On-Page SEO Checklist and SEO Best Practices

So you are about to publish a new blog post or page on your website. You hope that Google likes your page enough to rank it and users like your website contain enough to share and link to it. Below you will find the SEO basics and on-page SEO best practices for creating a new web page or article.

This on-page SEO checklist is a guide to ensure that each new page includes the SEO basics and best practices that Google uses to determine relevancy.

1. URLs and Permalink Best Practices

I get asked weekly about the best practices for permalink and URL structure, their value for increasing SEO rankings, or if a business should pick an exact match domain. We have all been told that keywords in the URL hold some weight in Google’s Algorithm. But how true is this statement?

Benefits of Creating SEO and User-Friendly URLs

Keyword Value

There is much debate about whether or not having keywords in your website’s URLs or WordPress permalinks gives you a boost within the search results.

From our testing, the primary benefit of having keywords in your URL is the contextual value your website receives when a website links to your site with only the URL and no anchor text. In this case, Google can parse out keywords from the URL to help define the relevance of the page being linked to, much like standard keyword-focused anchor text or alt text on images.

Click-Through Rate

Google understands that, in most cases, users scan search results; therefore, Google highlights keywords that are in the title, description, and URL that match the user’s search query. Matching users’ search intent with URL structure can help with click-through due to the bolding of keywords in the SERPs.

Social Value

Social sharing is one of the indicators that search engines use to determine the value of a page. Therefore, creating short, concise URLs that are easily copied and shared and show up on social networks optimally is essential for branding and click-through.

Best Practices For Creating SEO-Friendly URLs

So you’re creating a new site or thinking about rewriting your website’s URLs to help your users and the search engines understand your website and its pages more accurately. When new URLs are being planned for sites, the following rules should be followed, and an SEO should be brought in to work with your business to define the structure.

Keep it short – While a descriptive URL is important, minimizing length and trailing slashes will make your URLs easier to copy, paste, or remember. In the rare case, they were not bookmarked and will be fully visible in the search results. Should be no more than 100 characters with stop words removed.

www.yoursite.com/category/subcategory/productpage/product (Bad)
www.yoursite.com/category/product (Good)

Use keywords – If your page targets a specific term or phrase, include it in the URL. However, don’t go overboard by trying to stuff in multiple keywords for SEO purposes; overuse will result in less usable URLs and can trip spam filters.

www.yoursite.com/dog-leashes-that-are-blue/blue-dog-leashes (Bad)
www.yoursite.com/leashes/blue-dog-leashes (Good)

Be Descriptive – Rather than selecting numbers or meaningless figures to categorize information, use actual words and remove any special characters.

www.yoursite.com/category/item?23434 (Bad)
www.yoursite.com/category/dog-leashes (Good)

Remove Special Characters

www.yoursite.com/category/john's-leashes (Bad)
www.yoursite.com/category/johns-leashes (Good)

Use hyphens to separate words – Not all of the search engines interpret separators accurately like “_,” “+,” or “%20,” so use the hyphen “-” character to separate words in a URL.

www.yoursite.com/category/dog+leashes (Bad)
www.yoursite.com/category/dog-leashes (Good)

Keep it lowercase – Not all the search engines are case-sensitive, so www.yoursite.com/dog and www.yoursite.com/Dog can be seen as different URLs.

www.yoursite.com/category/Johns-Leashes (Bad) 
www.yoursite.com/category/johns-leashes (Good)

Remove stop words – These are prevalent words or adjectives that can hinder your SEO efforts. For example, words such as ” of, ” the, ” etc., interfere with your SEO efforts because they use precious character space, especially when creating URLs. For your WordPress permalinks, plugins (such as the Yoast SEO plugin) can do this automatically.

www.yoursite.com/category1/the-page-and-dog-name (Bad)
www.yoursite.com/category1/page-dog-name (Good)

Keep it two levels or less – Level 1 should be the site section/category. Level 2 should be the sub-section/second category.

www.yoursite.com/category1/page-name (Good)
www.yoursite.com/category1/category2/page-name (OK)
www.yoursite.com/category1/category2/catetory3/page-name (Bad)

Remove tracking parameters – If it is necessary to use tracking parameters on internal URLs better to understand click-path, or for external marketing campaigns, make sure you use the canonical tag and point it to the URL without the tracking will eliminate duplicate content issues.

2. Google SEO Tagging Best Practices

Google’s SEO tagging, metadata best practices, and the website tags they value have changed dramatically over the last decade. When I started doing search engine optimization almost ten years ago, a ton of SEO tags were added to a website to help its content become more relevant for a keyword. Unfortunately, over the years, most of those tags, such as the meta keywords tag, have lost value and thus don’t impact rankings or content relevance. However, a few still have value, of which you will find the SEO metadata and tagging best practices below.

SEO Title Tag Best Practices

What Is The Title Tag?

Title tags, also known as SEO title tags or meta page titles for SEO, are often used on search engine results in pages to display preview snippets for a given web page and are essential for SEO and social media sharing. The title element of a web page is meant to be an accurate and concise description of a page’s content.

Much like the meta description tag, Google can pull different SEO title tags to display in their search results based on search query and what they feel is the intent of the searcher. – Will, Founder of Emulent Creative Marketing

SEO Title Tag Structure

There are many theories on best structuring your title tag to impact rankings. Some say you should put your keywords; first; others say it does not matter all that much. We are on the side of the latter. Title tags should include keywords and be conversational, not just a list of keywords.

SEO Title Tag Length

Originally the length of the title tag for SEO was 70 characters, including spaces. Still, more recently, it was discovered that Google defines length by pixels more than by character count. Google calculates the pixel width of the characters used in titles with a limit of 512 pixels. For anything over this limit, Google truncates the label and includes an ellipsis.

Description Tag Best Practices

What Is The Meta Description Tag?

The description tag, also known as the meta description tag or SEO meta description tag, is the short snippet shown under your search result within Google’s search results.

Where Does Google Get The Description Tag From?

Often, website owners don’t understand where Google gets the description tag from. For example, they can’t understand why the snippet they wrote is not showing up or why different search terms produce separate description tags for the same page. However, there are two primary tactics Google uses to create your meta description tag.

  • The Description Tag You Write – This version will show up most of the time if the keyword the user searched for is in that tag. For this reason, it is essential that when defining your description tags, you put the primary keyword target of each page in the description tag.
  • The User’s Search Query – Google generates the description tag based on the search query. Google reads through the on-page content to find the keyword a user searched for, pieces together the keyword and a word or two on either side and uses this mash-up as the description tag in the search results.

Description Tag Structure

When writing the description tag for your website, the best way to think about the structure and what to include is to think of it as a paid search ad. The content of the description tag is used to entice the Google user to click on your listing by giving them targeted information about what to expect on your web page.

Description Tag Length

Meta descriptions can be any length, but search engines generally truncate snippets longer than 160 characters. Therefore, keeping a meta description length between 150 and 160 characters is best.

Canonical Tag Best Practices

What Are Canonical Tags?

Search engines use canonical tags to consolidate pages that a website owner defines as duplicates. Each web page duplicative of the canonical version of the page gets a canonical tag placed in the header that defines the canonical version.

Canonical tags can be used for internal duplicate content, meaning on the same domain, or they can be used as cross-domain canonical tags, where duplicate content exists across different domains.

Should Every Page Have A Canonical Tag?

Every page should have a canonical tag, even if no known duplicates exist. If there are no available duplicates, use a self-referencing canonical tag to point to the page. This will help if marketing campaigns utilize the page where the URL is altered to track the marketing campaign’s results.

How Long Does It Take Google To Find Canonical Tags?

The answer to this question is not straightforward. Because canonical tags are recommendations, Google does not need to honor them. Thus, it can take weeks or months for a website to see the impact of a canonical tag campaign.

The Structure of Canonical Tags

Canonical tags are placed in the header area of the code and are defined by using the following.

<link href=”http://mysite.com/canonical-version/” rel=”canonical” />

H1 Tag Best Practices

What Are H1 Tags?

H1 Tags are the header tag that defines the primary topics of a web page. They are used by both search engines and users in slightly different ways.

Search engines use the SEO H1 tag to help understand the page’s primary topic, whereas users use the H1 tag as a reference point that signals they have landed on the correct page.

How Many H1 Tags Should A Web Page Have?

A web page should have one H1 tag per page. This tag should represent the page’s primary topic and fall between 50-100 characters.

Image Alt Tag Best Practices

What Are Alt Tags?

ALT tag is a common shorthand term used to refer to the ALT attribute within an image tag. Any time you use an image on a website, include an ALT tag within the image tag. Doing so will provide a clear text alternative to the idea for users using screen readers.

The ALT tag is also used by search engines as anchor text when an image links to another web page – thus passing link relevancy for a specific topic.

How Long Should Alt Tags Be?

There is no defined length for an alt tag, but best practices for alt text limit the size to somewhere between 3-5 words describing the image.

3. Best Practices For Optimizing Page Content

We are not discussing keyword density or adding keywords when we reference optimizing web page content. Instead, the SEO basics of optimizing page content include the optimization of structural, copy, and keyword components.

Beyond making sure the content is outside of Flash, javascript, or an iframe, and that text is not rendered as an image, there are a set of primary locations, you’ll want to focus on. So let’s start with some structural concepts – content hierarchy and diversity – and then dive into where keywords should be included.

Content Hierarchy

Users rarely read all of the content on a page. Instead, they are more likely to skim a page to find the content section with the best chance of answering their question. Making this behavior easy will increase user satisfaction and engagement rates.

Having a structured hierarchy for your web page also helps Google understand the topic hierarchy for your content, giving them better insight into what your content should be ranked for.

A content hierarchy is built using H1, H2, and H3 tags to define content sections.

Content Diversity

Utilizing a variety of content formats, such as videos, images, and lists within a piece of content, has been shown to increase engagement, social shares, and inbound links.

Because of this, it is beneficial to try and include each of these formats in your page or post where it makes sense and where it will add value to the overall experience for the user.

SEO Keyword Use

After you’ve found the best keywords for your page, the question becomes, where should you include your SEO keywords? Keywords should be included naturally within the following content locations. They should consist of head, mid-tail, and long-tail keywords and phrases.

Keyword use in the H1 tag

  • Make sure you have one H1 tag.
  • The H1 tag should include your primary keyword topic for the page (head term).

Keyword use in the H2 tag

  • Make sure you have a few H2 tags.
  • These should be sub-topics of your primary keyword topic.
  • These should include your secondary content topics (mid-tail keywords).

Keyword use in the H3 tag

  • Make sure you have a few H3 tags for each H2 identification.
  • These should be sub-topics of your secondary keyword topic.
  • These should include the keywords of your tertiary content topics (secondary mid-tail keywords).
  • Having H3 tags is not always needed unless you dive deep into a topic.

Keyword use in paragraphs

  • Paragraphs should be concise, focused, and digestible for users – preferably 4-5 sentences long so you don’t overwhelm users.
  • They should include primary, secondary, and long-tail vital phrases – think diversity, not density.

Image Optimization Best Practices

  • Add an ALT tag to all images describing the image.
  • Name your image by describing it in 2 to 3 words – use hyphens to separate words.

4. Meta Directive Best Practices

Best Practices for Meta Directives and SEO

  • If the new page replaces an existing page, place a 301 redirect on the old, relevant content to pass link metrics.
  • Use the “rel=canonical” tag if the content may be considered duplicate and closely mirrors a more authoritative page.
  • Use the Robots.txt directive <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, nofollow”) if you wish to keep a page from being indexed by Google or do not want link metrics to be passed through the page.

Bonus: Notify Users and Search Engines

Finally, you’ll want to make the page accessible to users and search engines and give Google a little nudge that your website has new content.

Ensure you’re letting Google and users know you’ve published a new piece of content by doing the following.

  1. Add the new URL to your XML and HTML sitemaps.
  2. Add at least one on-site link (where relevant) to the new page.
  3. Tweet and socialize the new article
  4. Fetch the new page as Google within Google Webmaster Tools (Google Search Console). Once you fetch it, the tool allows you to submit it to Google.