On Page SEO Checklist – Minimum ‘Must Haves’ for SEO Success

On Page SEO, of course, is the art and science of optimizing not just an individual web page but an entire website for SEO. It’s about being “Google friendly.” In this post, I’ll assume you have a good handle on your keyword targets and you’ve created a structured Keyword Worksheet, so that you know which keywords match which pages, starting with your homepage. We can use the HealthyPaws website at https://www.healthypawspetinsurance.com/ as a simple example of a well-optimized website.

First, let’s identify the key structural website elements you need vis-a-vis your target keywords.

Homepage: the gateway to your website, with an optimized TITLE TAG, META DESCRIPTION TAG and other MAIN SEO TAGS in proper order, plus visible content that has downward links to your “landing pages.

  • Landing Pages: these are individual focused pages that target one, and only one, keyword.  An example here would be their cat insurance landing page. Notice how it focuses on one and only one keyword pattern (“cat insurance”), and is laser-focused on that topic.

    On Page SEO Checklist - Minimum 'Must Haves' for SEO Success

    Photo credit: vwynx via Foter.com / CC BY-ND

  • Blog / blog pages: the website needs to have a blog gateway page and individual blog posts, which can focus on very narrow topics.  An example blog post is “9 Cat Life Hacks.”
  • A keyword heavy footer with links to the main landing pages. Look at any page on the HealthyPaws site and you’ll see links in the footer to key phrases such as “cat insurance” and “dog insurance.”

Beyond that, you can have lots of individual pages and content. You just want to be consistent. You should have one, and only one, landing page for a key phrase such as “cat insurance” rather than keyword / SEO confusion when you have too many pages and it’s not clear to Google which page is your ONE AND ONLY ONE landing page for a core keyword phrase. You thus have a “division of labor”: the homepage introduces the major keyword themes and links down to them, the landing pages focus on one and only one keyword phrases, and the subordinate pages and/or blog posts are narrowly focused on long tail or micro keyword phrases. Another key issue is URL structure; a site should avoid AT ALL COSTS parameter-based URL’s that contain characters like ?, $, sessionid, etc. A breadcrumb trail is yet another sitewide feature that can really help.

Google Friendly Files

Next, let’s make sure we have other Google-friendly files. Obviously, you need to join Google Search Console and register the site, plus install Google Analytics. These Google-friendly files tell Google you’re “on its team” and give you important data about your web health. An HTML sitemap is a must as this makes your website easy to crawl; the Googlebot can find each and every page through an HTML sitemap link that occurs in the footer on each and every page.  A robots.txt file tells Google what it can crawl and what it can’t.  And an XML sitemap can be submitted to Google search console and is yet another way to communicate site content to Google.  As on HealthyPaws, that XML site should be referenced, if possible, in your robots.txt file. If you’re using WordPress, you can easily find plugins for Google Webmaster Tools and XML sitemaps such as the Yoast plugin, plus a few that will create the HTML sitemap.

On Page Optimization of Individual Pages

Third, let’s turn to the on page basics of individual pages. Using the Yoast plugin for WordPress is an easy way to accomplish two basic things. One, the ability to optimize your page TITLE and two, your ability to optimize your Meta Description tag. As you create content, also use the primary SEO-friendly tags such as the IMAGE ALT tag, HEADER tag, and AHREF / cross-links tab.  Refer to the Google SEO Starter Guide or my SEO Fitness Workbook for a rundown of the primary SEO-friendly tags.  I cannot overemphasize the necessity of an optimized TITLE tag, as that is the most important.

In addition to correct SEO-friendly tags, you need to have well-optimized visible content. It is a fallacy that you write either “for humans” or “for Google.” You can, and should, write REAL content that is useful to REAL people but also contains your target keywords and related keywords in sufficient density.  Again, refer to the cat insurance page on HealthyPaws for an excellent example.  Right click, and view source to see how it follows good SEO principles both in terms of tags (e.g., Title tag) and visible content.

Finally, you want to make sure that the site has cross-links to/from each individual landing page. This is called “link sculpting” or “SEO silos.” You want to put all your “cat insurance” content in a “cat insurance” directory and cross link to/from the major pages.  This is a “missed opportunity” on the HealthyPaws site. A post such as “Can Cats Eat Shrimp,” for example, should link “up” to the main “cat insurance” page in the visible text. These cross-links to/from your main keyword are one of the most common “missed opportunities” for effective on page SEO and should be part of any checklist.

Be Mobile Friendly; Be Fast

Oh, and for extra credit, you want to make sure that your site is “mobile friendly” and fast. A fast, mobile friendly site will outperform a slow, non-mobile site, all things considered. So your site must look good on both the desktop and the phone AND be fast.  Use the Google Mobile Friendly test tool to verify that you are mobile friendly. Use GTMETRIX to verify that your site is fast. Here is the report for HealthyPaws, and here’s the report for JM-SEO.org. Ouch!

Local SEO / JSON-LD Issues

If your site is local (that is you are a local business) and want to rank in the local pack, then you need to make sure you have NAP consistency, that is NAME, ADDRESS, PHONE NUMBER.  These need to match your physical address on both Google My Business and your website. In addition, you want to insert Google-friendly JSON-LD structured data (use the Google Structured Data Markup Helper) to markup your “about” page with structured data indicating the type of business and address.  Insert an embedded Google map to your Google My Business listing as well.

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About Jason McDonald

Jason McDonald is a top-rated San Francisco SEO Consultant. His consulting services include search engine optimization consulting, social media marketing consulting, and Google AdWords consulting. Jason's motto as a consultant is that he doesn't do SEO 'for you' but rather he does SEO 'with you.' That goes as well for his social media marketing consultant activities and Google AdWords consultant services. Besides serving clients in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jason consults with clients in Silicon Valley (San Jose), Oakland and other cities throughout the Bay Area. Beyond the Bay Area, Jason is available as an SEO consultant, Social Media Consultant, and as an expert witness in litigation involving social media marketing, search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising.