Demystifying On-Page SEO

A Guide to Ranking Factors

Note: this is part 3 of a multi-part series of SEO ranking boosters


This guide explores the on-page SEO elements that influence your website’s search engine ranking:

Content & Keywords

Keyword in Title Tag:  While less critical than before, title tags remain a vital on-page SEO signal.

Title Tag Starts with Keyword:  According to Moz, titles beginning with the target keyword tend to perform better.

Keyword in Description Tag:  While not a direct ranking factor, description tags can influence click-through rates (CTR), which are important for ranking.

Keyword Appears in H1 Tag:  H1 tags act as secondary title tags, along with your title tag, and are used by Google as a relevancy signal.

TF-IDF & Content Length:  Content with more words can cover broader topics and are likely preferred by Google’s algorithm compared to shorter, superficial articles.

Table of Contents:  A linked table of contents can help search engines understand your page’s content and may result in sitelinks.

Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) Keywords:  LSI keywords help search engines understand the meaning of words with multiple interpretations. Their presence/absence likely acts as a content quality signal.

Content Covers Topic In-Depth:  There’s a clear correlation between in-depth topic coverage and ranking. Pages that comprehensively address a topic likely have an edge over those with partial coverage.

Technical SEO & User Experience

Page Loading Speed:  Both Google and Bing consider page speed a ranking factor. Google now uses real Chrome user data to evaluate loading speed.

Mobile-Friendliness:  The “Mobilegeddon” update prioritized mobile-optimized pages. Websites that are mobile-friendly have an advantage in Google’s “Mobile-first Index.”

Image Optimization:  Images can send search engines essential relevancy signals through file names, alt text, titles, descriptions, and captions. Optimizing images is crucial for proper indexing.

Content Recency:  Google’s Caffeine update favors recently published or updated content, especially for time-sensitive searches.

Grammar and Spelling:  Proper grammar and spelling are quality signals, although mixed messages have been received from Google on its exact importance.

Syndicated Content:  Duplicate or scraped content from indexed pages won’t rank well and may not be indexed at all.

Hidden Content on Mobile: Content hidden on mobile devices might not be indexed or given less weight compared to fully visible content.

Helpful Supplementary Content:  Content like currency converters, loan calculators, and interactive recipes can indicate a page’s quality and potentially improve ranking.

Content Hidden Behind Tabs: Google has stated that content requiring users to click on a tab “may not be indexed.”

Number of Outbound Links: Too many dofollow outbound links can leak PageRank, potentially harming the page’s ranking.

Multimedia: Images, videos, and other multimedia elements may indicate content quality.

Number & Quality of Internal Links:  The number of internal links pointing to a page indicates its relative importance within the site (more links = more important). Links from high-authority pages carry more weight.

Broken Links:  Excessive broken links on a page might suggest a neglected site. The Google Rater Guidelines use broken links as one factor when assessing homepage quality.

HTML Errors/W3C Validation:  Lots of HTML errors or sloppy coding may be a sign of a poor-quality site. While debated, many SEOs believe a well-coded page is used as a quality signal.

Reading Level: Google likely estimates the reading level of webpages. There’s no consensus on how Google uses this information.

Affiliate Links:  Affiliate links themselves probably won’t hurt your rankings. But an excessive number might prompt Google to scrutinize other quality signals to ensure you’re not a “thin affiliate site.”

Domain & URL Structure

Domain Authority:  All things being equal, a page on a high-authority domain will rank higher than a page on a domain with less authority.

URL Length:  Excessively long URLs may negatively impact search engine visibility. Studies show shorter URLs tend to have a slight edge in search results.

URL Path:  Pages closer to the homepage may receive a slight authority boost compared to pages buried deep within the site’s architecture.

Keyword in URL:  Another relevancy signal, though recently downplayed by Google.

URL String:  The categories in the URL string are read by Google and may provide a thematic signal about the page’s content.

Page Category:  The category a page belongs to is a relevancy signal. A page in a closely related category may get a relevancy boost compared to an unrelated category.