There’s so much talk online about backlinks, marketing strategies and other weird SEO techniques that most people tend to completely forget about on-page SEO. They think that just by installing Yoast and making a sitemap, they’ve taken care of their on-page SEO troubles.
In truth, onpage SEO is far than just technical search only tasks nowadays, and it plays a critical role in virtually any SEO strategy. Everything from site speed to how you present your content to how you optimise it for social will have an impact on your SEO to some extent and therefore deserves to be optimised.
Despite knowing all this stuff, I often forget to run several items on the ideal Onpage SEO Checklist before I publish so this might sound a little selfish but this post was actually written for me to use when I post new content on this site and the other sites we run :).
I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as well, every optimisation item will give you that extra 1% of awesomeness that can transform your business down the line if scaled to the right proportions.
I tried to keep it short (sort of), actionable and to the point. Enjoy!
What you will learn
- How to fix site level issues for better search engine optimization
- How to format content for maximum SEO impact
- The secret to crafting winning headlines
- How the pros optimize their meta tags and meta data for big wins on search and social
- The post-publishing steps we follow for massive traffic
#1 – Fix Site Level Issues
Site speed, performance and share ability have a big impact on how search engines rank your website. Before you can even hit ‘publish’, there are a number of site wide issues you need to take care of.
Most are easy to handle, some may take some time but in the end, why spend hours and money producing content if the bases are not right?
Let’s look at how to fix those quirks!
1. Boost site speed
It’s no secret – Google loves sites that load fast. Between two similar sites, the faster one will always outrank the slower. Your first step, therefore, should be to fix your site speed.
If you’re in a hurry, make sure that you at least do these three things:
Not all themes are built equally. A lighter theme will load faster for users. At AH, we use and recommend Thrive Themes.
How quickly your webhost serves your pages has a direct and immediate effect on site speed. We recommend TrafficPlanet hosting.
Caching ensures that all static elements on your site load quickly. This is free and has a big impact on speed. Check out our settings for W3 Total Cache.
How important is your hosting and is it REALLY worth spending more on premium hosting providers?
Glad you asked, here are some load impact tests generated by my good friend Paul Mc Carthy from Thrive Themes comparing a cheap host (Bluehost) to a WordPress optimised host (Traffic Planet Hosting) on the exact same website.
We have a full hosting comparison using such tests in the tubes, stay tuned for that :).
2. Setup sharing buttons
Two reasons why you need social share buttons on your site:
- Increase shares: Adding share buttons makes it easy for visitors to share your content, netting you traffic from social media.
- Improve SEO: Search engines use social signals as a ranking factor. On top of that, shares get more people discover your content including those who can link to you. We have received many links to this very site as a result of social shares from others.
Floating share buttons work best in our experience, though you should always experiment with different layouts. Try one of the following three to get started:
This may sound simple but you would be amazed at how many sites do not use any social buttons.
3. Automate Image Optimization
Images are usually the biggest elements on your site in terms of size. Optimising images for better performance can easily shave seconds off your site load time. The effect is particularly noticeable if you use a lot of pictures in your posts (as you should).
The smart way to do this is to automate the entire optimization process by following these three steps:
Limit Upload Size
Use Imsanity to limit maximum upload size and automatically resize images. Particularly useful if you have a high res screen like I do.
Use Lazy Load
‘Lazy Load‘ stops the browser from loading an image until a user scrolls to it. This saves valuable resources and makes your site load much faster (but can affect indexing)
While you are at it, also automate your image optimisation for SEO. Simply follow the 2 steps below:
#1 – Change File Name
Change the file name to describe the image. Use keywords only where necessary.
Use Media File Renamer plugin to make this easier.
#2 – Change ALT Tags
Use the ALT tag to describe the contents of the image. Again, use keywords only where it fits naturally.
Use SEO Friendly Images plugin to automate this process.
Then just make sure your file names are keyword rich and you’re good to go for image optimisation.
4. Make Sure to Not Cannibalize Existing Keywords
Before you hit publish, you need to make sure that you’ve actually used your focus keyword phrase in your content, and preferably a keyword you did not target already.
Inside Authority Hacker Pro I teach people how to put together a larger scale content spreadsheet that helps avoiding that but if you don’t have such master spreadsheet follow these method to find if you have a page targeting these keywords already:
Requires: Yoast SEO Plugin
- Download and setup Yoast SEO Plugin. Make sure to use all the right settings for your site.
- Go to ‘Posts’ and search for your post using the target keyword.
- Make sure that this is the same keyword as the focus keyword according to Yoast.
- Log into Ahrefs (read the review) and go to ‘Positions Explorer’
- Enter your domain in the search box.
- Go to ‘Organic Keywords’ in the left pane.
- Search for your target keyword. Make sure that your post shows up in the list.
Requires: a browser
- Go to Google.com
- Use the query site:<yoursite.com> “target keyword”
- Make sure none of the results targets your target term in the title
#2 – Tidy Up the Content
Content is like oil. If it’s not refined, you can’t do much with it, it’s just a bunch of useless mud. But once you work on it and transform it using carefully crafted processes, you can turn it into a lot of value.
When I talk to people, they often seem to believe the main challenge is to write the content then publish as fast as possible. The truth is, it’s only half the work Here are some of things I (sometimes should) do (more of) before publishing.
1. Check Grammar and Spelling
Would you trust a review or dietary advice if it reads like it was written by a 4th grader?
Google might not care, but your users definitely will mind if you have terrible grammar and spelling. And what’s bad for users is also bad for SEO.
Before you hit ‘publish’, make sure to run a grammar and spelling check. Here are my two secret weapons for doing this without paying an expensive editor:
Grammarly is like Word’s grammar check on steroids. This extremely powerful tool will spot spelling and grammar mistakes even seasoned editors miss. Best of all, the base version is free to use.
2. Add Subheaders
Subheaders are almost as important as your content itself. They improve your structural SEO (keywords within H2, H3 and H4 tags are viewed as “more important” by Google when processing the page), make your content easy to scan, and help you plug-in relevant keywords.
Gary Korisko’s article on BoostBlogTraffic is the gold standard when it comes to writing subheaders, but at the very least, you should follow these three steps:
#1 – Add Multiple Headers
Subheaders make your content easier to scan. Aim for at least 1 header per screen.
#2 – Use Different Levels of Headers
Use H2, H3, and H4 to organize content in terms of its importance.
#3 – Long-Tail Keywords
Use long-tail keywords in your headers. Use the Keyword Planner’s keyword options to find these related keywords
3. Check Keyword Usage and Keyword Density within Content
After Hummingbird, Google has become really good at understanding what a page is about without needing tons of keywords. That said, keyword usage is still important if you want to rank for a particular term.
You don’t have to overdo it, but at the very least, you should have the following:
- Use the target keyword or its close variation once within the first 100 words.
- Use the target keyword or its close variation once within the last 100 words.
To do that, no rocket science needed, simply CTRL+F in your browser and type your keyword in while opening a preview of your article to find the keywords in content without re reading everything.
4. Use Better Formatting
Long walls of text with a couple of headers are so 2010. If you want to stand out today, you don’t just need great content, you also need great presentation and formatting.
We use the Thrive Content Builder to format all our sites. Even if you don’t use it, you should at least follow these rules:
Formatting Rules For Great Content
- Limit each paragraph to a maximum of 4 lines for readability.
- Use bullet points to describe individual steps.
- Break down content in sections with headers every 3-4 paragraphs.
- Use or create relevant images to illustrate your point and/or divide content into sections.
- Link to sources (either internal or external) wherever you make any claim or use statistics.
- Use multiple calls to action throughout the content, especially a prominent CTA at the end of the post.
#3 – Images & Multimedia
I’ve said it many times but given the emails I receive and the sites I see I think it’s safe to say it again, publishing walls of text will not get you very far period.
Actually, the attention time of most website visitors is wayyyy too low for them to stay if there’s nothing like an image or a video to grab their attention as per this study shows:
See what I just did here?
Let’s see how you can do the same.
1. Create Multiple Types of Media Inside The Post
Home made media is awesome, you know why? Because people embed it on their sites and link back to you (see how many links I gave away on this post already?)
I know it’s hard and it takes effort to create videos, to hire designers etc but the truth is, these things are what earn you the links and the shares you’ve created content for in the first place.
Why stop when you are so close from your goal?
Here are a few easy to create media types that you can use on your posts that get links:
- Memes (use memegenerator)
- Excel charts (look above and below this list)
- Quote images (Use Canva)
- Powerpoint presentations (use Slideshare to host them)
- Screenshots (alllll over Authority Hacker)
There is many more but those are seriously easy.
Data harvested from Moz shows that pages that have multiple types of content – text, images, videos, etc. – get more shares and backlinks than text-only pages.
2. Find Complementary Relevant Images
You don’t have to be designing ALL the media on your site yourself. That’d be hard.
Instead feel free to use right free images to complete the media collection you add to your post.
Usually those are not as good as own images but they do the job if you’re out of juice for creativity or time. Be careful though, image rights is serious business on the internet. Make sure you pick Creative Commons and give the right attribution.
Here are some places where you can find right free images for your site (Pixabay is my favorite).
If you want to read more on that topic check out our post on creating free blog images.
3. Add Videos, if Possible
Videos add another layer of interactivity to your site and make your content more engaging. It also gives you a chance to dive further into a topic than the text allows.
The best thing would be to make your own videos – it engages the readers better and gives you another source of traffic through YouTube.
But if you can’t do that, at least find a related video on YouTube and embed it within the post. It’s incredibly easy because how Powerful Youtube search is, completely legal and it makes your blog posts look much better.
Don’t upload your videos directly to WordPress – most hosts can’t handle it. Instead, upload them to YouTube, Vimeo or Wistia.
#4 – Headlines
Headlines have a massive effect on your posts’ shareability. They’re also among the most important elements on any page as far as SEO is concerned. Follow these steps to ensure that your headlines are primed for search and social:
1. Use Click-worthy Headlines
Your headline is the single most important element on any page. Most people will decide whether to read your post or not from the headline itself.
As the great David Ogilvy once said:
“Five times as many people read the headline as the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent 80 cents of your dollar”
A great headline can make the difference between a decent post and a viral sensation. Massive media properties like Buzzfeed and Upworthy have managed to build their audiences on the strengths of their headlines alone.
So how do you write a click-worthy headline? This is a big topic but for starters, follow these guidelines:
- Use numbers (preferably odd numbers) in your headlines (“7 ways to do X”, “6 things you didn’t know about X”, etc.) as such articles are easier to scan.
- Use ‘power’ words that evoke strong emotions in the reader, such as “agony”, “scary”, “spectacular”, “fantastic”, etc. For a full list of power words, check out this post.
- Offer ‘secret’ knowledge by using words like “trick”, “hack”, “secret”, “little known”, “method”, etc.
- Evoke curiosity by using phrases such as “you won’t believe are real”, “#9 is mindblowing”, etc. This works only for certain niches, however. See ViralNova.com for inspiration.
Jon Morrow’s short eBook on Headline Hacks is a great place to learn more about writing better headlines.
Follow Upworthy’s advice and write 25 variations of every headline. Then plug the best ones into CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer to get a guaranteed click-worthy post.
2. Make Sure to Use Keywords in the Headline
You don’t need to repeat keywords throughout your content to ace SEO anymore, but you still need your target keyword in the headline.
This is easier said than done – fitting keywords into a headline that’s also click-worthy can be an ordeal.
Follow these guidelines to make the process easier:
- Use the target keyword at the start of the headline. If it doesn’t flow naturally, try to use a hyphen after the keyword, such as “Onpage SEO Checklist – 5 Essential Do’s and Don’ts”.
- Use modifiers such as “best”, “review”, “guide”, etc. to target related long-term keywords. For example, change “Onpage SEO Checklist” to “Best Onpage SEO Checklist”.
- Use strong adjectives before or after the keyword to make it more catchy. Words like “amazing”, “essential”, “crucial”, etc. work great. For example: “The Essential Onpage SEO Checklist Guide for Bloggers”
#5 – Social and Meta
This is a step many bloggers tend to skip because it sounds like a lot of effort. However, top performers know that these little things end up giving them the edge over the competition. Follow the steps below to optimize social and meta data for maximum impact.
1. Optimize Titles for Different Uses
Every platform has its own headline preference. ‘Shareable’ headlines that generate curiosity do well on social media, while short headlines with keywords and compelling search snippets do better on Google.
The good part is that your on-page headline doesn’t have to be the same as your search or social headline. You can easily optimize the headline for each platform using the Yoast SEO plugin:
- Optimize for search engine clicks (under ‘General’ tab in Yoast)
- Use keywords in the title and search snippet
- Keep title limited to 54 characters to better fit mobile screens
- Optimize for social media clicks (under ‘Social’ tab in Yoast)
- Use titles that generate curiosity and invite shares
- Keep title limited to 60 characters
3. Optimize Meta Descriptions
The meta description hasn’t been a ranking factor since the early days of Google. That said, this description is still used in the search snippet and has a big impact on whether someone decides to click on your site or not.
Additionally the meta description is still used by Bing and other search engines as a ranking factor. Don’t expect a ton of traffic from them but since this post is about 1% wins, why not take that one as well?
You can add a custom meta description under the ‘General’ tab in Yoast.
Follow these guidelines when creating the meta description:
- Limit yourself to 156 characters. Longer descriptions get cut off from the search snippet.
- Use target keywords. Google places the keywords in bold in the search snippet, thus increasing your CTR.
- Create compelling descriptions. Use power words and descriptive adjectives to drive higher click-throughs.
4. Optimize the URL
By default, WordPress uses the entire title as the page URL. This isn’t very helpful from a SEO or a user-experience perspective.
You can edit the URL by clicking on the ‘Permalink’ section right below the title in WordPress.
Follow these guidelines to optimize the URL:
- Remove stop words such as ‘of’, ‘and’, ‘or’, ‘the’, etc.
- Use keywords in the URL – these will show up in bold in search results.
- Keep the URL as short as possible while still being descriptive and using keywords. 3-6 words is the ideal length.
- Make sure that the URL is readable by human beings. A person should be able to look at the URL and figure out what the page is about.
For example, a blog post about “10 SEO Tips Every Blogger Should Follow” can have a URL like:
Read this excellent post on Moz to know how to structure your URL for maximum SEO benefits.
5. Optimize Images for Social Media
One way to drastically increase shares and click-throughs on social media is to use custom meta data and images for different social networks.
Yoast allows you to define the title, description and image for Facebook, Twitter and Google+. You can do this in the ‘Social’ tab in the Yoast plugin:
Ideally, you should create customized images for each social network, then upload them in Yoast. Barring that, you should at least modify the image dimensions as per the guidelines above.
In reality that’s rarely the case but the 1200 x 628 size works perfectly on most social networks (except Pinterest maybe).
Check out Pablo for a quick way to create images for different social networks.
6. Check How Post will Appear on Social Media
Finally, once you’ve gone through all the steps above and just published (you can’t really do it before), head over to the Facebook Debug Tool to check how your post will look on FB.
Plug in your URL into the debug tool and click on ‘Fetch new scrape information’
Scroll down to see how the post will look when shared:
#6 – Lead Generation & Business Goals
If you want to actually make money from your site (obviously), you need to capture emails and generate leads. This single tactic will help you get tons of leads for very little effort.
1. Content Upgrades
Content upgrades are one of our favorite ways to generate leads. These are essentially PDFs, guides and other downloadables that expand on a blog post’s content. They’re massively successful and often get us double digit conversion rates.
For instance, a single content upgrade got us over 11,000 emails from Health Ambition:
We’ve already covered how to create and use content upgrades earlier in this post.
You’ll need these three tools to create and deliver content upgrades:
The best overall lead generation and email collection plugin for WordPress
A great email marketing and marketing automation software (also very affordable).
2. Affiliate Links
Once the article is fully edited, you can now scan through it and find opportunities to add mentions to affiliate products (like I did just above) to monetise the content.
Don’t spoil it, add to it subtly. This is often the occasion to make your content more practical by including mini tutorials or more videos that showcase the promoted products.
#7 – Scheduling and Launch Promotion
Once you’ve hit publish, it’s time to go into promotion mode. The right way to do this is to automate and reach out to as many people on as many platforms as possible. Follow these steps to see the recipe we use to initially promote our own posts:
1. Publish the Post at the Right Time
When you publish your post can have a big impact on its performance. Publish at peak activity hours and your post might get buried under an avalanche of other content. Publish during low activity hours and you might see too little traffic.
Time when most people read blog posts.
Highest traffic day for most blogs.
Most comments and views between 9-11 AM.
In our own experience, we’ve found that Monday and Tuesdays, 11 AM is one of the best times to publish your blog post.
This one is nice to have but not mandatory. Plenty of blogs publish all week long and do just fine, it’s just an extra fine tune that’s nice to have if you can accommodate it.
2. Schedule Multiple Posts on Social Media
When you first publish your post on social media, it’ll be seen only by a handful of your followers before it is buried beneath other updates.
For example, research shows that a tweet has a ‘half-life’ of just 24 minutes, i.e. after 24 minutes, your tweet will reach only half its potential audience.
This means that you need to promote your post on social media multiple times over several weeks to reach its full potential.
The best way to do this is to schedule multiple updates in advance. Ideally, you should follow an update schedule that looks something like this:
3. Schedule an Update to Your Email List
After you hit ‘publish’, it’s a good idea to send an update to your email list about your new content. We use the time drip function in ActiveCampaign to deliver the post at the best time possible for our entire list no matter what their time zone is (essentially ActiveCampaign detects where the subscriber is and emails them at the specified time in their timezone, usually 9am).
To do this right, grab the shortlink from WordPress:
Plug this link into the email tool and notify everyone about your new post.
4. Schedule Emails to People You’ve Mentioned in the Post
If you’ve mentioned any influencers or companies in your post, it’s always a good idea to notify them about it. Not only will it help you register on their radar, but it can also land you a tweet or a FB share.
After all, wouldn’t you love to tell your followers if someone wrote about you?
We spoke to Dave Schneider of Ninja Outreach about influencer marketing in our July 23 podcast. That’s a good place to start if you want to learn more about this tactic.
For actually scheduling the emails, we use Buzzstream to automate the process, like this:
We covered Buzzstream and our outreach strategy in our Buzzstream review earlier.
For a free alternative to Buzzstream, check out Boomerang for Gmail.
5. Add Links From Your Old Posts To Your New Post
This one is fairly easy to do as well but quite powerful if you are consistent.
While it’s hard to build external links to your content, building internal links is easy. You just need to go in your old posts and link keywords back to your new one to both improve the old post and push the new one up in search.
To do that follow these steps:
1 – search “site:yoursite.com keyword” on Google
2 – Find the articles that talk about what your new article is about and add a link to the new piece in the copy.
Done, easy mode :).
Onpage SEO is one of the most important ingredients in any marketing strategy, but it hardly gets the attention it deserves. How you format your content, optimize your meta data, or use your images has a direct impact on your rankings and your user experience.
Sure, this checklist might seem long, but you’ll realize that many of these have to be taken care of just once. Others will take just a few minutes once you have a proper workflow. In any case, if you’re already spending hours crafting a stellar piece of content, it only makes sense to put in a few extra minutes to make the most of your hard work.
Before we leave, there are just few rules I’d like to hammer on again. These are not only important from a SEO perspective, but also from the way you should approach marketing and business online:
- What’s good for the user is good for SEO. Good grammar, presentation and image use will make your readers happy. The rankings, as you’ll see, will follow.
- What works on one platform doesn’t always work on another. Optimize headlines, images and metadata for search and social separately.
- Invest in your site’s infrastructure. Buy a fast theme and good hosting. This is the bedrock of your business – don’t skimp on it.
- Go for the easy wins first. Fix site speed issues and use SEO plugins before you tackle more labor intensive stuff such as custom meta data.
What is your routine before publishing new blog posts? Let us know in the comments, I’d love to edit this post with your suggestions and make it the ultimate checklist for all of us!