Believe it or not, a content brief template has a gazillion uses!
OK, so I’ve exaggerated a bit, but it’s so flexible that...
You know that SEO is important. But do you know how to optimize each and every page of your content for ranking highly in search results? There’s more to it than a good meta description — in fact, that’s pretty low on the list! Fear not: we’ve got THE comprehensive checklist for on-page SEO, keyword research, and everything in-between. Let’s dive in.
On-page SEO encompasses everything from content optimization to making sure that each page is easily scanned and assessed by search engine bots. It requires careful finessing of both code and content. When done correctly, it improves each page’s ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs) as well as your site’s overall ranking.
The following checklist gives you all the steps to follow to ensure that you have (1) a robust keyword strategy, (2) easily parsed webpages, and (3) a properly structured website that search engines deem trustworthy. We’ll start with keyword research, then move into specific content attributes, and finish with some technical issues to check.
Google is the world’s number-one search engine, which makes it very generous of them to offer this free tool. In Google Search Console, you can see which keywords provide you with the most traffic and use your findings to improve your SEO strategy. You can also submit a sitemap to help Google’s crawlers better parse your site. The Google Search Console also allows you to fix website issues and connect with the Google Search team, making it an invaluable tool in your SEO toolkit.
Up to one-third of all searches are done on Bing, so it’s worth your effort to make your website Bing-friendly. To improve your on-page SEO, though, you’ll benefit greatly from Bing Webmaster Tools. Use their free keyword tool to track the use of a keyword by date range, country, and language. You can then refine your keyword strategy for your target market.
It’s hard to believe that a tool as powerful as Google Analytics is free, but it is. You can fully analyze your website’s traffic, including its sources and frequency, and assess its growth via multiple metrics. You’ll also get your bounce rate and learn which pages are underperforming. Plus, you can link your Analytics account to Google Search Console for a comprehensive portrait of your site’s performance. Google Analytics isn’t just for site-wide analysis, though; you can check each page for its individual sources of traffic and look for any issues that could be improved by better on-page SEO.
WordPress sites tend to be SEO-friendly, but it can be difficult to optimize your content without digging into the backend. Enter Yoast, which gives you a free suite of tools to evaluate and customize your pages’ titles, descriptions, and keywords. When you open any given page in WordPress’ editor, Yoast displays keyword analysis, a meta description editor, and other useful on-page SEO tools. Plus, Yoast’s handy setup wizard will tweak your site for optimal ranking on Google. You can even set up your robots.txt file and sitemap through it.
A sitemap is an XML file that tells search engine bots exactly how your site is laid out. This helps them crawl each page and understand the relationships among your various types of content. The more that bots know about your site, the better equipped they are to determine its value and ranking on SERPs. A sitemap helps search engine crawlers assess the relationship of each page to the rest of your site, which, in turn, can boost individual pages’ rankings.
These days, users aren’t just typing one or two keywords into Google. They’re entering full keyword phrases or even asking natural-language questions. You can guess which ones your target audience is using, but why not make it simple? Google shows you what other people are searching for. All you have to do is start typing a keyword or key phrase into Google’s homepage search bar, then see what suggestions appear. It’s data-backed keyword research — for free. You can then work these popular keywords into your content to help your pages rank higher. (Tip: On SERPs, look for the “People Also Ask” box for more ideas.)
As we mentioned, people are often typing full questions into Google (or using a pocket AI to do it for them). These longtail queries are great topics for high-value content such as blog posts because you can optimize for them right in the title of the page. But how do you know what people are asking? Try Answer the Public. You can enter any keyword phrase, and ATP will give you an impressive list of related longtail queries. Then, mix these queries into your content.
Google just keeps coming with the free tools, and Keyword Planner is an excellent option for anyone who wants to check the search volume and competition of a given keyword. While the Keyword Planner is intended to help you use AdWords, it provides valuable data for your content optimization as well. Ideally, you’ll want to include a mix of high- and low-competition keywords into your content to reach the broadest possible audience.
Make sure that your page has the chief keyword or key phrase for which you’d like to optimize. Doing this helps improve your organic clickthrough rate. Google evaluates your URL to understand your content, and a page URL such as yourdomain.com/page-17464 does you no favors. If you’re using WordPress for your site, you’ll likely need to customize your permalink structure under Settings for keyword-friendly URLs.
Avoid making the entire title of your blog post appear in your URL. Pages with lengthy URLs rank lower in search results. The sweet spot for URL length is about 50 characters, according to Google data. Choose your primary target keywords or keyphrase and use those to construct your page’s URL.
Your title should be optimized for your target key phrases and longtail queries, but it can’t hurt to add your chief keyword to the title. For example, if your page title is “How to Improve Your On-Page SEO,” your SEO title could be “SEO Tips: How to Improve Your On-Page SEO.” Note that with tools like Yoast, you can customize your title tag so that it appears differently in Google than it does on your site. This can improve your organic clickthrough rate on SERPs.
Google wants you to get to the point quickly. Make sure that you include your target keyword or key phrase within the first 100-150 words of your content. That’s where Google will look first to assess the content of your page. You don’t need to “stuff” the introduction; just use the target word or phrase naturally at the start of your content. On this note, it’s important to ensure your page is structured with proper headings so that Google can correctly parse your content.
Google loves images, and there are signs that it prioritizes pages with images. Unfortunately, it’s not too good at figuring out an image’s purpose on your page, unless you tell it. Use descriptive filenames for your images and shrink them to a web-friendly size before you add them to your content. Be sure to include the alt tag, which not only improves your website’s accessibility for visually impaired users but also gives Google information about your image.
Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords are words and phrases that search engines consider to be semantically related to a topic. Previously, search engines weren’t good at figuring out the intent of a user’s search, which meant that irrelevant content with similar keywords would often pop up in search results. As Google became more sophisticated, it started using LSI keywords to improve its search results. Obviously, you need to tap into LSI keywords in your content. Use a tool such as LSIGraph.com to figure out what yours are.
People tend to skim webpages to find the content they want, which means headings are your best friend. Break up your content with multiple headings — like we’ve done in this post — and include your target keywords within the headings. If you’ve done thorough keyword research, you should have a list of LSI keywords that you can use to build your headings. From a technical standpoint, make sure the headings are organized properly. For example, jumping from an H1 tag to an H3 tag will confuse Google’s bots and potentially harm your ranking. Remember, correctly implemented code is SEO-friendly code!
Backlinks are important, but Google also rewards pages that link outward to valuable content. This shows Google that your content is more authoritative and accurate than other pages. Add citations to sites with high domain authority, such as major publications or reference sites, and hyperlink keywords directly to those pages.
A website full of disconnected pages isn’t as impressive to Google as one that has internal consistency and a strong content structure. To achieve these things, link each new page on your site to at least 2–3 other pages. As with external links, ensure that you use keyword-rich anchor text to help Google assess the value and purpose of your content. One way to ensure that you build your internal links without duplicating content or cannibalizing your keywords is to use content pillars. Create an authoritative piece of content, then build on individual ideas in separate pages that link to the main page. This helps establish your website’s authority to Google.
The better you can control how your pages appear in SERPs, the more you can improve your organic clickthrough rate. Schema markup tells search engines how to display your content. Left to their own devices, many search engines will choose an image and snippet to appear with your page listing. Sometimes, it doesn’t choose options that would entice your target audience, which is why you should use schema markup to optimize your page.
As mentioned, you should include your chief keyword or key phrase in your SEO title. But let’s talk about the title itself. This is not the time to be ambiguous or boring. Use an active voice and, where possible, in the second person to make your title more engaging. If you’re targeting a specific longtail query, that’s a good phrase on which to base your title. Research shows that numbers, brackets, and parentheses improve your organic clickthrough rate as well; they draw the eye and suggest a high-authority page.
Your page’s meta description is usually what appears beneath your SEO title in SERPs. Users will read this to decide whether or not to view your content. Take the time to craft a keyword-rich, interesting meta description that entices people to click. (Note that Google will highlight the user’s search term if it appears in the description.) Meta descriptions are generally about 160 characters long. Use this space to let users know what to expect when they click on your content and how they will benefit.
Above, we mentioned the importance of including target keywords in your first 100-150 words. But there’s more to your content than that. Users will spend just a few seconds on your page to decide if they want to read further. You’ve got to hook them with a strong intro that lets them instantly decide if the page is interesting. (On that note, try to have this key intro “above the fold” rather than making users scroll to find it.)
Sure, there are people using the Internet for academic research who don’t mind reading lengthy, dense articles. But most users are looking for easily digestible, skimmable content. Give them what they want by using lots of different sections with subheadings (like we’ve done in this post) rather than presenting them with a wall of text. (Plus, you can add your target keywords to the various headings.) Keep your sections short — no long paragraphs. It’s also a good idea to use lots of bulleted or numbered lists to make your content easy to skim.
Most of your audience is focused on getting answers and results. They want content that gets to the point and addresses their needs. Remember, Google is measuring user intent and will deliver content that best suits that intent. So, when creating your content, think about the structure, outcomes, and key takeaways that readers would seek. Aim to provide users with actionable information that demonstrates your thought leadership. This sort of content is much more likely to rank high in search results.
Have you ever heard of the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Scores? These complementary metrics describe how easy an article is to read. Content with complex sentences and big words is more challenging than short and sweet content. Guess which one performs better on the web — and in search results? You got it. Aim for an 8th-grade reading level or less and a readability score of at least 65. These numbers indicate that your content can be easily read and understood by most of your target audience.
Yes, you want to include as many target keywords, keyphrases, and variations thereof in your content — but not to the point that’s it’s unreadable. Ever read an article that’s so obviously stuffed with keywords that you get bored halfway through? That’s not what you want for your content. Keep it natural and write your content for human readers, not bots. Google is smart enough to figure out what you’re talking about, but it’s not very forgiving of spammy content jammed with keywords.
As we mentioned above, citing your sources isn’t just the ethical thing to do: it also shows Google that your content is trustworthy. But there’s more to creating authoritative content than linking to high-authority sites. Google is able to assess your content for correctness and value, which means that your content should always be written with those attributes in mind. Remember, you’re the expert on your topic. Let your content show that.
Whatever your chosen topic, there’s probably already content that’s ranking highly for it. Your challenge is to identify that content and top it. Google rewards the best content on the web. When scoping out competitors’ content for your target keywords, identify what makes it rank highly. Then, use your unique knowledge and authority to create something even better.
This item is more of a site-wide issue, but it has a very real effect on individual pages’ rankings. Let’s face it: people are impatient. No one has any reason to wait for your content to load after they click your SERP listing. If it doesn’t show them something of value within a few seconds, they’re going to leave — it’s that simple. Work with your developer to trim down page load time, and watch your bounce rate decrease.
This is also a web development/site-wide issue, but again, each of your pages needs to be fully optimized for search engines. Now that more than half of users are on mobile, Google is prioritizing mobile-friendly content. That’s because users will simply leave a site that doesn’t render well on their smartphone, and Google will deem those pages less relevant. Don’t let that happen to your content. Implement responsive design on your site, and be sure to use lots of white space to make your content look good on mobile devices.
Google initially launched with an algorithm that measured pages’ relevancy by tracking backlinks. Even as Google has become more sophisticated, backlinks remain important. The catch is, Google might penalize your site if you amass backlinks from low authority and non-relevant sites. Your goal should be to get as many quality backlinks as possible. The best way to do that is to create valuable content that people want to link to. Focus on creating pages that offer easily digestible chunks of information and great user experience, and watch your backlinks — and page ranking — rise.
As this checklist shows, the best way to boost your pages’ rankings on SERPs is to create great content. It’s well worth your time to do extensive keyword research and develop a strong content strategy. Then, craft your content to meet your audience’s needs. Ensure that search engine bots can easily crawl your pages and assess their value for users. To boost your on-page SEO, you need the perfect blend of technical finesse and compelling content. Here’s a rule of thumb to follow: put the user first. That’s what Google rewards above all else.
If you’d like to check your content for readability, keywords, and comprehensiveness compared to your competitors’ pages, enter it into SEOScout. This robust tool gives you a thorough analysis of your content, including the reading grade level, target keywords, and word count. When you optimize your content with this tool, you can get ahead of the game and start ranking higher in SERPS. Give it a try at seoscout.com.
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