If you have several webpages that you’d like to rank on Google, there are many Search Engine Optimization (SEO) steps that you need to go through and get right. Or, maybe it’s your first time optimizing a webpage, and you don’t know where to start. This article will walk you through the most critical steps you need to get your on-site SEO right.
There are three pillars to SEO. They are on-page, technical, and off-page optimization. On-site SEO optimization combines both the on-page and technical optimization aspects and everything you can directly control on your website, and that’s what we’ll focus on in this article. So, on-site SEO optimization is about making your webpages relevant and easily accessible for people and search engines to find.
In SEO, a landing page is any standalone webpage where a visitor’ lands’ after clicking an organic search engine result. However, you do not want to optimize all landing pages. For example, it’s usually a fruitless exercise optimizing the Terms and Conditions or Privacy pages of your website. Instead, you want to focus on your targeted landing pages. These are webpages that you are committed to optimizing on search engines. For each targeted landing page, there are a series of on-page and technical activities that you need to do. For example, you will want to carry out keyword research and keyword placement. There are many more steps you will also need to do which we’ll uncover soon. But first, you need to define your targeted list of landing pages. And, just to recap, these are the pages that you decide are worth optimizing for SEO.
Defining Your List of Targeted Landing Pages
First, it’s wise to get the full list of pages on your website. Unfortunately, there is no easy, free way that finds all the webpages for every website. But here are three ways to collect a list of pages on your site and you may find one way is enough, or you could combine them.
Option 1: Use the Google Site Search Command
The Google Site Search Command is the quickest and easiest way of viewing the webpages on a website. It works by Googling your site’s homepage—without the subdomain like www or the protocol part which may be http or https—and adding “site:” to the beginning and with no spaces in between. For example, for Advertik Media, we would Google the following: site:advertikmedia.com
Google recommends this approach when you have 500 webpages or less. Although in our experience, even for small websites, it’s not as accurate as the next two options we’ll cover, and we’d probably only rely on it for sites which are 50 pages or less. You’ll also need to double-check that no relevant pages get missed from your website.
Option 2: Use Google’s Index Coverage Report
As part of Google Search Console, you’ll have access to Google’s Index Coverage Report. This report shows all the URLs that Google has visited, or tried to visit, on your website. As well as providing insights as to whether Google considers certain pages to have technical issues or not, it also provides an extensive list of the webpages on your website. Each URL is categorized as either “Error”, “Valid with warnings”, “Valid”, or “Excluded”.
The goal is that you want all your targeted landing pages to get categorized as “Valid”, which means they are in Google’s index and don’t contain any issues. That said, we’d recommend exporting all pages from the four categories before deciding which pages are targeted landing pages and which are not. While the Index Coverage Report is usually extensive, it’s not always up-to-date, so it can sometimes miss new pages. And if your website is new or not visited regularly by Google, it may lack even more pages that exist on your site. If this is the case, you may need to use a third-party tool to crawl and discover all the pages on your website.
Option 3: Use a Third-Party Crawling Tool
There are several third-party crawling tools like Screaming Frog SEO Spider (freemium for Mac and Windows) and also Xenu Link Sleuth (free on Windows). These tools crawl your website, in a similar way to Google, by following links from the initial webpage that you supply, which is typically your homepage. Third-party tools crawl in real-time, so they avoid issues in not picking up your most recent webpages.
Picking Targeted Landing Pages
Once you’ve compiled a big list of URLs that exist on your website, you need to decide which ones will become targeted landing pages: these will become the pages you are committed to optimizing for on-site SEO. We find it best to remove the URLs which are not targeted landing pages first, for example, Terms and Condition, login, and unimportant pages. Once you are clear which pages are your targeted landing pages, you may like to favourite the top ten or twenty of your most crucial targeted landing pages. When you do this, you can start optimizing from your favourites list, and it makes the process less overwhelming. You’re now ready for the fun part – optimization!
In this section, we will go over the key activities that you need to complete when optimizing a targeted landing page. We’ll review each step one by one.
Check #1: Keyword Research
Keyword research is the process of discovering the words and phrases used by potential customers to find your products and picking the most relevant keywords that are within your reach and have good search volume.
But if you want a concise summary, SEO keyword research has four steps:
1. Pick a topic
3. Review value and difficulty
4. Pick the best keywords
Step #1: Pick a Topic
A topic could be for a product or service (transactional keywords), a source of information (informational keywords), or centered around a brand or person (navigational keywords). Best practice for picking a topic is to focus on one topic at a time, and it helps if you have an existing webpage in mind or a webpage you might like to create.
Step #2: Brainstorm
Next, you’ll want to brainstorm an extensive list of keywords that are closely related to the topic. You may like to add synonyms and review variations like plurals and singulars.
You should aim for more than ten keywords, and you can use keyword research tools like Google Keyword Planner, Keywords Everywhere, Surfer SEO, and SEMRush.
Step #3: Review Value and Difficulty
Once you have a big list of keywords, you’ll then want to get an idea of which keywords are worthwhile and which are within your reach. For each keyword, find out its monthly Google search volume using a tool like Google Keyword Planner (free if you use Google Ads) or Keyword Surfer (free). Then, review where your website currently ranks for each keyword. After that, estimate how difficult it would be to rank each keyword on the first page of Google, based on how close the keyword is already to ranking on the first page and how competitive you perceive the keyword to be in your industry.
Step #4: Pick the Best Keywords
Based on the metrics acquired in step 3, you want to pick the best keywords and prioritize them. This will first mean ignoring keywords where search volumes are too low. You’ll also want to filter out keywords that may have good search volume but have strayed off-topic and are less relevant.
And finally, you’ll want to prioritize keywords and place them into three distinct groups:
- One Primary keyword (your most important keyword)
- Two Secondary keywords (your next most important keywords)
- Three or more Tertiary keywords (your least important keywords)
This step is crucially important before optimizing the content of your landing pages. It will help your pages to rank for the right keywords and provides a reference point in the future when you want to re-visit the keyword research and keyword placement processes.
Check #2: Keyword Placement
Once you’ve researched keywords for a landing page and have prioritized them, you’re ready for the on-page optimization and the keyword placement stage. The first part of on-page optimization is the process of ensuring the content includes the right keywords within your content and plays a leading role in search engine rankings.
There are several essential keyword placement elements that you need to pre-plan before you implement your on-page optimization later.
First, you’ll want to write out and optimize the title tag. The title tag is the blue clickable link that a searcher first sees on a search engine results page, and it’s a heavy-weight keyword placement ranking signal. You only have a short space to get this right, around 70 characters or less, so you’ll typically limit it by including just your primary and secondary keywords. This could take the format of: “Primary Keyword – Secondary Keyword – Brand Name”. Or, my preference (which is similar but more subtle) is by working the primary and secondary keywords into a more natural-sounding sentence, e.g. “Best Bee Friendly Plants and Flowers in the NL – Bee Friendly”.
Generally, it’s best to avoid changing the URL of a targeted landing page, where possible. Search engines build up history and trust around URLs and changing them, especially if done regularly, can reduce some of the trust and ranking power that has been built up. That said, if the URL is very long, looks keyword-spammy or is completely irrelevant, you may want to change it to be both concise and relevant, where you include the primary keyword or similar meaning phrase. But remember, when changing URLs, always 301 redirect the old version to the new version. This will help maintain as much search engine reputation as possible.
Tag After a keyword search and below the blue title tag, the user will see a short snippet of text which describes the page in more detail, and this is called the meta description tag. While including keywords doesn’t have a direct impact in higher rankings, the meta description is important by encouraging the user to pick your listing over the competition and click-through to your webpage. So, rather than repeat all the keywords used in the title tag, it’s better just to repeat the primary keyword and then focus on making the rest of the description stand out from the crowd, describing the page’s content, and encouraging the user to click through. You need to be concise because you have around 156 characters before the text gets truncated by search engines and not shown to the user.
For the main body text of your targeted landing pages, you’ll want to include some of the keywords you’ve researched. There is no single ideal keyword density formula to this, but as a loose guideline and where it reads well, for every 500 words, you may like to include your primary keyword two or three times, your secondary keywords once or twice, and your tertiary keywords once or not at all. When you don’t include a tertiary keyword, possibly because it would read awkwardly or seem like too much repetition, it should be still represented by other closely related keywords that are already included in the body text.
The main heading of your page should be within an H1 tag and subheadings within H2 tags. You’ll want the main heading to be relevant to your primary keyword and where it makes sense, any subheadings relevant to ideally your secondary keywords or sometimes tertiary keywords. That said, it’s fine to have subheadings which don’t include your keywords because you want to write for your readers first and search engines second. In some of your pages, for example, product pages, it often makes sense to use the exact primary keyword in the main heading. But you don’t need to be that rigid because it needs to read well and be engaging for the user.
Most webpages will include images within the main body of the text. These images will have a filename which is usually decided before uploading. The filename should be concise (one to four words) and where relevant and truthful, relate to one of your researched keywords. You can separate words with dashes in the filename. After you upload the image, you should be given the option to add an alt text, which is a short form for alternative text and helps describe what the image is about to search engines and visually impaired people. Again, keep it concise and where relevant and truthful, relate it to one of your researched keywords. Optimizing images is the last of the keyword placement steps, and when completed, you can mark off the keyword placement check of your on-site SEO.
Check #3: Needs Met
The second part of on-page optimization is providing a great user experience. In Google’s Search Quality Guidelines, Google refers to this as “Needs Met”, and this is how well a webpage has helped a user for a specific type of keyword. The Needs Met rating includes five levels: Fully Meets, Highly Meets, Moderately Meets, Slightly Meets, and Fails to Meet. And the Needs Met test should be done on a mobile device which is how most people now search on Google. So, starting with your primary keyword and on a mobile device, provide a Needs Met rating based on how well you perceive your targeted landing page stacks up to the following criteria:
You can repeat this process for the secondary and tertiary keywords which should be closely related to your primary keyword. To mark off the needs met check for your on-site SEO, your targeted landing page needs to score Moderately Meets (MM) or higher. The higher the score, the higher the relevancy of the page and the higher the chances of the page ranking on Google.
Check #4: Click-Through Optimized
After searching a keyword, a user will typically see ten results and then decide which one to click on. Results higher up usually get more clicks, but not always. Results which are more engaging, relevant, and exciting can outperform the number of expected clicks when compared to listings higher up. You must make the on-page elements that they see (URL, title tag, and meta description tag) engaging. So, re-visit those elements from the keyword placement steps and compare them to the competition in Google search results. You can do this by typing in your primary, secondary or tertiary keywords into Google, reviewing the top ten results, and comparing how your listing would look when compared to the current top-ranked results. Would your listing stand out? Once you are happy that your listing effectively encourages the user to pick your listing, you can mark off the click-through optimized check of your on-site SEO.
Check #5: Page Speed
You’ll need to run each targeted landing page’s URL through a page speed tool, like Pingdom. The most important metric is the loading time. If it’s two seconds or less, this is considered fast and allows you to check off the page speed check for your on-site SEO. If your URL is slower, try to diagnose the issue by seeing if your time to first byte is slow (server response time and this should be less than 0.4 seconds), whether you have too many requests (250+ is very high) or if your page size is too big (4MB+ is large).
Check #6: URL Indexed
If you want your webpages to be ranked, they first need to be in Google’s index. The best way to check this is by using Google’s URL Inspection Tool, which is part of Google’s free Search Console tool. Type or paste a URL into the tool, and Google will tell you if the page is indexed or not. You’ll need access to Google Search Console for your website to see this data.
An alternative method which does not need Google Search Console access but is less reliable is by using the Google Cache command. Here you type in “cache:URL” and omit any spaces before or after the column, and hit return.
If Google returns a version of the webpage, you know it’s likely to be indexed, and if it returns a 404 page, it’s probably not. While the cache command is reliable for the most part, it sometimes reports pages which are indexed as not indexed and vice versa, so it’s always better to use the URL Inspection Tool where possible. Once you know your target landing page is indexed, you can mark off the URL indexed check of your on-site SEO.
Check #7: Mobile-Friendly
Speaking of Google’s index, Google now has a mobile-first index which means your webpages need to be mobile-friendly to be included in it. You can check if individual pages are mobile-friendly by visiting Google’s Mobile-Friendly test tool.
If Google reports that the page is mobile-friendly and it’s easy to use on a mobile device, you can mark off the mobile-friendly check of your on-site SEO.
Check #8: No Duplicate Content Issues
webpages, Google and other search engines may decide not to include the page in their indexes. While a little duplicate content is okay, such as quoting a couple of sentences from another blog or reusing a short paragraph of text from your own site, you’ll want the lion’s share of your content to be unique and useful.
One quick way to check if a page may be considered duplicate is by copying around ten words from the start of a sentence and then pasting it with quotes into Google.
The example above shows as no results found because the page hasn’t been indexed yet by Google while writing this article.
So for the above paragraph, “Checking for duplicate content on my website Advertik Media”. For a page on your website, you’d expect to see your webpage show up and ideally with no other results. If other websites show as well as your site, Google hints that it thinks the original source is the result it shows first. If this isn’t your website, you may have a duplicate content issue. Repeat the process by testing a few random short sentences of text from your webpage into Google. If no other websites are copying your content or if your site is consistently top for the strings of text you’ve checked, you can mark off the no duplicate content issues of your on-site SEO.
Now, we’ve covered the most significant part of the audit, but we have a handful more to look at through “Site Checks” for on-site SEO.
All your targeted landing pages will benefit from having https in the URL, as opposed to http. That’s because they will be secure, receive an additional ranking boost and when on a modern web server, will load faster. If a webpage is not on https, Google Chrome warns its users by reporting a “not secure” message instead of a padlock icon next to the address bar. Moving from http to https needs to be carefully planned, and this involves the following two important steps:
HTTPs migration step #1: Add an SSL certificate to your site. You can use a free SSL certificate like Let’s Encrypt, or paid certificate which your web hosting company will likely offer.
HTTPs migration step #2: Meticulously plan out the migration. For this, we’d recommend reading this Search Engine Journal blog post, but as a minimum, you’ll want to make sure you 301 redirect all the old http URLs to the new https URLs. Sometimes, the redirect process only requires a few lines of code to implement, but it will depend on your website setup and may need the help from your web developer or someone more technical.
Note: https redirects need to be as relevant as possible, where each specific http page on your site redirects to the equivalent https page. Failure to implements redirects or blanket redirect all http pages to the https homepage can result in a significant drop in SEO traffic.
Google Search Console
Google recommends building and submitting an XML sitemap for your website. The person who looks after your website or web developer will be responsible for the creation of the file, but as an SEO marketer, you are responsible for making sure it is submitted to Google Search Console. You can also submit your XML sitemap to Bing Webmaster Tools. While an XML sitemap isn’t essential for search engines to find and rank your webpages, it does make the crawling process easier for search engines.
Adding an XML sitemap doesn’t usually require much work and most content management systems either offer this feature out of the box (but it may require enabling/submitting). If this is not the case, as with WordPress, there are often low cost or free plugins like Yoast SEO for WordPress that can do this.
Tracking Keyword Positions
After optimizing your list of targeted landing pages, you’ll hopefully see that you are making progress and your keyword positions are improving. Consider subscribing to an SEO tool provider to check. Wincher and SE Ranking are good cost-effective solutions. Or if you’re already paying for a more premium all-in-one SEO tool, such as Ahrefs, Moz, and SEMRush, these do a great job as well.
Now, if you have a lot of targeted landing pages or pages that you want to rank on Google, optimizing all of them will take time, but it will be well worth it. On-site SEO optimization forms the foundation for your SEO success. While it requires a lot of upfront work, for example researching keywords and planning keyword placement, once it’s complete, the amount of time needed for periodic “check-ups” will be less. Just like you periodically book your car in to be serviced by a mechanic, you’ll want to set aside some time to conduct regular on-site SEO check-ups to make sure everything is on track. As a minimum, this could be once per year, but if you decide to do it more regularly, it could even be every three to six months. For this process, you follow the same checklists.
Was this information useful for you? We would love to hear your opinion! Please leave a comment below in the comment section.