Here are the 20 on-page SEO factors we use to rank our clients on top of the SERP. Read on to learn how you can too (you’re gonna want to boookmark this one, trust me).

Google updates its algorithm regularly, making it tough for brands to keep up.

The good news: There are on-page SEO best practices that never change. Remember, Google’s top priority is to deliver the best value to searchers. Do that, and your odds of ranking in the #1 spot are that much higher.

Meanwhile, here’s our on-page SEO checklist we use to rank our client’s websites:

  1. Create unique, high-value content
  2. Design content for featured snippets and related questions
  3. Use SEO copywriting to attract search engines AND humans
  4. Implement relevant keywords
  5. Write descriptive headings
  6. Add on-page E-E-A-T signals
  7. Compelling, relevant visuals
  8. Optimized images
  9. Title tags
  10. Meta descriptions
  11. Descriptive image alt text
  12. URL structure
  13. Internal links with optimized anchor text
  14. External links to reputable sources
  15. Optimizing for local SEO
  16. Valid schema markup
  17. Responsive web design
  18. Website speed
  19. On-page UX signals
  20. Organized, structured website

Create unique, high-value content

Your page content tells search engines and readers several things:

  • What topics you cover
  • What industry you’re in
  • Your level of expertise

All of this shows your relevance, trustworthiness, and authority in an industry. When search engines and readers see you consistently publish new quality content on the same or similar topics, it builds trust.

But publishing frequently means nothing if the quality isn’t there.

Here are a few best practices for developing high-quality SEO content:

  • Write long-form blog content. Long-form content gives you space to dive deep into a topic, offering more value in the form of strategy breakdowns, examples, and walk-throughs.
  • Include your own take on the topic. Don’t rehash what’s out there. Instead, provide unique insights from your experience. For instance, share a case study or personal story that illustrates what the reader is learning.
  • Use examples to show, not tell. Use unique examples from your experience or a client’s, and use storytelling to draw them in until the call to action (CTA).
  • Support claims with recent research and statistics. If you’re going to state a fact, link to a reputable source, such as a survey or study from a known publication that’s less than three years old. This helps you build trust and authority.
  • Make the content scannable. Long or short, your content must be easy to scan (aka no large blocks of text). Use clear subheadings, short paragraphs, bullet points, bolded sections, and helpful visuals.

The more valuable the content, the more likely readers will read and share it with others.

Design content for featured snippets and related questions

When creating content for your website, consider opportunities to rank for featured snippets and related questions in the People Also Ask section of the SERPs. Featured snippets appear at the top of the first page, giving you the opportunity to get more eyes and clicks on your content.

That’s because they reveal answers to the query and sit front and center in position 0 (after the ads, but before the #1 link).

Here’s an example of a definition snippet with a quick definition of a low carb diet:

The featured snippet makes it as easy as possible for users to get the answers they’re looking for. (Image: Backlinko)

You can also rank for featured snippets containing lists and tables, like this one:

Ordered list featured snippet example

Both ordered and unordered lists can also appear as featured snippets. (Image: Backlinko)

Unfortunately, there’s no way to guarantee you’ll grab a featured snippet. Google selects the most helpful content for this coveted spot.

However, you can increase your odds by formatting content similar to common featured snippets. For example, a question directly followed by a brief answer (definition), a table (table) containing stats or data, or with numbered items listed as H2s or H3s (list).

“People also ask” (PAA) also appears near the top of the first page of search results. Each question expands with the answer underneath, giving quick answers to questions with the option to click to learn more.

People Also Ask Example

The People Also Ask section makes it quick and easy to find an answer to your most pressing questions. (Image: Ahrefs)

If you want the opportunity to rank for the PAA section, format your content in a way that makes it easy for Google to find the question and answer.

Use SEO copywriting to attract search engines AND humans

Your SEO content strategy should focus on attracting search engines and humans. That’s where SEO copywriting comes into play.

SEO copywriting is different from traditional copywriting — it goes beyond just optimizing language for conversions. It also includes keywords for SEO so search engines know how to rank it.

By catering to both, you increase your odds of ranking higher, and seeing more clicks and higher conversion rates.

Working with SEO content writers to produce high-quality, SEO-friendly copy for your website pages and blog posts will help you improve keyword rank on Google.

Speaking of keywords…

Implement relevant keywords

What’s the first word that pops into your head when you think of SEO? Is it keywords? We bet it’s keywords.

Using relevant target keywords throughout your post and in all the right spots helps Google understand what you’re talking about. (“All the right spots” being your title, headings, URL, meta descriptions, and image alt-tags.)

Stuffing keywords into copy without it making sense or being useful won’t work anymore. The best SEO content today also uses long-tail keywords to target specific readers.

“Integrate long-tail keywords within the body of your content to improve customer experience and increase your visibility,” recommends John Pennypacker, VP of Sales & Marketing at Deep Cognition, an AI data entry tool.

“Visitors are more likely to use them when they’re closer to the point of purchase or using voice search. They’re less competitive than generic keywords but can significantly attract more relevant and long-term traffic.”

Keyword research isn’t just finding common phrases people use to find your products and services. You must also consider search intent and keyword difficult to find keywords your brand can feasibly rank for on Google. If your expertise isn’t in SEO, consider partnering with an SEO marketing agency to help you find the right keywords.

The HawkSEM team helped Easly increase its keyword portfolio by over 1,500%.

Before partnering with HawkSEM, it ranked for 20 total keywords. After implementing our strategy, Easly:

  • Ranked for more than 325 keywords in its target region, Canada
  • Increased its domain authority by 150%
  • Boosted its site speed by 3.5x

We did several things to achieve these results, including:

  • Optimized their content for relevant keywords
  • Created over 70 optimized content pieces across multiple points in the conversion funnel
  • Revamped its homepage to focus on conversions

That’s the beauty of collaborating with an SEO agency or SEO consultant.

Check out the case study to learn more about how we helped Easly improve its on-page SEO.

Write descriptive headings

There’s more to optimizing your headings and subheadings than sticking the keyword in there. Headers also help people scan the content to understand the main points.

Use descriptive headings that clearly articulate what is in each section. And don’t forget to use your primary keyword in at least one H2 heading.

Add on-page E-E-A-T signals

E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) is Google’s method for determining the quality of your content. While it’s not a direct Google ranking factor, it can build trust with readers and improve conversions.

Here’s a breakdown of each element:

  • Experience: The content demonstrates the writer’s experience with the subject matter with authentic insights. For example, they include personal stories to educate and entertain.
  • Expertise: The author has the knowledge, qualifications, and credentials required to speak reliably about the topic. For instance, a registered nurse writing about health topics.
  • Authoritativeness: The website, author, or content has a reputation for being valuable in the industry. One way to tell is that there are other high-authority websites linking to it.
  • Trustworthiness: The content is factually accurate, the author cites trustworthy sources, and the website offers a secure connection.

Not sure if your content is optimized for Google? Get SEO Audit Services to identify ways you can improve your Google ranking.

Compelling, relevant visuals

Including engaging, relevant visuals on your web pages and blog posts offers two benefits: 1) Helps your content rank on Google and 2) Provides helpful images to the reader.

For example, infographics and tables, break down complex information and statistics. While other visuals like stock photos, videos, graphics, and GIFs break up content so it’s easier and more enjoyable to read.

Optimized images

There are a several factors to consider when optimizing your images for search:

  • Choose concise and direct file names. Get rid of default names your camera or computer assigns. Instead of image234932348, try something like Ford_Taurus_2011.
  • Create image alt tags with relevant keywords. The alt tags should describe what’s in the image in plain language. For examples, “woman holding a smartphone.”
  • Use the right file format. JPEG works well for images with lots of colors, and PNG works best for simple images. GIFs are great for animation.
  • Include captions that give context for the image. Captions don’t impact page ranking, but they improve the user experience and engagement metrics.
  • Create unique images. While you can use stock images, creating unique graphics are better for SEO and user experience.

Image optimization also affects page speed, which can enhance or hurt the user experience. If images take too long to load, folks may bounce away to a competitor’s site.

“The biggest thing to do for page speed is to optimize your assets,” says Michael Power, CMO at DTF Transfers. “Too often, I see images that are 6000px being displayed at 500px. Resize every image for its actual display size, or 2x its display size if you want better clarity on retina displays.”

Power adds that you should also consider cropping the center of images for your mobile pages specifically, since that’s all the user sees.

Title tags

The title tag is an optimized version of the page title (also known as an H1 tag).

Here are several ways to optimize your title tags:

  • Place the primary keyword toward the beginning of the title tag. Be sure it makes sense and feels natural.
  • Ensure each page has a unique title. If you use the same title twice, Google may think you have duplicate pages.
  • Keep the title to around 55 to 60 characters. That way, it won’t get cut off on the SERP. (Use a WordPress plugin like Yoast to see how it’ll appear in the SERPs.)

Unfortunately, Google sometimes changes the title tag, often because it’s too long. Ahrefs found that when Google ignores the title tag, it uses the H1 tag instead 50.76% of the time. So make sure that the H1 title also uses the primary keyword.

When Google ignores title tag

An Ahrefs study based on 953,276 pages ranking in the top 10 found that Google often uses the H1 when they ignore the title tag. (Image: Ahrefs)

Meta descriptions

Meta descriptions are no longer a direct search engine ranking factor, which means Google doesn’t use this in its ranking decisions.

John Mueller, Senior Search Analyst and Search Relations Team Lead at Google, confirmed this in a 2020 tweet:

John Mueller meta description Tweet

Meta descriptions aren’t a Google ranking factor but are used for the search result snippet.

However, meta descriptions are still an important part of your content marketing because they tell the reader what the content is about and get them to click to read more. In other words, the meta description has a direct impact on the click-through rate (CTR).

Here are a few ways to optimize your meta description to get users to click:

  • The description should match the content on the page. Make it clear what the page or post is about, and include the primary keyword.
  • Keep it to 155 characters. You may need to revise your description a few times until you get a succinct, interesting summary of the page.
  • Make it click-worthy. Remember, the point is to get people to click. Use a little personality to draw eyes and clicks.

Here’s an example of a click-worthy meta description from the Washington Post:

Washington Post meta description

If you didn’t want pizza before, you certainly want it now.

Descriptive image alt text

Image alt-text tells search engines what your images are about, allowing them to serve image-based results in the same way they do text-based results. This means you can rank for images on Google.

The image results appear on the images tab of Google, and at the top of the first page for queries. For example, if we search for “cute dog wallpaper,” Google knows we’re likely looking for an image to use as the wallpaper on our desktop or phone.

Image search results for cute dog wallpaper

Image results appear at the top of the search engine results page,

Alt tags have another purpose: making your content accessible for everyone. Screen readers, which help those with visual impairments understand the content on a website, will read the alt-text out loud to give the user an idea of what the image represents.

URL structure

Each of your URLs should have an SEO-friendly structure. This includes your homepage, product pages, contact page, and everything else in between. When choosing your URLs, make them succinct and descriptive of the page.

Here are additional ways to create SEO-friendly URLs:

  • Include your primary keyword in the URL
  • Use descriptive language to convey the purpose of the page
  • Use hyphens between words

The URL may not be a major page ranking factor, but it does help Google (and searchers) understand what the page is about.

Internal links with optimized anchor text

Internal links help search engines understand the relationship between different site pages. With strategic internal links, you can reinforce the context of the pages and provide a more in-depth look at the topic.

Internal links improve the user experience by allowing people to discover additional helpful content on a topic. Optimizing your internal linking structure can reduce bounce rates and keep people on your site longer.

Include internal links to and from relevant pages on your site. For example, a hub and spoke model takes a long-form post with a broad topic and links it to several shorter, more in-depth pieces on relevant subtopics.

Here’s an example of the hub and spoke model:


Whatever your strategy, don’t forget to link out from authoritative pages like your homepage or a services page.

To optimize your internal links, use keyword-focused anchor text. The link should go to the most relevant pages that cover the keyword topic.

Need help with on-page optimization? Check out our On-Page SEO Services.

External links to reputable sources

External links — not to be confused with backlinks, an off-page SEO factor — allow you to build authority. By linking to other reputable sites, you signal to Google that your own content is reputable.

Citing and linking to source material shows readers you did your research to ensure accuracy. These external links can also provide additional context and a more in-depth look at an adjacent topic.

Don’t link to competitors or a post that’s targeting the exact topic s you’re writing about. And when linking to an outside source, avoid using your target keywords in the anchor text.

Optimizing for local SEO

If you have a brick-and-mortar business or one that operates in certain geographic areas, optimize your site for local SEO. Driving organic traffic from a specific location requires using targeted keywords containing the location in it.

For example: “used auto cars in San Antonio, TX”

A great example of local SEO in action is our client, Happy Ears Hearing Center. They worked with us for SEO services to bring in more local clients needing its services. Part of that SEO strategy was creating pages for each of its Arizona locations.

Happy Ears local SEO case study

Our client Happy Ears Hearing Center was able to increase local conversions by nearly 44% using our local SEO strategy.

Each page targeted geographically focused SEO keywords like “hearing aids Mesa, AZ” and “Mesa, AZ hearing aid repair” to bring in more local customers. This SEO technique resulted in an increase of local conversions by nearly 44%.

Want to learn more about how we implemented a local SEO strategy for Happy Ears? Read the case study.

Valid schema markup

Schema markup, or structured data, describe your wesbsite to search engines so it’s easier to index. This part of your technical SEO involves embedding tags of code throughout the HTML on your pages to tell search engines what your content is about.

While schema isn’t a ranking factor, it helps search engines better understand your content to serve it to the right users. If you want to rank for rich snippets or FAQs, you’ll need to set up schema.

To make sure your structured data is set up correctly, check out these schema markup testing tools.

Schema makeup testing tools

Use the Rich Results Test or the Schema Markup Validator to see if your structured data is set up correctly. (Image: Google)

Responsive web design

It’s no longer optional to make your site mobile-friendly. In today’s online marketplace, over 70% of shoppers use their phones to buy online. If you want to improve the user experience on mobile devices, design your site with mobile responsiveness in mind.

Dan Kahuria, Marketing Director at 3DQuoter, an instant 3D quote web plugin, explains how it works: “The code is sent in HTML, while CSS changes how the page renders depending on the gadget. It doesn’t require redirection, so it’s less time-consuming, allowing pages to load faster. Whether they’re using a tablet or a smartphone, a responsive design ensures each site visitor has the best mobile experience.”

Some features of a mobile-friendly website include:

  • Text that can be read on any size screen
  • Buttons that are easy to click on devices with smaller screens
  • Content and layout that still looks good when the user switches from landscape to portrait
  • A light site that loads quickly and smoothly

When designing for mobile friendliness, test your mobile site yourself to see how it functions on different device screens.

Website speed

A slow-loading site is a major turnoff. It can frustrate your visitors and drive them into the arms of your competitors. Check your site page load time often to ensure your pages load quickly without issues.

“Stay on top of external scripts you add,” suggests Nedim Mehic, a Senior Technical SEO specialist and founder of Beki, an internal linking software. “If you’re not actively tracking heatmaps or other user behavior, disable the script until you need it again.”

Another fix Mehic often makes to improve site speed is implementing browser caching. “It can greatly improve the experience for return visitors, as certain elements of your website are stored on their device, eliminating the need for repeated downloads.”

Other ways to improve page load time is to compress your images and reduce redirects across your site.

On-page UX signals

A poor user experience drives people away from your site. Just think of how frustrating it is to go to a brand’s website and struggle to find what you’re looking for.

“User experience is best summed up as creating a web page that is intuitive, easy to use, and inviting for people browsing the web,” explains Patrick Herbert, Director of Singularity Digital.

He adds that enhancing user experience comes down to three principles: Give people what they expect on the page, give it to them fast, and do it in a way that’s visually appealing and logical.

Search Engine Journal recommends optimizing all three types of UX design: information, interaction, and visual design.

  • Information on the site should be organized and easy to find.
  • Site design should have an interactive design pattern—a design aligns with the way people interact with the site.
  • Design should also have a look and feel that the user can enjoy such as colors, typography, and images that are easy on the eyes.

Organized, structured website

Website structure contributes to user experience, and a well-organized website can reduce bounce rates. The goal is to simplify navigating your site so it’s eay to find what you’re looking for.

“A well-structured website can help you rank higher for your target keywords and provide a better user experience,” says José Moya, Outreach Manager for We Are Capicua, a UX design agency. “Use a hierarchal structure that moves from more significant, more general categories to smaller, more specific pages.”

Moya also suggests creating a straightforward and intuitive navigation menu that helps users find what they want.

What are on-page SEO factors?

On-page SEO factors are front-end and back-end elements of your site you can optimize to improve your page ranking on Google search. Optimizing web page content, site architecture, and HTML factors helps search engine crawlers understand your website content and its value to searchers.

The better Google understands your content, the more likely it’ll serve it to to the right users. It’s a win-win: Google provides relevant content to its users, and you bring more relevant people to your site.

Why is on-page SEO important for a website?

On-page optimization improves your site’s visibility in search, which drives more traffic to your website. In fact, 68%  of all online experiences start with a search engine. So, not having an optimized website isn’t an option if you want clicks and conversions.

Here’s a look at the other benefits of on-page SEO:

  • It’s one of the most cost effective ways to bring new traffic onto your website.
  • When your site is optimized for user experience, more visitors will stay on your website for longer, which leads to more conversions over time.
  • Optimization improves the click-through rate (CTR) from the organic search engine results.

While you may not have much control over off-page SEO factors like backlinking, brand mentions, and social media shares, you can control have control over every aspect of your on-page SEO. That makes it a must-have foressential for you to include on-page optimization as a part of your SEO strategy.

Need help with on-page SEO? Request a free consultation today.

The takeaway

On-site SEO is a vital part of search visibility. If you want to bring in more free Google traffic, you’ll need to implement the elements we’ve discussed here when optimizing your site.

Often, the best place to start is to conduct an SEO audit to see which page elements need work. Then, use this checklist to go through each element and optimize it for SEO.

If all of this feels a bit overwhelming, you’re not alone. Many of our clients come to us after struggling to keep their websites optimized. There are many tiny moving parts to track, not to mention what seems like constant Google algorithm updates.

The HawkSEM team loves helping brands boost their search visibility and drive more site traffic. If you’re ready to get help with on-page optimizing, get in touch with us today.

Contact HawkSEM for Free Consultation