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A Beginner’s Guide to On-Page SEO [2021]

by | Mar 26, 2021 | SEO

If you’ve been trying to figure out what SEO is all about but still feel like you have no clue what it is or how to use it, you’re not alone. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the most commonly misunderstood practices on the (digital) planet. The name alone is problematic because it doesn’t really tell you what’s going on. Allow me to demystify it for you.

What Does SEO Mean, Anyway?

There are billions of websites on the internet. Imagine trying to find a piece of information buried in the pages of a library book with no title, shelved with no system in place, and kept in a dark room the size of a small planet. That’s what the internet would be like if it weren’t for search engines like Google. 

Google takes billions of pieces of data across billions of websites and makes sense of it all. It would be impressive enough if all it did was search for keywords and retrieve articles for you, but it does more than that. Google has gotten so smart that it can give accurate results on an individual basis because it learns what you like from previous searches. 

How does it do that? How does it take 50,000 chocolate chip recipes and decided which ten are the best to show on page one of the search results for Virginia Miller, aged 58, grandmother of 2, in Orange County, California? It uses SEO. 

on-page seo explanation

Why is On-Page SEO so Important?

SEO, more specifically on-page SEO, is the process of tweaking and adjusting various website elements until your website ranks as high as possible in Google’s search results. You see, certain things like keywords and relevant content make Google happy. Slow loading sites with no images that don’t function well on smartphones make Goggle sad. The happier you make Google, the more it will reward you. 

The best part about on-page SEO is that it leads to more organic traffic. Organic in website terminology means free. You won’t have to use paid ads to increase your on-page SEO or benefit from it. 

On-Page SEO vs. Off-Page SEO

There are two main categories of SEO, on-page SEO, and off-page SEO. As you would imagine, on-page SEO has to do with elements that are on your webpages, like your blog, your web copy, and the keywords you use. Off-page SEO includes activities that involve you but take place outside of your website, like social media posts or another website linking to your content. 

You have a lot more control over your on-page SEO, which is one reason why it’s so valuable for you. You decide what your website is about, what keywords you want to rank for, and what audience you are trying to reach. 

The Most Important Elements of On-Page SEO

You can pour a lot of effort into tweaking on-page SEO. Search engines like Google look at so many elements to pick their winners, but there are a few things you can focus on that stand out as the most impactful. If you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to on-page SEO and all the glorious organic traffic it can bring you, check out the following items.


Some people enjoy research while others have a fiery disdain for it, probably left over from writing research papers in high school. Keyword research is vital to your website being favored by Google, so you’ll learn to love it. By finding and analyzing search terms your audience is likely to use, you’ll significantly increase your chances of being found online (found online on the first page of Google = “rank/ranking”). Most people use software to help them quickly find and compare short and long-tail keywords for their content. Long-tail keywords are simply several keywords strung together, such as “low-fat mozzarella string cheese” rather than simply “cheese.”

Once you have figured out what you’d like to show up on Google for (“rank for”), you’ll utilize those terms (“keywords”) often throughout your individual webpages. For example, if you are a photographer, you might want to rank for “wedding photographer in Seattle, Washington” (<—this is an example of a long-tail keyword). So you will make sure that that long-tail keyword shows up on your web page multiple times. This way, Google knows to present your website when someone types in “wedding photographer in Seattle, Washington.”

Note: You should never repeat keywords over multiple pages, but you should repeat your keyword multiple times on one page.


Once you’re clear on the keywords you want to rank highest for, it’s time to create content. Content is at the very heart of on-page SEO. Creating content that Google sees as “high quality” simply means being relevant and useful. Blogging provides you an endless opportunity to add fresh content to your website and is how many people master on-page SEO. You can also create videos, guides, website copy, and reports. 


Google has learned to scan your webpages just like a human would and rewards webpages that are easy to read. This means being purposeful when you layout your webpage copy. To make your copy more scannable, use title tags and headers to break up your text into small chunks. (Think about your high school essays – use headings, subheadings and paragraphs.) The different heading types (H1, H2, H3) create titles of different sizes to guide a reader through your document. H1 headings would be like your essay title, versus H2 headings would be a section overview.

For example: (h1 – big topic) I Am A Wedding Photographer in Seattle, Washington. (h2 – smaller topic) Hi, my name is Jane Doe! (Paragraph – content) I work with brides on their big day. Here is some more information about me and my services. 

visual representation of on-page seo practices


Metadata is simply “data about data.” You’ll be adding small bits of information that tells Google (and your user) what to expect out of your webpages. 

Meta data is typically broken up in to meta titles and meta descriptions. A meta title is a title Google will show in the search results. Google will know the title because you will have marked it with a title or H1 tag.

When Google pulls up a list of search results for you, notice that it not only shows you the titles but a short sentence or two about what the page has to offer? That’s the meta description.

It is your job as the website owner/designer to input this information for Google to read and present to its users. 

Meta data should include keywords. 


Exactly what it sounds like, internal linking is the act of linking to other pages of your website within your copy. Internal links help users navigate your site and keep them on your site longer. 

This is an internal link that leads you to a page on my website about search engine optimization.


Welcome back to high school – your word count matters again. Google favors pages with 500+ words, but I suggest 500+ for webpages and 1200+ for blog posts and articles.


A lot is going on behind the scenes when it comes to mastering on-page SEO, but tackling the elements in this article will give you a great head start. Great SEO takes time, so don’t feel rushed to achieve everything all at once. Keep adding and tweaking these SEO best practices until you’re getting the love from Google your site deserves.

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I'm Jo Cook (she/her) - owner & head designer at Sun & Soil Design. I am a digital marketing entreprenuer from Michigan. I work with women lead, service based businesses to increase profits.

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