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The On-Page SEO Elements You Can’t Ignore

On-page search engine optimization is all about maximizing your visibility in search results by improving the content of your web pages. From headers to internal links, on-page SEO impacts how searchers and search engines find your site. Get started with these optimization basics!

Nov 10, 2022

7 m read

On-page SEO can make or break a page’s ability to rank. Many different SEO signals contribute to ranking well in search engine results pages (SERPs), but your on-page SEO is what you have the most control over. Use the info below to improve your on-page optimization and gain more visibility in search results.

What Is On-Page SEO?

On-page SEO, also called on-site SEO, is the practice of optimizing a web page’s content and technical elements to help it rank higher in search engine results, draw more organic traffic, and ensure it meets your target audience’s needs. 

Think of on-page SEO as a way to communicate with search bots. Search crawlers look for specific clues on web pages to learn what the content is about. On-page SEO allows you to “explain” what’s on your page so it can be indexed appropriately and shown in search results.

Optimizing on-page elements for SEO also leads to an improved user experience. Remember, the goal of your website is to connect with people, not bots. The search crawlers are the tool to help you reach more people. 

On-Page SEO Basics

This quick-start guide to on-page SEO will cover keyword research and crucial content optimizations you can start implementing right now, plus some useful tools to get you started. Let’s start with the foundation of SEO: Keyword research.

Keyword Research

Google relies heavily on keywords to match a user’s search to the pages in its index. In fact, it’s called keywords the ‘most basic signal’ that a page’s content is relevant to a search query. By including the right keywords in your page content (and creating quality content that provides value to your readers), you can significantly increase your chances of attracting organic traffic from search.

So, which keywords should you optimize for? 

To find the best keywords, you have to do a little research. This involves using search monitoring tools to identify specific terms your target audience uses and decide whether or not they’re worth competing for. Check out our guide on how to do keyword research to fine-tune your process. 

Keyword research isn’t just about matching the words used in a search, though. It’s also about uncovering the intent behind those words and keyphrases

Search Intent

To create a better user experience, Google continues improving its algorithm to identify each query’s search intent. That means identifying the search intent of your target keywords and creating the right type of content is critical for improving your chances of ranking.

Search intent refers to the reason why a user runs a particular query: What is it they want to achieve?

There are four types of search intent:

  1. Informational
  2. Navigation
  3. Transactional
  4. Commercial investigation

Let’s say you sell baking supplies and want to rank for the keyword “butter substitutes.” When you google it, you’ll find several informational pieces. To rank for this keyword, you’d need to optimize an existing informational page or create one. If you optimize a product page with this keyword, it probably won’t rank well since it would have a transactional intent. 

Bottom line: The keywords you choose and the content you optimize should align with the intent of the searches you want to rank for. 

Content Optimization & Creation

With keywords in hand and search intent in mind, it’s time to optimize existing content or create new content.

Content is one of the most important elements of on-page SEO and is what many other on-page elements — like page titles, headers, and meta descriptions — revolve around. It’s a major part of how Google determines whether to surface your page in search results, and it’s how you share information with your audience.

Useful and engaging content that answers a searcher’s query will help you improve search visibility. Demonstrate expertise in your niche and position your site as an authoritative resource that searchers can come back to time and time again. 

SEO content should show E-E-A-T — experience, expertise, authority, trust — a concept that Google introduced back in the 2014 version of its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. Google tries to show results that align with these four E-E-A-T pillars, so aim to create content that’s accurate, in-depth, authoritative, trustworthy, user-friendly, and aligned with search intent. 

SEO Content Creation

Once you have a keyword theme and understand the search intent of your primary keyword, you can create SEO-friendly content around topics your target audience cares about.

Your content should be well-researched and easy to read. Don’t stuff it full of keywords — it won’t help you rank. Use your keywords naturally, and use headers, short paragraphs, and bullet lists to keep your content as readable as possible. 

Follow our content recommendations to get writing fast:

Optimizing Existing Content

Optimize existing content that’s appropriate for your target keyword and search intent by including additional semantically-related keywords and updating old information. 

If the page was struggling to rank before, investigate the page-one results in Google to see what you may be missing. Make sure your content is comprehensive and that it truly answers the search query.

Featured Snippets, PAA Boxes & Rich Results

Get the most out of your by optimizing it for some Google SERP snippets. Leverage schema and Google itself to increase your chances of being featured. Here’s how:


Headers are HTML elements (<h1>, <h2>, <h3>, etc.) that emphasize certain text. Google’s John Mueller reiterated their importance in a 2020 Google Search Central hangout chat when he called headers a ‘strong signal’ and an on-page ‘ranking factor.’ 

h1 tags on site optimization

By including primary and secondary keywords in your headers, you make it easier for search engines to understand what your content is about. Headers also help break up big chunks of copy and highlight the organizational structure of your content, both of which make it easier for visitors to read.

The h1 tag is generally the largest on the page and the most valuable for SEO purposes. Follow our best practices for h1 tag optimization to make the most of this important real estate.

Page Title

Page titles, also known as title tags, are HTML elements that tell search engines and users what each page is about. They appear in search results below the URL and above the meta description.

A page title is the first thing a searcher sees when scanning SERPs; thus they can have a significant effect on the click-through rate of your search result. 

page title tag example

Not only that, but page titles are a Google ranking factor. This means your titles should always feature the primary keyword your page is trying to rank for. Incorporate your primary keyword into your title tag as naturally as possible in under 55 characters to satisfy both search engine crawlers and users. For additional page title recommendations, follow these tips.

Meta Description

Meta descriptions appear just below the page title in search results. They provide a short description of what’s on the page and give searchers more information about it. Like page titles, meta descriptions can impact your page’s click-through rate by enticing searchers to click through.

meta description example for on-page seo basics

Unlike page titles, meta descriptions are not a direct ranking factor — though they can greatly influence and improve the user experience. Even though one recent study by Portent found that Google actually rewrites meta descriptions 70% of the time, you should still take time to put together a meta description optimized for your primary keyword and search intent. 

Alt Text, Internal Linking, Anchor Text & More

The on-page elements I mention above are the most common ones people think of when they talk about on-page SEO. However, there are some often-overlooked optimizations that can help improve your chances of ranking. 

These include:

  • Alt text: Search crawlers can’t “read” images. Use alt text to explain what’s in an image to make it accessible to Googlebot and screen readers. Include a keyword where appropriate.
  • Image optimization: Compress images so they load quickly and don’t slow down your page speed. Use your keyword where appropriate in the image file name.
  • Internal Linking: Internal linking shows search crawlers and site visitors how your pages relate to one another. Failing to add internal links to a page will inadvertently orphan it. Use breadcrumb navigation to add internal links to your pages and create an internal link strategy to make sure new and old content is interlinked. 
  • Anchor text: Hyperlinked text like that at the beginning of this bullet point is known as anchor text. It provides search bots and readers with insight into what the linked content is about. Use exact anchor text when linking to your most important pages, like your service, product, or pillar pages.

To learn more about these on-page SEO elements and other technical SEO elements like site speed and robots meta tags that can impact your SEO performance, check out this article

On-Page SEO Tools

On-page SEO optimization is an iterative process, but luckily you don’t have to do all the legwork yourself. In addition to partnering with an SEO agency dedicated to helping you reach your SEO goals, there are tools you can use to help implement your on-page SEO strategy, audit your site’s SEO, and ensure you’re maximizing your optimization efforts. 

Keyword Research Tools

Guessing which keywords are relevant to your business is not a successful strategy. With keyword research tools, you can see what keywords your competitors are ranking for, how hard it is to rank for a particular keyword, and the search volume estimate for a particular keyword.

Keyword research tools aren’t perfect — they actually extrapolate data from clickstream data samples to give you the best estimate of search volume — but they’re much more effective than just guessing. 

Check out our in-depth guide to keyword research tools to learn more about the free and paid tools available and find one that’s just right for you. 

Yoast SEO

Yoast is an SEO plugin for WordPress and Shopify that helps users better optimize their sites for search engines. It’s been estimated that over 35% of the web currently runs on WordPress, and Yoast’s many benefits have made it one of the most popular WordPress plugins of all time.   

Yoast makes it easier to manage and optimize your many SEO page elements. It offers many SEO-friendly features like title and description optimization, content analysis, and internal linking tools. Yoast is just one of many different WordPress plugins you can use to help you manage and improve your WordPress site’s SEO. Check out our list of the top 9 SEO plugins for WordPress to see the plugins we recommend the most. 


The Mangools SERP simulator is a particular favorite of ours that we regularly use to simulate and check the word counts of our page titles and meta descriptions. Paste in your optimizations to verify you’re within the character limits and get a sneak peek of how they’ll look in SERPs. 

Download Our Free SEO Checklist

Need a hand in building an effective on-page SEO strategy for your website? Want to learn about off-page SEO? Download our free SEO checklist right now and take advantage of our years of marketing expertise to build a comprehensive SEO strategy that covers all the bases, both on-page and off-page. 

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