On-Page SEO: The Practical Guide for 2020

On-page SEO refers to optimizing the titles, descriptions, and content of your website in order to influence your position and rank higher in the organic search results.

If you’re a business owner, nothing keeps you up at night like the thought of remaining invisible while your competitors snatch a majority share of your market.

How do your toughest competitors do it? Do they know some amazing, golden ticket secret you’re not aware of? Those are definitely big enough questions to lose some sleep over. After all, who doesn’t want more visibility for their business?

Improved visibility, the kind that really allows you to compete in your industry, is the great promise of SEO. The basic concept of SEO is simple– you optimize your website to increase your search engine rankings and, by extension, your website traffic.

The traffic you get through applying solid SEO fundamentals can be the difference between businesses who have a steady stream of leads, and those businesses who have to scavenge for prospects. SEO is simple in theory, but in practice? Most people have a hard time with it.

And it’s not because SEO is such a complicated thing to get right. Instead of complexity, the problem is the amount of bad and outdated advice that’s freely available on the web. So why put in the effort if you can’t tell the bad advice from the good advice? Why waste your time? Why not just let Google’s robots do their thing?

You may think those robots, the search engine spiders that crawl your website, automatically find and rank your content. And, to be fair, Google’s web crawlers are pretty dang good at discovering publicly available web pages.

But, to date, there are more than 49 BILLION web pages on Google alone. To top it off, upwards of 2 million blog posts are published each day. If you decided to wait around for web crawlers to find your un-optimized content, you’d be waiting an eternity before you made a dollar from your content marketing efforts. It means that search engines need help. And that’s where On-Page SEO comes in.

The Evolution of On-Page SEO

Search engines have a life of their own. They grow, they evolve, and the rules change. I’m sure you remember the era of on-page SEO where keyword density and over-optimized anchor text was the “in” thing. That’s no longer the case. Search engine algorithms are smarter, more adaptive, and more intuitive than ever.

Among these algorithms include RankBrain. It’s what Google uses to process a large number of search queries. It’s purpose is to answer questions from Google users and serve them with appropriate content. Basically, it needs to turn the messy nature of human intent into something a machine can fully categorize, summarize, index and understand.

In the words of Brafton, it attempts to “put satisfying results in front of a user by [answering] his question better than he asked it.”

This algorithm will affect how we approach on-page Search Engine Optimization moving forward. This is just one of many changes to come. It means, on the one hand, there’s not a perfect way to optimize a web page. A big part of how these algorithms work is still a mystery. On the other hand, if you stay on top of these changes, there’s a lot that you can do to ensure that your content is indexed and ranked. Google is getting more sophisticated. Your on-page SEO techniques must follow suit.

The Benefits of On-Page Search Engine Optimization

For those who ask if on-page SEO is still relevant right now and onward, it undoubtedly is. You get ranked, you get paid.  On-page Search Engine Optimization brings in targeted organic search traffic. When a user types in a search query, they’ve got a specific need and specific intent. If they access your content via organic search results – and your content satisfies their intent – you’ve just landed the highest quality traffic possible.

That’s the kind of traffic that leads to paying customers. It’s also more cost-effective to acquire customers organically as opposed to paid means. In the long run, you get a trackable and quantifiable return on your SEO investment. But on-page Search Engine Optimization isn’t just about ROI. It’s also about how quick you see that return. It’s vital that your site is search-engine friendly so search engines can have immediate access to your web pages and content.

This means your content will get in front of your ideal prospects quicker and with more impact. With all that said, what can you do to influence your rankings using on-page SEO? Several things. A lot of advice out there focuses on keywords. I’ll admit – keywords are central to SEO. But that’s just one pillar. You need technical excellence. You also need superb quality content. Let’s get into what you can do to optimize your web pages for maximum visibility.

1. Make your site mobile-friendly

You already know how important mobile is. Nearly 60% of searches occur on mobile. If you don’t optimize for mobile, not only will your user experience suck, but Google will penalize your site. You don’t want that. The solution is to have responsive design. This way, your design will adapt to the screen that it is viewed on. Chances are, your site is already mobile-friendly.

To be on the safe side, conduct a mobile friendly test. If your site passes the test, you’ll see this: Using the same tool, I also recommend checking out the details of any page loading issues. This will give you insight into fixing any errors that are preventing Google from understanding your pages.

2. Increase your site speed

A speedy site is non-negotiable. Think of the last time you waited your cool time for a page to load. I bet it never happened. If a page takes more than a couple seconds to load, your visitors bounce. Just look at how page abandonment increases with page load time: Here’s how to ensure that your site is as speedy as possible.

Step #1: Test the current speed of your site. You can use GTmetrix.com or Pingdom. If you don’t get an A performance grade, here’s what you can do to improve.

Step #2: Compress all your images before uploading them to WordPress. The smaller the image file, the quicker your page loads. You can use a WordPress plugin to compress images as you upload them. WP Smushit is an excellent option. You can also use a site like TinyPNG.

Step #3: Use a CDN. A content delivery network will distribute pages to a user based on their geographic location. The result? Faster page load times.

Step #4: Invest in premium web hosting. Shared hosting will no doubt cripple your site speed. After all, you’re sharing servers. Brian Dean dropped his page load time from a high of 6 seconds to 2 seconds by upgrading his web host. That’s a massive difference!

3. Use SEO-friendly URL structure

What does that mean? A few things.

  • Your URL should be short.
  • It should be free of any numbers and special characters.
  • It should contain your target keyword.

That’s the essence of it. Some people simply use the title of their post or page in their URL. I recommend only including your target keyword.

4. Make your site HTTPS/Secure

Website security is one thing that you can’t ignore. And that’s what HTTPS is about – security for your site and for your users. In the past, most websites used HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol). Many still do. It’s how information is transmitted and received across the Internet. HTTPs is a secure version of that (hence the s). So why does any of this matter?

Two reasons.

  1. Google likes secure websites. It means HTTPs is better for your rankings and overall SEO.
  2. Your users also prefer secure sites for obvious reasons.

Since HTTPS is the new standard, web browsers are beginning to label sites that don’t use this protocol as unsecured. Now imagine this from a user’s perspective. You go to a website. Perhaps you’re about to make a paid transaction or give up your email in exchange for a free resource. You immediately see a notice which looks something like this: Would you go through with this transaction? I bet you wouldn’t. It doesn’t lend itself to trust, and that’s the greatest conversion-killer. Particularly if you run an e-commerce site, it’s critical that you make your site HTTPS/Secure.

5. Use extensive internal linking

This is one strategy that is underutilized. Perhaps it’s because it isn’t as advanced as other SEO strategies. But, internal linking is just as critical as outbound links. They’re the kind of links that point to your domain For one, it helps Google to crawl your site. Think about it. If your content is woven together, it’s much easier to find. Internal links also help you surface and gain visibility for old content.

It increases your chances of acquiring backlinks. What happens when these deep internal pages are linked to? It distributes the ranking power around your website. You don’t want all your links to be pointed to your homepage (that’s not good for SEO). It should be spread around your site’s pages. Internal links also improve the usability of your website. It helps users find relevant and useful content around a topic.

Here are some best practices when building internal links:

  • Make sure every content page has 5 or more internal links. There is no magic number, but this gives you a solid place to start.
  • Optimize your anchor text. This isn’t just about using keywords as your anchor text. It should describe the destination link.
  • Locate your old content and add links to recently published content.
  • Link to pages that convert well. For example, if you have a particular blog post with a popular content upgrade, link to it extensively.

These are just a few ideas. Put them to work!

6. Improve overall user experience

As I mentioned earlier, informational architecture has everything to do with user experience. The premise is simple. The whole purpose of a search engine is to connect users to relevant and high-quality content. It means what’s good for your users is good for SEO. Apart from the techniques above, here’s what you can do to improve UX. Audit broken links. Ever clicked on a link and gotten that “page not found” error?

Broken links are harmful in two ways.

  1. They hurt the user experience.
  2. They cripple your SEO efforts.

To avoid these, you can use an SEO tool like Screaming Frog or Ahrefs to search for broken links on your site. Once you’ve found the broken link, you can either remove it or replace with something relevant.

Improve your navigational hierarchy.  Navigation refers to how your information is categorized, labeled, and displayed. Put yourself in a user’s shoes and envision how they would navigate your site. The goal is to get them the information that they need quickly.

Here are some key considerations.

  • Keep navigation as simple as possible. Don’t add too many layers.
  • Avoid generic labels. Make them descriptive, so users know what they’re getting.
  • Place the main menu in clear sight.
  • The menu should appear on every page of your site (except landing pages).
  • Think of what your primary goals are for people who land on your website. Where do you want them to go first? Use visual cues to establish that option as the superior choice.

Add search functionality to your site.

This is super important, particularly if you have lots of content. A simple search box will make navigating your site so much easier for a user. You should also pay attention to the size of your search box. A solid rule of thumb is to extend the text input to 27 characters. This way, it will accommodate 90% of search queries.

7. Use long-tail keywords

Long-tail keywords are longer search phrases comprising of at least three words. While these queries typically have a low search volume due to their specificity, they generate a ton of traffic. So what’s the SEO value of long tail keywords?

Two benefits stand out.

  • They are low-competition. This means that it would be easier for you to rank for these keywords.
  • They indicate high purchase intent. The more specific a search query, the more aware the user. When a prospect is ready to make a purchase decision, they’re likely to use these very specific search terms.

Best of all, long-tail keywords are easy to research.

Step #1: Use a keyword tool like UberSuggest or Keywordtool.io to find long-tail variations of your seed keyword. Plug your main keyword and check out the keywords with three words or more. You’ll have a long alphabetized list of queries.

Step #2: Type in your main keyword in Google and look at the “searches related to…” section at the bottom of the search results page. For example, I searched for “best running shoes.” Here’s what turns up in the related searches:

Step #3: Add modifiers to your main keyword to come up with long-tail variations.

Here are some modifying words you can use:

  • A year, e.g., 2018
  • A specific location, e.g., Australia
  • Review
  • Guide
  • PDF
  • Case study
  • Checklist
  • Best
  • Easy
  • Fast

These are just a few ideas.

Step #4: Use Google’s autocomplete feature to research the search intent behind your long-tail keywords. Knowing the search terms that your audience use is great. But knowing the intent behind these searches is golden. A neat trick is to type in your keyword and check out the suggestions that the autocomplete feature spits out. In keeping with the examples above, I typed in “best running shoes.” Every one of these long-tail variations of my keyword suggests a different search intent. This kind of insight is excellent because you can create content that satisfies your user’s intent.

8. Use your keyword in the first 100 words

Using the right keywords is essential. But so is the placement. This is a basic technique that makes all the difference. When your target keyword is mentioned within the first 100 words of your article, Google is happy. It helps the search engine to figure out the contents of your page. If you were to analyze all the top results for your target keyword, you’d see a trend like this:

9. Optimize for semantic search terms

You’ve likely heard of semantic search. Search engines don’t just take into account the hard definition of a keyword. They now make contextual sense out of a search query by considering the user’s search intent. What does that mean for SEO?

1. Exact keywords are great, but make sure you use semantic terms in your content. Coming up with variations of your keyword isn’t tricky. In fact, if you’re writing quality, long-form content, it’s unlikely that you’d dump the same keyword all over your article. It comes naturally.

2. You need to understand your user’s intent.  Intent is all about the context of the search. That is the same premise of semantic search terms. The keywords are just surface. If you can predict what drives users to make a particular search, you’ll be light years ahead. Think of what your users are asking, not what you want to answer. Put out surveys and get feedback. If someone calls you to make an inquiry, be cognizant of how they are asking, and not just what they are asking. Go into the “why,” make few assumptions, and continue to perfect a buyer’s persona.

3. It all comes down to the user experience.  Considering search intent, avoiding stuffing your content with exact keywords, crafting long-form content, and considering context all serve a key purpose. They make for a phenomenal user experience. While on-page SEO has so much to do with search engines, it has as much to do with people. If you always consider UX, semantic search, user intent, and all that other jazz will come naturally.

10. Publish long-form authoritative content

There’s no doubt about it. Longer content ranks higher in search engines. How long are we talking about? Content should be as long as it takes to demonstrate authority and provide value to your audience. Think of it from the user’s point of view. What are they looking for?

They’re looking for an expert – an authority that they can trust and rely on. That should be the goal of every piece of content. A good rule of thumb is to aim for at least 2000 words. Not only will that help you rank better for your keyword, but you’ll also rank for semantic and long-tail variations. That means more traffic and more touch points with prospective customers.

11. Publish evergreen content

You know what an evergreen tree is, right? It retains its leaves all year round. Evergreen content is much like that – timeless. This is the type of content that will continue to have value years after it’s published. Take a look at how two types of evergreen content performed in terms of social capital. It continues to perform month after month. On the other hand, some types of content have a limited shelf-life. News articles, trends, and event-based or seasonal articles are a few examples. That’s not to say that you can’t publish these types of content at all. You can piggyback on trends and newsworthy incidents to see a spike in traffic.

Just be mindful that it will be short-lived. Here are some ideas for writing content with a long lifespan.

  • Write ultimate guides
  • Create FAQ-type content
  • Showcase real-world results in your niche with case studies
  • Explain common concepts in your industry
  • Write about tools and resources

12. Improve content readability

Here’s a likely scenario: Your content provides comprehensive and fresh insights. Your site is fast and mobile-friendly. You get an A+ on many of the on-page Search Engine Optimization elements. But users still don’t engage. Why is that? Lack of content readability.  This is the ease with which people read and understand your content. You want web visitors to read your articles so they can engage. The easier it is to read, the more time users spend on the page. When you increase “dwell time,” it signifies to Google that this is a quality page. On the other hand, if you have thin, unreadable content that users bounce off quickly, it’s indicative of a low-quality page.

Here are some tips to boost readability.

  • Use short sentences and paragraphs. Aim for 2-4 sentences per paragraph.
  • Write in a conversational style.
  • Use simple language.
  • Pay particular attention to font, font size, line height, and line length. These will determine how your text appears visually and has a massive impact on readability.
  • Use lots of subheads and bullet points.
  • Use a WordPress plugin like Yoast that will give you the readability score of your content.

13. Update and republish old posts to maintain content freshness

It’s no surprise that Google loves fresh content. Web crawlers are on the lookout for newly published or updated web pages to add to the index. If you’re constantly publishing new content on your topic, that’s a great practice. Think of each piece of content as a doorway. The more you publish, the more opportunities you have to get noticed by your ideal prospect.

But you can also do something a little savvier and still enjoy the SEO benefits. A content relaunch.  This is where you beef up existing posts and republish them.

Here’s the three-step process.

Step #1: Pinpoint underperforming content. I’d modify this and say you can also identify content that’s performing well but can do better.

Step #2: Improve that content. You can add more subheads, images, data, etc.

Step #3: Republish your post. This is important because you want the “date published” to be updated. This way, the post will surface to the top of your blog feed for more visibility.


Nobody knows what the future holds for SEO on the whole. Google is mysterious and ever evolving. But based on experience, we know what works and what has become obsolete. On-page SEO is not difficult or tedious to get right. A few tweaks can make all the difference.

Neglect it altogether? It can be detrimental not just for your SEO, but for your online presence in its entirety. This article lays out in detail 20 of the best techniques you can employ at the moment. Use them to guide the way you approach your content and on-page SEO. Going forward, your best bet is to place a microscopic focus on giving your users the best experience possible. When you make that your mission, everything else falls into place.

Which on-page SEO strategies are you excited to try?

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