So, you've read dozens -- if not hundreds -- of SEO articles on the web. You've digested countless tips and tricks for improving your website's SEO. You've even (over)paid that self-proclaimed "expert" to help you develop an SEO strategy that aligns with your business' goals.
But after all of the reading and learning and strategizing, it dawns on you: You haven't actually done anything yet.
Especially when it comes to on-page SEO, there's no excuse for dragging your feet. After all, you get to establish what the topic and/or goal of a particular page will be. You get to decide on the target audience for that page. And you get to choose the target keywords and phrases you want to focus on.
The difficult part, no doubt, is coming up with a method for organizing and tracking all of those various on-page SEO elements.
If you have been in search of such a method, you're in luck: The HubSpot marketing team recently released an updated version of our On-Page SEO Template, an Excel document that allows you to coordinate pages and keywords -- and track changes -- all in one place.
In the rest of this post, we'll be using that template as a guide as we walk you through the process of your on-page SEO management, step by step.
A 12-Step On-Page SEO Checklist You Should Follow
(Note: The fictional website "http://www.quantify.ly" will be used as an example throughout this post. It is simply meant to help you imagine how your own website could fit into the template.)
Step 1: Crawl Your Site
Start by getting an overview of all of the pages on your website that search engines have indexed. For HubSpot customers, our Page Performance tool (under Reports) will allow you to do this. If you're not using HubSpot, you can try using a free tool like Xenu's link crawler.
After crawling your site and exporting the results into an Excel (or .csv) file, there will be three key columns of data that you should focus on: The web address (a.k.a. URL), the page title, and the page meta description. Copy and paste these three columns into your template.
The URL should be pasted into column B, the page title into column C, and the description into column E.
Step 2: Do an SEO Audit and Define Your Site Architecture
Now that you have a basic index of your site pasted into the template, you'll want to start organizing and prioritizing your web pages. You can start by defining where within your site architecture your existing pages currently sit.
Note whether a page is your homepage (ideally you'll only have one of those), or a page in your primary (or secondary) navigation menu, or an internal page, etc.
Step 3: Update URLs, Page Titles, and Meta Descriptions
Review your current URLs, page titles, and page descriptions to see if they need updating. This is the beauty of using a template to organize your SEO: You get a larger overview of the type of content you have on your website.
Notice how column D and column F automatically calculate the length of each element. The recommended length for page titles is anything under 70 characters. (And actually, a quick and easy optimization project is to update all page titles that are longer than 70 characters.)
The recommended length for page meta descriptions is 150 characters. Make sure you're not too repetitive with keywords in this space. Ideally, your description will be a sentence that you could use to describe that page to a person in conversation, too.
(Note: For some sites you may also have to update the URLs, but that is not always the case and thus was not included as part of this optimization template.)
Step 4: Establish a Value Proposition
A very important next step, which is often overlooked, is establishing a value proposition. In column G, define what the purpose of a page -- and ultimately, your website -- is. The page itself should have a goal aside from just ranking for a particular term.
Step 5: Define Your Target Audience
In column H, you have the opportunity to define your page's target audience. Is it a single buyer persona or multiple personas? Keep this persona in mind as you optimize your site's pages. (Remember, you are optimizing for humans, too -- not just robots.)
Step 6: Plan New Page Titles
Now that you've documented your existing page titles and have established value propositions and target audiences for each of your pages, write new page titles (if necessary) to reflect your findings. People usually follow the formula of "Keyword Phrase | Context." The goal of the page title is to lay out the purpose of the page without being redundant.
Step 7: Add Your New Meta Description
Your meta description should be a short, declarative sentence that incorporates the same keyword as your page's title. It should not have content verbatim as it appears on the page itself.
Step 8: Track Keywords and Topics for Each Page
Think of your target keyword as the designated topic for a particular page. Define just one topic per page -- this allows you to go more in-depth and provide more detailed information about that topic. This also means that you are only optimizing for one keyword per page.
There are, of course, a few exceptions to this rule. Your homepage is a classic example. The goal of your homepage is to explain what your entire website is about, and thus you'll need a few keywords to do that. Another exception is overview pages like services and product pages, which outline what all of your products and services may be.
Step 9: Review and Edit Page Content as Needed
Good content needs to be thorough, clear, and provide solutions. So be compelling! Write for your target audience. Write about how you can help them. Compelling content is also error-free, so double check your spelling and grammar.
Aim to have at least 500 words per page, and format content to make it easier to read and digest with the use of headers and sub-headers. Columns P through R can be used to keep track of changes that you've made to your content or to note which changes need to be implemented.
Step 10: Incorporate Visual Content
Content can be more than just text, so think about what kind of visual content you can incorporate into a page (if it adds value and serves a purpose, of course). Columns S and T allow you to note what visual elements need to be added. When adding an image to a page, be sure to include a descriptive file name and alt text.
Step 11: Link It Up
Incorporating links throughout your pages is a must, but is something that's easily overlooked. Use columns U through W to plan for these elements if you don't already have them, or to document how you'll improve them.
Make sure that your anchor text includes more than just your keywords. The goal isn't to stuff in as many keywords as possible, but to make it easy for people to navigate your site.
Step 12: Optimize for Conversions
If you're also not optimizing your site to increase the number of leads, subscribers, and/or fans you're attracting ... you're doing it wrong.
Columns X through AF allow you to plan for conversions. Remember that each page of your website presents a conversion opportunity. That means every page of your website should include at least one call-to-action (CTA), though many pages may have multiple CTAs. Be sure that your site has a mix of CTAs for different stages of the buying funnel -- top of the funnel, middle of the funnel, and bottom of the funnel. (If you are a HubSpot customer, you can even use Smart Content to display these specific CTAs only to people in a specific part of the funnel.)
Also, as you add, edit, or update CTAs, be sure to note conversion rate changes.
Once you finalize your SEO plans, implement these changes on your website or pass them along to someone to implement for you. This will take time to complete, so aim to work on 5 to 10 pages per week.
Remember: SEO is not a one-and-done deal, but something you can continually improve upon. You should treat this SEO template as a living, breathing document that will help guide your SEO strategy for months (or years) to come.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in October 2012 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.