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SEO Best Practices: On-Page SEO Checklist For 2019

So you are about to publish a new blog post or page on your website. You are hoping that Google likes your page enough to rank it, and users like your website content enough to share it and link to it. Below you will find the SEO basics and on-page SEO best practices for creating a new web page or article.

This on-page SEO checklist acts as a guide to ensure that each new page includes the SEO basics and best practices that Google uses to determine relevancy.

1.  URLs and Permalink Best Practices

I get asked weekly about the best practices for permalink and URL structure, the value they have towards increasing SEO rankings, or if a business should pick an exact match domain. We have all been told that keywords in the URL hold some weight in Google’s Algorithm. But how true is this statement?

Benefits of Creating SEO and User-Friendly URLs

Keyword Value

There is much debate about whether or not having keywords in your websites URLs or WordPress permalinks actually gives you a boost within the search results.

From the testing we have done, the primary benefit of having keywords in your URL is the contextual value your website receives when a website links to your site with only the URL and no anchor text. In this case, Google is able to parse out keywords from the URL to help define the relevance of the page being linked to; much like normal keyword focused anchor text or alt text on images.

Click Through Rate

Google understands that in most cases users scan search results, therefore Google highlights keywords that are in the title, description, and URL that match the users search query. Matching users search intent with URL structure can help with click through due to the bolding of keywords in the SERPs.

Social Value

Social sharing is one of the indicators that the search engines use to determine the value of a page. Creating short, concise URLs that are easily copied and shared, and which show up in the social networks in an optimal way is important for branding and click through.

Best Practices For Creating SEO Friendly URLs

So you’re creating a new site, or thinking about rewriting your website’s URLs to help your users and the search engines understand your website and its pages more accurately. When new URLs are being planned for sites, the following rules should be followed and an SEO should be brought in to work with your business to define the structure.

Keep it short – While a descriptive URL is important, minimizing length and trailing slashes will make your URLs easier to copy, paste, or remember in the rare case they were not bookmarked, and will be fully visible in the search results. Should be no more than 100 characters with stop words removed.

www.yoursite.com/category/subcategory/productpage/product (Bad)
www.yoursite.com/category/product (Good)

Use keywords – If your page is targeting a specific term or phrase, make sure to include it in the URL. However, don’t go overboard by trying to stuff in multiple keywords for SEO purposes; overuse will result in less usable URLs and can trip spam filters.

www.yoursite.com/dog-leashes-that-are-blue/blue-dog-leashes (Bad)
www.yoursite.com/leashes/blue-dog-leashes (Good)

Be Descriptive – Rather than selecting numbers or meaningless figures to categorize information, use real words and remove any special characters.

www.yoursite.com/category/item?23434 (Bad)
www.yoursite.com/category/dog-leashes (Good)

Remove Special Characters

www.yoursite.com/category/john's-leashes (Bad)
www.yoursite.com/category/johns-leashes (Good)

Use hyphens to separate words – Not all of the search engines interpret separators accurately like “_”, “+”, or “%20” so use the hyphen “-” character to separate words in a URL.

www.yoursite.com/category/dog+leashes (Bad)
www.yoursite.com/category/dog-leashes (Good)

Keep it lowercase – Not all the search engines are case sensitive so www.yoursite.com/dog and www.yoursite.com/Dog can be seen as different URLs.

www.yoursite.com/category/Johns-Leashes (Bad) 
www.yoursite.com/category/johns-leashes (Good)

Remove stop words – Stop words are very common words or adjectives that can hinder your SEO efforts. Words such as, ‘of ‘ , ‘or’, ‘the’ etc. interfere with your SEO efforts because they use up precious character space, especially when creating URLs. For your WordPress permalinks, there are plugins (such as the Yoast SEO plugin) which have the option to do this automatically.

www.yoursite.com/category1/the-page-and-dog-name (Bad)
www.yoursite.com/category1/page-dog-name (Good)

Keep it 2 levels or less – Level 1 should be the site section/category. Level 2 should be the sub-section/second category

www.yoursite.com/category1/page-name (Good)
www.yoursite.com/category1/category2/page-name (OK)
www.yoursite.com/category1/category2/catetory3/page-name (Bad)

Remove tracking parameters – If it is necessary to use tracking parameters on internal URLs to better understand click-path, or for external marketing campaigns, make sure you use the canonical tag and point it to the URL without the tracking – this will eliminate duplicate content issues.

2. Google SEO Tagging Best Practices

Google’s SEO tagging and metadata best practices, and the website tags they value have changed dramatically over the last decade. When I first started doing search engine optimization almost ten years ago, there were a ton of SEO Tags that were added to a website to help it’s content to become more relevant for a keyword. Over the years, most of those tags, such as the meta keywords tag, have lost value, and thus don’t impact rankings or content relevance. There are still a few that have value, of which you will find the SEO metadata and tagging best practices for below.

SEO Title Tag Best Practices

What Is The Title Tag?

Title tags, also known as SEO title tags or meta page titles for SEO, are often used on search engine results pages to display preview snippets for a given web page and are important both for SEO and social media sharing. The title element of a web page is meant to be an accurate and concise description of a page’s content.

Much like the meta description tag, Google can pull different SEO title tags to display in their search results based on search query and what they feel is the intent of the searcher. Bill Ross, CEO of Linchpin SEO, a Durham SEO Company

SEO Title Tag Structure

There are many theories on how to best structure your title tag to impact rankings. Some say that you should put your keywords first, others say it does not matter all that much. We are on the side of the later. Title tags should include keywords, but should also be conversational in nature and not just a list of keywords.

SEO Title Tag Length

Originally the length of the title tag for SEO was 70 characters including spaces, but more recently it was discovered the Google defines length by pixels more than purely by character count. Google calculate the pixel width of the characters used in titles with a limit of 512 pixels. Anything over this limit, Google truncates the title and includes an ellipsis.

Description Tag Best Practices

What Is The Meta Description Tag?

The description tag, also known as the meta description tag or SEO meta description tag, is the short snippet that is shown under your search result within Google’s Search results.

Where Does Google Get The Description Tag From?

Many times websites owners don’t understand where Google gets the description tag from. They can’t understand why the snippet they wrote is not showing up, or why different search terms produce different description tags for the same page. There are two primary tactics Google uses to create your meta description tag.

  • The Description Tag You Write – This version will show up most of the time if the keyword the user searched for is in that tag. For this reason, it makes it important that when defining your description tags, you put the primary keyword target of each page in the description tag.
  • The User’s Search Query – The second way Google builds the description tag is generating it based on the search query. Google reads through the on-page content to find the keyword a user searched for, and pieces together the keyword, and a word or two on either side of it, and uses this mash-up as the description tag in the search results.

Description Tag Structure

When writing the description tag for your website, the best way to think about the structure and what to include, is to think of it as a paid search ad. The content of the description tag is used to entice the Google user to click on your listing by giving them targeted information about what to expect on your web page.

Description Tag Length

Meta descriptions can be any length, but search engines generally truncate snippets longer than 160 characters. It is best to keep meta description length between 150 and 160 characters.

Canonical Tag Best Practices

What Are Canonical Tags?

Canonical tags are used by the search engines to consolidate pages that a website owner defines as duplicates.  Each web page that is duplicative of the canonical version of the page gets a canonical tag placed in the header that defines the canonical version.

Canonical tags can be used for internal duplicate content, meaning on the same domain, or they can be used as cross domain canonical tags, where duplicate content exists across different domains.

Should Every Page Have A Canonical Tag?

Every page should have a canonical tag, even if there are no known duplicates. If there are no known duplicates, simply use a self-referencing canonical tag to point to the page. This will help if there are marketing campaigns that utilize the page where the URL is altered for the purpose of tracking the marketing campaign’s results.

How Long Does It Take Google To Find Canonical Tags?

The answer to this question is not straightforward. Because canonical tags are simply recommendations, Google does not need to honor them. Thus, it can take weeks or months for a website to see an impact of a canonical tag campaign.

The Structure of Canonical Tags

Canonical tags are placed in the header area of the code and are defined by using the following.

<link href=”http://mysite.com/canonical-version/” rel=”canonical” />

H1 Tag Best Practices

What Are H1 Tags?

H1 Tags are the header tag that defines the primary topics of a web page. They are used by both search engines and users, just in slightly different ways.

Search engines use the SEO H1 tag to help understand the primary topic of the page; whereas users use the H1 tag as a reference point that signals they have landed on the correct page.

How Many H1 Tags Should A Web Page Have?

A web page should have one H1 tag per page. This tag should represent the primary topic of the page and fall between 50-100 characters.

Image Alt Tag Best Practices

What Are Alt Tags?

The term “ALT tag” is a common shorthand term used to refer to the ALT attribute within in at image tag. Any time you use an image on a website, be sure to include an ALT tag within the image tag. Doing so will provide a clear text alternative of the image for users who are using screen readers.

The ALT tag is also used by search engines as anchor text when an image links to another web page – thus passing link relevancy for a specific topic.

How Long Should Alt Tags Be?

There is not a defined length for an alt tag, but best practices for alt text define the length as somewhere between 3-5 words that describe the image.

3. Best Practices For Optimizing Page Content

When we reference optimizing web page content, we are not talking about keyword density or just adding keywords. The SEO basics of optimizing page content include the optimization of structural, copy, and keyword components.

Beyond making sure the content is outside of flash, javascript or an iFrame, and that text is not rendered as an image, there are a set of primary locations you’ll want to focus on. Let’s start with a couple structural concepts – content hierarchy and diversity – and then dive into where keywords should be included.

Content Hierarchy

Users rarely read all of the content on a page. They are more likely to skim a page to find the content section that has the best chance of answering their question. Making this behavior as easy as possible will increase user satisfaction and lead to higher engagement rates.

Having a structured hierarchy for your web page also helps Google understand topic hierarchy for your content, giving them better insight into what your content should be ranked for.

A content hierarchy is built by using H1, H2, H3 tags to define sections of content.

Content Diversity

Utilizing a variety of content formats such as videos, images, and lists within a piece of content have been shown to increase engagement, social shares, and inbound links.

Because of this, it is beneficial to try and include each of these formats in your page or post where it makes sense, and where it will add value to the overall experience for the user.

SEO Keyword Use

After you’ve found the best keywords for your page, the question becomes, where should you include your SEO keywords? Keywords should be included naturally within the following content locations. They should include head, mid-tail, and long-tail keywords and phrases.

Keyword use in the H1 tag

  • Make sure you have one H1 tag.
  • The H1 tag should include your primary keyword topic for the page (head term).

Keyword use in the H2 tag

  • Make sure you have a few H2 tags.
  • These should be sub-topics of your primary keyword topic.
  • These should include the keywords of your secondary content topics (mid-tail keywords).

Keyword use in the H3 tag

  • Make sure you have a few H3 tags for each H2 tag.
  • These should be sub-topics of your secondary keyword topic.
  • These should include the keywords of your tertiary content topics (secondary mid-tail keywords).
  • Having H3 tags are not always needed, unless you are diving deep into a topic.

Keyword use in paragraphs

  • Paragraphs should be concise, focused, and digestible for users – preferably 4-5 sentences long so you don’t overwhelm users.
  • They should include primary, secondary, and long-tail key phrases – think diversity, not density.

Image Optimization Best Practices

  • Add an ALT tag to all images describing the image
  • Name your image by describing it in 2 to 3 words – use hyphens to separate words.

4. Meta Directive Best Practices

Best Practices for Meta Directives and SEO

  • If the new page is replacing an existing page, place a 301 redirect on the old, relevant content to pass link metrics.
  • Use the “rel=canonical” tag if the content may be considered duplicate and closely mirrors a more authoritative page.
  • Use the Robots.txt directive <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, nofollow”) if you wish to keep a page from being indexed by Google or do not want link metrics to be passed through the page.

Bonus: Notify Users and Search Engines

Finally, you’ll want to make the page accessible to users and search engines, and give Google a little nudge that there’s a new piece of content on your website.

Make sure you’re letting Google and users know you’ve published a new piece of content by doing the following.

  1. Add the new URL to your XML and HTML sitemaps.
  2. Add at least one on-site link (where relevant) to the new page.
  3. Tweet and socialize the new article
  4. Fetch the new page as Google within Google Webmaster Tools (Google Search Console). Once you fetch it, the tool gives you the option to submit it to Google.