** UPDATED in June 2019 **
If you have been learning about search engine optimisation (SEO) and on-page set up then you are probably well aware by now that the end point that you are aiming for (i.e. top Google rankings for competitive search terms with lots of traffic) is not a static target. Instead, you need to think of it as a moving goal.
Google are constantly tweaking their algorithm (the computer program that analyses websites to rank them before listing them in SERPs).
Many of these algorithm changes are minor adjustments which have only small affects on rankings, but Google also carry out larger, more wide ranging updates which often cause much larger movements in Google SERPs.
Google measure over 200 different elements of your on-page content, in order to assess your page for relevance to the search term and your suitability to rank. They then fit you into the results depending on their final assessment of your website.
Think of it like this; Google ask hundreds of questions of your site, such as, does the keyword (or variations of it) appear in your URL, does it appear in your page title, in your meta description tag, in page headings (H1, H2, H3 etc.) and so on through your page.
HOWEVER…….. this isn’t as straightforward as it once was. If you ‘shout’ too much about one particular term, phrase or keyword, you will actually be less likely to rank, rather than being more likely to do so.
Google use a complex Latent Semantic Indexing algorithm to associate related words, so, rather than repeating the same term over and over again, they can assess the overall meaning of your page content and relate words together to better understand your text.
This has actually been one of the most influential changes Google have made to their algorithm, as it allows them to easily filter out over optimized page content.
If you carry out a few searches and analyse the results you will see that Google highlights the keywords it finds in the Page titles, URLs and meta description. In many instances these keywords are not in the same order as the term you searched for, and in many instances, other related keywords will be highlighted if the word isn’t present in that section of text.
This means that as a webmaster, trying to rank at the top of search, you need to write natural, high quality content that not only contains the search terms you want to rank for, but also uses a variety of closely related terms and phrases, placed ‘naturally’.
How Google Algorithms Works
Google measure hundreds of elements of your website, and it’s computerised algorithm uses filters to gauge the quality of each page it can find for each possible search.
Think of them as a series of trapdoors, waiting to catch you if you exceed any of the arbitrary limits Google consider to represent the upper and lower acceptable limits within an ideal page.
A perfect page requires the right variations of relevant terms and phrases in the right places. If you have too few, then your page will lack suitable relevance and you won’t rank very highly.
At the other end of the scale, if you exceed the limits that Google consider to be ‘natural’ within content then you will trigger a ranking filter and will either drop down the rankings or will not appear at all for that search term.
Google has hundreds of these filters, which work in conjunction with your back-link profile to apply relevance.
If you have a higher percentage of keyword rich links pointing to a page, then your on-page keyword density needs to be lower, whereas if you have few or no keyword rich links aimed at the page, then your on-page keyword density can be higher (within limitations of course).
This balance makes it quite tricky to compare your site with your competitors, because while it might make sense to mimic the top ranked sites page content keyword density, unless your back-link profile also mimics your competitors, you won’t achieve the same result.
This is an area that many SEO companies don’t understand, and blindly target competitor pages as examples of ideal content.
This used to be the easiest way to optimize a website, but since Google started using your websites niche authority and trust scores in conjunction with analysing your click through rates, bounce rate, website load speed etc. making a direct comparison and expecting to get the same result has become a thankless task.
Comparing your website to those of your top ranking competitors is a good starting point, and will highlight many areas of your on-page content that you need to address.
If you continue to try to mirror all the elements of your competitor, you will in all likelihood fail to achieve the top results that you are aiming for.
Your high ranking competitors are an ideal example of page content that Google likes, and demonstrate page structure that Google values, but you will have different websites linking to you, using different keywords, a different URL, different niche authority and trust, different internal link structure, different social media popularity profiles, different bounce rates, click through rates, page load speed, different volumes of people searching for your brand name, etc.
All of these metrics affect how you rank, so just producing a page containing great content that appears very similar to the top ranking sites isn’t enough on it’s own.
Your aim should be to write the best possible page of text, images, video, infographics and so on, so that it is your page that offers your visitors the best information and the best experience when they visit.
If you do that, using a wide variety of terms and phrases then you will produce a natural page of high quality content.
Having said that, if you just create good content that people love, but ignore the on-page metrics that Google values then you will still not rank as highly as you will once you have a well optimized page.
Important On-Page Ranking Elements
These are the areas of your website that you need to make sure include variations of your preferred search term or phrase;
- Website URL
- Page URL
- Page Title
- Page Meta Description
- H1 Heading
- H2 Heading
- H3 Heading
- First Paragraph
- Image URLs
- Image Alt Text
- Video Titles
Individual keyword density has become a much more complex area to measure since Google introduced Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) into their algorithmic calculations. Instead of measuring the frequency of your main keywords, terms and phrases, you need to think about page intent, meaning, relevance and value.
If you write naturally, but keep on topic then your page will naturally contain all of the relevant keywords that Google needs to understand and rank your content. Many pages rank first for competitive searches with only one instance of the actual term on the page…… BUT, you will notice that the rest of the page is tightly focused on the topic, giving powerful relevancy signals that Google loves.
Write For People First
If your audience don’t engage with your content and like what you write then Google won’t rank it well for long. Goal number 1 is to create useful, engaging page content that real people value.
If your visitors share your content with their friends and colleagues across their social channels then you know that you have the basis of a good page.
Once you have that as a base starting point, you can begin to tweak where your keyword variations appear in the key indicator locations listed above. In many instances, the inclusion of an additional variation or similarly a reduction in a location can have a dramatic affect on your overall rankings.
A little time spent adjusting where your keywords appear can drive a lot of traffic to your site.