Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

A new guide on on-page SEO is written, and it always starts off with “SEO has changed” and continues with the same old tactics.

If you expect to rank in 2020, you have got to have a quality website with something to offer your user. Google has made it so SEO tactics of before are no longer recognized, and rankings now are based on quality, merit, social proof, and authority. The way we go about learning search engine optimization is a little different than the average SEO tutorial, so stay with us.

At the cornerstone of any SEO campaign is on-page SEO. This guide is a comprehensive tutorial to learning on-page SEO, meaning it requires a great detail of technical SEO experience already. Yes, it will cover all of the basics such as title tags and meta descriptions, but we will also delve into some of the more technical aspects of on-page SEO such as structured data, rel=canoncial, and JavaScript.

January 2020 Update – Undergoing major revamp of our on-page guide. Redoing a lot of the screenshots, many of the old illustrations were based on the old Search Console. Updating a lot of information based on Google’s own updates as well as our tactics.

December 2019 10th Update – Added E-A-T & YMYL section. We update this guide on a constant basis, at least once per week. Just this past week we’ve removed stale / outdated information and added over 3000 words to our on-page SEO guide. As of January 2020 we are currently working on updating our section on meta descriptions since Google made this massive adjustment essentially doubling the length of meta descriptions in the SERPs.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Page Contents

WordPress Speed Optimization

Over 35.2% of the web is now powered by WordPress. While this is awesome, it also means there are thousands of different themes, plugins, and technologies all having to coexist. For the everyday WordPress user, this can quickly turn into a nightmare when their site starts to bottleneck and they don’t know why or even where to start troubleshooting.

In our previous guide on page speed, we went over a lot of the fundamentals of performance and how it can have a huge impact on the success of your business. But today we’ll be diving into applicable steps you can take right now to see improvements on your own WordPress sites. We’ll also share some resources that have been invaluable to us.

WordPress Site Types: Static or Dynamic

Before we dive into the optimizations, it’s important first to understand that not all WordPress sites are the same. This is why a lot of users have problems, as you can’t go about tackling every issue the same way. We always give WordPress sites a classification: static or dynamic. So let’s first explore the differences between these two types of sites.

Mostly Static Sites

Static would typically include sites such as blogs, small business sites, lower volume news sites, personal, photography, etc. By static, we mean that the data on these WordPress sites is not changing very often (perhaps a couple of times a day).

This becomes incredibly important as many of the requests can be served directly from cache on the server at lightning-fast speeds! Don’t worry; we’ll dive into the topic of caching in length further below. This means they will have fewer database calls and not as many resources will be needed to achieve google performance.

Highly Dynamic Sites

On the flip side, we have highly dynamic sites. These include sites such as eCommerce (WooCommerce or Easy Digital Downloads), community, membership, forums (bbPress or BuddyPress) and learning management systems (LMS). By dynamic, we mean that the data on these WordPress sites is frequently changing (server transactions are taking place every few minutes or even every second). This means that not all requests to the server can be served directly from cache and require additional server resources and database queries.

These sites also typically have a large number of concurrent visitors and sessions. On an informational or corporate WordPress site which is mostly static, a visitor might stay for five or 10 minutes until they find what they need (and this is a high number, usually bounce rates are much higher). On dynamic sites, you have the opposite happening. Visitors typically come to the site to engage with something or someone. If they’re going through an online course, it’s not unusual for them to stay for hours.

You can see where this is going. The concurrent visitors connected to your WordPress host adds up fast. To make it worse, you then have a large number of concurrent visitors on top of an “uncacheable content” problem.

You can't treat all WordPress sites the same when it comes to performance. Static and highly dynamic sites are two very different beasts!

Choose High-Performance WordPress Hosting

A WordPress host is a company that stores all of your website’s data. You sign up for a plan and all your images, content, videos, etc., reside on a server sitting in the host’s data center. The WordPress host gives you an easy way to access the data, manage it, and route it to your visitors. Pretty simple right? Well, not quite.

There are three very different types of WordPress hosts you’ll encounter around the web. Let’s dive into the pros and cons of each. It’s important you choose the right one from the beginning, otherwise, you’ll simply cause yourself headaches and wasted time down the road.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

 

1. Shared WordPress Hosting

The first and most popular type of WordPress hosting is what we call “shared hosting.” These include the largest hosts in the industry such as EIG companies like Bluehost and HostGator as well as providers like Siteground, GoDaddy, and InMotion Hosting. They typically utilize cPanel, and the average customer usually pays between $3 to $25 a month.

Anyone using this type of hosting will at some point experience slowness, it’s just a matter of time. Why? Because shared hosts tend to overcrowd their servers, which in turn can impact the performance of your site. Site suspensions or seeing frequent 500 errors are common things you’ll experience as they have to place limits on everything and consolidate resources to survive. Or even worse, website downtime. Even though you don’t know it, your WordPress site is most likely sitting on the same server as 200+ other people. Any issues that pop up with other sites can trickle over into your site

No matter how you do the math, after expenses, $3 a month isn’t generating any revenue for the hosting company. Especially when you attribute support into that. One support ticket and they’re already in the red. The way they make a lot of their money is on upselling and hidden fees. These upsells include things like migrations, domain registrations, SSL certificates, etc. Another common tactic is to provide huge signup discounts. But once the renewal comes around, you get the real bill.

Most of these hosts offer what they call their “unlimited resources” plan. You have probably all seen this. Well, there is no such thing in the real world as unlimited resources. What hosts do behind the scenes is throttle the clients using up a lot of the resources. This, in turn, ends up with those angry clients leaving, making room for more clients that don’t use a lot of resources. In the end, you have a vicious cycle of the hosting company pushing cheap plans and signing up customers who they hope won’t use a lot of resources and will purchase upsells.

Customer service and support with shared hosting are almost always subpar due to the sheer volume of sites vs. support representatives. Shared hosts have to spread themselves very thin to even make a profit and this usually leads to an unpleasant experience for the client.

When it comes to shared hosting, you usually get what you pay for
Also read:

2. DIY VPS WordPress Hosting

The second type of WordPress hosting is DIY VPS, or “Do it yourself on a virtual private server.” This crowd is typically made up of bootstrap startups and users with a little more development, server management, and WordPress experience. They are the DIY crowd. These folks are typically still trying to save money, but they are also usually concerned with performance and realize its importance in the success of their business. Commons setups might include using a third-party VPS provider such as Digital Ocean, Linode, Google GCP, or Vultr; along with a tool like ServerPilot to manage it more easily.

A small VPS from DigitalOcean starts at $5 a month and the popular plan at ServerPilot starts at $10 a month. So depending on your setup, you could be looking at a cost of between $5 to $15 or more a month. The DIY approach can cut costs, but it also means that you are responsible if something breaks, and for optimizing your server for performance.

The DIY approach can be great, but it can also backfire on you if you aren’t careful. Don’t go this route if you aren’t tech-savvy or just because you want to tinker! Your time is worth money and you should be spending it on growing your business.

3. Managed WordPress Hosting

The third type of hosting is managed WordPress hosting. This type of host handles all tasks related to the back-end server for you, along with providing support when you need it. We are usually adapted to work with WordPress and usually include features such as a one-click staging environment and automatic backup. Our support team will be more knowledgeable in terms of knowing the way around CMS because we focus on one platform every day.

Plans for managed WordPress hosting typically range anywhere from $25 to $150 a month or more depending on the size of your site and needs. Large companies like jQuery, Intuit, Plesk, Dyn, NGINX, and even The White House are all using WordPress to host their website, including us.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

PHP 7 or Higher for the Best Performance

PHP is an open-source, server-side scripting and programming language that’s primarily used for web development. The bulk of the core WordPress software is written in PHP, along with your plugins and themes, which makes PHP a very important language for the WordPress community. You should ensure your WordPress host offers at least PHP 7 or higher.

There are different versions of PHP that your host will provide you on your server, with the newer PHP 7.3 offering huge performance improvements.

In fact, in our recent PHP benchmarks, if you compare PHP 7.3 to PHP 5.6, it can handle 3x as many requests (transactions) per second! PHP 7.3 is also on average 9% faster than PHP 7.2. This can also impact your WordPress admin dashboard responsiveness.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Pick a Host That Uses NGINX

Behind the scenes, every WordPress host uses a web server to power your WordPress sites. The most common choices are NGINX and Apache.

We strongly recommend going with a host that uses NGINX because of its roots in performance optimization under scale. NGINX often outperforms other popular web servers in benchmark tests, especially in situations with static content or high concurrent requests.

Some high-profile companies using NGINX include Autodesk, Atlassian, Intuit, T-Mobile, GitLab, DuckDuckGo, Microsoft, IBM, Google, Adobe, Salesforce, VMWare, Xerox, LinkedIn, Cisco, Facebook, Target, Citrix Systems, Twitter, Apple, Intel, and many more. (source)

According to W3Techs, Apache powers 44.0% of all websites, making it the most widely used option. But if you look at the most popular web server among high-traffic websites (top 10,000), NGINX powers 41.9% of them, while Apache only powers 18.1%. It’s used by some of the most resource-intensive sites in existence, including Netflix, NASA, and even WordPress.com.

Your Host’s Network Matters

When choosing a WordPress host you might not even think to ask or research into what network they’re using, but you should. The network can have a huge impact on your site’s performance and even the snappiness of your WordPress dashboard. Many hosts will leave this out of their marketing as they’ll opt for the cheapest network to cut costs.

Here are a few questions you should be asking:

  • Which networks are you transmitting data over? Is the majority of it over public ISP networks or private infrastructures such as Google or Microsoft? These big providers have networks which are built and optimized for low latency and speed. They even have their own internet cables under the ocean!
  • Are the networks you’re using redundant? What happens if a cable is accidentally cut? This happens more often than you think.

Back in 2017 Google announced its standard tier network, which is a slower network but at a cheaper cost.

According to Google, the premium tier network achieves improved networking performance by reducing the duration of travel on the public internet; packets enter (and leave) Google’s network as close to the user as possible and then travel on Google’s backbone before getting to the VM. The standard tier delivers outbound traffic from GCP to the internet over public transit (ISP) networks instead of Google’s network.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

To put it another way that might be easier to understand:

  • Premium tier packets spend more time on Google’s network, with less bouncing around, and thus perform better (but cost more).
  • Standard tier packets spend less time on Google’s network, and more time playing hot potato on public networks, and thus, perform worse (but cost less).

How much of an impact does this have? Well, for data traveling across continents, the premium tier network is about 41% faster, on average, than the standard tier network. For data traveling to a nearby region (same continent), the premium tier is about 8% faster. While networking only makes up a fraction of your total page load times, every millisecond adds up!

HTTP/2 is a Must-Have

HTTP/2 is a web protocol released in 2015 which was designed to speed up how websites are delivered. Because of browser support, it requires HTTPS (SSL). If your WordPress host doesn’t support HTTP/2 you should start looking for a new provider. With the move of the entire web to HTTPS, this is no longer just a nice feature to have; it’s a necessity.

The improvement in performance with HTTP/2 is due to a variety of reasons such as support better multiplexing, parallelism, HPACK compression with Huffman encoding, the ALPN extension, and server push. There used to be quite a bit of TLS overhead when it came to running over HTTPS, but this is now a lot less thanks to HTTP/2 and TLS 1.3.

Another big win with HTTP/2 is that with most WordPress sites you no longer need to worry about concatentation (combining files) or domain sharding. These are now obsolete optimizations.

Choose a Server Closest to Your Visitors

One of the very first things you should do when hosting your WordPress site is to determine where the majority of your visitors or customers are coming from. Why is this important? Because the location at which you host your website plays a significant factor in determining your overall network latency and TTFB. It also impacts your SFTP speeds and WordPress admin dashboard responsiveness.

Network Latency: This refers to the time and or delay that is involved in the transmission of data over a network. In other words, how long it takes for a packet of data to go from one point to another. Nowadays this is typically measured in milliseconds; however, it could be seconds depending upon the network. The closer to zero the better.

Premium DNS is Better Than Free DNS

DNS, short for Domain Name System, is one of the most common yet misunderstood components of the web landscape. To put it simply, DNS helps direct traffic on the Internet by connecting domain names with actual web servers. Essentially, it takes a human-friendly request – a domain name like jasaseo.be

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Your WordPress Theme Matters

Everybody loves a brand new WordPress theme, but be careful before you go out and grab the one with all the new shiny features. In regards to performance, every element you see in a theme has some impact on the overall speed of your website. And unfortunately, with thousands of themes out in the wild, there are both good ones and bad ones.

So how are you supposed to know which one to choose? We recommend going with one of the following two options:

  • A fast lightweight WordPress theme that is built with only the features you need, nothing more.
  • A more feature-rich WordPress theme, but you can disable features that aren’t in use.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Things such as Google Fonts, Font Awesome icons, sliders, galleries, video and parallax scripts, etc. These are just a few of the many things that you should be able to turn off if you aren’t using them. You don’t want to be trying to tweak these manually after the fact. And we aren’t going to show you 50 different ways to strip things out. Instead, you should start or switch to a WordPress theme that is either lightweight from the beginning or gives you these options.

WordPress Plugins

Now for the scoop on WordPress plugins. You might have been told that you shouldn’t install too many plugins or it would slow down your WordPress site. While this is sometimes true, it’s not the most critical factor. The number of plugins isn’t as important as the quality of the plugins. There, we said it

Just like with themes, it matters how the plugin is developed and if it was built with performance in mind. We have many clients at Kinsta that are running 30-40 plugins and their sites still load in well under a second.

While it’s fun to add code to your site, this isn’t always practical for the following reasons:

  1. You have to maintain the code yourself and keep it updated as standards change. People are busy, why not rely on the fantastic developers who know the standards better than most?
  2. Most of the time, a well-coded plugin isn’t going to introduce much more overhead than the code itself.
  3. You have to remember a majority of the WordPress community isn’t as tech-savvy as the developer crowd. Plugins are solutions that help solve problems.

With that being said, there are of course not so great plugins out there which you want to stay away from.

EAT, YMYL SEO

If you have ever wondered how to decipher Google’s ranking algorithm, you are not alone.

Google is mysterious and tight-lipped about how it works and what changes after each update, not to mention what it all means for SEOs and marketers. So, many in the industry resort to detective work to figure it out and save their page rankings from sinking.

Sometimes, though, Google throws everyone a random, lucky bone.

In 2015, Google released its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines in their entirety in response to a leaked version making the rounds on the web.

These guidelines contain three golden keys to how Google looks at web pages and how they differentiate high-quality content from low-quality:

  • Beneficial Purpose
  • E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness), or Page Quality
  • YMYL (Your Money or Your Life)

Technically, the guidelines serve as a reference for Google’s human search evaluators – the people who rate how well Google’s algorithm is doing its job. However, because of that, this guide ALSO serves as an essential tool for insights into what Google looks for in a high-quality web page.

The answers lie in E-A-T, YMYL, and beneficial purpose – what they mean, and how they apply to content.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Beneficial Purpose, E-A-T, and YMYL

The Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines were updated twice: on July 20, 2018, and May 16, 2019. Multiple algorithm updates have happened between now and the original release date, too, including the Google June Core Update.

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This guide references all the information about the current updates and incorporates them into how we understand E-A-T and YMYL.

Remember, the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (SQEG) only give us clues, not definitive answers, on Google’s ranking factors. We can only analyze and infer what it all means.

But, it turns out, there is more than enough to go on for making sure our content is up to snuff.

Let’s dig in.

Beneficial Purpose: All Websites Must Have It

The SQEG was updated once in 2018 and again in 2019. From the first update, one of the most significant changes was the new emphasis on a concept called beneficial purpose.

Google makes a reference to beneficial purposes almost immediately in the updated text, in section 2.2: What is the Purpose of a Web Page?

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

“Websites and pages should be created to help users.”

Specifically, the page should fulfill its intended purpose, but that purpose also should be user-centered (whether that is to make readers laugh, sell them something, inform them, teach them, etc.).

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

On the other hand, a page created with the intention to make money “with no attempt to help users” is considered the lowest quality page.

“Beneficial purpose” is referenced again in section 3.2, and is cited as the first step of rating a page’s quality:

“Remember that the first step of PQ rating is to understand the true purpose of the page.”

The Google Core June Update in June 2019 emphasized beneficial purpose, too. Google’s spokespeople (specifically John Mueller and Danny Sullivan) hinted that sites whose rankings tanked had “nothing to fix” and the update was more broad in scope.

In particular, John Mueller linked to a 2011 Webmaster Central Blog that highlighted providing “the best possible user experience” on your site for better rankings; this strategy is championed over laser-focusing on the algorithm and making your site fit what you think the algorithm wants.

It is about your users, first and foremost. Beneficial purpose plays right into that because it means your site and content should have a user-focused purpose that benefits them in some way.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

YMYL: Your Money or Your Life Content

Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) content is the type of information that, if presented inaccurately, untruthfully, or deceptively, could directly impact the reader’s happiness, health, safety, or financial stability.

In other words, the stakes are high for this type of content. If you create a YMYL page with bad advice or bad information, it could affect people’s lives and livelihood.

Google takes this content very, very seriously. Experts with relevant expertise need to write YMYL content.

So, what constitutes YMYL topics? Google gives a rundown in section 2.3:

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

  • News and current events on topics like business, science, politics, and technology
  • Government, law, and civics-related topics (voting, social services, legal issues, government bodies, etc.)
  • Financial advice on taxes, retirement, investments, loans, etc.
  • Shopping information, such as researching purchases
  • Medical advice, information on drugs, hospitals, emergencies, etc.
  • Information on people of a particular ethnicity, race, religion, nationality, sexuality, etc.

There are plenty of other YMYL topics, but Google says quality evaluators need to use their judgment to determine whether a page qualifies as YMYL content. These pages need to contain the highest levels of E-A-T, which we will get into right now.

E-A-T: Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness (or Page Quality)

Next up is an acronym you have probably seen before if you read any SEO blogs: E-A-T, short for Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness.

The May 2019 update slightly changed the importance of E-A-T. Now, it is one factor in determining Page Quality, vs. a synonym for Page Quality.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Once it is determined that a page has a beneficial purpose, its level of E-A-T is carefully considered in terms of whether the content is YMYL. Non-YMYL content doesn’t require the same rigor as YMYL content.

1. Expertise: This refers to the creator of the main content (MC) on the page. Are they an expert on the topic? Do they have the credentials, if necessary, to back that up, and is this information available to read on the website?

  • Additionally, in the recently-updated version of the guidelines, Google makes an exception for “everyday expertise.” This means people with relevant life experience in specific topics can be considered experts – no formal training or education required. However, this only holds true for non-YMYL content.
  • According to section 4.5, “The standard for expertise depends on the topic of the page.” For example, a person who writes detailed and helpful restaurant reviews has everyday expertise if they are a frequent restaurant-goer and love food.

2. Authoritativeness: This refers to the MC creator, the content itself, and the website on which it appears. The definition of “authoritativeness” gives us a big clue on what this means to Google and websites:

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

“Authoritativeness” means having generally recognized authority. People know you, know your background, and look to you as a leader in your industry. They accept you as a good source of information.

3. Trustworthiness: The “Trustworthiness” part of E-A-T also refers to the MC creator, the content, and the website.

Being a trustworthy expert and source means people can trust you to provide honest, true information that is accurate.

Special E-A-T Considerations

The guidelines have some specific notes for certain topics that require high E-A-T. Specifically, pages containing the following YMYL content need to have specialized expertise behind them:

  • Medical advice
  • Journalistic news articles
  • Information pages on scientific topics
  • Financial advice, legal advice, and tax advice
  • Advice pages on high-stakes topics (home remodeling, parenting, etc.)
  • Pages on hobbies that require expertise, e.g., photography, playing guitar

High-Quality Content is Expert, User-Focused Content

To create high-quality content that Google will rank (and rank well), you need to look at the three keys found in the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines: beneficial purpose, E-A-T, and YMYL.

  • Every page must have a purpose, and that purpose must be accomplished to benefit the user.
  • Every page needs the right expertise behind it. Some pages require higher levels of E-A-T than others due to their subject matter. Sometimes, for low or non-YMYL pages, the evidence for the expertise can be found in the content itself.
  • YMYL pages need the highest E-A-T possible. These pages can have a direct impact on the reader’s lives, livelihood, or happiness.

Image Optimization

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, which is one of the reasons images are so important in ecommerce. Without the customer being able to pick up, touch, and inspect a product, they rely heavily on the images to understand the color, the quality, and the story of the product.

So it goes without saying that your images need to be high-resolution and crisp. But, this comes at a price. Large, high definition images can have huge file sizes. Put a few of these on your site and that snappy experience of navigating your online store can end up feeling more like swimming through molasses. Not only will this cause visitors to bounce but, in time, Google will notice as well, and this can affect your SEO.

In ecommerce, it’s critical to find a good balance between image quality and image file size when you save an image for your site. We’re going to show you how to do just that in this post.

Image File Type Options

There are three main file types we’ll want to focus on for saving images optimized for the web: GIF, JPG and PNG. Each file type has its own strengths and weaknesses and it is very important to know and keep these in mind when saving an image.

WORKING WITH JPGS

JPGs (also known as JPEGs) are the most popular file type for images on the web. JPGs are perfect for photographs or complex images containing lots of colors, shadows, gradients, or complex patterns. JPGs handle these type of images well because JPGs have a huge color palette to work with.

JPGs can also be saved in high-quality, low-quality or anywhere in between. This allows you to adjust and save the image exactly how you want, balancing quality and file size.

Use Case for Ecommerce Entrepreneurs: JPEGs are the most popular file format online and are commonly used for product images, photographs, and homepage hero banners/images.

WORKING WITH PNGS

PNGs are another popular file format online. In Adobe Photoshop, you’ll have the option to save PNGs as PNG-8 or PNG-24.

  • PNG-8 has a very limited color palette of 256 colors. While the image size is smaller, this won’t be a good option for complex images and photographs.
  • PNG-24 provides a much higher-quality image but comes at the cost of a larger file size.

Most importantly, PNGs can handle transparency. This is one of the biggest differentiation points between PNGs and JPEGs.

Use Case for Ecommerce Entrepreneurs: PNGs are usually used for logos because they are high-quality and can handle transparency. This works well for logos because logos nearly always require transparency, you likely want it to be high quality, and because logos are a small part of your site overall so the file size is still small.

WORKING WITH GIFS

GIFs were more popular many years ago, but are still an option for small image sizes where only a few colors are needed. Much like PNG-8, GIF files are restricted to only 256 colors. Because of this, GIFs should never be used for product photos.

Use Case for Ecommerce Entrepreneurs: GIFs can be used for logos but because of their limited colors, aren’t that popular for most use cases in ecommerce.

Saving Images Properly

As can be expected, large images take longer to load. When we say large, we’re referring to the file size rather than the dimensions of an image, i.e. the value in KB, MB, GB etc. Seeing as 47% of users expect a webpage to load in under 2 seconds, and 40% will abandon a page that takes more than 3 seconds to load, it’s important that your images are small enough to ensure a speedy site.

There are three things you can do to properly optimize your images for your online store:

SAVE THE RIGHT DIMENSIONS

You must open the image in Photoshop and view it at 100%. This allows you to view the image at the exact size it will be displayed on a computer monitor when you save the image for web.

SAVE IMAGES FOR WEB

It’s possible to reduce the file size without significantly reducing the quality of your images. Our favorite method of reducing file size without significantly reducing the quality of the image is to use Photoshop’s “Save for Web” function. Open your image in Photoshop and go to File > Export > Save for Web (Legacy)…. A window will appear which will allow you to choose your export quality. We find that a quality of 60 works best because it drops the file size down to below a megabyte and there’s no noticeable difference in quality.

SEO Internal Linking Structure

The Definition of an Internal Link

An internal link is a hyperlink that connects a page within a website, to another page within the same website. An internal link differs from an external link in fact that the source and destination link is the same.

What Google Says About Internal Links

“The number of internal links pointing to a page is a signal to search engines about the relative importance of that page. If an important page does not appear in this list, or if a less important page has a relatively large number of internal links, you should consider reviewing your internal link structure.”

Wow! If that isn’t a clue about the importance of internal links in SEO, I don’t know what is!

Internal links, or a link pointing to another page within your site are a great way to help pass PageRank throughout your website. Internal links helps create a stronger SEO presence of your website. Creating internal links also helps provide a path for Googlebot (or Bingbot etc) when it crawls your website.

Always be sure to use a natural strategy when linking within your website. Always try to link to the most important pages of your website i.e. the ones you want to rank for. For instance on our website our SEO services page is one of our most important pages, so we want to be sure to have a lot of internal links on as many pages as possible pointing to that.

Google also makes a very interesting point in their webmaster guidelines. When in doubt we like to use this point as our internal linking mantra: “Make a site with a clear hierarchy and text links. Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.”

Website frameworks such as WordPress do an awesome job of this by creating categories, tags, and other elements that create a hierarchy of internal links by default.

Try to avoid linking just to link. Make sure all of your internal links are actually helpful to your users and will actually assist them in navigating through your website. As with any linking strategy always be sure to consider anchor text when creating a link.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Also read: Outbound Links: Why Is It Important for SEO

Uses of Internal Links

People link to pages internally or within their own websites for a number of different reasons. Most notable are:

  • menu or navigation
  • sub navigation internal links such as footer links
  • within a page or like this
  • to launch an application
  • special links such as tel: or mailto:
  • many more

There are many reasons why internal links exist, but today we are going to focus on how they play a part in on-page SEO optimization.

Internal Linking: Navigation

Website navigation, sometimes also referred to as “the menu” is a huge part of a websites internal linking strategy and SEO in general. The main navigation area of the site is meant to highlight the most popular areas of the website. By developing a well organized navigation area that includes drop-down links you can really increase the overall internal linking strategy of a website. Try to develop a universal navigation system that is easy to remember. Don’t get fancy with naming your navigation links. For instance don’t name your “about us” page ” something like “who we are.” Yes, it sounds clever but a lot of less savvy users might not get it.

One thing pretty much all websites, from Amazon to “nobody here” have in common: they almost all have top (horizontal) or side (vertical) navigation:

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

If you play your cards right your navigation / menu will give Google some hints and they’ll give you some site links in the search results. While you can’t exactly control these links, you can definitely help Google along by providing a standardized navigation menu that doesn’t change around a lot and makes sense.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Always be sure to plan out your main navigation before you structure your website. When we send our clients an initial website design questionnaire, that is one of the first questions we ask them: what at the primary navigation links you want on your website. Based on this, we either go with that and expand from it or make some recommended changes.

secondary navigation is meant to showcase links to areas of the site that aren’t a normal part of the main sections but could be useful to all visitors. This might be a “discounts page” or a page for various brands. This type of navigation may even change depending on the page the user is on. For example if a user is looking at the “bathing suit” category, the secondary navigation may list popular bathing suit brands or styles. These menus can also be dynamic menus. For instance the menu might change to “blog links” if you are on the blog page and then back to “sale links” if you are on the main shopping area of an eCommerce website.

Robots.txt and Meta Robots

The robots.txt file is a file that you create that exists on your server that tells bots like Google and Bing (as well as some “bad” bots) where to crawl and where not to crawl. This file mainly exists as a guide for bots to show them where, and sometimes how often to crawl.

Example: Our robots.txt file

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

For instance you really don’t want the “admin” area of your website being viewed by most users, so you can tell Google not to crawl it by not allowing it.

Similarly, if you really want to ensure a certain section of your website is being crawled, you can indicate that within the robots.txt file as well.

Most sites have a very limited “crawl budget” i.e. the amount of pages that will be crawled each time Googlebot visits your site. That said, you really want to optimize Googlebot’s time when it visits your site. You don’t want Google wasting its time on irrelevant sections of your website when it could be crawling more important sections.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

The robots.txt file for LinkedIn is a great example of a well thought out robots.txt file. Last we checked it had over 1000 lines of entries. On a massive website like this, they really need to consider which parts of the website they want opened for Google to crawl especially since they have over 200,000,000 (200 million) results in Google.

Curve ball: you can disallow a URL within the robots.txt file, but Google still might index that. I’ll rephrase that: just because you tell Google not to allow a URL, doesn’t mean it is going to listen to you.

With that in mind, it isn’t a great idea to count on the robots.txt file to block or unblock pages in the search engines. The robots.txt file is much better suited as a guideline for Googlebot to help it crawl large and important areas of your website.

If you really want a deep understanding of the robots.txt file, Google wrote a very detailed specification on the Google Developers website.

A robots.txt file probably won’t make or break your SEO plan of action, but it will probably help.

Robots.txt Examples in for SEO

Robots.txt allowing CSS and JavaScript

This has been a popular topic of conversation in recent months, especially since Google has been handing out so man warnings about blocking CSS and JavaScript. One solution is to add this to your robots.txt. This will ensure that your server will not block any JavaScript or CSS.

User-Agent: Googlebot
Allow: .js
Allow: .css 

This example tells Yahoo (code named “Slurp” not to crawl your website)

User-agent: Slurp
Disallow: /cgi-bin/

This example tells all robots that they can crawl all files on this particular website.

User-agent: *
Disallow:

This example tells all robots not to crawl the website at all.

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

This example tells all robots not to crawl these specific directories

User-agent: *
Disallow: /administrator/
Disallow: /login.php/
Disallow: /private-files/

This example tells all robots to not crawl one file in particular

User-agent: *
Disallow: /directory/file.html

Meta Robots Tag

The meta robots tag is a tag that you can add to the header of your website, to give certain robots such as Googlebot instructions on how to crawl your website. For a quick example, this is how a few of them would look.

<meta name="robots" content="noindex">

<meta name="robots" content="nofollow">

While the meta-robots tag probably isn’t a direct ranking factor itself, it can still play a vital role in the overall optimization (SEO) of your website.

There are a number of different parameters that you can use in the meta robots tag, here is a table illustrating some of the more popular ones and the crawlers that recognize them.

Robots Value Google Yahoo / Bing
index Yes Yes
noindex Yes Yes
nofollow Yes Yes
none Yes Maybe
follow Yes Maybe
noodp Yes Yes
noarchive Yes Yes
nosnippet Yes No

For the purpose of this post, we’ll mainly be talking about search engine bots such as Googlebot and Slurp (aka Yahoo.)

Index, Noindex

The meta robots index tag to make sure to index that particular page. Conversely, the noindex tag will tell the crawler not to index the page. The kicker here is that sometimes even if you “noindex” a page it will still be displayed in the search results. If you really don’t want Google to index your website, our advice is to not list it on the open web, or password protect it.

A good example of the noindex parameter would be for pages such as admin or login pages that you don’t want Google to crawl. These pages can not only tax your server resources but can confuse users if they see them in the search results.

Follow, nofollow

The nofollow parameter tells crawlers not to follow links within that page. Conversely the follow tag tells crawlers to explicitly follow links within that page.

Other parameters

Other parameters aren’t nearly as popular as they used to be. Noodp tells the Open Directory Project (DMOZ) not to list the site in its directory. The noarchive tells the archive.org crawler not to list the website in its archive. One reason why sites might choose to deny these crawlers is because they can take up a lot of server resources crawling around a website.

For the most part, most users don’t really need to use the majority of these tags with the exception of noindex and nofollow.

URL Structure and Permalinks

Creating descriptive titles, categories and taxonomies for the documents on your website will not only allow Googlebot to more efficiently crawl your website, it will help you stay organized as well. One trick about URL’s we like to tell people is this: can you recite this URL over the phone without the person on the other end screwing it up?

From an SEO perspective, there are many reasons why URLs and permalinks are important. For one thing confusing URL’s might be improperly linked to. A very long URL with a lot of parameters is just asking for trouble. Keywords and descriptive categories inside of your URL also might help search bots categorize and rank your site better.

While we are on this particular subject, I think it is worth pointing out that this very guide on on-page SEO recently redid our own permalink structure in an effort to rank with the big sites in Google. For starters you can see this particular page has a URL of:

https://jasaseo.be/product/instagram-verified-badge/

Let’s break down this URL:

Recommended:
Domain Authority, Page Authority Vs Domain Rating: What Do They Mean for SEO?
Recommended:
Best Tips for a Successful Content Marketing Strategy (2020 Best Guide)

Our domain:

https://jasaseo.be/

Main category “learn SEO” which encompasses all aspects of learning SEO on-page and off.

product/

Sub Category and the Primary Target for our Keyword Ranking Strategy “On-Page SEO”

/instagram-verified-badge/

This part can get a bit tricky, but is a huge part of any website. For starters a few rules of thumb:

  • it is preferable to use keywords in your URL structure, but make sure it makes sense
  • stay away from complex parameters e.g. /red-bicycles is better than /?=123RB
  • use-hyphens-to-separate-words
  • underscores_are_technically_ok but can be hard to read

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

If you have a static website or basic CMS or blog, this subject can be fairly simple and easy to categorize. Once you start getting into larger websites, dynamic websites and eCommerce stores is when this topic starts to get tricky. Trying to organize 1000’s of products, as well as naming and categorizing them can be extremely tricky.

The real magic is when you figure out a way to optimize for both your website visitors as well as search engines. We’ve seen entire websites completely bomb due to their irrational and outdated URL structure.

For a lot of people this process is done during the initial website design or development process. Many people organize their page structure in a spreadsheet.

Relative vs Absolute URLs

Getting to know the difference between relative vs absolute URL’s is a really important part of learning on-page SEO.

https://www.example.com/bikes.html (absolute)
bikes.html (relative)

By using absolute URLs (our preferred version) it minimizes the risk of intentionally producing duplicate content. This will also significantly reduce the amount of versions of the same URL that exist on your website.

Remember: URL’s are used in search results

Like the title tag and meta description, Google uses the entire URL within the search results. This should be enough reason to ensure your URL’s are properly crafted.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Wording your URL’s

There are a lot of rules to remember when wording or describing your URL’s. A few key pointers:

  • stay away from stop words such as a, an, or, the, it, etc
  • use descriptive keywords in your URL’s
  • avoid using generic words like “homepage.html”
  • keep most filenames under 10-20 characters

There are a lot of rules to follow when it comes to URL’s. Lucky for most SEO’s is most modern day CMS’s take the guess work out of creating the overall page hierarchy, most SEO’s and webmasters just have to worry about naming conventions and details.

A word on breadcrumbs

A breadcrumb is technically considered part of the navigation system of the website. Breadcrumbs allows your website visitors to navigate either back to a previous part of the site or to the home page.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Breadcrumbs within the search results are much prettier and user friendly. Although there is no way to exactly control getting breadcrumbs in the search results, you can definitely improve your chances by simply having them. Adding structured data / semantics markup to your breadcrumbs will help Google tell what they are.

Redirects

This is another tricky and controversial topic. There comes a time in the life of a website where a page might have to be directed. This could be as a result of a change in the site structure, a 404, the merging of two pages, or a number of different reasons.

In short, redirection is when you forward one URL (website address) to another URL. Redirects can be useful for websites that change an address of a URL or another resources. Technically speaking there are different types of redirects, however most of them really accomplish the same thing from a user perspective.

As we’ve already said at the start of this section, there are two main types of redirects: 301 redirects and 302 redirects.

To illustrate, here is how a 301 redirect would look. This code would generally be inserted in the last line of the .htaccess file on a Linux server:

Redirect 301 /feed.xml/ https://elite-strategies.com/feed/
Redirect 302 /something/ https://www.example.com/somewhere-else/

Basically what this is saying “if someone tries to access feed.xml, take them instead to /feed”

If you want to see your redirects “working” you can just enter the URL in your web browser. If you want to take it a bit farther you can open up an Linux command line and use the “curl” command to grab the link.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

One a Windows / IIS server its done a little differently, but the overall principle is the same.

In general most qualities of that page will be passed on to the new page such as Google PageRank, “link juice” and traffic value. We’re not going to get into too much more on how to implement a redirect, as there can be many different options and configurations depending on your needs, your website, and your server. Note that even if you do redirect the page, it might take some time for Googlebot to notice. But how do you decide where to redirect your page?

This is where you’ll have to make some decisions. Let’s say you have a page on your website called “helpful tips” and that page has been redirect. Where do you want your users to go? What if there is no replacement for that page?

As a general rule of thumb, you should always try to redirect your users to a page that is the most relevant. If that page is not relevant you can always point them to your website sitemap (not your XML sitemap) or a category page.

302 Redirects

A 302 redirect, or temporary redirect is implemented when you want to redirect a web page for a short period of time. As a rule of thumb you should only implement a 302 when you know you are going to be removing it at some point. An example of a 302 redirect instance would be when you have a page that you want to test, or a landing page that you are trying out. Like 301’s, 302’s also pass PageRank and “link juice” so keep that in mind when you are creating them.

Meta Description Optimization

Although Google has said in the past that meta descriptions are not a ranking factor, we believe they are still important for SEO. How can this be? Google, as well as other websites and social networks uses the meta description tag in the search engine results preview. So while it may not be a ranking factor, it is still important in the fact that it may affect the click through rate of the search results.

The proper format for a meta description is as follows:

<head>
<meta name="description" content="On average a meta description should be 250-315 characters or about 4 lines of 512 pixels and should contain the primary keyword you are targeting.">
</head>

In short, while Google may not use meta tags in their ranking factors, they are most definitely still used to classify websites as well as display results about them.

This is why we don’t recommend stuffing too many keywords into your meta description tag. Yes, one or two keywords may help categorize your site appropriately, but it is much more important that your meta description contains compelling copy than anything else.

New Meta Description Length

As of December 2017, Google has effectively doubled the length of the descriptions within the search results which requires us to update this section of our guide. The short version is, instead of about 2 lines of 512px there is now 4 lines of 512 pixels or about 275-315 characters per result. We analyzed about 100 meta descriptions and found most of them to be about 315 characters.

Meta descriptions should remain roughly 315 characters in length, or about 4 lines of 512 pixels. An easy way to remember the length of your meta descriptions is it should roughly be 4 times the length of your title tag being that the title tag is 512 pixels wide and the meta description is the same thing, but on four lines.

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But why did SEO’s start measuring meta description and title tags in pixels? In 2014 some changes were made to the search engine results page layout that really made SEO’s stop and think about the way they were measuring title tags and meta descriptions. Since then, a new standard has been set and mostly all SEO’s are measuring in pixels instead of characters:

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Always remember quality over quantity. You aren’t going to win any special points by filling in the exact amount of pixels or characters for every description. The goal should be writing compelling copy that draws the visitor into your website, not stuffing keywords and getting as close to the maximum as possible.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

There are circumstances when Google will completely ignore your meta description tag in the search results. We’ve seen this a number of times. If your meta description is full of spammy keywords, is way too long, is grammatically whack, or just doesn’t make sense Google might take text from somewhere else in your website or show a message of its own.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

If you forgot to add a meta description to your page, Google might choose one for you, or if they can’t figure out the best description they may just leave it blank. This is inherently bad for CTR and not something you want to do, so fill in your meta descriptions especially for the important pages.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Remember that Google will bold keywords in the description when it matches the users search. This should be a nudge to SEO’s to use relevant and helpful keywords within your meta descriptions, especially for popular keywords.

Title Tag Optimization

The title tag is the one of the simplest, yet quite possibly most important aspect of on-page SEO. The format for writing a title tag in HTML is as follows:

<title>Your Keyword | Name of Your Company</title>
or
<title>Key Phrase Example | Category | Name of Company</title>

The title of the website is not only an important factor because it is the title of that page, but it is usually what is displayed in the search results as well.

We recommend that title tags be 50-70 characters or about 512pixels in length, which is the exact width of the Google search results.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

But why did SEO’s start measuringtitle tags in pixels? In 2014 some changes were made to the search engine results page layout that really made SEO’s stop and think about the way they were measuring title tags and meta descriptions. Since then, a new standard has been set and mostly all SEO’s are measuring in pixels instead of characters:

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Another caveat of title tag optimization is that the title tag of a website is used by a lot of different devices, browsers, apps, and more. For instance most web browsers use the website title tag as the browser title as well. You can see in this example how even the New York Times homepage stretches beyond my browser tab.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

While this isn’t really a direct ranking factor for SEO, it is something to keep in mind as an internet marketer. When a visitor has 20 tabs open and they are scanning to see which one is which, you want to be able to help them find the one they are looking for. This is yet another reason to write title tags geared towards users, not search engines.

SEO Recommendations

It should go without saying that you should always try to create unique title tags for each page. Always avoid using the same title tag across multiple pages, even if you are tempted. Also just because 512pixels is the maximum length, doesn’t mean you should use it every time.

Also avoid using vague title tags such as “our homepage” or “untitled.” Remember, Google tends to index pages really quickly so whatever choice you make for your title tags might be semi-permanent.

Try to put the most important keywords or the keywords you are trying to rank for at the beginning of the title tag. Several official and unofficial studies have been done on title tags that have shown the closer to the beginning that they keyword is, the more important and relevant Google considers the keyword.

Bulk Title Tag Analysis

As your website matures, we recommend doing a full title tag analysis on your website. By doing a title tag analysis on your website for SEO, it accomplishes a few things:

  • you get a good understanding of the structure of your website
  • you find missing title tags
  • you find incomplete or misspelled title tags
  • you will find un-optimized or under-optimized title tags

Without a doubt our favorite tool for title tag analysis is Screaming Frog. Screaming Frog has a wealth of powerful features but one of our favorite features is being able to see the entire websites title tag structure at a quick glance.

Example of Title Tag Optimization

Let’s take a look at an example page. In this scenario, you are an SEO working for Best Buy and your job is to write title tags for this site:

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Now let’s look at the title tag that displays in the search results:

Within the code, the title tag displays as such:

<title>LifeProof FRE Hard Case for Apple iPhone 6 Black 77-50304 - Best Buy</title>

Although this title tag is only 68 characters, it is still too long for Google search results henceforth, it is truncated by Google and ended with an ellipse or “….” As an SEO, how would you handle this scenario? Would you leave the title tag the same? Is it optimized for their keyword? Are they stuffing too many keywords into it?

Really, there is no one right answer. If I polled 5 SEO’s I would get 5 different answers, and all of them could theoretically be correct.

Remember SEO stands for search engine optimization, not search engine perfection. Do your best, stick to the best practices and your site will be a shining example of quality.

Other “title tags”

If you’ve been reading a lot of SEO tutorials in 2015 you might have come across a number of other uses of the word “title tags.” Primarily the main use of this word is the <title> contained within the head of the website but there are a few more “titles” that have come on the SEO scene that we should mention.

Here are some other title tags you might come across as an SEO

  • The open graph title tag (used for Facebook and other social networks)
  • Title tags for Twitter cards (used for Facebook previews)
  • XML title tags

When it comes to the Facebook and Twitter ‘title tags’ in 2017, we consider them mandatory. Even if you don’t use Twitter, your visitors might!

Both Facebook and Twitter have developed their own system for displaying previews within their respective social networks. In both cases they have their own “title tags” that also must be optimized and have their own specifications.

Headings in On-Page SEO

From a readability and overall usability perspective, headings help organize large sections of content so that they are easier to read. There are a number of headings to choose from when structuring your page from the h1 tag all the way to the h6 page. Many SEO’s recommend that you use at least 1 H1 tag per page, and that a keyword should be present in that heading.

Our rule of thumb for headings and SEO is this: try to use a heading with a keyword, preferably an H1 tag but don’t force it, make sure that it naturally occurs.

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Headings should be relevant, consistent with the pages topic, and should always enrich the user experience from within the page. For some disabled users such as those with difficulty with vision, H tags give them a much better point of reference when navigating the page. By creating relevant and easy to read headings, users can easily scan through the page and identify which sections they want to read.

One of the biggest reasons most SEO’s think that H tags are such a big deal is the fact that they are so prominent within a web page. Keyword prominence still plays a very big role in SEO and that is why we included such a large section within this guide.

Also read: Keyword research for SEO

How to use H1-H6 Tags

If you’ve got some HTML knowledge under your belt, this should really be a refresher course. Basic usage:

<h1>Puppies and Flowers</h1>

<h2>Whatever you'd like to say...</h2>

<h3>A common expression.</h3>

<h4>Don't forget keywords</h4>

<h5>I hope you like SEO</h5>

<h6>SEO Tutorial by Patrick Coombe</h6>

Don’t forget, the smaller the number generally the smaller the font size. You can also style them with CSS or inline style elements if you’d like.

As with any principle in SEO, don’t go overboard. The difference between an amateur SEO and a professional is the one who knows how to implement these tricks effectively without going overboard or raising any kind of red flag from Googlebot.

Let all of this knowledge soak in for a bit. If you take a poll of a dozen different SEO’s you are more than likely going to get a dozen different answers. These are my personal recommendations as an SEO, take that for what its worth.

H Tag Design and SEO

The cool thing about the modern web is we can get CSS to do the heavy work for us. Did you know you can “program” H tags to be whatever size you want?

Some websites the H1 is 60 pixels and the H3 is 20pixels. Other times the H1 is 120 pixels…or the H1 is 30 pixels.

Use design to your advantage.

H Tag Misconceptions

Most aspects of SEO aren’t easily definable in a few short sentences. One great example of this is looking at “SEO headings” or “H tags” in most SEO reports. Let’s look at this snippet of a Woo Rank SEO Report that didn’t “pass” due to it’s H-tags, or lack there of:

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The page that was scanned in the report has 1 <h2> tag and 3 <h3> tags. Ok, that’s good. If you talk to most SEO’s they’ll tell you a few key pieces of info about h tags:

  • you don’t need to have h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6 on every page…that would look ridiculous to be honest
  • h tags are important for SEO mainly because of the keyword prominence aspect of them
  • use keywords within h tags
  • for most sites, its fine to just use h1 and h2
  • many SEO’s just use h1’s within their websites

Structured Data and Schema Markup

As a basic definition, there are 3 parts to a website: text, markup, and structured data. Text is the content, markup show the browser how the text should look, and structured data tells bots such as Google what the data is. Structured data can not only make your website look better but it can help search engines categorize your website as well. A lot of times the benefits of structured data aren’t very obvious, but as your understanding of SEO evolves it becomes more evident that it should be an integral part of any SEO plan.

In general search engines want to read and crawl data that is organized (i.e. “structured”) so that they can more efficiently crawl your website. Normal HTML markup can’t be easily read by crawlers. For instance, they can tell that text is big and blue, but they can’t tell that that text is a recipe or a review. With structured data, Google and other crawlers are more easily able to crawl your website and figure out the topical relevancy of your website. It is becoming a very hot topic for SEO’s all over the world, in all industries and almost mandatory for some industries.

Here are some commonly used types of structured data:

  • a website
  • a blog post
  • an article
  • an event
  • a recipe or a book
  • a social media post
  • a review
  • a song, playlist, or album
  • website breadcrumbs
  • so much more

In total there are 1000’s of types of schema (people, places and things) from broad topics to ones that are very focused and specific. Some of the really specific ones such as “airline” or “sports organization” don’t really serve a direct purpose when it comes to SEO, but Google is constantly implementing new features so it is always best to mark up as much data as possible.

Defining what you data is from a structured data standpoint can really help search engines tell what your site is, instead of having to guess.

JSON-LD

Up until 2016 or so, most SEO’s recommended using micro-data as the default schema type. More recently, Google themselves started recommend that people use JSON-LD instead of microdata in most situations. Prior to JSON-LD, SEO’s and web developers would need to “anchor” their schema to HTML within a web site. Now you can embed JSON-LD scripts anywhere in the page: in the body, head, or footer and there is no need for the structured data to be visible.

But the biggest reason most SEO’s care about JSON-LD or structured data? They want presence in featured snippets / rich snippets or what some refer to as “knowledge graph placement” while not technically correct. Here is some sample code for JSON-LD recipe I just whipped up:

<script type="application/ld+json">
{
 "@context": "https://schema.org/",
 "@type": "Recipe",
 "name": "Patrick's Chocolate Pudding",
 "author": "Patrick Coombe",
 "image": "https://example.com/patrick-pudding",
 "description": "Patrick's classic chocolate putting, made from scratch.",
 "aggregateRating": {
 "@type": "AggregateRating",
 "ratingValue": "4",
 "reviewCount": "500",
 "bestRating": "5",
 "worstRating": "1"
 },
 "prepTime": "PT25M",
 "totalTime": "PT1H",
 "recipeYield": "15",
 "nutrition": {
 "@type": "NutritionInformation",
 "servingSize": "1 scoop",
 "calories": "200 calories",
 "fatContent": "1 g",
 "carbohydrateContent": "30 g",
 },
 "recipeIngredient": [
 "1/3 cup of sugar",
 "1/2 cup of corn starch",
 "..."
 ],
 "recipeInstructions": [
 "1...",
 "2..."
 ]
}
</script>

The end result would ultimately yield a snippet in Google that looks something along the lines of:

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

It may seem sometimes that there isn’t a rhyme or reason to how and where Google gives you these snippets. We like to use the method called “close your eyes, and click.”

Facebook Open Graph Protocol

This is where things start to get a bit technical. Structured data has always been a big part of SEO, but in the past 3-4 years it has really started to become a major part. For a quick an easy example, we’ll start with Facebook Open Graph Protocol. It might sound complicated, but really all it is is the code required to make a Facebook post look properly formatted.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Structured data example. In this image, we illustrate how structured data can help a Facebook post look properly formatted, instead of a small thumbnail and random text.

<meta property="og:title" content="Make your Facebook Posts Look better"/>
<meta property="og:image" content="https://example.com/image.png"/>
<meta property="og:site_name" content="Name of Your Website"/>
<meta property="og:description" content="By implementing this tag into your website, your Facebook posts will look so much better!"/>

There are a few more options when it comes to the Facebook Open Graph protocol, but this is the basic info you need to make your posts look swell.

Twitte Cards

Like Facebook Open Graph Protocol, Twitter Cards will help make your website look good. Overall there are about 8 types of Twitter Cards including “summary, app, gallery” and more. If you aren’t sure which type to choose, choose summary or summary with large image for now.

<meta name="twitter:card" content="summary_large_image">
<meta name="twitter:site" content="@pmkoom">
<meta name="twitter:creator" content="@pmkoom">
<meta name="twitter:title" content="The Title of My Post">
<meta name="twitter:description" content="A detailed description, keep it short and sweet.">
<meta name="twitter:image" content="https://example.org/image.jpg">

You might be thinking “I don’t use Twitter, I don’t need this” well keep in mind a few things:

  • just because you don’t use Twitter doesn’t mean other people don’t
  • no one can see this code
  • it won’t hurt you
  • it can only help you

With that in mind, it is a general “best practice” to implement this code in any website you are optimizing.

Google’s Knowledge Graph

This is one topic that really expands into a subject of its own. Structured data is also one of the aspects that powers Google’s Knowledge Graph. By marking up your content with the proper semantic language, you are helping Google categorize your website. One of the benefits that this might yield is Google rewarding you with a Knowledge Panel within the search results.

Another example of how marking up your content can yield beneficial SEO results is recipes. Remember, SEO stands for search engine optimization and in SEO the goal is not always rankings it is “optimizing” the search engines to the best of your ability. In this case, by marking up a recipe with proper schema markup, Google displays calorie information, reviews as well as cook time in the search results.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

As you can see in the image, the code supplied in the website directly correlates to the search results. Again not all recipes will automatically show up in the search results, it does take some time for Google to figure out who you are but after time it will start to pop. Menu’s are another hot item in the world of schema markup and structured data. Google “restaurant name menu” and sure enough you’ll probably run across a Google version of the menu right there on Google.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

The real kicker here is that sometimes Google will “structure your data” even with no semantic markup present. Google is getting much better at guessing that a menu is a menu or a review is a review.

Testing your Structured Data / Schema Markup

One of the biggest questions we hear about schema markup is “am I doing it right?” We’ll see SEO’s and webmasters working on very complex structured data elements only to find it doesn’t work the way they planned. Google released this structured data testing tool to help webmasters verify if they are indeed “doing it right.” In this example we test the about us page from patrickcoombe.com.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

As you can see in the example, there are 4 main sections and individual parameters within each section. In the highlighted section we see the “person” schema markup and the social network profiles linked within. If there were errors, they would be highlighted within them.

One of the really cool things about the testing tool is that you can test other peoples websites as well. So if you have a new type of markup that you want to play with, you can just plug it into the testing tool and see if it works or not. Of course you can also copy the code directly from the tool, or the source code as well and modify it to suit your needs.

Schema Markup for People

Structuring data for people can be a very rewarding task. Not only will it help search engines find you better but if you have enough authority it can also produce a knowledge graph snippet within the search results. After a few months of testing our CEO Patrick Coombe was able to obtain a Knowledge Panel result using structured data. In his case he used JSON-LD structured data which allows you to embed structured data into your HTML elements without having to modify HTML.


<script type="application/ld+json">
{
  "@context": "https://schema.org",
  "@type": "Person",
  "address": {
"@type": "PostalAddress",
"addressLocality": "Delray Beach",
"addressRegion": "FL",
"postalCode": "33444",
"streetAddress": "100 Atlantic Ave"
  },
  "colleague": [
"https://www.example.com/coll.html",
"https://www.example.com/coll.html"
  ],
  "email": "mailto:steve@example.com",
  "image": "steve.jpg",
  "jobTitle": "Professor",
  "name": "Stevey Steve",
  "telephone": "(425) 123-4567",
  "url": "https://www.janedoe.com"
  "sameAs" : [ "https://www.facebook.com/",
      "https://www.linkedin.com/in/",
      "https://twitter.com/xx",
      "https://instagram.com/xx",
      "https://plus.google.com/u/0/xx"]
}
</script>

While the code above won’t grant you immediate access into the Knowledge Graph, it will definitely improve your chances. Do a Google search for “Patrick Coombe” and most likely you’ll see some version of this Knowledge Graph:

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

If you are interested in getting started with structured data, one of the easiest ways to do that is by marking up some of the content on your website. Chances are if you have a smaller website you are not going to break anything.

Other resources:

Google Structured Data Testing Tool – Test your schema markup and structured data for errors and validity

Anchor Text Optimization

Anchor text is the visible portion of a link that is displayed within your browser. As a general principle of SEO, it is one of the most important aspects of on-page and off-page optimization. As with most aspects of SEO, there are many sides to this equation. Search engines like Google use anchor text to help determine the relevancy and importance of a given website. In the context of SEO, there are a number of different types of anchor text:

  • branded anchor text (e.g. Apple, Microsoft or Elite Strategies)
  • targeted anchor text (e.g. “payday loans” or “seo tutorial” or “iPhone charger”)
  • generic anchor text (e.g. “shop now” or “check it out”)
  • plain URL anchor text (e.g. “https://elite-strategies.com/services”)
  • image anchors

One of the biggest arguments within the SEO community is the quality and quantity of anchor text to use within your website. Too many targeted keyword anchor texts might send a spammy signal to Google. Too few and Google might have a difficult time determining what your site is about.

What anchor text looks like

I’d love to talk more about my new iPhone 6.

<a href=”https://www.apple.com/shop/iphone/iphone-accessories”>iPhone 6</a>

Anchor text might contain links to a URL within your website, or one on another website. Regardless of where your link is pointing you want to make sure your anchor text is as relevant as possible. Consider this scenario: these 2 sentences are all alike, however one of them links to the targeted keyword, another one links to a random phrase.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Try to avoid anchor text such as “click here” or “check it out.” Using a raw URL is generally frowned upon although there are some legitimate use cases.

Google also recommends using concise text within your link anchor text. This means not anchoring really long phrases together or entire sentences. Generally stick to 2-4 words when anchoring a link. We’ll talk more about this in the keyword prominence section, but always try and style your links so they are easy to read. On our website our links stand out in an easy-to-read red color, which can’t be missed.

What is Anchor Text Over-Optimization

Rremember, SEO is all about balance. Yin and Yang. You can’t make every link your targeted keyword. Not only is that borderline a violation of Google’s guidelines, it is just plain silly. Imagine if every link within this page was for “SEO tutorial” or “SEO guide.”

Here are a few visual examples of anchor text over-0ptimization vs “normal” anchor text placement. Note the first example is an excerpt of a story, it has one link to a website in about 4 sentences.The anchor text is “natural” meaning it is part of the natural flow of the sentence.

The second example is a sales pitch. It has 7 links within 4 sentences and it isn’t really natural. Meaning, it isn’t natural to repeat the words “iPhone” 5-10 times in a few sentence. That word would be normally “understood” in the English language so it comes off looking spammy. Google’s algorithm can also pick up on this, and throw the hammer down swiftly.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Another more aggressive example is an excerpt from our history of blackhat SEO post we did a few years ago. Look at this website. Literally, every single word is a link! This just isn’t good, for so many reasons.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Pre-2014 over-optimizing your anchor text could actually yield some good results, then Google’s algorithm started honing in on these tactics and webmasters noticed their websites getting penalized in the search engines.

For many SEO’s out there that even have an anchor text optimization strategy, you should probably tone it down a bit especially if those links lead to websites you own or control.  If you have been doing SEO on a particular website for a long time and the website isn’t ranking, you may want to look at your anchor text strategy.

Anchor text over-optimization is very closely related to keyword density (the number of times a keyword is displayed on a website). It is definitely worth checking out another chapter in our on-page SEO guide titled “Keywords: Proximity, Density, and Prominence.

Anchor Text Analysis

One great way to do an anchor text analysis is by running a tool like Ahrefs. Yes, you might be thinking Ahrefs is a backlink checker but it can also check your own websites outbound links as well as the anchor text within them. In this example we analyze the top 5 anchor texts from the 5 most popular OBL’s (out bound links.)

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

The caveat to having a website as large as Slate is any problem you have scales at an extremely large level.  Being that Slate.com has links to Kindle reader, Android reader as well as other site-wide footer links, it offsets their anchor text distribution on a massive scale. There are a bunch of other tools out there you can use to check your websites anchor text such as Majestic SEO and Moz.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

On a large website like Slate.com this really isn’t an issue. Google is still going to be able to tell that they are a news site (not a Kindle or Android website) being that they have so much authority. On a smaller site however, say one with only 20 pages if 80-90% of their outbound link anchor text was “Kindle” that might throw a wrench in their ranking strategy.

In this next example, we can see an analysis of elite-strategies.com anchor text using Ahrefs.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) does have a module to show anchor text, but this section is only for incoming anchor text. I.e. these are websites with links pointing to you, not an overview of your own websites anchor text.

Anchor Text Definitions

If you’ve been learning SEO you’ve probably heard a number of definitions being thrown around in various SEO tutorials and guides. Here are a few that we think are worth noting:

Anchor text distribution – this term relates to how much a website varies their anchor text. For instance if I have 100 links on my website and 90 of them say “SEO consultant” and 10 say “click here” my anchor text distribution would be pretty weak. This might seem a little spammy and will probably raise some red flags to Google’s quality algorithm filter and could penalize your website.

Targeted anchor text – this term relates to a type of anchor text used in link building. If you are a florist and want to rank for “florist NYC” your targeted anchor text would be “florist NYC.”

Anchor text variation – anchor text variation relates to how much your anchor text distribution varies within your current link portfolio. Having a large amount of anchor text variation is generally a very good thing to have from a Google penalty mitigation standpoint.

Exact-match anchor text – When you have exact match anchor text your anchor text matches exactly the key word or phrase you are looking to target. Most of the time when this term is being used it is somewhat of a negative connotation, however using the right amount of exact match anchor text is the real goal, but there is no magic number.

A word on rel=nofollow

If you’ve been around SEO for a while chances are you’ve heard the term “nofollow.”

Don’t get this confused with the meta robots nofollow tag. An example out in the wild would look like this:

 <a rel="nofollow" href="https://www.moz.com">SEO software</a>

Rel=nofollow refers to a parameter of an HTML anchor, or link that SEO’s add to tell Google not to follow, or not to “count” it. Many tin foil hat SEO’s have theorized that Google ignores this and still counts it. The real answer is no one actually knows.

This topic can easily span both on-page SEO and off-page SEO so for now we’re going to try and keep it on-page. From an on-page perspective an SEO might add this parameter to a link when they feel a link shouldn’t be counted.

An example of this might be when our company sometimes (sparingly) adds “Website by Elite Strategies” at the bottom of a client website. Since we know Google doesn’t like these types of links, we might nofollow that link to tell Google not to count it as part of their ranking algorithm.

Another example of a popular rel=nofollow usage is blog comments. Since many spammers seek out pages with dofollow comment links, its generally a good idea to nofollow all of your comment links. The same goes for signature links on forums and other commonly spammed places around the web.

Using Anchor Text to Evaluate New Domains

When buying new domains, a lot of times it can get tricky when considering what type of links are still pointing to them from old sites. You might have a website with a bunch of links that are perfectly normal, or you may have 100’s of Cialis and Viagra links:

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Some say that Google just ignores these type of links, and while I tend to agree with them it is still a good idea to know what type of anchors are pointing at your site. Even from a liability perspective, it wouldn’t hurt to know what type of anchors “exist” before you purchase a new domain.

Blogging and SEO

n the past 5 years blogging has gone from an obscure hobby to a mandatory part of every internet marketing and SEO campaign. Blogging is an excellent way to connect with your customers and potential customers. Integrating a blog into a website is something that we consider mandatory. Failure to implement a blog won’t cause any negative effects, but it is definitely a wasted opportunity from an SEO perspective.

Blogging has become such an integral part of SEO that it has spawned an industry in and of itself: content marketing. While we won’t dive to much into that topic today, we do feel as though blogging plays a large role in on-page SEO. We believe that the mere presence of a quality blog on a website can be a positive signal to search engines. What do we mean by a ‘quality blog”:

  • relevant and focused posts
  • engaging and useful content
  • unique content
  • content deemed “shareable”
  • content that is properly marked up
  • frequently written
  • multiple authors

For smaller businesses, you can implement a WordPress blog easily by installing it on your server. For most websites, this is as simple as a one-click install on the back-end of your server. Generally it takes about 5 minutes to install WordPress and can be configured and optimized in another few hours.

Before the dawn of web 2.0 websites were very flat. They had a few pages, maybe a form and a few animated images with blinking texts. In these days there wasn’t that much information that needed to be updated on a regular basis, so the website really never changed.

Years have passed and websites are now much more dynamic and complex. Search engines are looking for active websites within their results. The operative word here being “active” which could mean a number of different things such as regularly updated content or the presence of a blog.

Choosing a Blogging Platform

As an SEO, choosing a blogging platform can almost predict the future success of your campaign’s initiative. Choose an outdated blogging platform and Google might hate you. Choose an up-to-date and intuitive blogging platform and Google will love you.

We rarely make such bold statements when it comes to making recommendations, but if you are shopping around for a blogging playform we highly recommend WordPress. WordPress is free, open source, and great for SEO. Why is WordPress so great for SEO:

  • It can be very lightweight
  • Categories and tags built in
  • Custom permalink structures
  • SEO plugins
  • Performance Plugins
  • Built in commenting systems
  • Easy to integrate social media
  • So much more

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Also please don’t confuse WordPress.com with the hosted blogging platform from WordPress.org. WordPress.com is still a blogging platform but it is an off-site version of it with different features and less flexibility.

Alternatives to WordPress:

  • Joomla
  • SquareSpace
  • Expression Engine
  • Tumblr
  • Medium
  • Drupal
  • Wix

Some of these options such as Drupal and Joomla have been around for a very long time and are open source (free) while others are new to the game and some form of payment involved.

Organize your content

This is one aspect of blogging that a lot of SEO’s don’t talk about. For instance this tutorial we wrote on on-page SEO took us days to organize. We needed to figure out which sections were most important, what to name them, and where to put them within our sites hierarchy.

By breaking your content into logical chunks you can really help users find the content they are looking for much easier. This is where categories and tagging comes into play. By accurately tagging and categorizing your content, you not only give your users a logical structure for your website but you help Google identify which sections are the most important. For instance if you have 2 categories, 1 with 100 posts and 1 with 2 posts the one with 100 posts will probably appear more important.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

The last thing we will say when it comes to blogging is to “create content for users, not for search engines.” This is a very popular phrase within the SEO community, it is almost a mantra.

WordPress SEO Tips

Being that WordPress is one of the most popular blogging platforms and is the one that we recommend, we decided to focus a small section to optimizing it. Anytime we are working with a new WordPress website we have a basic workflow that we rinse and repeat each time:

  • ensure permalink structure is correct
  • delete any stock articles and images
  • name any categories and tags to targeted keyword
  • install an SEO plugin such as SEO ultimate or Yoast
  • install an XML sitemap plugin
  • connect social networks via icons and social sharing
  • setup a basic theme that is conducive to SEO
  • implement rel=canonical tags

There are a number of other recommendations we might make depending on the style and type of blog that it is, but those are the ones we will implement no matter what. For example a blog on an eCommerce site would be setup much different than a beauty blog.

Blogging Topics

When it comes to blogging content, there are a number of different directions you can take. The first question you need to answer is what type of blog are you going to be? For example your blog can be structured as:

  • a company newsletter
  • how-to style blog posts
  • relevant industry news style articles
  • whitepapers
  • or a combination of the above

Once you’ve decided what type of blog you are going to be, you can start figuring out what you are going to write about.

As for the content itself, our recommendation is to choose topics that are topically relevant and have a high keyword volume.  A lot of times we will do a brainstorming session of basic keyword ideas, and create blogging topics based on the keywords with the most volume. For this we will use Google AdWords keyword planner:

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

The keyword tool will serve as a basic guideline for blogging topics, and should never be taken literally. The keyword tool also allows you to find keywords to stay away from. Certain topics that aren’t searched very often and have a low competition score might not be the best idea.

On the other hand, you also must consider how your content will look on social media. Just because it might not bring in any traffic from search doesn’t mean it won’t do great on Facebook or Twitter.

As for new content ideas and how to organize your thoughts, we are a big fan of Google Keep. Google Keep comes in desktop and app form and has a really simple user interface. Every time you get a new blogging idea you just add it to a new “card” and color code it based on category. Once you are ready to blog, you have a whole list of content ideas. This is great for documenting ideas you think of throughout the day:

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

URLs and Internal Linking

Try to use URLs or permalinks that are helpful to your visitors. There are a few basic guidlines to follow when structuring the permalinks on your website and creating new blog posts. A few examples:


Bad
https://www.example.com/blog/?=123  (not readable by humans)
https://www.example.com/blog/blog/demo-post  (not properly named)
https://www.example.com/blog/uncategorized/helpful-stock-tips  (properly named but not categorized)

Good
https://www.example.com/blog/stock/trading-secrets (properly categorized and titled)
https://www.example.com/blog/welcome-to-our-blog  (accurately titled, recommend removing 'stop' words)
https://www.example.com/blog/iphone/reviews/iPhone6-review-patrick (properly categorized and titled)

Creating an effective internal linking strategy within your website is just as important as your main website. We’ve already written an entire section on internal linking in our on-page SEO tutorial, you can read more there. With that in mind, there are a few extra tips we recommend for blogs with regard to internal linking:

  • follow the same internal linking strategy as you would on your main website
  • interlink within posts, pages and other resources
  • interlink within your main website and your blog

Responsive and Mobile Friendly

We almost thought about putting this section at the very top. Not only is mobile friendliness now a Google ranking factor, Google has actually created a mobile algorithm to help rank websites within their mobile search results.

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Before we go any further we should really clarify two basic definitions:

  • mobile-friendly – In the context of SEO, mobile friendly essentially means if a website passes the Google mobile friendly test or not
  • responsive design / responsive – A responsive website is a type of web development that enables websites to be mobile friendly by “responding” to the device the user is using.

In a traditional “mobile” website the web developer creates two websites: a mobile version, and a desktop version. The mobile version is a completely different version of the main website, and many times is even given its own subdomain or URL:

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Our personal recommendation is to use a responsive website. With a responsive website your website will be readable on practically any device, while “mobile-friendly” websites have a reputation for breaking on devices with odd-sized screens.

While some of our on-page recommendations might be debatable, having a mobile-friendly or responsive. website is mandatory for any site wanting to do SEO. One basic tip for SEO’s is scan your website with Google’s mobile friendly testing tool. This tool will not only tell you if your website is mobile-friendly or not, but it will give you recommendations of what is wrong, and how to fix it. It will also let you know if your robots.txt is blocking any resources that could be causing issues for Googlebot.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

In total there are 4 points of failure this tool can dish out. Some are really easy to fix, others will actually require you to repair an entire section of your website.

Mobile Algorithm Update

In early 2015, Google released the mobile algorithm update that rewarded websites for being responsive and mobile friendly. Google outright stated that they were going to start giving preferential treatment to websites that are mobile friendly, or responsive. The mobile algorithm update applies to individual pages within websites, not the entire website itself. So for example if your entire website is mobile friendly but one page is not, that one “unoptimized” page will be the only one that is affected, all other pages will be fine. Being that now that mobile traffic has exceeded desktop traffic in general, this is a change that many SEO’s predicted would happen for a long time.

Our agency website saw a nice boost during this update. Rarely do we see boosts in search engine traffic from this type of update but in this case, it happened. This is one reason why we focus so much on a website being mobile friendly responsive when we build websites in-house. It is such an easy win in terms of bringing in new search engine traffic, it is difficult to ignore.

Older, mobile only results caused a number of problems for websites serving up the same version of content, linking to web versions from the mobile version and not working on certain devices such as Android tablets. This is why we recommend using responsive websites instead of mobile versions.

Please note that this update does not / did not affect desktop search results. So if your website is not mobile-friendly, it will not affect your normal rankings.

Responsive is Much Easier to Deal With

How does responsive website design work?

In a traditional desktop vs mobile scenario, there are 2 versions of the website or sometimes 3:

  • a desktop version for computer monitors generally greater than 14″
  • a mobile version for Android and iPhone sized phones
  • and sometimes a tablet version

This was really fine for a while right around the sweet spot of 2010-2013 when life was simple and there were only a few sizes of phones. 2013 popped off and the floodgates of mobile screen sizes started pouring in. No longer were there 3-4 sizes of screens, it was more like 3-400 sizes of screens.

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Web developers couldn’t keep up and soon mobile websites were “broken,” not working or serving up the wrong version for the wrong device. At this point responsive web design was popular, but it was a close tie with mobile websites. By the start of 2015 the debate was finally over: responsive web design for all. Yes there are still some mobile websites out there but for the most part web developers and SEO’s choose responsive web design.

With responsive web design, you no longer have to worry about if your device will fit a certain screen size. Instead of building a website to fit the device, the website itself “responds” to the size of the device. So it doesn’t matter if it is a 1″x 1″ screen on an Apple Watch, a new iPad 6, or a gigantic big screen TV.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Sure, some responsive frameworks are better than others. Twitter for instance developed their own CSS framework (Twitter Bootstrap) to help combat the lack of standards in responsive web design. This framework has become so popular you can find it on almost any major website, app or framework.

Common Pitfalls with Mobile SEO

If you’ve gotten this and have a responsive or mobile friendly website, congratulations. With that in mind there are still some common mistakes to avoid. One of the most common mistakes we see is webmasters blocking JavaScript or CSS. A lot of the times this is accidental, other times it is done intentionally.

Treat your mobile or responsive website exactly as you would a normal website. Make sure that it loads swiftly and without error.

Stay away from “unplayable content” such as a custom or proprietary video player. Stick with known solutions such as YouTube or Vimeo. Embed your videos rather than using a custom app. For god’s sake stay away from Flash.

Lastly, make sure your analytics is tracking your mobile website. It would be a real shame if you’ve brought in a bunch of traffic and couldn’t track it due to a broken analytics program.

Above all else be very careful not to link to multiple versions of your mobile website. If you have a responsive website, don’t worry about this website. If you have 2 versions (mobile and desktop) always be sure that all your links are pointing to the right version. For instance don’t link from your “about mobile” page to your “contact desktop” page.

Another common pitfall that we see with a lot of websites is sites that pass Google’s Mobile Friendly tool but fail on individual pages. The great part about this is that Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) does a great job of compiling this information in a central location.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

In the above image, you can see that Google clearly states that websites with mobile usability issues will be demoted in the search results. That ain’t good. The saving grace is that Google shows you exactly what pages are broken, and how to fix them. In this case its a few quick fixes and the website is fixed.

We recommend checking Google Search Console every week to make sure there aren’t any glaring issues. If you have a very important site you can setup alerts as well.

Content and SEO

If you read enough SEO guides from years past you’ll find a bunch of statements like “content is king” and other clever quips. We already know that content plays a vital role in SEO but in this section we’ll understand why and how it does.

Google has shifted the way that its search engine works. You can now type a query such as:

“movie with guy living in the walls”

and Google will be able to figure out that you are talking about the movie “Housebound” and not a literal search.

To make things really simple, there are really only two main aspects of content that you need to consider in SEO: quantity and quality. From a quality perspective, all content should be well written, well researched, structured appropriately and well-styled. Website visitors are very smart, and they can smell bad content from a mile away.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

In terms of quantity, its not just about how much content you have on a given website it is also about how frequently your website is updated as well. If you are trying to build a loyal following on your website, there is no better way to do that then to keep your content regularly updated.

How often should you add content? In 2015 this is really quite a loaded question. Some large scale websites are updated dozens of times per day, even more. Other small-business websites are updated much less frequently. Then there are static websites that are almost never updated.

Most professional SEO’s believe that Google has a freshness factor built into their algorithm. Google has filed a number of patents that have confirmed this, and there are numerous published case studies confirming this as well. Assuming this is true, lets talk a little bit more about how frequently your content should be updated. Different industries and search terms also differ in terms of how Google might rank content. Let’s think about these search queries:

  • “Temperature in Miami”
  • “Jets vs Falcons score”
  • “Facebook walkout”

Most of these searches will most likely produce search results from content that has been updated very recently. In this case, Google is looking for websites that have been updated very frequently, and ones that are also trusted.

Now let’s look at a totally different type of query:

  • “how to change your name”
  • “theory of relativity”
  • “why do bees make honey”

These searchers are most likely not looking for the “freshest” content, but rather the most accurate and the most trusted content.

Learning the difference between these types of queries and these types of content is an important part of being an SEO and something you should continue to study as time goes on.

Google Panda

How could we mention content and SEO without mentioning Google Panda. Google Panda is a major Google algorithm adjustment released a few years back that targets websites with low-quality website content. Modern day Panda updates have changed since this update was originally released focusing much more on content quality than ever:

  • Google Panda targets websites with “thin” content
  • Google Panda also goes low-quality or sometimes “spun” content

One of the biggest things you should know about Google Panda is that as of this last update, Google will no longer be announcing that these updates or adjustments are happening. It is up to us as SEO’s to figure out when they hit. If you want to stay in the good graces of Google Panda, just remember a few tips:

  • Quality always over quantity – do a content audit on your website to make sure there is no low-quality pages
  • Stay away from spun content, irrelevant content or duplicate content
  • Keep an eye on low click-through-rates, high bounce rates, and low time on sites
  • Don’t over-optimize your website or stuff it with keywords

Follow this advice and you will live a long and prosperous life in the lovely land of Google. Failure to heed this advice and you will be crushed by the long arm of Google justice.

Content Formats

Content doesn’t just have to be a 500-1000 word article. There are many other formats of content for your blog. Popular options include:

  • Lists or “Listicles”
  • How-To Style Posts
  • Reviews or Testimonials
  • Images or Infographics
  • Statistic Style Posts
  • Joke / Memes
  • Videos
  • Guides
  • Rants
  • Podcasts

Google tends to love websites with lots of different types of content. But don’t just make a (video, podcast, etc) because it is “good for SEO.” Only create a rich piece of content if it is well polished. Example: if you don’t have a nice camera setup with some basic studio equipment ($99 on Amazon minimum) I wouldn’t even attempt it. Same with podcasts: if you have a good speaking voice, a solid script and a good idea I’d go for it. But don’t do it just to do it. We’ve seen way too many people fail for having too many irons in the fire.

Content Length

Back when we first started doing SEO, it was practically mandatory that all documents be at least 500 words in length. Since then, a lot has changed. While we don’t make any official recommendation on content length, we have seen a pattern that Google generally has favored pages with longer contextual content than a page with shorter content. Again there are many exceptions to this rule and many factors that come into play, but it’s something that is definitely worth considering with every page that you optimize.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

But let’s not get it twisted, we don’t necessarily think that more content is better for SEO, but we do think if you have the opportunity to use more content it will probably increase your chances of ranking in Google.

Let’s say we have two websites, both of them are selling the exact same red bicycle:

  • Site A – has 1000 words of content, but its hard to read the website is slow and difficult to navigate
  • Site B – has 300 words but it loads fast and is super user-friendly

Even though site A has much more content, Google is most likely going to prefer site B because it is far more optimized for users. This is a touchy subject and definitely open to interpretation, but is definitely something to think about when planning your on-page strategy.

Evergreen Content

Ever heard the term “evergreen content” within the SEO world and want to know what is evergreen content?

To put it simply: evergreen content is content that is always relevant, and doesn’t expire or in some way become something that is not of interest.

Examples of evergreen content:

  • What is the war of 1812

  • How to make a meatloaf
  • Tips for grooming your cat
  • How to open a checking account

Examples of content that is not evergreen:

  • Donald Trump’s Top Advisory Picks – this is a hot topic for a short period of time
  • 2015 New Years Eve Parties – this is really only relevant to people in 2015
  • Skinny Jeans vs Straight Cut – these are fads that could go out of style in a year or less

Evergreen content is a “win” for SEO because there are topics that people always search for. For example, people will pretty much always search for “how to open a checking account.” A good website will have a solid base of evergreen content, sprinkled in with trending posts and topics.

Content Cleanup Yields Increased Traffic

In early 2017 we developed a new strategy that enables established blogs to leverage their true SEO potential. Our study spanned several months, and included the following strategy:

  1. Make a list of all pages on your website
  2. Make lists based on that list: good pages (keep), bad pages (delete), so-so pages (merge, add upon, improve etc)
  3. Follow through: delete the really bad pages that get no traffic, and merge / improve upon the ones that need it
  4. Finally, take the time to redo all of your permalinks / URL structures, titles and descriptions

I can’t stress enough how important a content cruft cleanup is, for sites with blogs or at least 10,000 words I’d recommend doing it once per year. For sites with over 10,000 pages it might be worth doing quarterly.

In our case, we managed to increase our overall organic traffic by about 10-20%. In addition to yielding more organic traffic from Google / SEO, we also were able to reduce a lot of the shoddy visits we were getting to pages we no longer maintained, and completely change the landscape of our top earning pages.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

As you can see it was a huge win for our blog. A lot of people are reluctant to “delete content” but here is our general rule of thumb: if its been weeks, months, or more and you aren’t getting traffic to those pages, its time to make a decision: delete it, merge it into another article, or improve upon it!

On-Page SEO: Website and Page Speed

This is another aspect of on-page SEO that Google has gone on record saying it is an official ranking factor. Most users become annoyed if a site takes 2 or more seconds to load. Not only will a slow page frustrate your visitors, it might deter Googlebot from crawling your website as well. If Googlebot has to wait and wait for a page to load, it might just leave and try again later. With that said, it is imperative that your pages load in 2 seconds or less. This is no easy task, with modern day plugins, frameworks, and widgets it is easy to bog down your website with all sorts of add-ons. Add in high definition video and images and its easy to add lots of size to a page. And when there is a large page, there is usually a slow page.

Also note that this is really a beginners guide to website and page speed optimization. There are many other guides out there that focus on beginner aspects or advanced / expert guides. Our hope is to fall somewhere in the middle with this chapter in our on-page SEO course.

The goal here is to reduce the amount of load time by any means possible.Since there are so many different types of web frameworks these days, we aren’t going to get too specific in this guide. For example if you are a Magento user you would optimize your website much differently than you would a WordPress or Drupal website.

How to properly analyze your website for site speed?

When thinking about website speed optimization there are really 2 main aspects: your overall site speed (e.g. hosting, CDN, dns, SSL) and your page speed (images, scripts, plugins, etc). If you truly want to up your on-page game, you need to run a speed test on every page on your site. While this might not be possible for large eCom sites, you can do 1 page or product per category perhaps.

Our personal favorite way of analyzing page speed is using Pingdom. Pingdom has been around forever now, and does a really good job at testing the site and displaying a report that is easy to understand.  Page speed is broken down into a few different parts:

  • dns speed
  • server speed
  • page size
  • number of requests
  • external resources

My preferred method is to break each part down and optimize them one by one, then go back and do things like add in gzip compression, caching, etc.

Gzip Compression

This is a very simple tip that is oftentimes overlooked by most SEO’s. Note that the below implementation can only works for Apache servers. This can also be done for other webservers including nginx, IIS, and more.

On most websites this is as simple as adding a few lines of code to your .htaccess file:

<ifModule mod_gzip.c>
mod_gzip_on Yes
mod_gzip_dechunk Yes
mod_gzip_item_include file .(html?|txt|css|js|php|pl)$
mod_gzip_item_include handler ^cgi-script$
mod_gzip_item_include mime ^text/.*
mod_gzip_item_include mime ^application/x-javascript.*
mod_gzip_item_exclude mime ^image/.*
mod_gzip_item_exclude rspheader ^Content-Encoding:.*gzip.*
</ifModule>

If you get errors with that, or want to try something different you can try this method instead, but don’t use both:


AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/plain
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/html
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/css
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/xhtml+xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/rss+xml
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/javascript
AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE application/x-javascript

If you are running nginx try this for gzip compression:


gzip               on;
gzip_http_version  1.0;
gzip_vary          on;
gzip_comp_level    6;
gzip_proxied       any;
gzip_types         text/plain text/css text/javascript application/javascript application/json application/x-javascript text/xml application/xml application/xml+rss;

As you can see in this custom script, certain MIME types are excluded such as images, being that you don’t want your server to be the one handling image compression. Don’t worry, we’ll get to images a little later within this section.

Reduce HTTP requests

The less your browser has to ask a server for something, the faster its going to be. Let’s consider this scenario:

Think about a waiter at a restaurant. If you put in an order for a glass of water, most likely they will come right back for it. But what if you put in an order for a grilled chicken breast, french fries, and an scotch on the rocks. That order is goign to take much longer not only because it takes longer to cook but because they have to carry more items back to your table.

If you do a speed test on any website, one of the first things you’ll see is “number of requests.” A request can be almost anything:

  • an image
  • a CSS file
  • an HTML file
  • a font
  • an external resources
  • etc

A few quick ways to reduce requests is to eliminate any extra fluff in your website such as unnecessary plugins, combining images into sprites, and getting rid of external resources you don’t need.

Remember, one tiny line of code referencing an external site or script could be the death of your website. On my personal website patrickcoombe.com, I’m currently seeing some extremely high load times. The reason why? I’ve got a 4Mb+ video loading on my homepage!

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

While its on a fast server, low number of requests and has a high performance grade that large video is murdering the overall load time. In this case, I’m probably going to kill off the video in favor of the load time.

Premium DNS

Quite often when doing a website speed test, we find that the slowest part is the DNS lookup aspect. This can account for as little as a few milliseconds (best case) or several seconds, worst case. Many hosting providers use excellent DNS servers optimized for the modern web, while others are nothing short of shoddy.

Checkout these 2 websites, one has premium DNS and waits 0 seconds to lookup, the other one standard DNS and takes 120ms to lookup.

In the grand scheme of things a few milliseconds might not sound like a huge deal, but it is. Page speed optimization is the art of optimizing multiple different parts of the website. It would be nice if you could just buy better hosting and have your website speed up. In some cases just getting a better hosting plan will speed your site up, but there are so many different factors at play.

If you want a sure fire way of improving the load time of your overall website, you might want to look into premium DNS. In addition to the speed benefits, often times you’ll also get added redundancy and additional security.

If you are looking for a “premium DNS” provider, here are a few suggestions that we’ve used in the past:

  • Cloudflare
  • Amazon’s Route 53
  • Namecheap Premium DNS

There are droves of more options, but again these are the ones that we’ve had experience with and can attest will give you a nice bump in speed.

Faster Hosting

At the very least, if you aren’t sure what you are doing you can just pay for a better hosting plan and that will most likely speed things up. Look for plans that puts your website on an SSD, with more RAM and more processing power. Stay away from shared hosting plans where you might be sharing a network with 100’s of other websites. Here is one website that I know is on shared hosting that has over 300 “neighbors.”

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

That means there are 367 websites sharing 1 server. In all actuality there maybe more. Sometimes there are multiple IP’s per server so in this case this number might be multiplied by 2 or more.

At the very least upgrade your website to a VPS where you have a large chunk of a server instead of a tiny piece.

If you are looking for recommendations of hosting providers, here are the hosting providers we recommend the most:

  • Google Cloud
  • Amazon Cloud
  • Liquid Web
  • Rackspace
  • Digital Ocean

There are some people that hypothesize that using Google Cloud can give you an additional boost. It isn’t one of those “if I use AdWords I’ll get an SEO boost” theory that is unfounded, this theory has more of a leg to stand on. The fact is, Google Cloud has servers that are ridiculously fast, with an enormous reach, tons of “edge nodes” in their CDN, new equipment, and some of the best engineers on the planet. Either way, I wouldn’t put all of your eggs in that basket but I definitely see more and more SEO’s looking to Google Cloud for their hosting provider.

If you are looking for a fully managed solution, you can check out WPEngine. I haven’t used them personally but know a lot of people who have. If you are going to venture into the world of cloud hosting by using Google or Amazon, be prepared for a huge learning curve. While they do have nice web front ends, there is no cPanel installed by default.

Optimize your images

If you aren’t great with Photoshop, don’t worry there are some options. At the very least, run all of your images through Tinypng before uploading from your server. You can see in this example how an image that was over 21kb was shrunk by 65% to 17kb. Imagine if everyone did this how much faster the web would be.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

If every site took a few extra steps to optimize and compress their images, the world wide web in general would be a much faster entity.

Size your images correctly

It isn’t uncommon to find websites that use horrible practices when using images. In addition to compressing your images, make sure you are using the right size. Don’t use an image that is 3000×3000 pixels when a thumbnail size will do. We see this a lot in WordPress websites. We’ll find background images that could be tiled at 25px square, but instead are 1000px. Or a photograph in a small div that should be

In addition to Tinypng there are many server side plugins that you can use to do this work for you. The way these plugins work is they basically serve an optimized version of he image instead of the original.

If you have a WordPress site, there are a number of plugins to do this for you. EWWW is one of our personal favorites, but many folks prefer Imagify as well. Both do a great job of compressing and optimizing images.

One word of caution: be careful if you have a website with high end photos, such as a wedding photographer or someone with high quality gallery images. I wouldn’t auto-compress or optimize those images. Most of the time you can’t tell the difference with certain illustrations, but with high end photos they can reduce quality in a noticeable way.

SVG and WebP

If you can, start thinking about implementing your images as SVG and WebP wehenever possible. WebP is a new image format developed in part by the folks at Google. That should be a hint you should use it. From their website they claim that lossy WebP images are on average 26% smaller than PNG.

CDN’s

A CDN is an extra service you can add on on top of your existing hosting. We talk about CDN’s a little bit more within our server optimization portion of our guide. In short, a CDN provides a shorter path between your website visitors and the files on your server. Essentially a CDN is a copy of your server cloned in multiple locations throughout the world.

There are many CDN providers out there. Our website for instance uses MaxCDN while many other websites use Amazon or other providers.

My advice to people about CDN’s is this: if you are at he point where you have enough visitors where most of the time there are more than one visitor on your website at any time, it is time to start thinking about a CDN. If however, you only get 3-4 visits every hour a CDN really won’t help that much.

Leverage Browser Caching

When you visit a website for the first time, you need to load all of that content from the server. When you go back and visit a second time chances are your browser will have a lot of those images and content cached on your website. By leveraging browser caching, you are essentially instructing Google on how you want it to cache the files on your server. Here is an example code snippet that you can add to a Linux / Apache server to enable caching. These values can be changed depending on your needs:

<IfModule mod_expires.c>
ExpiresActive On
ExpiresByType image/jpg "access 6 months"
ExpiresByType image/jpeg "access 6 months"
ExpiresByType image/gif "access 1 year"
ExpiresByType image/png "access 1 year"
ExpiresByType text/css "access 2 weeks"
ExpiresByType text/html "access 1 month"
ExpiresByType application/pdf "access 1 month"
ExpiresByType text/x-javascript "access 1 month"
ExpiresByType application/x-shockwave-flash "access 1 month"
ExpiresByType image/x-icon "access 1 year"
ExpiresDefault "access 1 week"
</IfModule>

If you have a website that never changes, the values really should be as long as possible. If your website updates frequently, for instance if the images on your blog changes often then perhaps that section should read “1 week” or even “2 days’ depending on your situation.

Like most aspects of website speed, there is a “premium addon” for caching as well. Amazon ElastiCache, Cloudflare, and Akamai all offer premium addons for website caching. Deeper down the rabbit whole we go.

Database Optimization

If your website uses a database, chances are its got some extra “fluff” in it. If you’ve got some experience with your database, get in there and start deleting / optimizing. If you don’t find someone that does. If you are a WordPress user there are a number of plugins, my personal favorite is “WP Optimize” you basically run it and it gets rid of anything extra that you don’t need, and optimizes the rest.

As with most aspects of website speed, the bigger the size of the entity, the slower it will load. Regardless of the database, content such as:

  • spam comments
  • post revisions
  • trashed content
  • uninstalled plugin garbage

Could and should be optimized i.e. deleted. There are many ways of optimizing your database, but it all comes down to what CMS or eCommerce framework you are using.

Like other aspects of on-page SEO, there is a premium or paid way to optimize your database. For larger sites or sites that get a lot of traffic, you might want to look into hosting your database off-site. Premium database hosting options include:

  • Google Cloud SQL
  • Amazon RDS
  • Rackspace

These services have servers that are optimized for high traffic and have OS images made just for databases, so you know you are getting the best of the best.

Combine Resources

Many site speed guides recommend combining CSS or JavaScript files, but there are many other things you can combine as well such as images (sprites) and much more. By combining resources you load much less content and minimize your HTTP requests.

This is normally a very arduous process but in the end you will be rewarded when you see your site loading zippidy split.

DNS Prefetching

Another small snippet you can add to your site is the rel=”dns-prefetch” addon. Basically what this does is takes care of the dns lookup before the page loads, which can help speed up the page that is currently loading.

<link rel="dns-prefetch" href="//example.com">

This really only makes sense if your site loads resources from multiple hosts / domains. For instance when my personal site loads, it fetches our analytics from another domain, fonts, css, javascript. All of that can be pre-fetched to help move things along.

This is yet another method you can implement to help speed up your site and hopefully increase your on-page SEO game.

HTTPS / SSL

Just want to start out by saying that HTTPS isn’t in and of itself a performance improvement. We can cite countless blogs that argue this case from professional web developers.

This is kind of a touchy subject, as many people believe that implementing HTTPS on a website can actually cause load issues. Our experience is that properly served, an HTTPS enabled website can load even faster than a normal website with HTTP2 / SPDY enabled.  Again this is under the right circumstances.

Keywords: Proximity, Density and Prominence

Keyword proximity in SEO refers to how close together keywords are to one another, or to another element on the website. There is a real art to nailing down keyword proximity within a body of text. The goal really isn’t to have all of your keywords within a close proximity, but it definitely is something to consider. One common piece of advice you will find is that the closer your key phrase is together within a piece of content, the more relevant that page might be Googlebot for that particular keyword or key phrase.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Always use your thinking cap when it comes to these principles of SEO. Don’t overdo it. If we are targeting the keyword “SEO” don’t do something like “SEO SEO SEO SEO SEO” and think you are getting 5x the keyword proximity points because you strung them all together.

Keyword prominence refers to how visually eye-catching a keyword is within a website. A keyword in the same exact font / format as the rest of the website won’t be nearly as prominent as a keyword bolded and within a link anchor. There aren’t any official rules to follow when considering keyword prominence, but it is something you should consider when designing your on-page SEO strategy.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

There are a variety of different ways to make your keywords stand out (or more prominent) within an HTML document or website. A few of our favorite examples are:

  • boldingitalicizing, or underlining text
  • adding color or background color to text
  • using the h1-h6 tag
  • embedding the link within an unordered or ordered list
  • a combination of any of the above

As with anything in SEO, don’t go overboard. You don’t want to make your text seem ridiculous or unbelievable. You also don’t want your keywords to stick out too much for this. Another example of keyword prominence is when you are referring to anchor text or Hx tags in SEO. The reason why it is so important to have keywords within your H1, H2, etc tags is because Hx tags are very prominent, in most cases larger than the rest of the body of text. The same can also be said for un-ordered lists, italicized text, anchor text, and other styles.

Keyword Density in SEO

Keyword density is the topic that deals with the ratio of keywords to text within a given page. Let’s get straight to the point here, having keywords within your content is vitally important. While many SEO’s may scoff at this topic, it is still an aspect of SEO that Google uses to rank pages.

An example of keyword density: we would love for this page to rank for on-page SEO or on-page optimization, so we must be sure that this page contains those keywords. It is also just as important that your content reads well, is engaging and interesting to your reader.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

At some point some SEO made up a chart for keyword density recommendations. To me there is really no magic number. It really varies from page to page. There really isn’t any magic % or number of keywords to have within your content. A rule of thumb is, if it looks like you are stuffing keywords in your content, you are most likely doing it wrong.

Google actually offers a quick way to do a site-wide keyword density check. They won’t display results on a page by page basis, this tool is more good for displaying an overall snapshot of your keyword density of your website. To illustrate here is a snapshot of our agency content keywords report.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

The great thing about this tool is it really allows you to see if your website is on track, or not.  Since “SEO” is really a keyword we are targeting, overall we are really on track however there are a few of our secondary and tertiary keywords that didn’t make the top 10 so that is something we might take a look at.

HTTPS / SSL

We’ve already stated this, but clearly the largest benefit is the fact that Google now considers this a ranking factor. Google has said in the past that there are over 200 ranking factors, some having more power than others.

In addition to the rankings boost you might receive you also might get some referrer data that you weren’t getting before you had your SSL certificate installed. When web traffic passes from an HTTPS > HTTPS website which is becoming more and more popular that referrer data is preserved in your analytics which can provide you with some great data about your visitors that you didn’t have access to before.

All types of certificates will “work” for Google, but only the extended validation certificates will give you the coveted “green bar” in your web browser. While this may not be a direct rankings boost, on websites like eCommerce shops this can act as a trust signal and help keep visitors on your website longer, and coming back for more. These factors have been known to affect SEO so it is something to consider.

There are a ton of resources that have to be updated when switching to HTTPS. For instance your sitemaps, your robots.txt files, canonical elements and even your analytics tracking code needs to be changed.

Once you think you have everything up and running, you can use Google Search Console’s fetch and render tool to see if things are working properly, and how Google renders your site.

Common Mistakes and Pitfalls

There are a number of common pitfalls and considerations when installing an SSL certificate. Some of these include:

  • working with relative URLs
  • installing an SSL on your CDN
  • social sharing buttons will lose their “count”
  • “moving” your website in Google Search Console
  • many webmasters claim HTTPS slows down their website

As time goes on and we learn more about how HTTPS plays a role in SEO. Before you go installing an SSL certificate on your website, re-read this article and do as much research if you can.

Pay special attention if you are an SEO that manages a very large and old website with lots of pages. The more complicated and dynamic your website is, the more factors that come into play when configuring an SSL certificate on your website.

Installing an SSL certificate might only take 30 minutes, but configuring it for SEO could take hours or even days. Mis-configure your SSL and you could be in a world of hurt from an SEO perspective. Configure it properly and you could experience some very nice rewards on your website.

Also it is helpful to “force” SSL on all pages, that way if someone lands on a non-SSL page they’ll get properly redirected. I like to use this snippet:

# Force HTTPS
RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTPS} off
RewriteRule (.*) https://%{HTTP_HOST}%{REQUEST_URI} [R=301,L]

SEO Benefits of SSL

Entering a controversial subject, so if you are an advanced network programmer or engineer, please don’t hate us! Over the past year or so with the increase of popularity in HTTP2 and SPDY, there is a huge camp of people that say that having HTTPS enabled can actually increase your website speed!

If you really want to blow your mind check out this website titled “http vs https” again geared towards Chrome users with perfect HTTPS implementations, but in the coming years all browsers and sites will catch up to this technology, and this will be a reality across the WWW.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

So we know HTTPS is a ranking signal, and we know that site speed is a ranking signal , and if enabling HTTPS can lead to speed increases (sometimes) then this can be a double win!

Domain Names and SEO

This one is a bit tricky, for a few reasons. For starters, once you choose your domain name its not something you can really change. Second, it might not be within your control. That said, if you do have the ability to control your domain name we have a few recommendations.

  • the shorter, the better
  • domain names should be memorable
  • don’t use dashes or underscores (oops, we messed up on this)
  • try to use a memorable name not something weird or difficult to spell like whooseywaggonz.io
  • stick with .com, .net or .org if you can, if not no big deal
  • older domains are generally better
  • use keywords sparingly

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

EMD’s: Exact Match Domains

EMD’s or “exact match domains” are exactly the way they sound. Let’s say your product is “black sunglasses” an EMD would be “www.blacksunglasses.com. A few years ago, Google started penalizing domains that abused this. There are still many domains out there that are EMD’s but not nearly as many as their used to be, and they aren’t favored nearly as much as they were.

With every recommendation, there are exceptions to the rule. Google “how to write a book” and sure enough you’ll find an exact match domain with a ton of hyphens:

https://www.how-to-write-a-book-now.com/how-to-write-a-novel.html

Please don’t take that example as a license to register a domain with 4 hyphens. Remember, there are over 200 ranking factors and just because one of those factors are not optimized doesn’t mean other factors aren’t coming into play.

Domain Name Registration History

One of the most common SEO recommendations when it comes to domain names is having an “aged” domain name. This isn’t really a factor that you can control, but rather something that gets better with age. As your website ages and as time goes on, your domain becomes more trusted not only by Google but by other websites as well. It shoes that at the very least you aren’t a scammer that is registering a new domain name every 6 weeks. You can check the domain registration by doing a “whois” on any domain.

In this illustration, we query popular SEO website “moz.com” to get some information:

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

  • We can see that the domain name was originally created in 1998.
  • It was modified in 2013, this is most likely when they started re-branding from seomoz.com to moz.com and purchased this domain from someone else
  • It expires in 2021
  • They are using a custom DNS service
  • The domain was registered from enom.com

While most of this information doesn’t play a direct role in search engine rankings, we can extrapolate a lot of information about a website that can assist in rankings. For instance the fact that Moz uses a custom DNS service means that they care enough about their website load time to pay for an extra service layer.

Moving Domains

Your motivation for moving domains could be anything. It could be a copyright violation, a new branding direction, found a better or more appropriate domain, or you might have just changed your mind. Regardless of your reasons, there are some factors to take a look at before moving.

If you are moving domains i.e. keeping the same website but changing the name of your domain name there are a number of considerations that should be taken into account before making the plunge. While moving a website or domain can be a daunting task, there are some specific elements to take into account as an SEO:

  • you’ve backed up your website, sitemap, and robots.txt file
  • 301 the old domain to the new one
  • fill out change of address in Google Search Console
  • create a new sitemap and submit it to Google Search Console
  • create a new robots.txt and submit it to Google Search Console

Also know that even though a 301 can pass link juice, in many aspects you’ll be “starting over.” There will be a period of adjustment, sometimes referred to as “the Google Dance” where your site may appear to be moving around or “dancing” in the search engine results pages.

Run Screaming Frog SEO tool as well as Xenu and get a complete snapshot of your old site, back it up locally.

Once you’ve made the plunge and your domain is moved you can run a “fetch as Google” just to make sure Google is seeing your website properly. If you have an SSL certificate you’ll need to reconfigure that as well.

Over the next few weeks you’ll need to monitor Google for your index status as well as rankings.

A word on New gTLD’s

gTLD’s or “generic top level domains” are new types of domain names available for register on the web. Some people also refer to these as “domain extensions” or “generic domain extensions.” Some examples of these new domain name extensions are:

  • .recipes
  • .accountant
  • .city
  • .volkswagen
  • .salon

Some examples of how these domain names might look in combination with some other words are:

https://www.chili.recipes

https://www.nyc.accountant

https://www.rap.city

https://www.lease.volkswagen

https://www.hair.salong

As you may have already noticed, some of these new domain names are generic words, others are actual brand names such as “Samsung, Volkswagen, or Heinz.” As a general rule of thumb, I’d probably recommend staying away from these domain names with company names contained within them to avoid any legal troubles unless of course you are associated with those companies. Many companies are already scooping up some of these new domain name extensions, e.g. Trek Bicycles already registered (now down, as of 2017).

With that out of the way, you might be temped to start buying up domain names with really cool combinations. Although we already recommended within this section of the guide that .com, .net and .org are preferred, that does not mean that Google dislikes or even devalues these new domain extensions. There are some clear benefits to having these new domains. There are many more options available to register, and some of them are extremely easy to remember.

The fact is, you can search for almost anything you can think of in Google and the top results will probably be a .com or .net. Yes, you can probably find some examples of some obscure domain names but it is still too soon to tell.

On the other hand the reason for this may just be that these domain extensions are still too new and are being overpowered by domains that have been registered for a decade or more with tons of authority?  If you want to be safe, go with a .com, .net or a .org.

HTML, CSS and JavaScript

If you are on the quest to becoming an SEO, learning and understanding HTML and CSS is an integral part of that process. Up until a few years ago it was common knowledge that Google was not able to even read CSS markup. If you read SEO tutorials from 3+ years ago you might even find steps on how to block Google from your CSS or JavaScript. Getting in the habit of reading HTML and CSS is also recommended. After reading HTML for almost 20 years I’m able to spot an error in any piece of code in just a few seconds. It becomes almost inherent nature to find “un-closed” tags at the end of a statement.

Now, not only do we have confirmation that Google can read it, but they will warn you if you block them from it.

“Disallowing crawling of Javascript or CSS files in your site’s robots.txt directly harms how well our algorithms render and index your content and can result in suboptimal rankings.”

As an SEO, you don’t have to be an expert HTML and CSS coder with intricate knowledge of every HTML parameter. It is expected that you do know how to read HTML and CSS, can make changes to the code and are able to modify existing blocks of code. Without knowledge of HTML you really can’t understand the most important aspects of HTML such as title tags, meta descriptions and h tags.

Being able to read what is inside of the <head> tag is also vitally important. Within the <head> tag contains some of the most essential elements within on-page SEO, and should not be ignored. Knowledge of HTML and CSS also enables you to understand how to implement structured data, anchor text, images and so much more.

The role that CSS plays in SEO is very important. Not only does CSS make webpages much prettier, they make them much lighter in weight as well. CSS also allows you to use standard HTML tags such as the <h1>, <ul> and other tags that can make keywords and anchor text much more prominent within your page.

HTML / CSS Validation (w3.org)

Just like your content or text needs to be checked for grammar and spelling, your code needs to be checked for validity as well. W3.org is an international community where Member organizations, a full-time staff, and the public work together to develop Web standards. Basically, they are the people in charge of ensuring HTML is standardized. They’ve created a tool to validate the HTML and CSS on your website. We’ve found that almost every website “fails” on some level or another.

That is not to say you shouldn’t fix these issues. If you’ve ever run an “SEO testing tool” this is one of the main factors that they look for. While it has been stated in the past that Google does not give preference to websites that have validated HTML, that is not to say they don’t look down upon websites with tons of errors. For example invalid HTML could mean broken HTML elements which could mean improper formatting on your website. Poor formatting on your website could cause issues with your users which of course could lead to SEO’s.

In short, we would advise you to make sure all major issues are fixed, and if you have time fix the minor issues but don’t spend all your time focusing on HTML compliance. While CSS and HTML might not be a direct ranking factor, having properly optimized HTML tags

JavaScript

Over the past few years, JavaScript has become quite a hot topic in the on-page SEO community. When we first started doing SEO, we needed to proceed very cautiously when implementing JavaScript in a website. Now, Google has announced that not only are they able to crawl Javascript but they recommend you not block any resources such as external JavaScript files.

Google has made it really simple to understand by saying:

“What the user sees, the crawler sees.”

What Googlebot is actually doing is crawling the rendered static content, as well as executing JavaScript to create an HTML snapshot. In the past Googlebot would have to guess what the page looked like, because it couldn’t really read the JavaScript.

Our website for example loads several JavaScript files. Some of them are for basic elements, while others are for plugins within the WordPress framework. A few quick tips for JavaScript and SEO:

  • Minify your JavaScript, you can use tools like Jcompress to do this.
  • Don’t use a lot of JavaScript – JavaScript makes websites load slower, so less ir more
  • Keep JavaScript to content ratio low, and don’t use a lot in general
  • Try to keep JavaScript in the bottom or footer of your website
  • Try to use external JavaScript files instead of inline JavaScript

Googlebot also follows JavaScript redirects. This was always questionable in the past but now they are interpreted the same as 301’s. Googlebot also recognizes and follows links from within JavaScript, this includes menus, drop-downs and other types of links.

One aspect of JavaScript SEO’s (and Googlebot) has had a hard time with for a while is dynamically served content. Google has come out and said this is not a problem, and from my own tests I’ve run it does appear that Google does not have a problem with dynamically served content.

Historically SEO’s have shyed away from using JavaScript and even warned people about using it. This is really no longer the case for SEO’s as far as Google is concerned.

This is a major step forward within the SEO industry and a huge accomplishment for Google.

This is yet another reason why learning SEO is a dynamic process and something that you need to remain up to date on if you want to become an expert within the field.

Rel=Canonical Tag

Content management systems and eCommerce frameworks such as WordPress and Shopify make life so easy, but can be a nightmare when it comes to showing the same content on multiple pages. For instance, these example all URLs all might display the same products on an eCommerce store:

https://www.example.com/shirts/size/large

https://www.example.com/shirts/color/blue

https://www.example.com/shirts/style/tshirt

Now imagine a conversation between your website and Googlebot:

Your website: My website sometimes creates multiple versions of the same page

Googlebot: Ok, but how am I supposed to tell which one is the original?

Your website: I’ll insert a “rel=canonical” tag at the top of the original version of the page

Googlebot: Sounds good to me

So how do we go about doing this? For a normal website if you want to implement the rel=canonical tag

<link rel="canonical" href="https://example.com/the-original-version/">

For websites that have a CMS or eCommerce stores, you most likely already have a system to implement this such as a plugin or addon which makes life much easier. Other plugins will actually make bulk determinations based on known-issues within certain frameworks.

For instance in WordPress, category, tag, and archive pages tend to produce duplicate pages so a lot of canonical plugins will ask you if you want these pages canonicalized.

Cross Domain Canonicalization

Just like there is on-page and off-page SEO, there is on-site and off-site canonicalization as well.

This topic is actually a tad easier to grasp. Let’s say you have two versions of the same blog post, the first one is on your website, the other one is published on the New York Times.

Since the New York Times version of the post would technically be considered duplicate content, we would ask them to add the rel=canonical tag, pointing back to our website. In essence, this tells Google bot “Hey, the real version is actually on this site, ignore the New York Times version. Thanks!”

In short, the rel=canonical tag can help you with duplicate content or syndicated content on other websites. There is on catch: you have to have control of those websites. So let’s say you decide to publish content on LinkedIn you are out of luck because you can’t edit LinkedIn’s HTML header unfortunately.

Rel=Canonical HTTP headers

Another way to send the rel=canonical signal to Google is through your web server. This implementation is a little bit more difficult to implement, and has a few pro’s and con’s. There are a few pro’s and a lot of cons.

On the pro’s side of the equation, the rel=canonical http header is great because you can canonicalize resources such as PDF’s and other resources that aren’t HTML editable.

There are a few obvious cons:

  • it is much more difficult to implement than adding the rel=canonical tag to your website page
  • it may be difficult to get access to your website
  • if you don’t implement correctly, you could produce entire website errors
  • you may actually need to install a new server module
  • it may not be available at all on your current setup

But fear not, chances are this isn’t that big of a deal. Unless your website is really PDF heavy and you have a lot of them scattered throughout your website and off-site, this shouldn’t be a problem.

XML and Website Sitemaps

Think of your XML sitemap as a suggested driving directions for when Google crawls your website. Google is going to crawl your website regardless of if you have a sitemap or not, but having one will help optimize Googlebot’s time on your website. You can also identify which pages are the biggest priority, and which ones change the most. For instance if you have a “jobs” page that updates frequently, you would want Google to crawl that page much more often than you would your “about us” page which probably never changes.

If you are a WordPress user there are countless plugins that can create an XML sitemap for you. Same goes for other frameworks such as Joomla, Prestashop, etc. Very rarely will you have to actually create a sitemap on your own, but if you do there are a number of tools out there that will do this for you.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

But what if you don’t have a CMS such as WordPress or modern day web framework. Well, there are a few options. The first one is to build it manually and write the XML by hand. You’d do this by making a list of all of your pages from within your website, and following this format:

Example XML Sitemap Snippet 
<url>
<loc>https://www.example.com/mypage</loc>
<lastmod>2013-10-10</lastmod>
<changefreq>monthly</changefreq>
<priority>1</priority>
</url>

If you don’t have the patience for this, you can use a program such as Screaming Frog SEO Spider to scrape your entire website and generate the sitemap for you. It is basically a 4 step process:

  1. scrape your website using Screaming Frog
  2. export your XML sitemap to your computer
  3. verify your XML sitemap file for errors
  4. upload your sitemap to your server

Letting Google Know About Your XML Sitemap

Once you’ve got an XML sitemap generated and uploaded to your server, it is generally a good idea to inform Google about this. Sure, they can probably find out on their own but this is recommended. The first way to let Google know about your XML sitemap is to add your sitemap to Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools). This is generally a 1 step process and only takes a moment if you are logged in. Once your sitemap has been added you can see all kinds of nifty stats about your website:

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Another way to let Google know about your sitemap is by adding it to your robots.txt file. This is generally one line of code that looks like this:

Sitemap: https://www.example.com/sitemap.xml

If you have multiple sitemaps you can just repeat that line as many times as necessary, changing the values of course.

XML Image and Video Sitemaps

If you’ve gotten the concept of a regular XML sitemap that you’ll have no problems understanding XML image and video sitemaps. These sitemaps are created for websites that have a lot of videos and images that typically have complex hierarchies. For instance a large website such as Vimeo that is almost completely made up of videos should have a video sitemap.

Having a specific type of sitemap also tells Google what your content is exactly. Having a video sitemap for instance will help Google give you a video snippet within the search results, but no guarantees ever.

Google has recommended in the past not only creating an XML sitemap for search engine crawlers, but to create a website map for users as well. We’ll talk a little bit more about that in our next section.

Website Sitemap

To clear things up, yes there is a difference between a website sitemap and an XML sitemap. As an example here is the difference between our XML sitemap and our website or user sitemap. The XML sitemap is meant for bots, the website or user sitemap is meant for people.

The user sitemap is useful for a number of reasons. For starters, it gives your visitors a map in case they aren’t sure where they are or what they are looking for. From an SEO perspective that is helpful for a number of reasons. It not only creates a perfect internal link structure, but it helps keep visitors on your site longer as well.

Google recommends a user sitemap for users that are having difficulty locating pages within your website, but a sitemap shouldn’t always be an afterthought. We recommend that people looking to develop or design a new website considers designing their sitemap in a program such as Excel or Visio in the beginning, especially for larger websites. This way you can get a visual representation of how your website hierarchy looks instead of just making a good guess.

The New York Times has an absolutely exquisite website sitemap. With a website this big, they can’t have every page ever written linked within the page, so they provide a basic “site map” for their users. Since they have content daying back to 1851, they are in a bit of a different category than most of the web.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

Sites smaller than the NYT but larger than most like Apple makes their website sitemap a bit different. Instead of listing every link from within their website, they link to every section of the website or every category.

Basic On-Page SEO Checklist 2020

You may not think that sitemaps get visited by most users, but give it a try for a few months and see for yourself. On most websites I manage I see quite a lot of traffic going to these pages, especially ones with complex navigation.

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