What is On-Page Optimization in SEO and How to Easily Master it

When we think about optimizing content for search, many marketers will immediately get overwhelmed because they are used to hearing SEO consultants talk about formulas, Google algorithms, and phrases like keyword density. A lot has changed in SEO in recent years and you can honestly set all of that aside because Google no longer works that way.

Yes, my friends, keyword density is dead and so are a lot of other old school SEO tactics and myths.

There is no perfect formula for on-page optimization of content. To win in today’s world of search, you need to stay focused on writing content for real humans, solving people’s problems, and helping the search engines locate the right content for a given search phrase.

At the heart of strong content, optimization is an overriding focus on the human. And honestly, I’m really happy about this because it makes the entire process of SEO a whole lot easier.

Recent Pivots in On-Page Optimization

The last few years have been pivotal years for SEO. We saw massive shifts in the type of content Google wants and the type of content it rewards with page one ranking. I’d like to highlight some of these items right away, so I can get you thinking in the right direction.

Here are some areas where we’ve noticed SEO shifts:

  • A strong desire and focus on solving the problems of readers
  • Longer keyword phrases are driving search and bringing in the majority of search traffic to websites and blogs
  • A greater need for longer content that fully covers a given topic
  • A strong focus on readability
  • A focus on accessibility so everyone can understand the nature of links and images and content flow
  • A need for subheaders and bullets for ease of use on mobile devices
  • A need for short paragraphs for ease of reading on mobile devices
  • A need for featured images for social sharing and distribution
  • A strong desire for multimedia content (videos, podcasts, images, etc.)
  • A move away from binary data points like keyword density
  • A move towards keyword variations and topics
  • A strong reliance on semantic language

Don’t let that term “semantics” worry you. It simply means you are using descriptive words that help Google better understand the nature of your content as a whole.

 I said above that longer content is important and that is because:

  • Longer content can go deeper into a topic, and in doing so, it can better answer the searcher’s question
  • Longer content will tend to drive more social sharing which drives more visitors and more visibility with search engines
  • Longer content will better satisfy the human reader, which will, in turn, will drive more backlinks

The new benchmark for content length:

  • My recommendation for national searches (think about a search for how to treat a sunburn) is a minimum of 1,000 words and usually about 2,000 words. But know this is solely because it takes about this much text to thoroughly present a problem and outline the solution.
  • Local searches (think about a search for a local Italian restaurant) do not require as much content, because they are less informational. They are simpler and more direct, so content doesn’t have to be as deep or long. You could rank something locally with as little as 500 words.

In today’s SEO, there is no magic number for the ideal quantity of words on a page. The trick is to create better content than the other websites ranking on page one of SERPs (search engine results page). If you can do this, you can win with 500 words, 1,000 words, or 5,000 words.

Always Consider Semantic Wording

As you optimize your content for search engines, you are really just trying to help them find the right content for a search term. There isn’t any voodoo associated with optimization. Instead, it is just making sure you are clear in your content writing.

Let’s assume for this exercise I have determined my focused keyword is “WordPress hosting” and I would like to rank for this phrase.

The first thing I would want to do is think about alternative phrases that would semantically align with this phrase. Put in other terms, what things would naturally be discussed or flow with WordPress hosting? These would be things like:

  • Website or blog
  • Performance or speed
  • Cost 
  • Software updates
  • Backups
  • Hosting company
  • Migrations
  • SSL
  • Technical support

If I were to talk about WordPress hosting, I would naturally assume the content would include those above elements. Those above elements would lead to many variations of my core phrase WordPress hosting. These might include:

People tend to fall down when writing for SEO because their mind knows their topic well and it skips over important details.

For example, I would simply state that “it costs $12/month” and to the writer, this would make sense. But to the search engines and readers, they might be wondering what “it” is and what is included in the “cost” they are supposed to pay.

What would be a better usage of this text would be to have a section of the content dedicated to the “Cost of WordPress Hosting” and within this section we talk about all the things that would be included in this hosting plan.

This is not only helpful for the reader and encourages them to convert into a customer, but it is also helpful for the search engines.

Create an Outline to Guide Your Writing

This leads me to the next important element of on-page SEO, which is your content outline. You should always have a content outline when writing for the web. 

In our case, we would simply talk about the things we’d want to cover. And those “things” would tie back to the human readers we want to serve.

For us to create a strong web page that talks about WordPress hosting, we would want to cover the things that really matter to human readers. These elements would be:

  • Introduction– This would provide a nice overview of WordPress hosting and our offering for humans and search engines.
  • Who – This would highlight who our hosting serves. This could be websites and blogs or online stores.
  • What – This would describe what is included in our offering. We would include things like SSL certificates, daily backups of software, automatic updates of WordPress and plugins, security features like firewall protection, and so on. 
  • How – This would provide information on how the above items are executed and delivered or it would provide details on migrations, ongoing support, etc.
  • Why – This would highlight the expertise that we offer, the technical team we employ, or the availability to 24/7 support staff.
  • Close – This would be a closing paragraph that would reiterate the items discussed and summarize for the reader.

But this is just one route to go. Instead you could focus your sections on key elements of the hosting like:

  • Introduction
  • Price
  • Performance
  • Ease of use
  • Security
  • Support
  • Close

The key takeaway here is you have a plan and this plan answers your human reader’s questions, while also providing structure and semantic language to help the search engines understand the nature of the content and who this content can serve.

And if we were to look at word count, we would naturally end up with 3,000+ words, because there is no way to discuss all the above items for anything less.

10 Key On-Page SEO Elements to Watch

While I’m going to use a page in my text below, the tips can be used for optimizing a page, post, or product. Here are things to consider as you enter your content into your website.

Page Name or Title

  • This is the name you give your page when you create it.
  • Choose a title that is relevant to what the content discusses.
  • Make sure the title is unique and does not duplicate another page title.
  • Keep the title short enough so it is easy to read and digest
  • Include the keyword phrase, but do not repeat it.


  • The URL is the website address for a piece of content. The URL is displayed as part of a search result in Google and it appears below the document’s title and snippet.
  • This should always include your keyword.
  • This should be as short as possible.

H1 Header

  • The H1 is the most important item and it should never be omitted on a page, post, or product. 
  • Make sure your website or WordPress theme uses H1 headers.
  • Make sure your website or WordPress theme uses only one H1 header per URL.
  • Include your keyword in your H1 tag.

H2-H6 Subheaders

  • Search engines will use these to better understand the structure of the page.
  • We created these above when we were making our content outline of price, performance, security, etc.
  • Keep headers in title case and do not use long sentences.
  • Use unique header content.

Paragraph Text

  • This simply refers to the content itself. 
  • Include your keyword phrase and variations a number of times within the content, but do not stress about an exact number.
  • Use the keyword in the first sentence of the page, and if that is not possible, in the first paragraph.
  • Use variations of your keyword. In our example these would be WordPress hosting, WordPress website hosting, managed WordPress hosting, hosting for WordPress, etc.
  • Remember semantics and include semantically relevant phrases. 

A Note of Semantics: 

Remember that semantics is simply using descriptive words along with your text. An example I like to use is the word mouse. If I wrote an article about a mouse how would Google know if I meant a computer mouse or a mouse that lives in my alpaca barn? It would look at the semantics of the entire article to figure it out. A computer mouse would also mention things like a desk, computer, Mac, Logitech, monitor, clicks, etc. A barn mouse would mention things like barn, hay, straw, rodent, removal, pest management, traps, bait, cats, etc. 


  • Images are great for SEO, usability, and sharing on social media. 
  • While all content won’t have the option for an image, use an image whenever possible.
  • The image file name should describe the image.
  • Image alt text should describe the image and carefully consider semantics when doing so.


  • Hyperlinks are links or routes to other places on the web. These could be inside your website or to an external website or blog.
  • Hyperlinks help the SEO of the page it is on, so use them if possible.
  • External hyperlinks are good for the user and don’t hurt SEO, so don’t be afraid of them.
  • Always include strong anchor text that clearly defines the destination of the link and has strong semantic word choices if possible.
  • While there is no set rule for how many links to include on one page, don’t add any more than what is needed for the reader.
  • Don’t place hyperlinks in the intro paragraph as these take readers and search engines away before they can digest your content.
  • Avoid click here, page, and article as anchor text.


  • Bulleted lists help readers scan a page and it helps make content easier to read. I’m using them here for this very reason. 
  • Google embraces bullets because they know readers like them, and they make content easy to digest on mobile devices.
  • Bullets also show up often in featured snippets on Google.

Meta Titles

  • A page’s meta title gives Google and other search engines an idea of what the page is about and what they should expect to see as they digest the content.
  • This appears in the search engine results page.
  • A page’s meta title should be a title and not a sentence.
  • Make sure it is unique and doesn’t duplicate other meta titles.
  • Make it informative, yet easily readable.
  • Include the focused keyword phrase in it.
  • This is your first opportunity to reach potential visitors, so make it enticing, but not cheesy.
  • Keep it under 55 characters long.

Meta Descriptions

  • A page’s meta description gives Google and other search engines a summary of what the page is about and what they should expect to see as they digest the content. 
  • This appears in the search engine results page.
  • A page’s meta description might be a sentence or two or a very short paragraph.
  • Make sure it is unique and doesn’t duplicate other meta descriptions
  • Make it informative, yet easily readable.
  • Include the focused keyword phrase in it.
  • This is your first opportunity to reach potential visitors, so again we want to make it interesting, but not cheesy.
  • Keep it under 160 characters.

Everyone Can Master Content Optimization for Search

So that’s it! There was no magical pixie dust, no voodoo, and no complex formulas you need to master to write SEO-friendly content.

We simply wrote informative content, that uses descriptive words, and then we reviewed specific elements we know search engines use to locate and use content in search.

And if you were paying close attention, you’ll notice our focus wasn’t entirely on keywords. Instead, we focused on readability, semantics, with a few references to keywords sprinkled into the URL, H1 header, intro text, and meta.

And at the end of the day, if you forgot about keywords, and just wrote exceptional content that was educational, easy to read, and was better than anyone else online, you’d still win in search. You might not win as many phrases and much traffic as you could, but you would still win because you were servicing the human.

At the end of the day, SEO is about humans and making people’s lives awesome. Never ever let anyone tell you differently. 

The more I teach SEO and provide coaching at the Digital Marketing Kitchen, the more I hear myself repeating this over and over again.

Don’t make keyword rank and search traffic your ultimate goal. Make your goal to make people’s lives better and you’ll win at digital marketing.

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Comments ( 15 )

author avatar

stella mark

Jun 18, 2020

Amazing work, I must appreciate your efforts and highlighting the need of SEO in today's world and mentioned USA's best companies providing this service. Digital marketers are focused in providing their expertise through SEO marketing agencies in USA to improve SERP ranking.

author avatar


Jun 19, 2020

Thanks for the great article. You didn't mention HTML5 semantic tags as important. What is your opinion about the HTML5 semantic tag website structure?

author avatar

Rebecca Gill

Jun 23, 2020

Ivan that was a major oversight on my part. I entirely missed it, which is unfortunate. I am adamant about proper HTML5 semantic structure for headers, bolds, etc. One H1 or many is a common debate I get into with developers. While Google will not penalize you for not having cleaar HTML5 headers in place, it will not help your SEO. Google, Bing, and screen readers all want and need proper headers (and in an outline) to help them better understand and digest content. It's good for SEO, good for the human readers, and good for the writers because it helps keep them on task.

author avatar

Frank Hazzard

Jun 21, 2020

As a content strategist, I concur with Rebecca's advice on SEO and content. As an author who educated himself on SEO and turned to online writing to survive, I am gratified that Google has finally rewarded good content written for humans -- this makes us writers more valuable. You didn't mention SEO penalties for "bad" tactics, but they do still exist and content creators should be aware of them. Stealing content ("scraping") from other sites or from one page to another on the same site tops the list of no-no's, but there are others.

author avatar

Rebecca Gill

Jun 23, 2020

Black hat SEO is still a thing and it is alive and well. Well, maybe not well since it does bring Google penalties. =) In all honesty, it is still used and something I stay clear of both in teaching and in discussions. It breaks my heart that low-quality SEO consultants use it and sell it to unknowing clients.

author avatar

James Barnes

Jun 28, 2020

Fabulous article, Rebecca. I learned a lot. I'm no expert, but I thought that web pages should be short and snappy, with not too much text so that you don't turn off the modern non-reader. Where does all the text go? Do you just write an introduction with a link to an unlisted page which has the remainder of the article?

author avatar

Rebecca Gill

Jul 07, 2020

James I would not recommend that approach. If you fail to allow search engines to reach text, they won’t be able to use the content in search.

author avatar

Kristine Strange

Jun 29, 2020

This is a wonderful article. You've laid out on page SEO guidelines in a digestible format. Thank you. I love that you have focused on user intent and answering problems, more than focusing solely on keywords. BERT is allowing for more useful articles online that answer more user questions. This article is a prime example.

author avatar


Jul 01, 2020

Thanks for sharing this article

author avatar


Jul 05, 2020

Hey REBECCA, Thanks for the amazing post about the on-page. It provides valuable information, especially about Google's new methodology on ranking pages.

author avatar

Jay P

Jul 06, 2020

Very helpful - thanks. I have a site with images in galleries. I have been struggling to get them 'seen' as part of the SEO - I have tags and alt-titles fo reach but plugins like Yoast or All-in-One do not see those.

author avatar

Ishan Lalwani

Jul 07, 2020

Hi Rebecca, I'm struggling with the finding of keywords. I know many tools but how can I search exact keywords which are in demand as well as it has less difficulty so it can rank easily. Even the free version of Yoast plugin doesn't offer an option to add related keywords. Please help me with, how can I do keyword research. Thank you for the awesome post.

author avatar

Alfonso Benvolio

May 11, 2021

It is an all in one solution for the SEO, Thank you so much for sharing blog commenting Sites List, it’s very helpful and you own one of the best blogs on the internet. Again Thanks a Lot!

author avatar

Simon Carne

Sep 17, 2022

In the section on H1, you refer to "H1 headers" in three of the bullet points, but the fourth bullet switches to a suggestion about the "H1 Tag". Is the content of the H1 Tag the same as the words in the header or is there some additional "tag" (whatever that is) that we need to address also?

author avatar

Gergana Zhecheva Siteground Team

Sep 21, 2022

Hey Simon, in the context of the paragraph, it is the same.


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