Editor’s note: This post was updated January 2019 for accuracy and completeness

No matter what industry your business operates in, many of your potential customers are using search engines to find solutions to their problems. If your website isn’t performing well in search results pages, it’s likely that you’re losing out to your competitors.

There are still some tried-and-true on-page SEO techniques that will boost your search rankings, but with regular Google algorithm updates, it’s crucial to update your optimization strategies to maximize your online visibility in 2019 and beyond.

In this article, we’ll outline various on-page optimization strategies to help you:

  • Rank higher in Google and other search engines to build brand awareness and credibility.
  • Drive more relevant website traffic to increase conversions.
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Breaking It Down

On-page ranking factors can be broken down into two broad categories:

1. Engagement Ranking Factors

Google not only analyzes your content to determine its value, but it also looks at how people interact with your web pages. Do visitors stick around or return to search results after a few seconds? Do they navigate to other pages on your site?

Strong engagement metrics signal to Google that your content deserves to rank well.


2. Technical Ranking Factors

Technical factors, on the other hand, refer to page elements such as HTML formatting, semantic distance, and schema markup. While these factors aren’t the most eye-catching, they can make a huge difference in your on-page performance.


Engagement Ranking Factors

Content Value

The quality of your content is easily the most important on-page ranking factor. There might be an enormous amount of competition out there, but quality SEO content will still stand out among the crowd.

One of the first things that any experienced online marketer will tell you about SEO is that you should write for your human readers first.

Valuable content will keep visitors on your page, lower bounce rates, and strengthen your search rankings.

Google algorithm updates in 2018 revealed that Google is focusing even more on the depth and breadth of a website’s content. Numerous recent studies have shown the correlation between long-form, in-depth content and higher search engine rankings. To view these statistics, read our article that highlights the benefits of long-form content.

One unnamed update that Google rolled out in March 2018 was about relevancy, and it was a significant change to their core algorithm.

John Mueller from Google said the following: “The updates that we made are more about relevance where we’re trying to figure out which sites are relevant for certain queries.”

In 2019 Google will continue to reward sites that provide in-depth, valuable content. It wants to give users the best answers, and it will boost websites that people find the most engaging and useful.

So as a content marketer, how should you react?

  • Try to make your content the best answer on the internet for a given question.
  • Answer the questions no one else does.
  • Include links to relevant resources.
  • Add graphics, photos, and videos to increase engagement.
  • Get rid of any broken links and duplicate content.
  • Optimize page loading times.


User Experience

Every bit as important as content value is user experience. As web browsers typically have a short attention span, most of your visitors will quickly turn away if they can’t easily navigate your site, even if the content itself is impeccable.

Your website’s navigational elements should be easily understandable, and while your design should also be aesthetically pleasing and consistent with your brand image, you should never sacrifice usability for flashy graphics and unusual navigational features.

In 2019, the way users interact with your site will impact search rankings even more.

Knowing whether your audience prefers text, images, or video will help. Try to anticipate what searchers want to find after inputting a search query, and then provide the answer in the most engaging format. Then provide answers to follow-up questions they may have after the initial query.

Site speed is also a key factor. Not only will a slow website drive away visitors in droves, but it will also hurt your search rankings in the process. In July 2018, Google released a mobile speed update, which affected the slowest sites on the internet.

(Me waiting for a slow page to load)


Click-Through Rate (CTR) and Dwell Time

Google recently declared Rankbrain, its machine-learning algorithm, as its third most important ranking factor after content and links. Rankbrain helps Google understand the intent of search queries and deliver more relevant results to users.

As CTR and dwell time are two of Rankbrain’s key reference points, improving these metrics is key to SEO success. To optimize for Rankbrain in 2019:

  • Address the key question or topic in the introduction of your content.
  • Explain early on what topics you’ll cover.
  • Use jargon-free language and clear formatting.
  • Avoid click-bait style headlines.
  • Create more in-depth content.
  • Highlight the benefits of reading your content in the meta description.
  • Add internal links to related content.
  • Include clear calls-to-action to improve on-site engagement.


Voice Search

More consumers are using mobile voice search, and the sales of smart speakers are on the rise. According to Statista, unit sales for smart speakers will increase in 2019.

It’s still early days for this technology, but the impact of voice search on user behavior and content engagement shouldn’t be ignored.

How to optimize your website for voice search:

Related Reading: How to Optimize Your Content for Voice Search


Social Sharing

Social media is a big part of your content distribution strategy. As the saying goes, “content is king, but distribution is queen, and she wears the pants.”

There are a few steps you can take to help facilitate sharing as well, such as including Twitter Card and Facebook Open Graph markup for your content and adding social sharing buttons for popular and relevant networks to each page of content.



Mobile-Friendly to Mobile-First

In March 2018, Google officially rolled out its mobile-first index, which prioritizes websites in rankings based on how mobile-friendly they are. Google now recommends using responsive web design, so if your website isn’t ready, you’ll miss out on a massive amount of traffic.

According to a 2018 study by Statista, in the third quarter of 2018, 56 percent of organic search engine visits in the US were performed on mobile devices.

Is your content accessible and enjoyable on any device? Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to find out if your website is mobile-ready.

Related Reading: 13 Ways to Generate More Mobile Traffic and Boost Conversions



According to an analysis by Cisco, video will account for over 82 percent of all consumer internet traffic by 2021. To keep up with the competition, start adding more video content to your site. This will help to increase the dwell time on your site and also make your pages look more appealing. To help search engines understand your video content:

  • Add a descriptive title for the video that includes target keywords.
  • Ensure the rest of your page is relevant to the video.
  • Include a transcription of the video.
  • Embed videos near the top of the page to increase engagement.
  • Use a CTA to draw attention to the video.


Titles and Meta Descriptions

While many people think of meta descriptions as a technical feature, I’m going to suggest they have more to do with engagement.

When you search on Google, you’ll notice that almost every result is accompanied by a short description, which will typically be the first experience that people have with the content. The meta description is one of the most important elements of all when it comes to SEO content for your website since it gives you the chance to encourage your potential visitors to click on the link and take a look at your site.

While using your primary and secondary keyword phrases in your meta descriptions is advisable, it is far more important that it is useful and engaging enough to your audience that they decide to proceed.

Google has now increased the title length to 70 – 71 characters, so more of your title’s words will be visible in SERPs. The search engine is also showing more characters in meta descriptions so that you can include more keywords here. To make the most of these new character limits, try re-writing the meta descriptions of your highest ranking pages to encourage click-throughs from SERPs.

Related Reading: How to Write Meta Descriptions That Get Clicked



Technical Ranking Factors

Crawler Accessibility

Although they’re continually getting better at what they do, search engine crawlers are still a long way from being as efficient and discerning as people, which is why you need to take additional steps to ensure that your web pages are fully accessible. For example, search engines have difficulty categorizing visual content, which is why it is essential to accompany any images and videos with alt text and captions.

You should also keep your URLs static by using permalinks, mainly if you are using a content management system (CMS) to power your website. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, check out our post on How to Optimize Images for SEO.

Another thing to avoid is duplicate content. If you must have it, be sure that any duplicate content is blocked from the search engine crawlers by listing the URLs in question in the robots.txt file in the root directory of your website. Finally, every website, particularly those using a CMS, should be accompanied by an XML Sitemap.


Keyword Targeting

Although their usage has been deemphasized with more recent search engine algorithm updates, keywords are still an essential part of SEO. As long as you don’t pay attention to dated and ineffective methods such as keyword density and over-optimized anchor text, you should still target suitable keywords and use them wisely in your content and various on-page elements.

For best results, stick to using your primary keyword phrase in:

  • URLs
  • Titles
  • Introductory paragraphs
  • Image alt texts
  • Meta descriptions
  • Headlines

Feel free to use your key phrases a couple of times in the body of your content as well, but be sure that they do not stand out in any way. Keyword usage should always be logical and relevant, and your readers should never even notice it.

Related Reading: Content Optimization: How to Optimize Content for SEO

One exciting development in keyword targeting is topical optimization. The idea with topical optimization (also known as topic clusters) is that you’re optimizing for a topic (a group of keywords) rather than individual keywords.


Synonyms and Close Variants

Search engines are using increasingly sophisticated techniques to decipher the meaning behind search queries. Research from Google shows that semantic indexing plays a part in around 70 percent of searches. Including more synonyms and close variants of words and phrases makes it clearer to Google what your website is about and should help boost your rankings for specific search queries.


Semantic Distance

Sophisticated algorithms are used to determine the meaning behind sentences and blocks of text. Search engines do this by examining the distance between similar words and phrases within HTML elements. For example, if “exercise daily” and “cardiovascular fitness” appear in the same sentence, the phrases are likely to be more relevant than if they appear in different paragraphs. Titles, headers, and lists are also likely to score more “relevance” points.


Schema Markup

Google has also started to put more emphasis on search snippets. This means that a higher proportion of searchers will be presented with answer boxes, knowledge graphs, and carousels, which will reduce the visibility of organic search results.

To make your content more meaningful to search engines, use schema markup. It’s a way of defining specific relationships between elements of your content and can lead to enhanced search engine listings, or rich snippets. For example, the star ratings you see next to some listings are there because of schema markup. They can dramatically increase click-through rates to your website.

To increase the chances of getting displayed in featured snippets:

  • Make sure you answer specific questions asked by your target audience.
  • Provide in-depth content that is easy to read and scan.
  • Format your content with numbered steps, lists, and clear headers.
  • Use social media to promote content that answers common questions.


Website Security

Google now prefers secure HTTPS sites, revealing in 2018 that it will start to punish publishers that fail to add TLS (Transport Layer Security) to their website. TLS replaced the older SSL protocol as the encryption most publishers use.

It makes sense to use HTTPS instead of HTTP because it protects your users’ information and your information from hackers. It also improves user experience, because Google will warn visitors if your website isn’t safe, leading to higher bounce rates.

Learn how to secure your site with HTTPS.


11 Step Checklist to Better On-Page SEO

Whether you’re a beginner or a more advanced marketer, here is our 11 step on-page optimization checklist to make sure your on-page SEO is up to scratch:

  1. Publish unique content that answers specific questions.
  2. Optimize site speed and navigation.
  3. Optimize titles and meta descriptions to improve click-through rates.
  4. Write compelling, in-depth copy to increase dwell time.
  5. Optimize content for voice search.
  6. Display social sharing buttons.
  7. Use responsive web design.
  8. Invest in video content.
  9. Use keywords and close variants that sound natural and are page-relevant.
  10. Use schema markup.
  11. Secure your website with HTTPS.


In Summary

SEO is constantly evolving, but the basics haven’t really changed. Google’s main concern is its users, which is why it will continue to focus on user engagement and the richest content experiences.

Ultimately, on-page optimization is more about creating or buying content for humans, as search engines are now more equipped to deal with the nuances of language.

Focus on delivering value and a user-friendly experience by giving your audience what they want. This will help to future-proof your efforts, so that upcoming algorithm updates don’t end up hurting your website.

Keep all these strategies in mind, and you can improve your on-page SEO and hopefully rise above the competition in SERPs.

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