Struggling with the on-page SEO of your blog posts?
We’ve all been there.
When it comes to a blog, on-page search engine optimization boils down to creating and presenting your content in a way that delivers a positive experience.
At the end of the day, you create content for humans – not search engines.
Besides the technical aspects, you also have to familiarize yourself with the anatomy of a badass blog post – one that’s created with user intent in mind – if you want to nail on-page SEO.
In this post, we’ll cover:
- How to write a good blog post by following the best practices
- The technical on-page SEO variables that set your blog up to be discovered
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
- What is On-Page SEO?
- The Essential Tools You’ll Need to Optimize Your Blog Posts
- The Anatomy of A “Search Engine Optimized” Blog Post
- The Content Side of On-Page SEO
- The Technical Side of On-Page SEO
- Some More Essentials
On-page SEO refers to the practices applied to improve the pages of a website, with the end-goal of increasing their chances of showing higher up in the SERPs for relevant search queries. The focus is to improve the user experience by creating content centered around intent and correcting the source codes to achieve optimum performance.
In contrast, off-page SEO refers to all of the efforts focused on external ranking signals (with the most common one being backlinks). But let’s not go down that rabbit hole just yet.
This infographic (taken from the Alexa blog), briefly shows the difference between the two:
As far as on-page SEO is concerned, there are a ton of factors, including, but not limited to:
- The content itself
- Use of keywords
- Security (use of SSL certificates)
- URL structure
- Links (both, internal and outbound)
- Meta tags
Think of them as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
Once you piece them all together, take a step back, and take a look – everything seems coherent and beautiful.
The Significance of On-Page SEO
The reason why on-page SEO is important is because it encompasses the bare minimum, i.e. the things that you have to do, regardless of your strategy.
Here are some eye-opening stats that shed light on this matter:
- Good content can drive the traffic to a blog by up to 2,000%.
- On average, more than 50% of pages appearing on the first SERP have HTTPS protocol.
- A survey revealed that 36% of SEOs considered the title tag as the most important element.
- 73% of consumers believe that the content of a website must be displayed properly across all devices.
And this barely scratches the surface.
The point is: on-page optimization, when done right, is the first of many steps towards achieving your SEO goals.
Before you begin drafting and publishing your content, there are a few essential tools you should familiarize yourself with.
I’ve classified them into three groups:
- Keyword/Topic research
- Post creation
- Technical audit
Let’s look at it in detail.
Effective keyword/topic research is the cornerstone of any successful SEO strategy.
I mean, there’s no point in writing content that no one’s searching for, right?
This infographic breaks down the entire keyword research process into 3 stages (and explains why each stage is important):
(Image Source: HubSpot)
Targeting the right keywords and creating content around interesting topics (ideally, ones that many people are searching for, but not a lot of people are talking about) is the way to go.
Aside from SEMRush and Ahrefs (since you’re more than likely using one or both), here are some tools to help you with that:
- Answer The Public – a useful keyword research tool that visualizes data from Google and Bing. Answer the Public groups and presents popular search queries (and related suggestions) on the basis of how they begin, the prepositions used, comparisons, and even their alphabetical order. The tool makes it easier to identify relevant topics, and come up with new ones.
- BuzzSumo – a well-known research tool that finds the most popular pieces of content on a topic of your choice, by scraping them from social media. With this information, you can understand what content resonated with your audience, and build your own content to do the same.
- Google Trends – this isn’t a keyword research tool, per se. It can, however, provide you with a snapshot of the popularity of a search term over a specified time period (by using search volume). Google Trends can also generate lists of related topics and queries.
- Exploding Topics – launched by Brian Dean and Josh Howarth, Exploding Topics is a useful topic if you wish to discover topics that are expected to take off in the near future. The tool lets you discover topics under different categories (technology, business, lifestyle, etc.), and presents them in the form of cards.
- Google Keyword Planner – although, not meant for SEO, Google Keyword Planner can help you discover relevant keywords, and come up with interesting topics. Just remember that the “Competition” metric on this tool refers to Google Ads – not organic SEO.
While conducting your keyword research, there are two metrics that you’ll come across the most – search volume and difficulty.
Here’s a quick recap:
- Search volume – the estimated number of searches a keyword receives (in a specified geographical region) in a month. A high search volume indicates that the keyword has a good potential of bringing visitors to your website.
- Difficulty – as the name suggests, the difficulty score tells you how difficult it would be to rank for that keyword. It’s usually calculated by considering the domain authorities of the websites already ranking for that keyword.
In a perfect world, you should only target keywords with high search volumes and low difficulty scores.
(Image Source: Imgur)
However, that’s easier said than done, as it’s very rare to come across such instances.
A sure-fire way to increase the visibility of your website in the SERPs and increase organic traffic, is to create high-level content on relevant keywords with low to mid search volumes, and low difficulty scores.
Eventually, you’ll start to rank for these keywords, and with consistent efforts, you’ll improve your online standing. This, in turn, will increase your chances of ranking for more competitive keywords in the future.
Once you have a list of keywords and topics for your blog, it’s time to bring them to life.
Writing the perfect blog post – one that provides value and compels users to keep on reading – can be difficult.
From creating the perfect headline, to covering all relevant angles on a subject matter and answering all questions, to ensuring that the content is optimized for search engines – there are a boatload of things to consider.
The following tools can help with all of that, and more:
- Content Harmony – a content marketing software, Content Harmony provides you with critical information about a specific keyword (or search term), such as intent, related question/queries, competitors, images, and much more. By leveraging this information, you can create the perfect blog post – one that gives others a run for their money.
- Clearscope – with the help of AI, this platform grades your content on the basis of how well it’s expected to rank in the SERPs and resonate with your target audience. It does this by using the Natural Language API (which offers the same deep machine learning technology that powers Google Search’s ability to answer specific questions), analyzing actual search data, and providing your content with a score of F through A+.
- SlideShare – not really a tool, but Slideshare is a highly underrated platform when it comes to researching the actual material for your content. Through this platform, you can get firsthand information from experts within your industry, along with unique content assets you could share in your content.
- Sharethrough Headline Analyzer – a free tool by Sharethrough, it analyzes titles/headlines on the basis of quality, engagement, and impression scores. It also provides smart suggestions on improving your titles.
- Yoast SEO – a WordPress plugin that provides an in-depth analysis of your content, along with suggestions on how to optimize it. From providing analysis of keyword usage, to smart insights that let you know if your content is relevant to the target search queries – Yoast SEO can help you take care of optimizing your blog posts so they have a chance to rank.
When everything’s good to go, it’s time to publish and promote your blog posts.
As far as SEO is concerned, you can never be too careful.
The following tools can help ensure that your individual blog posts are optimized to perform at optimum levels:
- Google PageSpeed Insights – first and foremost, you need to ensure that your blog posts load at reasonable speeds (a direct ranking factor). Google PageSpeed Insights can help with that. The tool rates your web pages on a scale of 1 to 100 and provides suggestions to improve their loading speeds (which it labels as “Opportunities”).
- SEO Tester Online – a complete auditing tool, it provides a quick overview of HTML tags, speed, and much more.
If you’d like to go knee-deep into the technicalities of on-site audit, go through this infographic:
(Image Source: Visual.ly)
With the aforementioned tools at your disposal, you can create highly optimized blog posts and increase your chances of climbing up the SERPs.
Now that we’ve covered all of the basics, let’s take a look at what the perfect blog post is supposed to look like.
To make things easier, I’ve broken down the entire on-page SEO picture into:
- The content side of on-page
- The technical side of on-page
(Note: The above categorization is only for the sake of simplification).
Once you get both of those things right, you’ll be able to deliver a positive user experience, and get on the good sides of search engines.
Let’s discuss both sides of on-page SEO, and its elements, along with tips on nailing them.
On-page search engine optimization isn’t something you’re supposed to do in the end (as in, once the content is created and is ready to be published or promoted).
Instead, it’s a part of the process – right from the beginning.
On the other hand, a common, novice mistake is getting so caught up in the technical aspects, that you end up neglecting the blog post itself.
In other words, on-page SEO is supposed to be holistic.
This requires creating content in a way that resonates with the audience, answers their queries, provides value, and is overall optimized to perform well.
Let’s discuss all of the critical elements, along with tips on how to write a good blog post:
1. A Badass Title (or Headline, if You’re Fancy)
First thing’s first: you need to come up with a badass title – also known as an “H1.”
Your goal is to make the title so good, that it deserves to be clicked on.
More importantly, it should be relevant to your topic.
Generally, all titles can be classified into the following:
- General Statements
Your title can also be a combination of the above. For example:
- What Is Content Marketing? [+5 Resources To Help You Get Started]
- How To Do SEO In 2020 [10 Expert Tips To Please The Bot & Man]
- How We Boosted Our Average Traffic By 55% Using 3 Simple Tactics
(Image Source: GIPHY)
Here are some tips to help you craft the perfect title:
- Be descriptive – this is a no-brainer. The title should be able to explain what the post is about. Don’t make it vague or confusing. Keep it relevant.
- Keep it short – titles with 8 words tend to have 21% higher click-through rates than others. Limit your titles to 70 characters to avoid having parts of them get cut out in the SERPs.
- Analyze it – use the Sharethrough Headline Analyzer, or any other similar tool, to see where your title stands in terms of being engaging. Use the insights gained from the tool to further improve it, if necessary.
- Don’t make it “click-baity” – while writing your title, it’s best to avoid treading into the “click-bait” territory. In simple words, find that sweet “holy crap, I gotta check this out/this seems promising” spot between “meh” and “yeah, right!” if that helps.
To summarize, a good title helps users find relevant information quickly, and is also compelling enough to attract their attention.
2. A Captivating & Relevant Featured Image
Moving on, the next critical element of a blog post is its featured image.
This image sits right at the top, just below the title (in our case, behind it), and is meant to provide more meaning to the topic and make your post stand out from the rest.
The featured image should be:
- Relevant – it should connect with the topic. There needs to be a fine balance between “obvious” and “abstract.”
- Captivating – the image should intrigue and compel the user to at least read the hook (the first part of the introduction).
- Landscape – it’s best to stick with the landscape orientation for your featured images. For WordPress blogs, 1200 x 600 pixels are the recommended dimensions.
- Branded – although optional, designing custom featured images and branding them with your logo can leave a lasting impact, and work wonders for your brand. You can use Canva or Photoshop for that purpose.
You can also use a GIF, instead of a PNG or JPEG.
Once you select or design an appropriate featured image for your blog post, write the alt text for it (we’ll get to that later).
3. A Compelling Intro
The title made them click and the featured image made them stop in their tracks.
The introduction will help them decide if they want to read the whole thing.
Make it count.
Traditionally, all introductory sections have the following 3 components (in sequence):
- Hook – this can be a question, a statement, or even a single word that grabs the attention of the reader. The purpose of the hook is to entice an emotion.
- Transition – also referred to as the “bridge,” the transition is supposed to lead the reader further into the introduction. It connects the hook with the thesis (the third and final part).
- Thesis – this should clarify what the post covers, and provide a reason to the reader to continue with the rest of the post.
When it comes to writing great introductions, Brian Dean is one of the best:
Another approach is to begin by providing a straight answer, like in this post we wrote for Mixpanel:
However, a recent Google update pushed web pages appearing for the featured snippets to the second SERPs. Prior to this, such pages would appear twice on the first SERP – once in the featured snippet, and once in the regular results.
Here’s the same post appearing on top of the second SERP:
Considering that, unless you have something truly click-worthy to offer as the featured snippet, be careful.
Keep in mind that these are, in no way, to be considered as ground rules.
They’re merely best practices that most content creators follow (and the ones readers are accustomed to/expect when they open a blog post).
I guess what I’m trying to say is – don’t limit your creativity.
But also, keep your reader in mind.
I know, it’s confusing. Just follow these tips to craft the perfect intro from, both, the creative and strategic point of views:
- Engage right away – don’t start your introduction with a generic statement. You only have a second or two to engage the reader. It’s best to start with a relevant question, a strong claim, or anything that your readers can relate to right away.
- Be on point – don’t beat around the bush. Get to the point as quickly as possible. If you decide to go with the traditional approach, keep the hook and transition as short as possible, and elaborate your thesis to paint a picture of what the readers are getting into, while connecting all the dots.
- Use keywords – a good practice is to use the primary keyword at least once in your intro (ideally, in the first paragraph/line)
Additionally, here’s a solid LinkedIn post that sums this section up:
Last, but not least, it’s best to keep your intro between 50 to 100 words.
4. Table of Contents
If you’re writing a short post (say, under a 1,000 words), a table of contents isn’t necessary.
However, for a long-form blog post, it’s advised to include a responsive ToC, right after the introduction.
The purpose of a ToC is to help your readers navigate your post.
Depending on the topic, chances are that some people won’t even bother reading the intro. They’ll simply scroll down to the ToC (if you have one) and jump straight to the sections of their interests.
Is it rude? Not really.
Between short bathroom breaks and long to-do lists, most people simply don’t have the time to read every single word that you’ve churned out.
If they don’t find the information they’re looking for right away, they’ll get impatient, bounce, and look at the thousands of other links on the SERPs.
That’s the last thing you want.
Instead of using a traditional list-format, you can also apply a creative approach, like Brian Dean does for his Backlinko guides:
If you’re on WordPress, you can use any of the following plugins to add the ToC with just a few clicks:
To create a responsive ToC manually, click here to get the HTML and CSS codes.
However, keep in mind that you can only do so much with these plugins and basic coding.
If it’s aesthetics you’re after, I recommend creating a custom table of contents (for example, use eye-catching icons to represent the headers, and connect them using the good ol’ HTML anchor tags).
5. The Main Body
With the title, featured image, intro, and ToC out of the way, you’re now all set to work on the actual meat of your blog post i.e. the main body.
About 90 to 95 percent of your entire post should consist of the main body (an unwritten rule that could help you stay on topic and avoid long intros).
There’s no “magic” template when it comes to writing the body, either.
It completely depends on the topic and how you wish to elaborate upon it.
However, there are a few best practices that you should follow to make your content easier to grasp, improve the user experience, and stand out from other posts on the same topic.
Let’s have a look:
- Use headings – break down your content using H2 and H3-level headings. Doing so will help readers understand your thoughts in a much better way, and create a positive user experience, which is, ultimately, good for SEO. This will also help you create a ToC. However, don’t fall into the trap of creating a heading just for the sake of it. For example, if you’re writing a post about the 10 best ways to engage employees, you don’t need a subheading on what employee engagement is. Chances are, if someone is reading your post about the best ways to engage their employees, they know what employee engagement is and why it’s important, so no need to waste hundreds of words on such subtopics.
- Break it down – besides headings, you need to break down your content into smaller, digestible bits. No one likes to read walls of text, so give your readers time to breathe and process everything in between sections. Make a habit of pressing the return key and try to keep your paragraphs under 3 sentences or less, wherever possible. Additionally, you should make lists using bullet points and numbers, where appropriate.
- Cover everything – share insights, actionable advice, and a few stats here and there to back your claims. Include images (screenshots, infographics, etc.), tables, and/or videos that complement the rest of the content.
Finally, remember that relevancy matters the most in SEO.
Apart from sprinkling focus and semantically-related keywords throughout the body (more on that later), make sure to keep the overall substance relevant, insightful, and coherent.
And whatever you do – avoid using any fluff or filler (off-topic statements, sentences that add no real value to the subject, or even continuing to cover a point long after you’ve made it).
6. Concluding Section
The way you decide to conclude things can make or break your blog post.
You have to leave a lasting impact – an aftertaste that doesn’t go away for at least a day or two – while wrapping up everything that you’ve talked about.
Give the reader something to think about.
(Image Source: GIPHY)
The ideal situation would result in them engaging with you in the comments and sharing your post in their circle.
Some would argue that the concluding section doesn’t matter, because, let’s face it: not every single reader will make it to the end of your blog post.
However, neglecting the conclusion wouldn’t be a smart move.
Here are a few tips to wrap up your blog post:
- Tie everything together – I know. No doy. Nonetheless, it’s important to bring it up. Always end your blog posts by tying everything together – as in, provide a recap of sorts on everything you discussed.
- End on an impactful note – wrap things up with something that makes the reader think. This is where the “aftertaste” bit comes into play. This could be a question, a claim, a prediction, or one final piece of advice that forces the reader to hit that share button.
And there you have it. You just wrote a badass blog post.
However, the work is far from over.
With the content/user experience side out of the way, it’s time to discuss the technical factors of on-page SEO.
Search engine optimization is difficult, not because it involves coding mumbo jumbo, but mostly because it’s experimental.
Having programming skills can help (to some extent), but thanks to all of the tools at your disposal, you don’t have to be a programmer to do SEO the right way.
That being said, on-page SEO definitely requires a certain level of tech-savviness.
Don’t worry though, because I’ll take you through everything, one element at a time, and help you optimize your blog post (or any other web page, for that matter).
Here are all of the on-page SEO factors that matter:
1. Responsive Design
Let’s start with the basics – you need to make your website responsive.
Ok, well, it’s not “basic,” per se, but it is one of the first few things that you should do – even before you start blogging.
If your website is already rocking a responsive design, you can skip this section.
The rest of ya’ll – follow my lead.
A responsive web design is one that loads and renders flawlessly – with no issues or errors – across all devices and screen sizes.
Put simply, responsive websites adapt their designs to various screen sizes. For example, a website that loads properly on a desktop, would also load just fine on a mobile device (and adjust its layout accordingly).
These websites also adapt to different window sizes. For example, the HubSpot blog looks like this on a full-screen window on desktop:
And here’s what it looks like in a restored down and compressed window:
Remember that both of those screenshots were taken on the same device.
Here are a few ways responsive design can help with SEO:
- It caters to all devices, including mobile, which accounted for nearly 9 exabytes (that’s 1,000,000,000 gigabytes, by the way) of global web traffic in 2018.
- Responsive websites, on average, have better loading speeds (also known as PageSpeed), which is one of the many direct ranking signals.
- More traffic would result in more social shares, which is great for SEO.
Most modern websites are based on responsive designs, so chances are, that yours is, too.
If you’re not sure though, just ask the person who developed it, or use this tool to check yourself.
If you developed the website yourself, check out this extensive guide that explains how to create a responsive website from scratch, as well as, how to make an existing website responsive.
In case you’re on WordPress (and still in the process of creating your website), consider using the following responsive themes:
With that out of the way, the fun part of on-page SEO begins.
2. URL Slug
Besides the meta title and description, the URL slug (the last part of the URL) can tell a lot about the page.
That is, if it’s optimized correctly.
The purpose of a slug is simple: to make it easier to identify and remember the page.
There’s no rocket science behind creating an SEO-friendly URL.
Simply make your focus keyphrase the URL slug.
For example, if the focus keyword of your blog post is “SEO best practices,” the URL should look like this (the highlighted part is the slug):
If you’re on WordPress, you can change the slug on top while in edit mode:
You can also scroll down to the Yoast plugin and edit the slug directly, like so:
That’s all there is to it.
3. Keyword Usage
I’m gonna go out on a limb here, and assume that you’ve already done your keyword research using SEMRush, Ubersuggest, Answer The Public, and/or any other tool of your choice.
With those carefully-selected target keywords by your side, it’s time to put them to good use.
Keyword usage evolved from stuffing them in every other sentence, to focusing more on context and using synonyms.
Today, search engines are trying to understand the contextual meanings behind queries in order to display the most relevant results.
Considering that, you first need to make sure that your content is relevant to the topic, and then worry about the proper usage of your keyword(s).
Just write the content naturally.
However, while doing so, make sure to throw in some LSI (latent semantic indexing) keywords.
These keywords are related to your topic, and help search engines better understand it.
All of that doesn’t mean that you neglect the target keyword.
Here are some best practices (these won’t guarantee improved rankings, but could improve your chances):
- Include the focus keyword in the first 100-150 words of your blog post.
- Mention it in different headings.
- Keep the keyword density between 0.5% to 3%. If you’re on WordPress, check the Yoast plugin to see where you stand in terms of keyword usage. If not, use this tool.
- Include the target keyphrase in the meta tags.
- Throw it in the alt text of at least one image on your blog post.
Again, you should focus more on just writing a high quality blog post focused on user and search intent, and let the keywords spell out naturally on their own.
Links are among the most critical on-page SEO elements.
The purpose of placing internal and outbound links is to enhance the user experience and provide more value to the readers.
Because of that very reason, search engine crawlers (the bots that analyze your web pages to determine their rankings) love links.
Placing internal links can:
- Decrease your bounce rate by leading users to other pages on your site, and increasing engagement in the process
- Share link juice/equity (which passes authority from one page to another) between your blog posts and other relevant landing pages on your website.
(Image Source: Pinterest)
- Provide search engine crawlers with a better understanding of your site’s structure
Here are some tips and best practices to help you link internally:
- Link to relevant pages – like most things in content creation, don’t place internal links just for the sake of having them. Link to only those posts/pages that are relevant to the topic and could be useful to the reader.
- Use keyword as the anchor text – when linking to another post, it’s best to use its target keyword as the anchor text. For example, if you’re linking to a post with the target keyword “SEO best practices,” the anchor text should, ideally, be just that – “SEO best practices.”
There’s no limit to how many internal links you can place on your blog posts.
As long as they’re relevant to the topic and placed naturally, it doesn’t matter if you place a 100 links.
As for outbound links (i.e. links leading to other domains), they’re also meant to help enhance the user experience.
In turn, you’re also more likely to receive an inbound link, or at least a share, from the people that you linked to (but that shouldn’t be your primary reason for linking out to them).
5. Optimization of Visuals
As mentioned earlier, no one likes to read walls of text.
Sticking with plain old text can make your blog post, well, boring.
To keep your readers engaged, and improve your content, throw in a few visuals to make things interesting.
Apart from the featured image, these could be infographics, screenshots, stock photos, GIFs, memes, or even some 2D animation.
Visuals provide context and make your blog posts more interesting, which, in turn, can be good for SEO.
Just keep these tips in mind:
- Compress the files – uploading large image/video files can reduce the loading speed of your website. Make sure to compress them using a tool. For images, use TinyPNG. For videos, give Clideo a shot.
- Use alt text for images – these are concise (less than 125 characters) descriptions of the images you use on your blog post. The purpose of alt text is to make your content accessible to everyone. It helps visually impaired users understand what the image is about.
- Include subtitles and transcriptions – like alt text, video subtitles and transcriptions are supposed to help with accessibility. That way, anyone with hearing impairment (or someone who can’t listen to the audio because of their surroundings) would be able to enjoy the video.
Last, but not least, make sure to include high resolution (but compressed) images and videos.
6. Meta Tags
Meta tags are short snippets (which appear on the SERPs) that provide a quick summary or snapshot of what the page is about.
For beginners, here’s what they look like:
- Meta title – a shorter version (or an exact copy) of the title of your blog post, that should be less than 70 characters. The meta title should include the focus keyword (ideally, right at the beginning).
- Meta description – concise summary of what the page is about. Keep the meta descriptions limited to 160 characters and include a keyword or two.
If you’re on WordPress, you can edit these snippets by scrolling down to the Yoast plugin and clicking on “Edit snippet” (under Snippet Preview):
Meta tags can be the deciding factors when it comes to a user choosing a link from the SERPs, so make them count.
We’re still not done.
Here are a few more on-page SEO elements that matter:
1. Author Bio
The information about the author, though, not a direct ranking factor, is included in Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines, as a way to gauge the overall trustworthiness of the source.
Google’s John Mueller pointed out that the author bio isn’t a part of technical SEO. Instead, it impacts the user experience.
That being said, you should write a decent bio, stating all of your relevant credentials and/or experience to reassure readers, and build trust.
2. Social Share Buttons
With social share buttons, it’s more convenient for readers to share your posts.
This, in turn, increases the chances of receiving natural links, which can bring in more visitors.
If you’re on WordPress, you can add social share buttons using the “Social Share Icons & Social Share Buttons” plugin.
To learn how to manually create social share buttons, check out this resource.
3. Comments Section
You need a platform to allow your readers to share their thoughts, as well as, to be able to engage with them.
That’s what comments sections are for, so don’t shy away from including them in your blog.
With comments, not only can you increase engagement and (possibly) build brand affinity, but you can also generate new leads.
If you’re on WordPress, you can use the wpDiscuz plugin for that.
Once you’re done creating, optimizing, and publishing your badass blog post, make sure to run it through Google PageSpeed Insights once to look for possible loading speed issues.
That covers just about everything.
Clearly, the hoo-ha behind on-page SEO being “technical” is only partially true.
At the end of the day, it’s just about providing value, in a way that makes users stick around, while also following the guidelines of search engines.