Saturday, November 12, 2011

On-Page SEO Ranking Factors Update: A Fresh Take

Over the years, there have been a number of on-page SEO factors utilized to better optimize a web page for the search engine results pages (SERPs). Many of those on-page factors still play a prominent role in whether or not a page ranks well for the keywords that are being targeted. However, there has been a lot of debate as to which on-page factors are most important for ranking, how strong an influence each particular factor actually has on rankings, and what factors if any are no longer incorporated in to Google's ranking algorithm. My goal is to revisit these strategies, clear the air regarding which strategies are the most important, and make best-practice recommendations as to how each can be implemented.

Let's review the following on-page SEO factors. I will also include some additional details regarding importance and the impact each has on rankings:

Keywords in URL: years ago, if you had the keyword you were trying to rank for in the URL, you would rank well for it. This is not the case anymore, as Google has smartened up and acknowledged that having the keyword in the URL does not ensure that the web page is valuable for users. With that in mind, if you are developing a website, it is still a good idea to generate URLs that include the keyword (or subject matter of the page). Just know that you still need to implement the other on-page SEO factors - this won't drive your rankings alone.

Title Tags: while the title tags of a web page don't necessarily appear on-page, per say, including the targeted keywords within the tag remains the most important ranking factor. The title tag is one piece of HTML code that comprises a web page, and can be seen at the top left hand corner of your browser and in the SERPs as the clickable link for each listing that appears. If you are trying to rank a page for a competitive keyword, it is essential that keyword appears in the title tag. No questions asked.

Heading Tags: a lot of SEOs and webmasters alike believe that it is necessary to optimize each heading tag within the HTML coding of a web page in question. This is not necessarily the case. It is important to optimize the H1 tag for the most important keyword(s) that you are trying to rank the page for, but the remaining header tags (2-5) do not have a strong enough impact on rankings to utilize them. Remember, the H1 tag will appear as the most prominent text on-page - in simple terms it is the title of the page. As such, using 6 heading tags can create an unappealing on-page experience unless you have 6 unique  topics to discuss on that page.

Content: this is one on-page SEO factor that is becoming more important as we move in to the future. Google has implemented their Panda update throughout the year in an attempt to devalue sites that have spammy content, duplicate content, or are thin on content. You don't want to write just for search engines. You have to write for your users, as user experience is being worked more efficiently in to Google's ranking algorithm as they continue to improve their standards. Every page on a website must have unique content that describes the objective and nature of the page well. If you don't, the value of the page will drop and your rankings will suffer as a result.

Keyword Frequency: while this may seem obvious, I want to point out that if you are trying to rank a web page for a particular keyword, it is necessary to ensure that the keyword appears within the body of the page. The bigger question is, how often should it appear? I would recommend incorporating the keyword in the first couple of sentences, and include different variations of that keyword throughout the text to optimize for the different ways people are searching online.

Bolding Keywords: if you are going to eliminate anything from your on-page SEO strategy, this could be it. Realistically, bolding a keyword is not going to have a strong impact on where you rank for that keyword. It is however, a best practice, and if you aren't pressed for time, it may be worth doing.

Internal Linking: linking within the body of the page is a great way to ensure that search engine spiders are crawling a website with ease and navigating to the most important pages on the site that one is trying to rank in the SERPs for the keywords being targeted. The ideal web page links back to its main category page, sub-category page (if applicable), and the site's homepage. It is also important to use the appropriate anchor text when linking internally. For example, on an e-commerce site that sells sports gear, if one is linking internally back to the category page from a page that sells catchers' mitts, appropriate anchor text would be something similar to "baseball gear."

I hope this helps shed some light on what is truly important, and how you can improve your on-page SEO strategy! If you have specific questions regarding any of these factors, feel free to leave a comment or contact me via email.

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