Within the SEO space, almost limitless web pages claim to know the complete list of Google’s ranking factors. However, the only people who truly understand the full list of ranking factors are Google themselves. Even though they have been asked many times to provide this information, they haven’t done so yet.
We recently spoke with Ryan’s Digital Marketing and asked them to share their feedback on the factors they consider to be the most important regarding on-page SEO. They agreed that there are many factors to consider. However, they have shared what they believe are the most important:
1. Keyword in the URL
Deciding what a business should name itself is among the most critical factors many new companies consider. There are advantages to including the focus keyword in the top-level domain, also known as an Exact Match Domain or EMD, such as:
- It can help the domain to rank quicker for the keyword.
- Including the focus keyword in the top-level domain helps improve the click-through rate or CTR.
- Backlink building may be more straightforward.
However, some of the disadvantages are:
- You are possibly limiting your business to a very select set of keywords which may make things difficult if you decide to expand the company later.
- It might be considered spammy by some users.
Some of the most successful businesses in the world do not include their focus keyword in the top-level domain at all. Think of Google itself; nowhere does it have the keyword ‘search engine’. Or consider Apple. It does not include the keyword ‘smart phone’ within its domain.
However, the choice to include the focus keyword in the domain comes down to many factors. If it cannot be contained within the top-level domain, it should be included in the URL itself.
2. Use a ‘clean’ Uniform Resource Locator or URL
The first URL was created in 1994, and it is the location of a domain or file on the world wide web. The primary purpose of a URL is to clearly and concisely describe what a web page is about. The most important factors to consider are:
- User lowercase letters only.
- Separate all words using a hyphen.
- Keep the URL simple and exclude any stop words such as ‘and’ and ‘to’.
- Exclude any unreadable numbers.
It would be much better displayed as the following:
3. Using a Secure Socket Layer or SSL Certificate
An SSL certificate creates a secure connection between a website and the visitor to the website. It helps avoid hackers’ stealing sensitive information. Google has stated they are using SSL as a ranking factor, and there are three main types:
- Organisation Validation SSL
- Extended Validation SSL
- Domain Validation SSL
It’s important to note that although there are advantages and disadvantages to using different SSL certificates, according to Google, their primary concern is whether or not a domain has an active SSL certificate.
Therefore, they will not give more ranking weight to a domain that has opted to select the most expensive form of SSL certificate. In most cases, there is nothing wrong with using a free SSL certificate provided by many hosting companies.
4. Title Tag
A title tag is part of a webpage’s metadata, allowing a website owner to provide their web pages with a title. It is most visible in the organic search results, and the text is usually in larger font, often bolded, and located directly below the target URL.
The amount of space available is based on pixels which vary between devices. Generally, using up to 60-70 characters should fit the space in most cases. If the search engine cannot fully display it, it will cut off the remainder and display ellipses (three dots).
Search engines will give more ranking weight to a keyword at the start as opposed to the end of the title tag. Therefore, its best SEO practice to ensure the focus keyword is included at the beginning of the title tag.
If space is available, using your brand name at the end of the title tag is ok; however, this won’t be necessary because there isn’t much competition for brand names. In particular, unique ones that aren’t keyword heavy, which you will rank for almost by default.
It would be best if you used pipes (vertical lines) to separate keywords as it helps reduce the amount of space used, for example, in comparison to using hyphens. Using all caps may draw more attention; however, various studies have shown that people are likely to avoid your search result as it may appear spammy. Therefore, using title case is generally the safest option.
Using special characters such as a waving hand or smiling face can also draw more attention but be ignored for the same reasons as using all caps lettering. However, it varies between industries, so testing one version using an emoji for some time may be worthwhile and then trying it again without.
5. Meta Description Tag
The meta description tag is also part of the metadata for a web page. It is an extension of the title tag and helps users understand additional information about the page and the business itself. In the organic search results, it’s located directly below the title tag and is usually in smaller font.
Google has stated that the description tag is not used as a ranking factor. However, it definitely shouldn’t be ignored. That’s because although Google does not give it any ranking weight, it may impact other metrics, such as your web page’s popularity in the search results, also known as click-through rate.
If a web page gets a more significant number of clicks compared to other listings for the same keyword, Google may push it higher in the search results. As the meta description is displayed in the search results, it’s essential to include the focus keywords.
In most cases, the same rules outlined in the title tag can be applied to the description tag. However, it would help if you only used capital letters at the beginning of the sentence. Also, the space available is increased by around 100 characters, from 60-70 to 160-170.
Pro tip: Using the word ‘FREE’ in either the title or description tags may help to increase your click-through rate – who doesn’t like free stuff?
Heading tags help outline the structure of the content on a webpage. They range from H1 to H6, with the lower the number referring to the importance of it. The H1 is the most important and is usually located at the top of the page. Best SEO practice is only to have one H1 tag per page. Otherwise, it may be difficult for search engines to understand the primary topic.
The content on the page is arguably one of the most crucial SEO ranking factors. Quality is the most vital metric because Google does not consider the amount of content as a ranking factor.
It’s vital that all of the content is unique and references are provided to high authority sources where applicable.
8. Dwell time
Dwell time is the amount of time a user spends on a page, and it helps search engines understand if the page is providing helpful information. It can be inferred that the longer a user spends on a page, the more helpful information it provides.
9. Bounce Rates
A web page’s bounce rate is calculated by the number of times visitors leave a website having only visited one page.
10. Images + Videos
Adding imagery and videos to your website can help improve its overall dwell time and bounce rates.
Most importantly, every page should have a focus keyword or keywords, and all of the elements should align.
- The URL should be the most concise version of the keyword.
- The title tag is an extension of it.
- The description tag is not a direct ranking factor. However, it should include the focus keywords to maximise the click-through rate from the search results.
- The H1 tag, as the most important heading tag on the page, should include the focus keyword – Additional heading tags (H2, H3 etc.) should reinforce it.
- The content should cover the focus keyword in depth, leaving a visitor comfortable that they have all of the information they require.
Additional Information: If multiple pages on the same domain appear to target the same keywords and there is a clear overlap, those web pages should be combined. In SEO, quality is the most important ranking factor!