Cincy SEO

On-Page SEO: The Definitive Guide

Table of Contents

What is On-Page SEO?

On Page SEO refers to the actions you take to a web page to optimize it for search engines to read and rank higher in the search results.

There are many elements of a web page that you can optimize for SEO.

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at eight different elements of a web page that can use to maximize your SEO.

On-Page Optimizations:

SERP Overview

Before we dive too deep into this somewhat technical article, let’s do a little anatomy of the SERP (search engine results page) shall we?

Below we see an example of a SERP. and some of the elements of a web page come to life.

So as you can see, some on-page elements not only affect your web page, but also affects how your web page is perceived even before clicking to your site.

So now that we’ve got our grounds covered, let’s dive right into the first on-page element.  

And arguably one of the most important.

Title Tag

Title tags are not just the blue text you see when you go to search for something on Google.  They are HTML code that specifies what a web page is about.  Google uses title tags to better understand the context of a website and rank it accordingly.

1. Use Keywords in your Title Tag

Title tags are considered one of the most important ranking factors when it comes to on-page SEO.  Having your main keyword in the title tag is a strong indicator that your webpage correlates to that keyword.

It’s considered best practice to have an exact match of your keyword in your title tag.

So if your keyword is ‘homemade ice cream recipe’ your title tag should look something like this:

2. Use Title Tag Modifiers

Simple, and sweet.  Just like that recipe, I’m sure.

But there’s more to title tags than simply putting your desired keyword in the title and praying to the Google Gods to rank.

Another great way of improving your title tags, and making them stand out is by using Title Tag Modifiers.

When you use terms like “best”, “guide”, “fast”, “checklist” you can increase the impact of your title tag, increase the amount of clicks you receive from it.  With the increase of clicks, it can ultimately help increase your rankings.

Using another ice cream example:

Which of the two links would you click on?

The latter is immediately more distinguished and eye-catching and that’s what you should strive for when creating your title tags.

3. Use Numbers in your Title Tag

If you’re writing a blog post or an article that is giving away tips, you should number how many tips are in your article in your title tag.  

This is called a listicle and it can be very effective.

Listicles have originated from Buzzfeed and they’ve built their empire on the effectiveness of list-based articles.

For more info check out the article.

Meta Descriptions

Meta descriptions are HTML on a web page that provides more context to what a web page entails.  Meta descriptions have the same purpose as a title tag, but hold less value as they’re a description of the content, and not the title.

1. Write Meta Descriptions using your Keywords

Just like when you’re writing your title tags, you’ll want to use your desired keywords in your meta description.

That might seem like a no-brainer, but writing compelling descriptions, while utilizing some of the other tactics can be challenging.

Another reason why adding your target keywords to your meta descriptions is important, is because Google will highlight the key-term in your meta description when someone searches for it.

For the example below, if you search for “SEO tools, the listings in the search results will bold the keyword in your meta description.

This can help you stand out from your competition in the search results!

2. Write Unique Meta Descriptions for each Page

Google can autofill your meta descriptions using the content on your site.

But it’s not a good idea to let them do that.  Using the above method alone, you can ensure that you’re adding your keywords to your meta descriptions.

Writing unique meta descriptions is also a good practice in general.

If you’ve ever seen or used a site audit tool like Ahrefs or SEMRush, then you may have seen the dreaded “Meta Description tag missing or empty”.

This isn’t a make or break for any website, but writing unique meta descriptions that look good on the SERP can only help you out!

3. Write Compelling Descriptions

Writing compelling descriptions is easier said than done, no doubt.

Adding keywords to your meta description, and writing individual descriptions will check the box on these tasks, but how can you actually use your meta description to entice clicks?

One of the best ways of describing what your meta description is is how Search Engine Watch describes it.

Treat the meta description as if it’s an advert for your web-page: make it as compelling and as relevant as possible. The description MUST match the content on the page, but you should also make it as appealing as possible.

Your meta description should also use actionable language when possible.  

Some common examples of how to add action to your description are:

  • Read more to find out
  • Click to learn more
  • Call us to schedule today
  • Get started now

You can also use the Meta Description Formula by using Backlinko’s approach.

SEO Friendly URL

A URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator.  It is the address of your World Wide Webpage (www).  It is essentially a brand’s digital home.  A friendly URL is one of the first impressions someone has on a website.  

If you’re ever in any doubt of what the heck a protocol or a URL is, Moz created an incredible infographic:

It might be a lot of information when we’re just talking about URLs, but the SEO tips for URLs are top-notch.

1. Use your Keywords in your URL

Starting to see a trend here?  That’s right.  Using your keyword in your URL is another box you can check off when doing on-page SEO.  

It might sound simple, but you’d be surprised how many websites on the web don’t put their keywords in their URLs.

Another example from Moz

URLs are a minor ranking factor search engines use when determining a particular page or resource's relevance to a search query. While they do give weight to the authority of the overall domain itself, keyword use in a URL can also act as a ranking factor.

2. Use either a hyphen (-) or an underscore (_), and keep it consistent

Using hyphens or underscores really help you break up your URLs if you’re using multiple words.

Many SEOs will debate which of the two you should use, but it comes down to personal preference.  

One thing that SEOs can agree on is that once you start using one, you need to stick with it across all your URLs sitewide.

If you’re writing an article on homemade ice cream, your URL can look something like this:


or if you’re URL underscore gang:


Typically hyphens look a little better than underscores, but it’s a free country. You can flex your hyphen rights.

3. Use short, descriptive URLs

Whether you add your keywords in your URL or use hyphens or underscores, write short, descriptive URLs.

If it isn’t obvious already, you should not let your website create default URLs for you. They will look like this:


You might not even notice the URL looks like that when you’re on the page, but why chance it?

You can have your URL unique and clean by adding your keywords and by adding hyphens.

Header Tag

A header tag is additional HTML that helps provide context to what a web page is about.  Think of the header tag as the name of a chapter in a book.  They provide  a quick overview of the content you’re about to read.

Header tags are great because they serve dual purposes.  

The main purpose is to help break up your content, and make it easier to read for your audience.

The second purpose is for search engines! Without stuffing your header tags with your keywords, you can use header tags as another method for gaining an edge in your on-page SEO.

Header tags consist of H1 tags, having the most weight in terms of importance amongst header tags, all the way to H6 with the least importance.

Let’s use the homemade ice cream example again (hungry yet?)

If you were to be writing header tags for this article, you can expect your H1 tags to be something like:

  • ‘Best Homemade Ice Cream Recipe’
  • ‘Easy, Delicious Homemade Ice Recipe’
The H1 serves as the main focus of the article.  It gives your reader a quick glimpse of what the article is about.

Now, if you’re writing H2 tags, they could look something like the steps in the recipe, or flavors of ice cream:

  • Get Started Making Homemade Ice Cream
  • Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
  • Homemade Chocolate Ice Cream

I really found Search Engine Journal’s article on Header tag best practices very insightful.

Aside from the tactics mentioned above for using header tags, the article also mentions:

Using Header tags for Featured Snippets

Much like how header tags can help break up content and make it easier to read, it also helps the search engines read and crawl your site.

If you’ve done a good job writing compelling, accurate content, then you’ve got a good shot of your headers showing up for featured snippets.

Google rewards content that is easily readable , skimmable, and you can be rewarded for that.

Only Use One H1 tag

Ever heard of too much of a good thing?  That’s what it’s like using multiple H1 tags.

There’s a saying that if you have too many H1 tags, then you have no H1 tags.

Google uses a hierarchy when reading header tags.  By using many H1 tags, the value gets diluted.

It’s best practice to have only one H1 tag in your content.

Use H2 tags to compliment your H1 tags by using them for sub-topics.

And use H3 tags to help break up text and assist in aiding in complicated topics.


Keep Headers Interesting, Don't Keyword Stuff

No one likes to read your header tags that are your exact keywords.  

You can use the same tactics for your title tags to spruce up your header tags.

Yes, your header tags should definitely include your target keyword, but you can use copywriting tactics to really make your header tags stand out.

For your H1, you can use the modifiers to enhance your copy by including words such as “best”, “easy”, “free”, “ultimate”.

And don’t forget about lists!  Just because you used your numbered list in your title tag, doesn’t mean you can’t use it again!



Now that you’ve got the technical tags out of the way, make way for the main course.  Content should be the center of your efforts and your time spent with on-page SEO.  Writing compelling, quality, long-form content is no easy task, but it’s something that you absolutely should do.  

You may have heard that “Content is King”. *cue eye roll*

If you’re an SEO vet, you’ve probably heard this term hundreds of times.  This statement has been overused for years, but it’s important to understand why.

Content is crucial.  

In fact, Content SEO could really use it’s own blog post.

If you haven’t already picked up on it.  Google runs on content.

Google’s main job is to serve you the best content the fastest.  In fact, milliseconds.

That’s why they’ve published their guidelines on EAT.

EAT stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.

It’s an addition to already complicated algorithm on how much skin your content has in the game.

“Does your content seem like it was written from an expert?”

“Does your content seem it takes on a sense of authoritativeness?”

“Is your content trustworthy?”

These are the questions Google is asking when crawling your site’s content.

Another helpful article from Search Engine Land lays out even more ways you can determine if your content has what it takes to rank.

There’s no magic bullet that will tell if your content is of high enough quality, or how long your content should be, but by taking all of these factors into considerations and adding them into your content, you’re going to be producing better content.


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Image alt text is the description you provide your images.  Search engines like to see alt text given to images and can even possibly rank you in Google images for your image’s keywords.

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Internal & External Links

Both internal and external links are important for your on-page SEO as it vastly improves Google’s ability to easily crawl your website.  When you link out to other websites, it’s a good indicator to Google that you are providing additional value to your users, thus making your content more trustworthy.

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Related Keywords

Ranking for one keyword is cool, ranking for many keywords?  Even better.  Broadening your content to focus not on just a particular keyword is important.  When you create long-form content, you open yourself up to the opportunity to rank for more keywords.

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