The SEO Factors
So the chart above, as searchengineland have it, has the first letter of each SEO element coming from the subgroup, with the second letter being the individual factor in it’s own right. So all in all, no single element or factor can guarantee you success in SEO, so simply having a great HTML page with low quality content won’t get you the SEO rewards you seek. So positive factors increase your odds of success, negative factors decrease.
On The Page Ranking Factors
On The Page search ranking factors are those that are entirely within the publisher’s own control. What type of content do you publish? Are you providing important HTML clues that help search engines (and users) determine relevancy? How does your site architecture help or hinder search engines?
Off The Page Ranking Factors
Off The Page ranking factors are those that publishers do not directly control. Search engines use these because they learned early on that relying on publisher controlled signals alone didn’t always yield the best results. For instance, some publishers may try to make themselves seem more relevant than they are in reality.
With billions of web pages to sort through, looking only at ‘on the page’ clues isn’t enough. More signals are needed to return the best pages for any particular search.
SEO Violations & Ranking Penalties
Make no mistake, search engines want people to perform SEO because it can help improve their search results. Search engines provide help in the form of guidelines, blog posts and videos to encourage specific SEO techniques.
However, there are some techniques that search engines deem “spam” or “black hat”, which could result in your pages receiving a ranking penalty or, worse, being banned from the search engines entirely.
Violations are generally tactics meant to deceive or manipulate a search engine’s understanding of a site’s true relevancy and authority.
Weighting Of Search Ranking Factors
All the factors we show are weighted on a scale of one to three, as shown in the top right corner of each factor as well as reflected in the hue of that factor. A weighting of three is most important and is something you should pay special attention to because it has a bigger impact than other factors.
That doesn’t mean that factors weighted two or one aren’t important. They are. It’s just that they are of less importance, relatively speaking, in terms of the other factors on the chart. Violations are also weighted, but in negative numbers, with negative three being the worst and potentially most harmful to your SEO success.
The weighting is based on a combination of what search engines have said, surveys of the SEO community as well as our own expertise and experience in watching the space over time. We don’t expect them to be perfect. Not everyone will agree. Your mileage may vary.
But we’re confident it is a useful general guide.
“Missing” SEO Factors & The Guide’s Philosophy
Experienced SEOs may be wondering why some factors aren’t shown. How come ALT text or bolding words aren’t included as HTML factors, for example?
The answer? We don’t think those things are as important, relatively speaking. We’re not trying to boil the ocean and encompass every possible signal (Google has over 200 of them) and sub-signals (Google has over 10,000 of those).
Instead, the goal of the Periodic Table Of SEO Success Factors and this online companion guide is to help those new to SEO focus on the big picture and perhaps allow experienced SEOs to hit the “reset” button if they’ve gotten lost staring at specific trees in the SEO forest.
That’s why this SEO guide doesn’t address having your most important keywords be at the beginning or end of an HTML title tag. Nor are we trying to assess how much more weight an H1 header tag carries than an H2 tag.
We’re purposely avoiding being ultra specific because such things often distract and pull us down the rabbit hole. Instead, we hope you gain an understanding that pages should have descriptive titles, that indicating page structure with header tags may help, and topping things off with structured data is a good idea.
Do these things well and you’ve probably addressed 90% of the most important HTML factors.
Similarly, it’s not whether a good reputation on Twitter is worth more than on Facebook. Instead, we’re trying to help people understand that having social accounts that are reputable in general, which attract a good following and generate social shares, may ultimately help you achieve search success.
Want More Specifics About Ranking Factors?
We know some of you may want to drill down into specifics. In that case, the Moz Search Engine Ranking Factors survey (see results from 2013 & 2011) is worth a look. Every two years, hundreds of well regarded SEOs are asked to determine the importance of specific ranking factors. We do hope you’ll keep any specific ranking factors in the context of the fundamentals covered by our table.
In addition, many of the success factors aren’t true algorithmic factors at all. Content Research (element Cr) is a highly weighted ‘on the page’ factor that describes the process of researching the words people use to find your content. Understanding your user is important to your SEO success even if it’s not a ‘ranking’ factor.
You can also check out our What Is SEO / Search Engine Optimization? page, which lists some useful guides to the fundamentals (including one from Google itself) along with many more SEO resources.
Of course, the guide you’re reading now is a great resource for understanding key SEO factors. So use the links below to continue reading through the Search Engine Land Guide to SEO.
Content is king. You’ll hear that phrase over and over again when it comes SEO success. Indeed, that’s why the Periodic Table Of SEO Success Factors begins with the content “elements,” with the very first element being about content quality.
Get your content right, and you’ve created a solid foundation to support all of your other SEO efforts.
Cq: Content Quality
More than anything else, are you producing quality content? If you’re selling something, do you go beyond being a simple brochure with the same information that can be found on hundreds of other sites?
Do you provide a reason for people to spend more than a few seconds reading your pages?
Do you offer real value, something of substance to visitors, that is unique, different, useful and that they won’t find elsewhere?
These are just some of the questions to ask yourself in assessing whether you’re providing quality content. This is not the place to skimp since it is the cornerstone upon which nearly all other factors depend.
Read the Search Engine Land articles below on content quality to get you thinking in the right direction.
Cr: Content Research / Keyword Research
Perhaps the most important SEO factor after creating good content is good keyword research. There are a variety of tools that allow you to discover the specific ways that people may be searching for your content.
You want to create content using those keywords, the actual search terms people are using, so you can produce content that effectively “answers” that query.
For example, a page about “Avoiding Melanoma” might use technical jargon to describe ways to prevent skin cancer. But a search engine might skip or not rank that page highly if people are instead searching for “skin cancer prevention tips”. Your content needs to be written in the right ‘language’ – the language your customer or user is using when searching.
Our guide below points you to a variety of tools that will help:
Here are some articles from Search Engine Land that explore the topic of keyword research in more depth:
Cw: Content Words / Use Of Keywords
Having done your keyword research (you did that, right?), have you actually used those words in your content? Or if you’ve already created some quality content before doing research, perhaps it’s time to revisit that material and do some editing.
Bottom line, if you want your pages to be found for particular words, it’s a good idea to actually use those words in your copy.
How often? Repeat each word you want to be found for at least five times or seek out a keyword density of 2.45%, for best results.
No no no, that was a joke! There’s no precise number of times. Even if “keyword density” sounds scientific, even if you hit some vaunted “ideal” percentage, that would guarantee absolutely nothing.
Just use common sense. Think about the words you want a page to be found for, the words you feel are relevant from your keyword research. Then use them naturally on the page. If you commonly shift to pronouns on a second and further references, maybe use the actual noun again here and there, rather than a pronoun.
For more advice, see some of our articles below:
Ce: Content Engagement
Quality content should produce meaningful interactions with users. Search engines may try to measure this interaction – engagement – in a variety of ways.
For example, how long do users stay on your page? Did they search, clickthrough to your listing but then immediately “bounce” back to the results to try something else? That “pogosticking” behavior can be measured by search engines and could be a sign that your content isn’t engaging.
Conversely, are people sending a relatively long time reviewing your content, in relation to similar content on other sites? That “time on site” metric or “long click” is another type of engagement that search engines can measure and use to assess the relative value of content.
Social gestures such as comments, shares and “likes” represent another way that engagement might be measured. We’ll cover these in greater detail in the Social section of this guide.
Search engines are typically cagey about the use of engagement metrics, much less the specifics of those metrics. However, we do believe engagement is measured and used to inform search results.
Below are articles from Search Engine Land on the importance of engagement:
Cf: Content Freshness
Search engines love new content. That’s usually what we mean when we say ‘fresh’.
So you can’t update your pages (or the publish date) every day thinking that will make them ‘fresh’ and more likely to rank. Nor can you just add new pages constantly, just for the sake of having new pages, and think that gives you a freshness boost.
However, Google does have something it calls “Query Deserved Freshness (QDF)”. If there’s a search that is suddenly very popular versus its normal activity, Google will apply QDF to that term and look to see if there’s any fresh content on that topic. If there is, that new or fresh content is given a boost in search results.
The best way to think about this is a term like ‘hurricane’. If there’s no active hurricane, then the search results will likely contain listings to government and reference sites. But if there’s an active hurricane, results will change and may reflect stories, news and information about the active hurricane.
If you’ve got the right content, on the right topic when QDF hits, you may enjoy being in the top results for days or weeks. Just be aware that after that, your page might be shuffled back in search results. It’s not that you’ve done anything wrong. It’s just that the freshness boost has worn off.
Sites can take advantage of this freshness boost by producing relevant content that matches the real-time pulse of their industry.
HTML is the underlying code used to create web pages. Search engines can pick up ranking signals from specific HTML elements. Below are some of the most important HTML elements to achieve SEO success.
Ht: HTML Title Tag
Imagine that you wrote 100 different books but gave them all the same exact title. How would anyone understand that they are all about different topics?
Imagine that you wrote 100 different books, and while they did have different titles, they weren’t very descriptive — maybe just a single word or two. Again, how would anyone know, at a glance, what the books are about?
HTML titles have always been and remain the most important HTML signal that search engines use to understand what a page is about. Bad titles on your pages are like having bad book titles in the examples above. In fact, if your HTML titles are deemed bad, Google changes them.
So think about what you hope each page will be found for, relying on the keyword research you’ve already performed. Then craft unique, descriptive titles for each of your pages. For more help about this, see our tutorial below:
Hd: The Meta Description Tag
The meta description tag, one of the oldest supported HTML elements, allows you to suggest how you’d like your pages to be described in search listings. If the HTML title is the equivalent to a book title, the meta description is like the blurb on the back describing the book.
SEO purists will argue that the meta description tag isn’t a “ranking factor” and that it doesn’t actually help your pages rank higher. Rather, it’s a “display factor,” something that helps how you look if you appear in the top results due to other factors.
Technically, that’s correct. And it’s one of the reasons we decided to call these “success” factors instead of ranking factor.
Because a meta description that contains the keywords searched for (in bold) may catch the user’s eye. A well crafted meta description may help ‘sell’ that result to the user. Both can result in additional clicks to your site. As such, it makes sense for the meta description tag to be counted as a success factor.
Be forewarned, having a meta description tag doesn’t guarantee that your description will actually get used. Search engines may create different descriptions based on what they believe is most relevant for a particular query. But having one increases the odds that what you prefer will appear. And it’s easy to do. So do it.
Below are Search Engine Land articles that take a closer look at the meta description tag:
Hh: Header Tags
See the headline up at the top of this page? Behind the scenes HTML code is used to make that a header tag. In this case, an H1 tag.
See the sub-headlines on the page? Those also use header tags. Each of them is the next “level” down, using H2 tags.
Header tags are a formal way to identify key sections of a web page. Search engines have long used them as clues to what a page is about. If the words you want to be found for are in header tags, you have a slightly increased chance of appearing in searches for those words.
Naturally, this knowledge has caused some people to go overboard. They’ll put entire paragraphs in header tags. That doesn’t help. Header tags are as much for making content easy to read for users as it is for search engines.
Header tags are useful when they reflect the logical structure (or outline) of a page. If you have a main headline, use an H1 tag. Relevant subheads should use an H2 tag. Use headers as they make sense and they may reinforce other ranking factors.
For more about headers, see our articles below:
Hs: Structured Data
What if you could tell search engines what your content was about in their own “language”? Behind the scenes, sites can use specific mark-up (code) that make it easy for search engines to understand the details of the page content and structure.
The result of structured data often translates into what is called a ‘rich snippet‘, a search listing that has extra bells and whistles that make it more attractive and useful to users. The most common rich snippet you’re likely to encounter is reviews/ratings which usually includes eye-catching stars.
While the use of structured data may not be a direct ranking factor, it is clearly a success factor. All things being equal, a listing with a rich snippet will get more clicks than one without. And search engines are eager for site owners to embrace structured data, providing new and easier ways for less tech-savvy webmasters to participate.
Structured data has been around for quite some time in various forms. But recently search engines have begun to rely on it more with the advent of Google’s Knowledge Graph and Bing’s Snapshot.
This element enters the periodic table for the first time and we suspect it may become more important over time.
Read more about about structured data in the articles below: