On-Page SEO – Best Practice 2023

In this article we give an overview of the most significant on-page SEO factors that you need to bear in mind to rank your website high on Google in 2022.

We don’t claim to cover every aspect of what on-page factors make your page rank higher (or lower) – there are 100s of these after all, so that would be outside the scope of a single blog post.

Instead, we aim to give a busy blog-writer a quick summary of the top 20% of factors that contribute to approximately 80% of what makes a website page rank.

We will cover important topics like the H1-tag title, the sub-title heading structure from H2 down to H6, the URL, the page meta title, the meta description, and SEO-friendly content.

Optimise The Headings

Right at the top of the page or blog post you ideally want 1 simple heading that closely (or exactly) matches the main search term you’re optimising the page for.

When writing a page or blog post you should have 1 main theme in mind, which is normally centred around a high-volume short-tail keyword, and supported by a cluster of related or ‘semantic’ keywords.

It usually works best to label the main title of the page with the short-tail keyword, no more and no less. Sometimes, to create a bit of interest or add a bit of context, it may make sense to add some extra words on the end – if doing this, ideally separate these added words with a hyphen or colon, so that Google can digest the 2 parts of the heading separately.

For example, this blog post is titled On Page SEO – Best Practice 2022. “On Page SEO” has a search volume of around 1600 per month in the UK at the time of writing, but when I add “Best Practice 2022” that has 0/month search volume, and even “On Page SEO 2022” is only 10/month.

After all, if you were to search ‘on page seo’ Google wants to give you an article that covers that topic exactly, and if we start to add too many extra words into the main page title, it starts to look too specialist compared to the simple short-tail search term, so Google is less likely to rank the page at the top of the search results, but will rank pages with a simpler heading instead.

Use A H1 Tag For Your Main (Top) Heading If Possible

Long-standing advice on SEO best-practice for headings is have only 1 main heading on each page or post on your website, and assign it the highest level of heading tag, known as a H1 tag. This Yoast blog from 2020 gives a good summary of conventional SEO advice that states ‘only 1 H1 Tag per page’.

Site auditing tools, and also plugins such as Yoast and RankMath, tend to re-enforce this slightly dated advice, as they will flag up SEO ‘errors’ if you have either multiple H1 tags on a page, or no H1 tag titles at all.

We agree with this conventional SEO practice, however, experience has shown us that pages with 2 or more H1 tags can rank well on Google, even for competitive keywords, and our commentary on this is below.

More Than 1 H1 Tag Heading Is (Usually) OK

As outlined on this Moz article, the size of the font is potentially more important than the H-tag you apply to it. This saves anyone being able to ‘trick’ Google by applying a H1 tag to a small heading that would appear insignificant to a human reader of the website. Google have just recently clarified guidance in their article about titles that you should make the title distinctive from other text by using a larger font or the <h1> element.

But when you consider that most website themes and CMS platforms automatically apply a larger font size to H1 tag text by default, it makes sense to apply a H1 tag to the most important heading (or headings).

Our personal view at UClimb is that it is OK to have more than 1 H1 heading as long as all of the H1 headings are of similar importance, and the aggregated topic overview when you take all of these H1 headings together adds up to give you the main subject.

Use Just 1 H1-Tag Where You Can

Wherever possible, the simplest and best solution is to put 1 short and simple clear H1 heading at the top of the page, that encapsulates the content matter succinctly – like we have tried to do on this blog post.

However, if the theme of the page is more complex, and therefore lends itself to being gradually introduced across multiple H1 headings as you progress down the page, then that’s acceptable too.

Within many CMS platforms like WordPress, it’s easy to control what heading tag is applied to which heading. However, on more rigid CMS platforms, or highly customised WordPress themes, you may have to work the best you can with the rigid heading tag structure that you have.

Google themselves claim that the use of multiple H1 tags on 1 page doesn’t matter as much as for SEO as it used to, in fact John Muller of Google claims on a webmaster hangout:

Your site can do perfectly fine with no H1 tags or with five H1 tags

John Muller, Google

See the video extract below to get John Muller’s comments on H1 Tag usage for best-practice on-page SEO:

Create A Logical Sub-Heading Structure

As outlined above, H1 tags are a good choice for main headings, and a H2 normally applied to the sub-headings throughout the body of the article, and if there’s sub-topics within each H2 heading section, then H3-tag headings should be sub-sub-headings, etc. CMS platforms like WordPress allow heading tags right down to H6, but usually, H1 to H4 provides plenty of scope for a logical heading hierarchy structure.

One occasion where you might want to use H5 and H6 heading tags is if your CMS or WordPress Theme is very rigid and for example maybe the heading of say each blog post is automatically formatted as H4 and you don’t have scope to edit that. If so, using H5 and H6 in the body of the blog content helps Google to understand that the H4 heading at the top is the key overall topic of the blog post, if you were to use H2 for less important headings than the top one which happens to be H4, you would potentially confuse Google.

We have tried to follow that process in this blog post, if you examine it using a Chrome SEO Extension like SEO META in 1 CLICK, you’ll see a heading hierarchy as shown below:

{“id”:69867,”sizeSlug”:”full”,”linkDestination”:”none”,”kioblocks”:[]} –>

Best Practice Heading Structures for SEO H1 H2 H3 etc

Optimise the URL

While often overlooked, the URL of the page is very important for good on-page SEO:

Hyphens vs Underscores

If you have just 1 main keyword in mind, you could try matching the URL to this exactly, making sure you use hyphens to separate the words and not other punctuation like underscores.

Hyphens are the only word-separators that Google recognises – see below video by Matt Cutts from Google to explain this point in greater depth

Keep Them Short

We have proved through extensive trial and error that an exact keyword match URL performs significantly better than one with 1 or 2 words added or taken away.

If, however, you have several keywords in mind for your blog post – for example, saying the 3 target keywords for this blog post were “on page SEO”, “on page SEO checklist”, and “on page SEO template”, then a logical URL for all 3 keywords may be something like “on-page-seo-checklist-template”.

As it happens, the search volumes for the ‘template’ keyword are significantly less than the search volumes for the ‘checklist’ keyword, and both words have very similar meanings, so we have chosen to just include the word ‘checklist’ on the URL for this post, alongside the main core focus keyword of ‘on page SEO’.

It is also good practice to put the most important (highest volume) keywords near the beginning of the URL because while Google doesn’t exactly seem to penalise long URLs (unless they are very long maybe), they do seem to give more weight to words earlier in the URL.

Bear in mind that the more words you add to the URL of a webpage, the more you are diluting the main core focus of that page, in the eyes of a search engine like Google, so where possible, keep it to 5 words or less.

Optimise The Meta Title And Meta Description

Meta Title Best Practice

Possibly one of the most significant SEO factors on a page is the SEO Title, and as it’s recommended to keep it to 65 characters or less, it’s also one of the quickest bits to optimise!

That said, this recommended character limit does present challenges if you’re trying to optimise a lot of related keywords on the same page – which do you choose to be included in the Meta Title, and then once you’ve decided that, how do you piece them together in a manner that makes sense.

The main reason for the common recommendation to keep the Meta Title to 60 or 65 characters is that anything more will tend to be not displayed on a page of Google search results, instead, it will be ‘truncated’ with an ellipsis (…) at the end, as shown in the example below:

Optimising Meta Titles for On Page SEO

Using the vertical line symbol (|) instead of a – saves valuable horizontal room for longer titles, so is well worth considering. Traditionally this symbol was viewed with suspicion because it’s not used in conventional writing for punctuation. However, an analysis of top-ranking websites reveals many examples using this punctuation so we’re always free to use it on our pages and posts.

Depending on the device used, different lengths of meta title will display, so if you decide to create a longer meta title that fully displays on desktop but not mobile, just makes sure that the most important keywords are at the beginning of the title, and the words that get truncated at the end are more optional in their SEO importance.

We’re not aware of a specific Google ranking penalty in relation to extra-long Meta Titles, however, we believe that it is only the first 50 or 60 characters that have a significant impact on rankings

In days gone by, Google would always show the exact meta title you set in the search results (with the caveat that they also hang on to older versions of a meta title and serve them up occasionally instead of the most recent version if the older meta title matches the search intent more closely).

However, recent development within the last 12 months is a tendency for Google to slightly re-write meta titles to match your search, for example, the meta title of this blog post is “On-Page SEO | Best Practice Checklist For Top Rankings 2022” and if you searched “best practice checklist for on page SEO” Google might decide to swop round the 2 parts of our meta title, displaying it something like “Best Practice Checklist For Top Rankings 2022 | On-Page SEO”.

Meta Description Best Practice

Compared to the meta title, we believe that the meta description has far less impact on Google rank position. In fact, a study of around 30,000 search query results reveals that Google re-writes the meta description around 70% of the time, emphasising how little regard Google has for this particular field.

If you decide to leave the meta description blank, Google will simply pick relevant text extracts from the page content to fill the gap, and often these are better than the custom meta description you may try to write yourself, because they are tailored to match each specific search query.

However, we do recommend writing a meta description, just don’t expect it to have a massive impact on the rank position, and don’t be upset if it isn’t what Google then displays in the search results.

See Google’s examples of best practices or the video below from a Google Webmaster Central video where John Muller answers a question on this topic:

SEO-Friendly Content

Text Content

As covered in more depth in our blog on content writing for SEO, all the on-page content (not just the headings) has a massive impact on ranking position.

Regardless of what ‘clever SEO tricks’ you may try to use, or no matter how perfectly optimised the URL, page title, and meta title is, if the main body of the paragraph text content is low quality or even off-subject, the page won’t rank well (not in 2022 anyhow!).

Google looks at a lot of factors when considering what ‘quality’ content writing looks like, but here are a few of the main ones:

  • Use the main target keywords (and/or variations of these) in the opening sentence of the page or post. For best SEO, try to avoid long introductions and get straight to the point with a quick overview of the entire page content, for example, on this page, we start out by saying “In this article, we give an overview of the most significant on-page SEO factors…”
  • Conciseness – don’t repeat yourself, and get the point across clearly while using as few words as possible
  • Comprehensiveness – this may seem a partial contradiction to the concept of keeping your content concise, but if you can achieve both at once, you’re well on the way to ranking well. Be sure to cover closely related topics where relevant, and use ‘related’ or ‘semantic’ keywords to add clarity and context to your written content.
  • Keep in mind Google’s ‘EAT Guidelines. E.A.T. stands for Expertise, Authority, and Trust. Try not to make bold unsupported statements, but instead use authoritative 3rd-party references where possible to support your writing. EAT is especially important if the subject of your website, blog, or page relates to ‘your money or your life’ topics, for example:
    • News and current events (read any BBC news article and you’ll see great SEO and EAT best-practice being used)
    • Government, law, and civics-related topics
    • Financial advice
    • Shopping information
    • Medical advice
    • Information on people
    • And many more similar topics where nefarious website owners may try to use incorrect information to influence people online.
  • Impeccable spelling and grammar – no one likes to read sloppy or confusing text, and search engines are no exception. Long complex sentences are also a bad thing, as they stretch the limits of people’s increasingly short attention spans. Long sentences with a low Flesch reading score are less likely to rank unless the topic is technical or particularly suited to this writing style

    Image Content

    SEO-friendly images will take into account the following considerations:

  • They will be no bigger than necessary for the size they appear on the page. This will help to keep them small and avoid the page becoming so ‘heavy’ that Google doesn’t want to rank it high. See our in-depth article on website image optimisation for further information on this.
  • They will have an ‘alt text’ specified. Short for ‘alternative text’, this image attribute is there so that any blind people using read-aloud software to browse your website can find out what the image is, as the screen reader will read the alt-text of the image. When it comes to SEO, the alt-text is traditionally regarded as the only way Google can work out what the image is, however, now that Google has such good image recognition AI, this SEO factor is becoming increasingly irrelevant. In fact, there is now a penalty risk associated with the bad SEO practice of over-optimising the alt-text to try and claim the image is something it isn’t, because Google can now see what the image is without you needing to use the alt-text.
  • There will be enough images to add lots of value to the website visitor, depending on the topic being covered. For example, with a highly visual subject, you may need lots of images in order to rank well. Or for a topic like SEO, just a few screenshots showing how things are done is probably sufficient, as that’s the only helpful content people would want to see; any other images would be just for ‘visual decoration’ and potentially distracting.
  • Pages with at least 1 image high on the page before you have to scroll usually rank better than pages with just text at the top. However, pages with lots of images at the top making you scroll a long way to find any text relating to the keywords also tend to rank lower. The ideal solution for SEO is to have a mixture of both text and images near the top of the page, possibly with a video also thrown in where possible – the added value to a website user of having all 3 content types helps it to rank better than pages not containing the same variety of content.

Video Content

Simply having a video on a page at all is thought to be good for SEO, but additionally, you want that video to have ultra-relevant content that adds value to the page.

Embedding the video from a platform like Vimeo, YouTube, or Wistia helps to keep the page light (the alternative is to upload the video to the website, but as videos are typically very large in comparison to images, they will tend to slow the website if uploaded directly onto the site).

If you are embedding the video, please give it a clear title on the platform where it is hosted, because the video title is pulled through onto the page and analysed by Google, so having a video title like ‘Revision 17 Final’ is not good for SEO. Additionally, on YouTube having a clear video title can also help it to rank on it’s own within video search, as well as helping the page to rank where you have embedded it.

Use A Table Of Contents

For longer blog posts and pages (like this one), a table of contents is recommended, giving a concise overview of all the main headings at the top of the page, complete with convenient scroll-to links on each clickable heading.

On short pages that require little scrolling to view all of the content, a table of contents section is not needed, be free to ignore the recommendations from SEO plugins like Yoast and RankMath about needing a table of contents in this instance.

If you do decide to use a table of contents, then it is helpful if you have also followed the best-practice recommendations above to use clear descriptive headings, so that it is clear what content you are scrolling to when clicking on a TOC link.

Most table of contents sections populate automatically based on the page or post headings, and the best ones show sub-headings indented.

On a WordPress website there are many Table Of Contents plugins available, 2 of the best that we would recommend are LuckyWP Table Of Contents (which we have used on this post), and Easy Table Of Contents.

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