SEO is a different beast than it was back in the early 2000’s. You need a strategy that accounts for that.
In this article, I’ll walk you through a complete on-page SEO checklist for 2020 and beyond.
What We’ll Cover:
- Research what’s ranking in the SERPS
- Keyword research
- Use short, descriptive URLs
- Use clean title tags
- H2 tags
- Meta descriptions
- Create relevant, long-form content
- Use modifiers in your keywords and titles
- Use multimedia
- Video optimization
- Image alt tags and descriptions
- Add internal links
- Schema markup
- Answer common questions and include FAQs
- Generate user reviews
- Mobile-first indexing
What is On-Page SEO?
Moz defines it like this:
“On-page SEO is the practice of optimizing individual web pages in order to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic in search engines. On-page refers to both the content and HTML source code of a page that can be optimized, as opposed to off-page SEO which refers to links and other external signals.”
It’s the part you see – content, images, keywords, etc. – as well as the not-so-obvious parts like meta tags and meta descriptions. It’s anything you can control in the code or content.
And that’s the beauty of it. You’re in control here (so you better do it right).
Let me show you how.
On-Page SEO Checklist For 2020:
1. First, Do Your SERP Research
Successful SEO requires a proactive approach.
SEO and Google algorithms go through changes on the regular and before you go through the efforts of optimizing all your pages, make sure you’re doing it the right way.
Start by researching the SERPs. Enter one of your keywords into Google and see what comes up.
The results will show you what Google thinks are the most relevant results for that particular search term. Really examine the first few results to get a feel for what it’s doing well – the URL, title, featured snippet, etc.
Click the first few results and the page it leads to. How does the page look? Is it a long-form blog post? An optimized product page?
More importantly, look for any gaps you can fill. If you think there’s a question about your keyword that isn’t being answered in the search results, it may be a great opportunity for you to create content that has a great chance of ranking.
2. Keyword Research
In the world of ever-changing SEO practices, one thing remains constant: the need for keywords and keyword research. Keyword research is one of the most important criteria when it comes to SEO.
However, not all keywords are created equal.
If you’re not using long-tail keywords in your section titles, you could be missing out on a lot of search traffic.
Long-tail keywords are composed of three and four keyword phrases that are specific to the product or service you are selling.
These longer variations of your keywords tend to boast lower search volumes than primary keywords, but their conversion rates are often pretty high.
Long-tail keywords that are very similar to the page’s topic also provide excellent clues on how you should structure your page, both for the user experience and to better rank for the long-tail queries that people use when looking up the same information.
You can also consider using synonyms as well as your specific long-tail keywords, to avoid keyword stuffing and indirect search manipulation.
As a marketer, you’re familiar with this and the hundreds of tools to help you choose the best keywords for your biz.
But here’s what you don’t want to: rely on those tools too much.
Keyword research doesn’t begin with tools. It begins with your target market. They’re the ones who will be searching for your content, so it’s crucial to understand their demographics, pain points, interests, and needs.
Once you’ve identified who your audience is, the next step is to segment your market by splitting it up into smaller sub-groups based on different needs, demographics, and interests.
Why? Because different people in your target audience will search for different things, and you want to cover all your bases.
Those just browsing will use words like “review,” “best,” and “top 10”, while those intending to buy will likely use terms like “buy,” “affordable,” and “discount.”
In 2020, this categorization is especially important. Google is prioritizing user intent more than ever when it comes to search rankings. So if Google determines that a search query has purchase intent, then the results list will heavily favor e-commerce sites because the user is looking to buy something.
These days, you also have to take voice search into account.
One of the biggest differences from traditional search lies in how the query is framed. With voice search, the query is more than often in question form.
That means considering all possible questions your content might answer, and including direct answers throughout your copy (especially towards the top). Q&A and FAQ formats will also help you rank better in voice searches.
3. Short, Descriptive URLs
Let’s start this off with a little show and tell.
Of the two, which URL do you prefer?
I’ll go ahead and assume you chose the first.
You picked this one for all the obvious reasons: it’s shorter, cleaner, easier to read and to the point.
Those are all the reasons Google will like that one better as well. Google’s own Matt Cutts confirmed in 2008 that Google’s algorithm prefers URLs with 3-5 words.
Granted, that’s a long time ago and you can certainly get away with a few more words, but as a rule of thumb: the shorter the better.
4. Clean Title Tags
Next up: title tags.
Title tags are an incredibly important part of on-site optimization.
Title tags are what search engines crawl, and like URLs, they use keywords in the title tag to determine the intent of the page.
If Google bot sees the keywords included in your title tag, it will consider ranking you for that page.
They’re also what Google takes and displays within the search results. So when you perform a search in Google, the results you see are likely taken straight from the title tag.
As a best practice, you want to try to include 2-3 keywords within your title, and keep the main keyword towards the front of the title.
Generally speaking, you want compelling text to bookend each side of your keywords. A general formula will look something like this
<compelling text>primary keyword, secondary keyword<compelling text>
Also, keep in mind that Google will limit your title text to 50-60 characters, so you don’t too have much space to work with here.
With that in mind, you’ll find yourself in plenty of situations where only one keyword can be included. That’s perfectly fine, as long as it makes sense for the topic and can clearly be identified as the target keyword.
If writing is not your strongest skills, you can outsource this task to a copywriter.
For more information, check out my full guide on structuring the perfect title tag for SEO.
5. H2 Tags
Your H2 tags are your subheadings.
These are used throughout the body of your text to divide your content into logical, scannable blocks.
The obvious benefit here is that it makes your content more user-friendly. These days, a good website is all about positive user experience, and a big part of that is delivering easy to digest content.
Clear headings act as a roadmap to help users navigate your content, and they have the ability to help increase a user’s time spent on your site.
From an SEO standpoint, it represents an opportunity to maximize the number of times you can include your target keyword. Unlike H1’s, which are only used once per page, you can use multiple H2 tags throughout your page.
But remember, H2 tags still have to obey content laws: include the keyword only where it’s relevant and natural, and don’t include it in every H2 subhead.
6. Meta Descriptions
Meta descriptions are another important SEO factor to pay attention to.
Meta descriptions are small snippets of text that describe a page’s content. Its purpose is to explain to search engines what a page is about.
You’ll sometimes see these descriptions in Google, though not always. Sometimes, Google will select a piece of text from within the page instead if it deems it more relevant.
Either way, your meta description can still have an effect on your SEO and click-through rate (CTR).
It’s ideal to keep meta descriptions concise, but long enough that they’re adequately descriptive. The optimal length for a meta description is typically between 100-150 characters. Google often cuts off meta descriptions that exceed the 150-character limit.
Google is relatively unpredictable with how it chooses to display meta descriptions, with the same SERP having short and long meta descriptions. Today, the length at which it cuts off descriptions can vary considerably from result to result. Much of it depends on how relevant Google interprets the description to the query. If it’s deemed irrelevant, Google may even choose not to use it.
At the end of last year, Google increased the maximum description link from 160 to 320 characters (twice what it was previously).
Thanks to the change, snippets that used to be cut off can now be shown in full, giving viewers a fuller summary of what a page is about. In that way, this new change can also have a positive impact on your CTR.
So if you weren’t paying attention to your meta descriptions, it’s time to start.
7. Relevant, Longform Content
I can’t stress this one enough.
Your content is the bread and butter of your site, and will ultimately have the biggest impact on where your page ends up in the SERPs.
Specifically, for a modern SEO content checklist, you need to be focusing on longform content.
There’s no exact length for a post to be considered longform, but as a general rule, it should be over 1,5000 words. 2,000 words? Even better.
Posts that long may seem counterintuitive. Given reader’s short attention spans, you may think that the shorter the post, the better chance you have a reader actually consuming it.
But when it comes to onsite SEO, that simply isn’t the case. Longer posts perform better.
A study conducted by Moz revealed that over 85 percent of online content that surpassed the 1,000-word mark received more shares than shorter content pieces.
serpIQ conducted a study of the average length of the content in the top 10 results of search queries and found that the top-rated posts usually were over 2,000 words.
Longer posts attract more backlinks than shorter ones, which will increase its page authority and position in the rankings.
Beyond that longer, more comprehensive posts will help you seal your position as a thought leader in your industry.
That said, it’s even more important to make sure each post contains quality content that’s relevant to your target audience. Relevance here will be defined by how useful and applicable it is to your target audience.
And, as Google shifts evermore towards intent in its search results, the length of the content isn’t as important as how well it matches a searcher’s intent.
That means if you can accurately and succinctly address a topic in only 300-500 words, it’s better to do keep it brief than stuff in unnecessary information.
To ensure your content stays relevant, make sure you’re incorporating evergreen content. Evergreen content is not trendy, seasonal, or news-related. It should be treated as a living, breathing thing, which means it requires frequent nourishment.
While there’s still a place for this kind of content, you don’t have to pour as much time and resources into it. Sure, it will attract links and rankings for a little while, but its shelf life is short.
Evergreen content, on the other hand, will continue to perform well for the long haul. Just look at HubSpot – 75% of HubSpot’s blog views and 90% of blog leads come from old posts.
Some examples of evergreen content include:
- How-to’s, tutorials, and guides
- Industry definitions and major features explained
- Resources and tools lists
- Beginner guides and resources
8. Use Modifiers in Your Titles and Keywords
Modifiers are words like the following: best, 2020, review, guide, etc.
These are incredibly helpful in forming longtail keywords. That means that in addition to your target keyword, you have a whole new list of variations to try and rank for.
Adding in modifiers will help your page appear in more relevant searches and help Google’s algorithm better understand what the site is about. Not to mention, modifiers will often appear in voice searches.
To get a better idea of the kind of modifiers that may be applicable to your target keywords, try typing the keyword into Google and looking at the related searches.
9. Use Multimedia
Your content is incredibly important. But what you include with that content could mean the difference between a bounce and a conversion.
Let’s break that down a little: Visual content is 40X more likely to get shared on social media than other types of content, and infographics alone are liked and shared on social media 3X more than any other type of content.
Throw video in the mix, and the numbers are even more impressive. Fifty-five percent of people consume video content thoroughly, 51.9% of marketing professionals worldwide name video as the type of content with the best ROI, and marketers who use video grow revenue 49% faster than non-video users.
All these stats tell us one thing: Readers really like multimedia. And the more of it you use on your page, the more likely readers are to stay on your page and read (or watch) what you have to say.
That translates to lower bounce rates and more time spent on site, two important ranking factors.
It also means that because they’re spending more time on your site, they’ll become more familiar with your brand and your content, which could very well lead to a conversion down the road.
10. Video Optimization
Like all content, to make the most of your videos they must be properly optimized.
In the case of video, that begins with choosing the right kind of content. Not everything you put out will translate well in video form. According to Search Engine Land, businesses should focus primarily on two video types: emotional and educational.
Beyond that, you want your video to be easily understood and indexed. Pay special attention to the following:
- Video Title – Similar to your page titles, your video title should be short, engaging, and include your target keyword
- Include a full description – A full description should accurately describe the topic of your video and what your viewers can expect to see. That means multiple paragraphs, not just a few sentences. Take full advantage by using your target keyword and any secondary keywords throughout your text.
- Choose a relevant thumbnail image – Your thumbnail, even more than your title, could be the deciding factor in whether or not someone watches your video. Choose one that fits your topic – if it’s a product demo, show the product, etc.
- Make sure it’s relevant to the rest of your content – Videos are great and all, but don’t just throw them in for the sake of it. If you’re including a video in a blog post or category page, make sure it speaks to that topic or is clearly related in some way.
- Use subtitles (if available) – Videos are often watched with the sound off, so help your viewers out by including subtitles if your platform allows.
11. Image Alt Tags & Descriptions
While we’re on the subject, another major component of multimedia SEO is the image alt tags and descriptions.
Alt tags and descriptions are intended to describe the appearance and purpose of an image on the page. These are what will appear if an image doesn’t load properly, so you want to make sure they accurately represent the image.
They also help search engine crawlers more accurately index the image by providing more information, hence their importance to SEO.
The alt tag text goes a little like this. If someone reads you the text without actually seeing the image, can you picture it properly? If the answer is yes, your alt tag is good to go.
The accompanying image description should always contain the keyword you’re trying to rank the page for to help better your chances of ranking for that keyword.
12. Add Internal Links
There are two kinds of links that play a major part in SEO: backlinks and internal links.
Backlinks are a pillar of off-page SEO, so we’ll stay away from those for now.
Internal links, however, are delegated to on-page SEO.
Internal links are links included in your own content leading to other pages on your website.
And like most things SEO-related, internal linking requires its very own strategy. As you create yours, try to break down your structure into different levels:
- Category level – Categories and subcategories should link to each other, and a link to the related category should be included on each page or post
- Each post – Every post should include multiple links to related content. There should be a “related posts” or “similar posts” section in your template, as well as internal links included throughout the body of the post itself
- Sitemap – An HTML sitemap will help Google crawl your site more efficiently and link to various pages of your site
The most important part of internal linking is to make sure that each link is used in a natural, relevant way. Each subsequent page should be related to the given topic, and helpful to the audience reading it.
Also, remember to update your links frequently and check for any broken links. For more on how to form an effective linking strategy and structure, click here.
13. Schema Markup
Schema’s been a buzzword for some time now. And in case you’re late to the game, now’s the time to take it seriously.
Technically speaking, schema is a set of microdata added to your HTML to help search engines read your page and rank it in the SERPs.
According to Moz, “Schema.org is the result of collaboration between Google, Bing, Yandex, and Yahoo! to help you provide the information their search engines need to understand your content and provide the best search results possible at this time. Adding Schema markup to your HTML improves the way your page displays in SERPs by enhancing the rich snippets that are displayed beneath the page title.”
It’s structured data, which means the information on your page is formatted in a way that can be understood universally.
For example, if you’ve ever Googled a nearby restaurant and found a star rating in the search results, that’s a Schema markup.
Or, if you Google “lasagna recipes” and find an image attached to the results, that’s schema markup too.
And if you did happen to Google these things, you were probably more likely to click on the results that show a review rating or image.
Why? Because one acts as social proof, and the other is visually pleasing enough to earn a click. And more clicks = better business, and more effective SEO.
Here’s a list of a few schema markups that can increase your odds of surfacing in the search results:
- Price markup
- Review markup
- Authorship markup
- Publisher markup
- Discover more places
Does your website convey E-A-T? The concept of E-A-T—expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness—is referenced extensively in Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines, which gives content creators and webmasters critical insights into what Google deems high-quality content.
The expertise portion of E-A-T doesn’t require you to have a formal education on the subject. It just means that you can take initiative and fact check and link to reputable sources whenever appropriate.
Sites with extensions like .edu and .gov are high-authority domains, as are media channels like The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, or Time.
In some patents, Google will even compare websites against a list of proven facts and review how many are correct in order to evaluate trustworthiness.
Be sure to cite your sources at the bottom of articles wherever possible. And include the review or publish date, as well as a follow link back to the original article.
Paying close attention to your E-A-T, both on and off your website, may help boost your search rankings. To learn more about E-A-T, check out our in-depth guide here.
15. Answer Common Questions and Include FAQs
You may have heard of a little something called position 0.
Also called featured snippets, these are the results that appear at the very top of the SERP and are pulled from websites that provide a very specific answer to a user’s search query.
So it makes sense that to compete for the coveted position, your page should provide clear answers to the questions your audience is most likely to have.
These are often pulled from FAQ sections, so it’s a great idea to include one in each relevant post. Just remember, facts and stats change with the times, so screen them often to make sure all data is current.
To get an idea of the kinds of questions and answers to include, turn to Google. Type in your target keyword and scroll down to the “related searches” section. This is a great place to start, and great topics to address in your FAQs.
Keep in mind, featured snippets are generally pulled from websites already ranking in the top 5 SERP positions, but providing clear answers to common audience questions should always be standing part of your content strategy.
There are a few things you can do to boost your chances of having your content chosen as a featured snippet:
- Use relative keywords
- Answer an industry-related question
- Keep the info brief and to-the-point
- Write your H2 subheadings as questions
- Have a website that already ranks on page one of the search results
16. User Reviews
Every one wants reviews and comments.
They let businesses know that they’re providing quality, relevant products or services, and let potential customers know they’re dealing with a trusted source.
Not only that, but they help your SEO as well.
First, by including the review schema snippet on your site to include review stars, it could lead to increased credibility and CTRs.
And second, if you generate fresh reviews on your site, your site will rank better. If you generate fresh reviews on another site, that site will rank better.
But despite the obvious benefits, finding a way to collect those raving reviews has long been a barrier for businesses.
Good news here: it doesn’t have to be. These days, there are plenty of review generation platforms designed to better connect and solicit reviews from your customers.
They usually work like this: you send your contact list, and the platform will automate the process – through email or SMS – of asking for and collecting reviews.
If you get good ones, great. You’re good to go. If any negative ones come in, you’ll usually have the chance to do a little damage control with the unhappy customer (and maybe turn that review around in the process).
For almost any business, the SEO benefits more than justify the cost. Platforms to try include BirdEye, Grade.Us, and many more.
17. Mobile-First Indexing
Making sure your site is optimized for mobile is no longer a choice, it’s a necessity.
Mobile-first indexing means that Google will mostly use the mobile version of your pages for indexing and ranking.
While there is still a single index for both mobile and desktop, ranking will be next to impossible if your site is not mobile-friendly.
Some things to consider when it comes to mobile-first indexing are:
- Is there mobile parity between the desktop and mobile version of your site?
- How do your pages appear to those viewing them on a mobile device?
- Is the font readable?
- Are the buttons big enough?
- Is the content on your site written in a mobile-friendly format? (i.e. are the sentences and paragraphs short and compact enough for a mobile viewing audience?)
If you haven’t already optimized your pages for mobile, the time to get on it is now, and if in doubt, plug your URL into Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.
SEO is complicated. There are so many factors to consider, and each has to work just right to get your site where you want it to go.
But you do have control over many of those factors, and following the checklist above will help ensure your site is up to SEO speed in 2020.