wrapping your target keyword in an H2 tag can make a dent.

Here’s an example of this strategy in action (target keyword=”content marketing tools”):

Keyword in H2 tag

Keyword Frequency

Keyword Frequency is just like it sounds: It’s how many times your primary keyword appears in your content.
Google may deny that using the same keyword multiple times helps. But SEO pros with experience will tell you that it definitely works.

Think about it this way:

Imagine that you have a page that Google THINKS is about a specific keyword. But that keyword only appears once on the page.

Keyword frequency : Low

How confident can they be that the page is about that keyword? Not very.

On the other hand, if the page mentions the keyword 10 times, Google can be more confident about that page’s topic.

Keyword frequency : High

To be clear:

This isn’t about keyword stuffing or anything like that.

It’s simply mentioning your target keyword a few times to confirm to Google that your page really is about that subject matter.

For example, one of our posts ranks in the top 3 in Google for the keyword “YouTube SEO”.

Google SERP – YouTube SEO

How many times do you think I used the exact term “YouTube SEO” in that 3,200-word post?

6 times.

So yeah, there’s no need to go overboard here. As long as you use your keyword naturally a few times, you’re good.

Key places to include your keywords on your page include:

  • Title Tags and Meta Description
  • Alt Text
  • URLs
  • Headings
  • First Paragraph

The Semrush On Page SEO Checker can provide you with a comprehensive list of recommendations to let you know if your keywords are in these key places.

Semrush – On Page SEO Checker – Recommendations

Use External (Outbound) Links

External links to related pages help Google figure out your page’s topic. It also shows Google that your page is a hub of high quality content.

And this isn’t just a theory. The folks at Reboot Online ran an experiment to see if external links helped improve rankings.

They created 10 new websites. Half of the websites linked out to authority sites (like Oxford University). The other half had no outgoing links.

And the websites with outgoing links outranked the sites without them.

Phylandocic experiment – SERP

Your outgoing links should be to relevant, high quality sites. Never to low-quality, spammy websites.

Optimize Your URLs for SEO

Your URL structure is an underrated part of on-page SEO.

Yes, some time ago Google started to use weird versions of URLs in organic search.

Google SERP – URL structure – Desktop

But even then, the terms that you use in your URL show up here. Plus, URLs in the mobile and desktop SERPs are now above the title tag.

Google SERP – URL structure – Mobile

So I’d say that your URL is actually more important now than before.

With that, here’s how to create SEO-friendly URLs:

  1. Make your URLs short
  2. Include a keyword in every URL

Seriously. That’s it.

For example, my guide to link building is optimized around the keyword “link building”. So I used that keyword in my URL.

Google SERP – "Link building" in URL

That’s not to say that your URL should ONLY have your keyword. It’s perfectly fine to add an extra word or two to your URL…

Google SERP – "Video marketing" in URL

…or to have your keyword come after a subfolder.

Google SERP – "Watch time" in URL

Chapter 5: Optimize for CTR

Optimize For CTR

Your organic click through rate is important for two reasons:

First, CTR is (probably) a Google ranking factor.

Second, increasing your CTR can drive more organic traffic to your site.

In this chapter I’ll show you five practical ways that you can improve your organic CTR.

Use “Question Title Tags”

Few years ago we analyzed 5 million Google search results to figure out why certain pages get clicked on over others.

Backlinko - Google CTR stats

And one of our most surprising findings was that question-based title tags have an above-average CTR.

Question titles have a 14.1% higher organic CTR .vs. Non-question titles

So whenever it makes sense, I recommend testing title tags that have a question.

For example, my nofollow links guide uses a question in the title tag.

Question in title tag

That’s because anyone searching for “nofollow link” probably just wants to know what that means.

And my title tag shows people that my site will give them what they want.

In fact, that page has a 27% CTR for the keyword “nofollow link”.

Nofollow Link post – CTR

Fill In Missing Meta Descriptions

I talked about meta descriptions way back in Chapter 1.

Specifically, I pointed out that you want your descriptions to be super compelling.

But you don’t need to write an amazing description 100% of the time. Just HAVING a meta description might be enough.

In fact, we found that pages with a meta description got approximately 6% more clicks vs. pages with a missing meta description.

Pages with a meta description have a higher average CTR .vs. Pages without a description

I recommend doing an SEO audit on your site to find pages that don’t have a meta description. Then, add in descriptions for pages that need them.

Use Review or FAQ Schema

Schema doesn’t directly help your SEO.

But using certain types of Schema can hook you up with you Rich Snippets.

And Rich Snippets CAN help you get more clicks.

As a refresher, rich snippets are enhanced search results that provide additional information beyond the typical meta description.

They can include images, ratings, reviews, and other structured data, offering users a more informative preview of a webpage directly in the search results.

Two of the best types of Schema for getting Rich Snippets are review Schema:

Google SERP – Review schema

And FAQ Schema:

Google SERP – FAQ schema

You can double check if you have your Schema set up correctly using the Structured Data Testing Tool.

Structured data testing tool result

Add Some Emotion to Your Title Tags

Our CTR study found that emotional titles got clicked on 7% more often vs. titles that didn’t have a strong emotional sentiment.

Emotional titles have a higher organic click through rate

We also discovered that emotionally-charged “Power Words” decreased click through rate by 12%.

What gives?

Well, people are attracted to titles that pack an emotional punch… to a point.

If a title goes overboard, it looks like clickbait.

And they’ll click on another result that looks less spammy.

Bottom Line: Write title tags with some emotion. But avoid terms like “insane” and “powerful” that can make your title look like clickbait.

Add the Current Year to Title and Description

Here’s an example of what I mean.

Year in title and description

Adding the year to your title and description won’t make or break your CTR.

But in my experience, it does help… especially for content that can go out of date really quickly.

For example, someone searching for “Seneca philosophy” doesn’t need something that came out last month.

But for a keyword like “best smartphones”, people want to make sure they’re about to read something current.

And adding the year to your title and description makes it clear that your content is up-to-date.

Chapter 6: On-Page UX Signals

On-page UX Signals

In this chapter I’ll show you how to optimize your content for “UX Signals”.

(In other words, how Google searchers interact with your content.)

Does Google really pay attention to Dwell Time, Bounce Rate and other user interaction signals?

Yes.

In fact, Google’s “How Search Works” says that, to help them rank the best results, they “use aggregated and anonymized interaction data to assess whether search results are relevant to queries”.

Now it’s time to show you how to make sure that your content keeps Google searchers on your page.

Push Content Above the Fold

When someone lands on your site from Google, they want their answer FAST.

This is why you want to avoid massive images above the fold, like this:

Huge image above the fold

Instead, put your headline and introduction front and center.

Intro above fold

To be clear: it’s OK to have an image at the top of your post. But if it pushes your content down the page, that’s bad.

Chunk Your Content

In a perfect world, visitors would read every word on your page.

But we don’t live in a perfect world 🙂

This is why you want to make your content super easy to skim.

This is something I spent A LOT of time on here at Backlinko.

I use a ton of H2 subheadings.

H2 tag in post

Bullets:

Bullet list in post

And images:

Images in post

Have an Active Community

Having a community on your blog is like a Bounce Rate cheat code.

Why?

A high-quality comments section gives people something to read… after they finish reading your post.

That’s because comments add context to your post:

Comment from Teresa on Backlinko post

Contribute new approaches and strategies:

Comment from Marko on Backlinko post

And, sometimes, spice things up with a little bit of controversy:

Comment from Pawel on Backlinko post

All things that keep people super glued to your page.

To encourage an active blog community:

  • Encourage readers to share their thoughts, experiences, and insights related to your content.
  • Acknowledge and respond to comments promptly.
  • Welcome diverse viewpoints and encourage discussions.
  • Recognize and showcase valuable contributions from your community.
  • Pose questions or seek their opinions to stimulate engagement.

Implementing these strategies, not only fosters a community. It’s creating an ecosystem where readers actively contribute, adding depth and context to your posts.