7 Requirements for a Basic On-page SEO Checklist for 2021

Jan 24, 2021 | SEO

Who’s This For: SEO Beginners

So you’re looking for a basic on-page SEO checklist, eh? Welcome one and all. I’ve put together much more than a basic checklist. I hope to cover on-page search engine optimizations in great detail below. In this article, we’ll talk SEO title and description length, image alt tags, page speed, and much more.

Perhaps you’ve just launched your new website, or you’ve finally agreed that your business needs SEO to succeed. Either way, I’ve written this post to provide you exactly what you need to get your site optimized for Goog—uh, all search engines…

If you’re brave enough to jump into the SEO fray, roll up your sleeves and let’s dive in.

☑️ 1. Title Tags

If you take away nothing else from this post, take away this: The title tag is THE. MOST. IMPORTANT. SEO element on your page. The title of your page is what Google first evaluates when determining what your content is about and its relevance to future searchers.

Don’t get me wrong. You have to provide valuable content on the page too. A fantastic title tag won’t do anything if the content on the page is poor. But without a fantastic title tag, your page faces an insurmountable challenge to rank.

So what is a title tag?

The title tag is essentially the title of your page. When you build your page in WordPress, you’ll be asked to include the title. This 9 times out of 10 will end up being your title tag.

If you want to get fancy, you can make the title of your page and the title tag differ using an SEO plugin like Yoast SEO. But for this basic on-page SEO checklist, I would recommend keeping your page’s title and your title tag the same.

The title tag is so crucial because it appears on the SERP (search engine results page) with the highest prominence. See the screenshot below.

A screenshot of the Google search results page with fours arrows pointing to examples of title tags, a basic SEO on-page component.
Title Tags Are the #1 On-page SEO Tactic

All those blue phrases are the title tags. Because of their prominence—they have a bigger font size and different color, and they’re clickable—users like you and me read them first when deciding on which link to click.

So a title tag is not only essential for Google, but it’s essential for users as well. THAT’S what makes them so value.

How do I write a strong title tag?

When writing your title tag, you need to make sure that a few components are in the title tag:

  • Include Your Keyword at the Beginning: Make sure your targeted SEO keyword is near the beginning of the title tag.
  • Use Question Words: People turn to Google with questions. Turn your titles into questions to better align with users. Use words like “what,”’ “how,” “where,” and “‘why,” when possible. These words will improve the click-through rate and will drive the right people to your page.
  • Follow the Length Requirements: The length of your title tag should remain under 55 characters.

☑️ 2. Meta Descriptions

Coming in second on the basic on-page SEO checklist is the meta description. The meta description is second-in-command when it comes to essential on-page SEO.

Where it differs from a title tag is how it’s perceived. While a title tag is used by Google AND users, a meta description is only used by users. Google does not use the meta description in its ranking evaluation.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not important. It’s second-in-command after all.

As you can see from the screenshot below, meta descriptions sit just below the title tag. They act as reinforcement. If a user is choosing between two or more links, they’ll often read the meta description to find the differentiator between the links.

Perhaps one link mentions an interview with an expert, while the other one promises lots of video content. A user can then make a more informed choice.

A screenshot of a Google search result with four arrows points to examples of meta descriptions, a basic SEO on-page component.
Meta Descriptions Support the Title in the SERPs

How do I write a strong meta description?

When writing your meta description, keep the following in mind:

  • Include Your Keyword: While Google does not use meta descriptions to rank your website, you should still include your targeted keyword as Google will bold that searched phrase, making your link stand out more.
  • Create a Call to Action: Invoke a response. You want people to click, so include an action-oriented phrase. Ex: “Read more.” “Find our more information.” “Watch the video.”
  • Follow the Length Requirements: When writing your meta description, keep it under 160 characters.

☑️ 3. Image Alt Tags

Image alt tags (short for “alternative tags”) are essentially a description of the images you put on your website. They’re intended to be used by screen readers that serve people with visual or cognitive disabilities. However, search engines also use them to help understand the images used on a web page.

This second point is important for SEO. Because Google uses alt tags to understand images, the keywords you use within the alt tag are extremely important.

Nevertheless, you mustn’t ignore the original intent behind the alt tag: screen readers. If you simply place a keyword as your alt tag, you’re helping your SEO, true, but you’re providing a poor user experience to those with visual or cognitive disabilities.

For example, see the photo below.

An example of the use of a bad image alt tag on the left compared to the use of a good image alt tag on the right.

As you can see, the alt tag on the right side provides more description of the image while still incorporating the targeted keyword.

What should I keep in mind when writing an image alt tag?

  • Include a Keyword Phrase: Include your keyword phrase in the alt tag and describe the image using the simplest terms possible.
  • Don’t Write Too Much: Keep the image alt text around 125 characters.
  • Describe the Image Accurately: Too often I’ll read an alt tag that’s describing something clearly not in the image. Perhaps the writer got carried away. Only describe what’s in the photo. Don’t embellish.

☑️ 4. URL Structure, or The Slug

A slug hanging from a plant with a speech bubble, "Who, me?"

No, not that kind of slug.

The slug in SEO terms is the URL path for your page or blog. Here’s a simple diagram.

A diagram explaining the difference between the domain and the slug.

Your page’s slug is important because you can add the target keyword into your slug to boost the signal to Google’s bots. Consider a little SEO hack.

How can I optimize my page’s slug?

  • Keep It Short: Try to keep your slug short, as your total URL (domain + slug) should be around 50-60 characters long.
  • Use Your Keyword: Take advantage and put your keyword into your slug. In many cases, your slug can just be your targeted keyword.
  • Remove Unnecessary Words: If your page title is called “10 Things to Know About Doggie Daycare,” you don’t have to include all of that in the slug. Simplify it to just “doggie-daycare.” Note: you can’t have duplicate slugs; every slug must be unique.

☑️ 5. Cross-linking: Internal and External

Let’s start with internal cross-linking.

Internal cross-linking is linking your page to another page within your website. This will help improve the relevancy of your page, help search engines understand the structure of your website, and give certain pages on your website more authority in the search engine’s eyes.

One of the most overlooked basic on-page SEO checklist tactics is internal cross-linking. The routine of updating older blogs with internal links should be on your monthly to-do list. Once you’ve cross-linked every page on your site, do it again! By the time you make your way through the site, you’re bound to have new pages or new ideas on cross-linking.

How do I create proper internal cross links?

  • Hyperlink Your Keywords: Don’t simply link words like “click here” or “learn more.” The words you choose to link communicate to Google what the linked paged is about, and the phrase “click here” tells Google nothing. Instead, hyperlink your keywords.
  • Max Out at 10: While there is no limit on the number of internal links that you can put on each page, I’d recommend keeping it to no more than 10 links. You don’t want the page feeling spammy.

External cross-linking is when you link your page to a different domain. This is most commonly done when you’re linking to the source of a stat, fact, or other essential info, and you wish to give credit.

Why is linking to an external site good for your site? Simply put: It adds a level of trustworthiness to your site.

No one knows everything. We use resources all the time to better understand our topics. By linking to these sources, we’re communicating to both our readers and to Google that the information we’re providing is reputable and/or has been validated by other entities as well.

☑️ 6. Image File Size

I don’t have to explain the importance of images to you. We both know that if I’d published this blog with no images in it, I’d have a snowball’s chance in H-E-Double Hockey Sticks to keep you reading this far down the page.

But photos, my friend, come with a price.

That price? Page speed.

Google rewards fast-loading websites because people are very impatient creatures. More than half of all users will exit a website if it takes longer than three seconds to load.

The biggest impact on page speed are the images. Each image you add to your page adds more kilobytes (or megabytes) that a user must download before accessing your content. If you add too many large images, those users won’t stick around long enough to see what they are.

How do I keep my images from getting too big?

  • Keep Images to a Minimum: Only use images that support your content or provide information that words just can’t convey (for example, a data graph). Don’t simply add images for the sake of adding images. A good rule of thumb? If you find you need to include more than 10 images on a page, link to a gallery on a different page or site.
  • Keep Images Under 100KB: Is this always possible? Unfortunately no. But I implore you to try your hardest to keep them below 100kb.
  • Use an Image Compression Tool: I personally use Shortpixel.com to compress all my images before uploading them. But there are several other options, many of which are free under certain usage rates.

Some quick advice on using Shortpixel’s Image Compression Tool

When you use Shortpixel, you can compress your images using three settings. The default is Lossy. This compression algorithm attempts to make the smallest file size possible. In nine cases out of 10, you won’t see any degradation of quality. But sometimes it happens. If you find the image quality has suffered as a result of the Lossy compression, simply compress the original image again at the next setting, Glossy.

A side-by-side comparison of the same image compressed using the Lossy compression and the Glossy compression.

The subtle difference in quality can be discerned with a careful eye, but the file size difference between the two is startling. The Lossy Compression image on the left is 3x smaller than the Glossy Compression on the right. Sometimes, a little quality degradation is worth the slimmer file sizes.

☑️ 7. Proper Headline Tagging

The final basic on-page SEO checklist item concerns headline tagging. This section is less about the words you use—though, obviously, that’s essential for quality content—and more about how you use HTML tags to signify to search engines the organization of your content.

This type of tagging is referred to as semantic HTML markup because it conveys its meaning in a way both computers and humans can read.

WordPress will provide a simple way for you to tag your headlines so that you don’t have to understand code. But how about a 20,000-foot overview just for fun?

There are six heading tags. Their names are fairly predictable: H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, and H-PX94. No, just kidding; of course, it’s H6.

Your headline tags provide organization and context for your content. Think of it as a bulleted list. If I’m writing a page about “My Electronic Repair Services,” I may use the following headline tags to organize the page:

A list of headlines to show the relationships between H1s, H2s, H3s, and H4s.

An important note about the H1: The H1 tag is used for the most prominent headline on the page, usually the title of the page. Google uses the copy inside the H1 tag to better understand the content and context. Every page on your website should have an H1. Because of its importance, you should always aim to put your targeted keyword in the title tag.

Congrats! You’re an On-page SEO Expert.

Well, perhaps you don’t feel like an expert yet. Perhaps your head is still swimming with all this new information. Don’t worry. SEO can seem formidable at first blush, but I’m confident with a little practice (and if you return often to this basic on-page SEO checklist), you’ll have SEO completely figured out.

If you have any questions about anything you’ve read above, please let me know. You can email me at rhenwilson@littlerocketsites.com.

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