Effective Keyword Use as an SEO Ranking Factor

This is the final part of the SEO ranking factors articles. Here we look at basic on-page SEO such as keywords in title, H1, body, domain, URL, H2, H3, Alt, image, bold and meta information, finishing with a list and discussion of the most crucial SEO factors.

We’ve already covered most on-page factors in this series; however, for the sake of completeness, we’ll look at each tag separately and assess its weight in search engine optimization.

Title Tag

This is the most important part of the page. The title tag shows in search results and must feature your targeted keywords. In fact, the title tag alone can change your search engine rankings.

News-like title tags work the best, while keyword stuffed titles can actually hurt your rankings. Title tags also contribute to the click through rate, which is likely a part of the algorithm.

Here’s how a title tag looks in code:

<title>Keywords You Put Here Will Show As a Blue Link In Search Results</title>

H1 Tag

Many SEOs call the H1 tag the second most important on-page factor. There are many pages that rank without an H1 or any Hx tags for that matter, so this tag has likely lost weight with Google. Putting your targeted keywords in the H1 wouldn’t hurt; we do it on all optimized pages. So far it works, even with some aggressive, keyword-rich H1s (almost parallel to the title). Be careful not to stuff too much into it; instead, do "main keyword + some related stuff."

Here’s how the H1 tag looks in code:

<h1>Your Main Keyword Here + Some Other Words</h1>

H2 Tag

Just as with the H1 tag, many pages rank without an H2 at all. Some SEOs don’t even bother with it, but it’s a good use for valid CSS (not that validation matters). I love H2s as content separators. They may not necessarily impact rankings (they’re too easy to manipulate), but help a lot with your content’s readability. For example, if you have a page on dog food, and discuss four types of dog food products, then the H2 is perfect for separating the page into four different sections. While you’re at it, you can mix in some keywords (don’t be spammy, but write it as a news article headline). It doesn’t hurt your rankings (unless it’s outright obvious), but it won’t get you to the first page either.

Here’s how an H2 looks in code:

<h2>Description of Content + Some Long Tail Keyword (mix)</h2>

H3 Tag

Use this tag for your visitors. While the H2 tag is perfect to separate ideas in an article, the H3 tag is good for breaking each section of the article into more subsections. It won’t help your rankings, but it can help to reduce your bounce rate, since text becomes more scannable — and people don’t read pages on the Internet; they scan them.

<h3> Description of The Subsection</h3>

If you have an old domain with your exact targeted keyword in it, you’re a lot closer to the top 10 than without it. We have several domains that were quite easy to rank on Google for the exact domain key phrase, but it took a lot longer to achieve results for other keywords in a very competitive marketplace.

Keywords in the domain matter more on Live Search and Yahoo than on Google. An exact domain match also gets bolded on search results, which can increase your click through rate — and click through rate is definitely a part of the algorithm.

Most importantly, your domain name is usually used as link anchor text and can get tons of value for your site based on that. If you want to rank for "green horse" and your domain name is greenhorse.com, many people will link to you with your domain name as the anchor text, which has your targeted keywords right there (NICE). But if the site name is wierdturf.com, people will likely use that instead of "green horse."

Getting a domain that exactly matches the keywords for which you’re trying to rank is worth the money and will give you a load of good credit on the side. It can also be used as an indicator by Google that someone paid a load of cash for the name – raising the trust bar a bit.

Keywords in Meta Keywords Tag

Don’t bother with this tag.

<meta name="Keywords" content="useless tag which has 0 impact on search engine rankings, unless you’re optimizing for some lame search engine that sends no traffic" />

Having keywords in your meta description tag is very important for your click through rate, which is definitely a part of the Google algorithm. The meta description appears in search results under the blue link. It is a short summary of the page. Playing with this tag showed an increase in click through rate, which is good for the SERPs and the bottom line. Put something interesting and provocative in there, or make people smile.

<meta name="description" content="this text will show in search results under the blue link" />

If you have no meta description tag, Google will pull a snippet of the page which contains the searched-for keyword. Google may also use your DMOZ description in place of the meta description tag. Yahoo may use the Yahoo Directory description in place of the meta description tag. You can block both of them:

<meta name="ROBOT NAME" content="nodp" /> This will stop Google, Yahoo and Live from pulling a description from DMOZ.

<meta name="SLURP" content=" noydir" /> This will stop Yahoo from pulling a description from the Yahoo Directory (if you’re listed there).

You can also stop Google from making snippets of your page featured in search results:

<meta name="googlebot" content=" nosnippet" />

I would not recommend this, because it may affect your click through rate for some long tail searches. Bolded keywords proved to funnel more visitors from search results, and you never know what long tail combination people will come up with when they search.

Keywords in Content

This is an important factor, but look at it from the perspective of having a natural occurrence of your keywords rather than "stuffing" your content with them. With the purchase of Applied Semantics, Google became smarter in natural language processing. It also scanned millions of books, which may help the search engine see word relationships.

Rich content is perfect for many long tail referrals, which can account for a lot of traffic (if yours is a low trust site). Instead of focusing on bogus keyword density measures, ignore keyword density tools and write natural articles.

It’s possible to rank a site with little content, but link investment will be a lot larger.

ALT tags and Image Tags

Keywords in alt tags of image links serve as the anchor text of a link.

Keywords in alt tags and title tags of non-linked images help with rankings of image search results. Search engines have no other way of knowing if the image they’re serving in actuality is the image that user requested, other than to analyze links, the content surrounding the image, filename, alt and title attributes.

<img src="site.com/directory/images/example.jpg" title="this is where image title goes" alt="this is where image ALT description goes" width="400" height="300" />

Here’s more on alt and image tags at Google groups.

Having done the research and analysis, here are the most important SEO factors, from the highest priority to the lowest. 

  1. The Web site’s Link Popularity — The number of outside links, assuming all links are medium to high quality, counting new sites, and ignoring spam.

  2. Anchor Text of Inbound Links – Targeted keywords.

  3. Keywords in the Title Tag - Shows in search results, easiest to optimize.

  4. Domain Authority/Back links of the Linking Page - The number of quality inbound links that point to a page from which your link comes matters. The more authoritative that page, the better your link is.

  5. Topical Relevance of a Linking Page - A link from an authority site on the topic is worth GOLD. Links from topically relevant but less authoritative sites are also valuable, considering that’s where Google is going; this will be more valuable in the future.

  6. Age of Site – The older your site, the better. Buy an old domain if you can afford it

  7. Internal Link Power Distribution - Make sure to heavily link pages you want to rank internally, consider anchor text.

  8. Total Amount of Outbound Links on a Linking Page - The more links are on the linking page, the less rank value is passed with your link.

  9. Link Distribution of the Site in Communities – the more your site is cited in online communities, the more important it is in the eyes of search engines.

  10. Keyword Within Content – The importance of this should be obvious.

  11. External Link to Other Pages/Site - Link only to quality sources.

  12. Age of Link – Links are like wine; they get better with age.

  13. Age of Linking Page – This, too, is like wine.

  14. Linking site ranking for your keywords – If a site ranks for your keywords, then getting a link from that site is very valuable.

  15. Text Surrounding the Link - The more relevant the text, the better.

  16. Internal Link Popularity of Linking Page – This works the same way as inbound links. The more good ones, the better.

  17. Domain Name Keyword Use – This helps with anchor text distribution.

  18. Amount of Indexable Content – More content is good, but don’t pin all your hopes on content volume. Without links, it doesn’t go far.

  19. Rate of New Inbound Links- Too many coming in too fast can set off red flags without evidence to justify a spike (events, search volume, etc)

  20. Keyword Use in H1 Tag – Plug keywords there.

This is my shot at classifying SEO ranking importance. Do not use it as an absolute list; consider it more as a guide. Do more research and read articles to learn more.

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