On-page SEO has become an even bigger ranking factor since the first Panda update that was launched back on February 23, 2011. Since then, there have been twenty four known Panda updates or versions that have rolled out. Each update has the same purpose which, according to Google, is “to give people the most relevant answers to their queries as quickly as possible.”
Understanding Google’s purpose should give website owners insights into how they can build a site that will help Google and other search engines see why their site is relevant for certain search queries. In order to help webmasters even more, Google has given guidance on how to build a quality site wherein they list a series of questions that help define what a “quality site” is. A few key questions you may want to ask yourself include:
- Does my site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
- Do my pages provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results? (Perform competitive analysis on your competitors’ content)
- Would I expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
- Are my pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
You still might be asking yourself, “that’s great, but how do I optimize my page so that Google finds it relevant for key phrases?” Or “How should I optimize my title tag, description, header tags, content and other page elements for SEO purposes?”
In order to understand what search engines are trying to do with your on-page SEO it might help to understand what has changed over the years. Looking at on-page elements over the years is very telling of things to come. Here is a brief history of site optimizations.
History of Site Optimizations Tactics
Keyword Meta Tags
This tag was used early on in search to help search engines understand what the webpage was about. Danny Sullivan first reported the death of the keyword meta tag back in 2002 and it wasn't until 2009 that Google announced that the tag is no longer considered a ranking factor. While majority of sites no longer have keyword meta tags in the source code of the site, I still see it being used.
TAKEAWAY: Because it is not a ranking factor it is best to delete the tag since it just shows your competitors what keywords you are targeting.
Description Meta Tag
Much like the keyword meta tag, the description tag was used early on to help search engines know what the page is about. In 2009 Google announced that this tag is no longer considered a ranking factor. While this tag is not considered a ranking factor, the description tag is still very useful because it can help improve click-through rate through the additional information it provides to users from the search engine result page.
TAKEAWAY: Description tags should include keyword phrases to help users understand how and if your site is relevant to a search query. However, make sure the description tag supports the content on the page. If Google feels like your description tag is not relevant to the page content then they will most likely replace the description tag with more relevant content from the page.
The page title is still a very important on-page element to help search engines know what the page is about. While they are still useful, over the years individuals have noticed that the title tag being displayed in search results doesn't always conform to the typical 70 character limit. Instead, title tags are being cut off or adjusted if Google feels like the title does not describe what the page is about.
Google has been playing around with title tags for years however, only until recently did Google explained to Barry Schwartz a few reasons why this might be happening:
(1) titles are particularly short, (2) titles are shared across large parts of your site and/or (3) titles appear to be mostly a collection of keywords.
How to Epoxy-Coat a Garage Floor | Step-by-Step | Garage How-To | Exterior | This Old House – Introduction
Adjusted Title Tag that is being displayed for the search results page:
While the title tag is still one of the more important page elements for incorporating keywords, it will most likely become less and less of a ranking factor as search engines rely more heavily on other page elements to create an association between keywords and a given website.
TAKEAWAY: Don't focus on getting the keywords in the title 2-3 times but focus on user engagement. Give users a reason to click on your listing.
There is a lot of debate in the SEO industry on how much H1s help a site to rank organically. While the benefits are not like they were a few years ago, they still provide some value. Make sure to optimize your H1 tags so that they include keywords and make sure you only have one H1 tag per page. Other section headings and dividers should be made into <H2>, <H3>, or <H4> tags, and these should preferably go from largest physical font size to smallest on the page.
There should be an alt attribute on every image on the page. It should be relevant to the image and include the page’s keywords where possible. This is a newer and important influence on rankings.
Looking at the past it is easy to see that Google and other search engines focus was primarily on meta data, at least from an on-page perspective While these factors are still important and should be implemented site-wide, there are so many other things that site owners should be aware of.
Important Ranking Factors in 2013 and Moving Forward
Google has always been a fan of content however; even content as we know it has changed with the Panda updates. In a recent article by Matt McGee he stated,
The impact on some of the sites that Panda hit goes well beyond rankings and search traffic. It’s forced some companies to change names, change business models, fire employees and even to go out of business altogether.
In the article, Matt references a number of sites that, prior to Panda, had numerous articles that were driving a ton of traffic to their site. Fast forwarding two years, many of them are still feeling the effects of Panda as shown in his traffic trend image from Visibility.
One thing these algorithm updates have shown us is just how much Google cares about high quality content. Businesses should implement a content strategy moving forward however, they need to be careful what that content looks like. Make sure to produce high-quality articles.
Businesses should be using content as part of their marketing plan. It is usually best to put together a content calendar to help in this process. From there, businesses should be actively putting together inbound marketing materials such as eBooks, blog posts, webinars, whitepapers, videos, infographics and other resources that increase user engagement and help to establish authority for the brand.
Social sharing has become an important ranking factor as of late. Encouraging users to like, +1, tweet and share information on your site helps search engines understand the value you are providing to users.
One way to do this is by using content marketing methods that were mentioned above. If a business is generating valuable resources on a regular basis, users are likely to share that information with their social networks. Site owners should be looking at ways to encourage social engagement. This will have an even bigger impact on search results moving forward.
Since the inception of Google+ on Jun 28, 2011, author rank has played a role in search rankings. Authors are able to mark up there content using rel=“author” tags so their image shows up next to the content they create.
This has impacted the search results in a big way.
As explained by Google, "The name of the writer can be used to influence the ranking of web search results by indicating the writer responsible for a particular content piece…"
Anyone publishing content on your site should be implementing rel= author markup as part of their inbound marketing strategy.
Site speed was introduced as a ranking factor back in April of 2010 and website owners are still focusing heavily on other ranking factors. There are a number of minor changes that can be made to a site to speed up load times. Some of these include:
- Minimizing the amount of bytes associated with images. There are a bunch of free editing software tools to help developers reduce the image file size without losing image quality. Another option is to use tools such as http://developer.yahoo.com/yslow/smushit/ to speed up the process.
- Installing the page speed extension for Chrome for additional insights for improving website performance.
- Using a CDN (content delivery network).
Schema markup is used by Google, Bing and Yahoo to better understand information on a webpage. Webmasters are able to markup certain an element on the website by using additional HTML tags. The HTML tags help search engines know what should be included in the search results. For example, event based search queries such as Imagine Dragons concert tickets have details that can be useful to display in the search results. These details could include tour dates, venues, concert ratings and other information.
Schema markup can be used for:
- Local Businesses
- Videos, etc.
Webmasters should look for ways to implement schema markup as this is becoming a bigger factor in search rankings.
It is important to understand what your users are looking for when they get to your site. Google is using site metrics (like bounce rate, time on site, page views and others) to help them understand if your site provides a good user experience. If users get to your site from a given search query and shortly after get frustrated and leave or bounce due to poor navigation then that can have negative effects on your ranking. There are still a lot of unknowns as to how much this can affect sites rankings however, this is the direction search engines are moving.
Over the years Google and other search engines are have been moving away from meta tags, alt attributes and other on-page elements and moving more toward user based ranking factors. There are a number of other things website owners can be implementing on their site to positively affect search rankings.
Website owners need to look closely at their site and ask themselves a few things:
- Does my site offer useful information about my products or services?
- Are users able to quickly find what they need on my site?
- How does my site compare to the competition?
- What can I do to provide a better user experience?
This is the direction Google and other search engines are moving so it is important for businesses to understand their target audience and give users what they want faster than the competition. Implementing these tactics will have a measurable impact on your SEO efforts.