May 15, 2024

On-page SEO checklist template + guide

Optimizing pages for organic search can feel a bit tedious at times. It involves checking and perfecting many small details on a page, many of which the average reader will never even notice.

Still, a page’s visibility in search depends very much on the combined power of these details. So we combined all of the most important optimization tasks into a checklist. It makes the work go faster and ensures quality control. You’ll find that checklist below. Make a copy and customize it for yourself.

In this post, we’ll introduce you to the checklist and its core components. Then we’ll explain our process for finding, analyzing, and optimizing pages that have potential to thrive in search.

On-page SEO checklist template: download and customize

You can use this checklist to optimize any content on your website. We use it to update older content and also to finalize new pages before they’re published.

The tasks in the checklist will make your content more useful for your audience and more accessible in organic search.

Make a copy for yourself and customize it to your own particular brand guidelines.

Our checklist covers all of the SEO fundamentals — metadata, h-tag structure — plus quality-control for content and conversion.

This SEO checklist is focused on written content

Note: this is not an audit checklist for technical website SEO considerations. (If that’s what you want, you can use our site audit guide.)

Instead, this is a list of the details for publishing written content. The directions are clear enough for you to hand off the task to people with less experience or context, like junior staff or freelancers.

The SEO checklist template explained

In this section we’ll provide some context for the different sections of the checklist.

When we’re training new folks to update pages, we generally tell them to start at the top of the checklist and work their way down. Task by task, you’ll come to understand how we think of SEO.

The top of the checklist (sections #1-6) contain more traditional SEO features. These are very simply implemented and don’t require much editorial experience.

Farther down in the checklist (sections #7-8) you’ll find tasks that are focused on the more subjective elements of writing: notions of expertise, trustworthiness, and substance. While these necessarily require any subject-matter knowledge, they do require a relatively seasoned editorial eye.

Metadata (sections #1 - 4)

The first section of the checklist covers basic metadata.

Search engines use metadata to identify your page and understand what it’s about.

While Google’s approach to metadata is ever evolving, these fields are the baseline requirements for optimizing a page in search.

Here’s an example of how we might suggest updating the metadata for an existing page.

Example of how we make metadata edits in Google Docs using “Suggest” mode.

Ideally, the updated metadata will meet three criteria:

  • Matches the search intent for the target keyword or search query
  • Accurately represents the content on the page
  • Entices a reader to click on the page link and read more.

H-tag structure + subheadings (section #5)

Optimize subheadings for SEO in three steps.

H2 and H3 tags need to be in service of the reader, supporting the structure of the argument while also aligning with target keywords.

Here’s an example of logical h-tag structure.

Example of how we make H-tag edits in Google Docs using “Suggest” mode.

The example above is a very simple example of h-tag structure. The H2 tag is used to introduce a new section of the blog post (“Checklist for or hitting your data process”). The smaller H3 subheads are used signify the constituent parts of that section (ie. parts of the checklist.)

You can also check out the table-of-contents sidebar on the left side of this page. Its structure is based on the h-tag structure.

Images (section #6)

Image files and alt-text quietly have a big effect on organic search performance.

Images can be tricky in terms of file size, relevance, and accessibility.

A useful image is an accessible image that helps clarify the written content – and doesn’t slow down your page speed.

Example of how we suggest alt-text edits in Google Docs using “Suggest” mode.

When suggesting edits for clients, we’ll usually flag an image that is oversized or needs alt text revision.

Content + conversion (#7 - 8)

The final section of the checklist focuses on content quality, longevity, and conversion opportunities.

This is where we transition from the more technical side of SEO strategy to the qualitative components. The items are subjective, but no less important for content performance.

Ideally, all content intrigues, informs, and excites your readership. (One simple way to verify that is to use Google’s EEAT criteria:  Expertise, Experience, Authority, Trustworthiness.)  The task for each of these lines on the checklist is to identify whether or not the page meets the criteria. If it does not meet the criteria, make a note for whoever will be revising the piece.

Calls To Action (CTAs) can have an outsized effect on your conversion rate.

Example of how we suggest call-to-action edits in Google Docs using “Suggest” mode.

The success of CTAs is affected by three components:

  • Offer. The action suggested is relevant and useful to the reader, based on their level of education and interest in the subject at hand.
  • Language. The CTA is written in a way that piques interest and makes clear the value of the offer.
  • Placement. It’s located in a place where it’s visible and also relevant to the subject matter.

The SEO page update process explained

In this section, we’ll explain our process for updating content. Once we have identified a page to update, the process falls into three main stages:

  • Choosing the target query
  • Analyzing the top-ranking pages for that query
  • Assessing the existing page on its own merits

The goal, as always, is to revise a page so that it’s competitive for a strategic search query. (By “strategic” we mean a search query that is part of a topic strategy and further vetted by a campaign brief.)

Let’s look at each stage on its own.

1. Choosing a target query

The objective here is to choose one search query (a.k.a. target keyword) that will guide the SEO update for a page.

We conduct research to find the most viable search queries within a given topic. (We usually combine this research into a campaign brief before selecting pages to update.) To choose the most strategic possible query, we ask a few questions:

  • Is the page already ranking for a relevant query?
  • Is there a new query that we can target?

If a page already has traction for a strategic query, we’ll usually focus on that query for the update.

2. Content analysis

The objective here is to understand what kind of content is required for a page to rank for the target keyword.

There are two steps here:

  • Analyzing the competition
  • Assessing our page in its current form

Once we understand that we can make suggestions for revising (or cutting) content on our page, as well as suggestions for additional material.

Analyzing the competition

The objective here is to summarize what the top-ranking pages are doing and identify ways that our page can be updated to compete with (and hopefully surpass) them.

To do this, you search the target keyword in SEMrush to see the top ranking posts. Or I'll just do an incognito window search.

  • Search intent. Based on the top-ranking pages, what kind of information are people looking for when they type the search query into Google? We can get a sense for their intent by noting commonalities among the top pages. Are the majority of these pages long, detailed “how-to” manuals, for example, or are they short introductory pieces?
  • Points of inquiry. What specific questions are being answered by these top-ranking pages? Do any questions show up consistently across different pages?
  • Breadth of inquiry. Do these pages cover a wide range of details (eg. “Data lakes explained'') or do they focus on hyper specific subjects (eg. “How to build a serverless data lake with AWS”)
  • Depth of inquiry. How deep does the analysis go? Are pages presenting general “best practices” or are they presenting detailed, action-by-action tutorials?
  • Readability. Is the content presented in an accessible, logical way? Is the content substantive but also comprehensible? Is the writing clear, concise, and compelling?

If these competitors do ask questions that we think make sense to add to this page, that's worth noting.

Once we have sense for the competition we’re able to start devising ways that our page can be updated to really stand out.

  • Are there any gaping absences or oversights in the competitors’ content?
  • Can our company present any data, analysis, or opinions that are unique among competitors?
  • Can we beat the competition in terms of substance and quality?

Assessing the page on its own merits

Next we’ll assess our own page in order to suggest specific changes to the content, scope, and structure of the piece.

We’ll analyze it for all of the criteria listed above:

  • Search intent. Who is the page for? What problems does it claim to solve?
  • Points of inquiry. What are the main components of the page?
  • Breadth + depth. How specific and detailed is the material?
  • Readability. Is the writing of a decent quality, at least?

We also want to assess the content of the page on its own terms. This requires an additional, more subjective editorial assessment:

  • Does the page deliver on the promise of its title? If the title is “How to bake a chocolate cake” for example, does it provide all of the necessary information?
  • What’s required to better deliver on the promise of the page? This might require adding content but it might also require deleting big extraneous chunks of content as well.

With all of that page and competitor analysis in mind, we return to the original question: what content needs to be added and/or revised in order to beat the competition in search?

Write down the answers. Identify the areas where new content should be inserted. Identify the sections where old content can be deleted.

(We generally use “suggestion” mode in Google doc to make all edit suggestions.)

3. SEO edit suggestions

Now that the structural and content suggestions are complete, we can finish off the SEO update by returning to the SEO checklist.

This might be the easiest part of the whole update process. As noted before, we’ll just start at the top of the checklist and work our way down.

Get started: choosing pages to update for SEO

Ready to get started updating your library for targeted search queries? The first step is to choose pages for updates.

Not every page on your site is worth updating. Ideally, you’ll only update pages that show real potential. A page worth updating will satisfy the following criteria:

  • It's already focused on a strategic topic. The content doesn't have to be an exact match for your new narrative but it should be reasonably relevant.
  • Performance metrics show potential. In terms of traffic, engagement, or search performance, the page needs to have some momentum.

If it's a strategic topic but it doesn't show much potential for performance then it's probably just as easy to create a new post from scratch.

(That's one reason why a page worth updating needs to meet both of the criteria above.)

[3 steps] How to find strategic pages and search queries with Ottimo

You can inventory your entire library and identify the most viable pages in a matter of minutes.

The process falls into three steps:

  1. Filter your library by thematic phrases
  2. Identify pages with promising metrics
  3. Pair individual pages with new target queries

You can use Ottimo to run the entire process. (Alternately, you can dig into your CMS and then export performance data from GA4. But it's way simpler in Ottimo. 🙂)

1. Filter your library by thematic phrases

Search any words or phrases that are related to your current marketing campaign.

Search through your entire content library by key phrases using Ottimo.

Identify the most relevant content in your library using Ottimo.

2. Identify pages with promising metrics

Export data for all relevant pages.

What makes for a "promising" page? Generally it's a page that has some traffic, or a low bounce rate, or is already starting to rank for a strategic keyword.

How to copy and export performance data for selected pages using Ottimo.

Export performance data for thematically relevant pages with Ottimo.

3. Pair individual pages with new target queries

Check the search performance data for each page.

If a page is already ranking for a strategic query, you'll probably want to target that query during the page update.

However, if there's no such query in the current data, you can align it with any search query that fits the content of the page and the goals of your current campaign.

Reviewing search rank data for individual pages in Ottimo.

Identify the top-ranking search queries for every page in your library using Ottimo.

At that point, you're ready to start editing, revising, and optimizing the pages that have the best chance of generating leads for your latest campaign.

How do I track the effect of SEO updates over time?

You can track the success of a page the same way you track all other pages. We track traffic and engagement data from Google Analytics plus search rank performance data from Google Search Console..

To identify changes, we recommend waiting ~3 months before trying to assess new trends.

You can track this stuff in Google Analytics + Google Search Console… or just use Ottimo to get data from both. (We, of course, use Ottimo.)

Additionally, success may be determined by specific goals / KPIs that a client has. If their goals center around conversion (eg. demo requests) then you may need to take additional steps for optimization, such as adding new CTAs.


What is an SEO checklist template?

It’s an itemized list of elements to verify before publishing (or updating) a piece of content on your website. You can download and customize the list for your team’s unique brand guidelines.

How does the SEO checklist work?

The items at the top of the list are more objective and technical (for example, metadata criteria) while the items toward the bottom of the list are more subjective and content-oriented (for example, making sure content is trustworthy.) How do I choose a page to update?

How do I choose a keyword to target for SEO?

If you’re writing an entirely new piece, you’ll want to choose a keyword that comes from a broader topic strategy.

If you’re updating a page, the keyword choice usually follows one of two routes. If the page is already ranking for a strategic keyword, simply focus on optimizing the page for that one. If the page isn’t ranking for any keywords, refer to your topic strategy or do some quick research with a campaign brief.

How do I make strategic edits for SEO?

We recommend that you simply start at the top of the checklist and work your way down.

Editing for SEO is not simply a matter of jamming keywords into content. The quality of content is really what makes it competitive.

How can I track the effect of my changes?

We recommend tracking organic traffic and search rank performance. You can track it with Google Search Console data. However, the user interface is not very user-friendly.

So you can access that same Google data in Ottimo – with a user interface that is designed specifically for content marketing teams and writers.

We’re *actually* here to help

We’re marketers who love spreadsheets, algorithms, code, and data. And we love helping other marketers with interesting challenges. Tackling the hard stuff together is what we like to do.

We don’t just show you the way—we’re in this with you too.

Background image of a red ball in a hole.