Even though SEO is a synergy of different practices, not all of them are equally important for higher rankings. And, because SEO’s are normally pressed-for-time individuals, it’s essential for them to know what SEO tasks should be their priority.
Speaking of on-page and off-page SEO (many SEO’s also consider keyword research a separate aspect), I’d like to say that, quite often, on-page SEO does not get the attention it should. This is because, in general, it takes less time than link building and often plays second fiddle to off-page SEO when an emergency rankings boost is required.
However, there are certain on-page SEO factors, leveraging which can work miracles for your site, and it’s important to know how much impact each of them carries. So, let’s talk about these factors.
Lay a Foundation for Higher Rankings
Any construction work begins with laying a foundation for the future building. Likewise, on-page SEO begins with creating a certain carcass for the site’s content. What’s important SEO-wise is that this carcass gets ‘A’ grades from the search engines. In other words, search engines should find it easily crawlable and non-confusing.
Here are the checkpoints that should be covered when running an on-page SEO audit. They are arranged starting with the most important ones:
of utmost importance highly important very important
quite important of minimum importance.
Use the above information to understand how important the follow factors below are.
HTTP response code errors
A reliable hosting provider is crucial to your website’s success in the SERPs. If the server your site is hosted on is often unavailable or takes a long time to respond, the search engines won’t hold much for your Web resource.
Not to mention that, if your site is unavailable, the users will simply not be able to access it. Therefore, we consider this factor to be of utmost importance.
It’s all about the user experience these days, and the search engines have gotten even pickier when it comes to site speed. Over a year ago, Google confirmed that site load speed was an important ranking factor.
Internal links pointing to the page
When the webpages of your site are interlinked, it helps both users and the search engines navigate it. Internal links with appropriate anchor texts have a big impact on a page’s position in the SERPs. However, be careful not to overdo – your internal links should look natural to the search engines.
Correct rel=”canonical” Use
Canonical tags help one eliminate duplicate content WITHIN their own site. Let’s say you have several versions of your URL indexed (for instance, www.example.com, example.com and www.example.com/home.htlm), in which case Google may treat them as different pages with duplicate content on them. So, using the rel=”canonical” attribute would solve the problem.
Absence of Broken Links
Search engine bots crawl not only the page they arrive at, but the links they find on it. If any of those links are broken, the overall impression of your page is spoiled.
At the same time, it’s understandable that you can barely be responsible for what is happening on third-party sites you provide links to. Hence, it’s not a HUGE ranking factor in the eyes of the search engines, even though a fairly important one. The best practice would be to check your site for broken links from time to time.
Perfect HTML Code
Although the quality of your markup is not an insanely important factor, sloppy HTML code does diminish your chances to rank higher in the search engines. It’s best to make sure there are no errors on your webpages using the W3C HTML and markup validator. Besides, there are on-page SEO tools (like our WebSite Auditor) that come with a built-in markup validator as well.
Just like perfect HTML, valid CSS is not a must, but rather an additional asset to one’s recipe for successful SEO. Besides, you’d want to pay more attention to your CSS if you’re optimizing for the mobile Web and using special mobile style sheets for mobile users.
And, as W3C offers a CSS validation service as well, you can use it to check for CSS errors and warnings.
Now we are talking CONTENT
Once the infrastructure for your site’s content has been taken care of, it’s time to optimize the content. A site’s content sends the search engines certain signals, using which they determine how relevant the site is for a particular query.
The more signals there are and the stronger they are, the more likely a search engine is to deem your site relevant. However, too strong of a signal could be suspicious, right? So, keep that in mind.
In respect to content, what matters for rankings is:
Keyword in URL
Everybody in the SEO industry knows that exact match domains tend to perform extremely well in the SERPs. If so, why doesn’t everyone just buy a domain name that also happens to be their keyword and hit Google’s top?
Well, there certain cons here. First, the desired domain name is often taken. Second, for branding purposes, it is better to go for a brand name as your domain name. And, third, we believe that the impact that exact match domain names have on rankings will most likely decrease in the future.
Keyword in Page Title
Unlike in the case with domain names, it’s much easier to stick your keyword in a page title. Just make sure that your titles also look natural, since real people are going to see them in the search results. For example, out of the two page titles
- Holiday Gifts New York|Gifts Brooklyn|Free Delivery|Gifts
- Holiday Gifts for All Occasions – Brooklyn New York – Free Delivery
The second one is definitely more attractive.
Keywords in Internal Anchor Texts
As I said earlier, internal linking is important for higher rankings. However, simply linking to your landing page from other pages of your site won’t do much. To attain the desired effect, use your keywords in the anchor texts. Also, make them [anchor texts] vary. Links with identical anchors will look unnatural to the search engines and may be ignored.
Keyword in H1 Text
H1 is an HTML tag normally used to mark headings. When your keywords stand in H1 tags, they carry more weight, so to say, and have a bigger effect on your site rankings.
Keyword in Image Alt Text
Image alt text is what gets displayed instead of your image when it cannot be loaded, or when certain functions responsible for rendering images are disabled in a person’s browser. If image alt texts reflect the rest of your page’s semantics, this sends the search engines a signal that your page is relevant to the search query, and they rank it higher.
Keyword Frequency (body text)
Needless to say, you keywords should be present in your page copy as well. However, the exact number of keywords that helps you achieve top rankings would depend on the niche, the search engine, etc. So, there is no ideal keyword density that’ll work for any site.
The general rules that apply here are: it’s best to use your keywords more towards the beginning of your page and to avoid keyword stuffing.
Keyword in Bold/Italic
Keywords in bold/italic do have a bit more significance in the eyes of the search engines, but, please, remember that the user comes first and use formatting wisely.
Keyword in Meta Description
If your meta description contains keywords irrelevant to the overall theme of your webpage, this will do little to improve your rankings, and the search engine may even choose not to display the description you specify.
However, if your meta description is semantically in line with the rest of the page’s content, this can give your site rankings a boost.
Content quality-related factors
Did you know that, if you copy content from another site on the Web and post it on a webpage, the page may not even turn up in the search results? Google sometimes treats pages with identical content as versions of one and the same page, determines which one of them appears to be the most trustworthy and filters out the rest of the pages from its search results.
So, if you’re striving for higher rankings, the content on your page must be as unique as possible.
In general, the more often you update your content, the better. Fresh content is especially important for Web 2.0 sites, news portals, etc. Besides, many SEO professionals say that, in the future, the query deserves freshness (QDF) mechanism in Google’s algorithm will be triggered more and more often, so, fresh content will become even more important.
The Amount of Content Above the Fold
In the light of the recent Google’s algo update, having sufficient content ‘above the fold’ becomes more important than ever. ‘Above the fold’ is the part of the page users see immediately upon arriving at your site, without having to scroll down. Hence, make sure that enough meaningful content is right away visible.
Content Density (thin content)
The overall content density of your site is also important. Google’s Panda update series targeted websites with ‘thin content’, among other things. Well, looks like owners of minimalist sites now have something to ponder.
The use of Visual Content
The search engines also look at whether you’re using any visual aids, such as images or videos on your website. It’s not a crucial on-page SEO factor, but still can win you a tiny fraction of Google’s affection, since it serves to indicate that your site is more likely to provide a decent user experience.
If not done properly, on-page SEO can really become a stumbling stone for your site on its way to Google’s top. Hence, it is just as important to take care of it as it is to do link building.
And, when performing on-page SEO, identify your priorities to save yourself time and move your site up the ladder of success with minimum effort. The above provided list of on-page SEO factor will help you do just that.