If you’ve been doing SEO for awhile then your are well aware that search engine optimization is a constantly evolving field.
One thing that has been constant seemingly forever is the importance of On Page SEO.
From the very beginning, the text on the page (and associated meta data) has been crucial consideration. No SEO would start a new search optimization campaign without examining and optimizing the on page text, page title and header tags.
But the only constant in SEO is change.
It’s worth examining how changes to the Google algorithm effect what SEOs should be doing, and what their expectations are, for on-page SEO.
On-Page SEO in 2016 – Is it still effective?
I’ve been wondering how effective some of the old tried and true SEO methods are the last few months. I had a suspicion that they were not as effective, but that was based more on my thoughts on what Google thinks and how SEOs like to exploit algorithms then on hard data.
Luckily for me, there are smart SEOs who have collected the data on this (to be shown shortly.)
I can still see page text and page titles continuing o have a positive effect on rankings. I’m certainly not claiming that on page SEO is dead (can’t stand those SEO is Dead claims I’ve been hearing for ten year now.)
But how effective is it still?
Why we should be suspect about on page SEO
The reason I think you have to be skeptical that on-page SEO is critically important is that in many ways – it’s too easy to game the system.
Having been and SEO for ten years I certainly have experience gaming the system. Often with exceptional results.
But that was five years ago, eight years ago, ten years ago. Google doesn’t like it when us SEOs (and those darn black hatters) try to game their system.
Every major algorithm update that sent shock waves through the internet marketing community was designed to address their concerns that SEOs were mucking up Google search results.
That’s why there have been algorithms to specifically address doorway pages, low quality links and low quality content.
There hasn’t been an “on page SEO algorithm update” and they may not need one. It doesn’t mean that Google can “reset the dials” and turn down the effect of certain factors in their algorithm though.
Let’s look at some of those on-page SEO factors.
This is the one that originally got me thinking that on-page SEO factors were going to be diminished.
Whenever there was an SEO discussion in my WordPress Naperville meetup group, someone would always say “You have to put your keyword in the H1 tag”.
When a bunch of non-SEO professionals all say the same thing as a given, you should be suspicious. Not because we professional SEOs are so smart but because if some tactic is widely accepted by those outside of the industry, you have to question if it’s still effective.
If “everybody” does it then how can you get a competitive advantage by doing it?
This also falls into the “too easy to game the system” trap.
Wouldn’t it be nice if all you had to do was put your keyword in the H1 tag and you can rank for it? Of course it would! If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.
But we’re SEOs, so we can’t just rely on a hunch. What does the data say?
Tim Soulo of ahrefs shared data after examining two million search results on page one of Google which showed 70% of websites did not have the keyword in an H1 tag.
That’s two studies examining millions of results show which show that two-thirds of page one Google results don’t even have a keyword in the H1 tag.
I’m not saying to not put your keyword in an H1 tag but this factor just may not be as important as you think it is.
It makes perfect sense that it wouldn’t be a huge factor. It’s too easy to game the system. Google has become much better at examining pages and determining the meaning and intent of the page without needing an exact keyword match.
That is the cause of on-page SEO losing some of it’s strength as a ranking factor. Google is getting smarter. Their algorithm can actually understand synonyms now. It is learning to understand intent behind search queries.
Google analysts have said that one of their top three most important ranking factors is Rankbrain. Rankbrain is Google’s machine learning technology they are using to help determine user intent and rank websites. Rankbrain is intended to give people better search results, not simply results which meet certain incidences of keyword phrases.
If they can user understand intent and meaning then they don’t need a big flag waving with an exact match keyword phrase on it anymore.
That leads us to….
Keyword in Title Tag
Keyword in title tag has always been a huge factor factor in SEO rankings. It’s one of the first things SEOs target on a new campaign and it’s always been a reliable way to boost rankings. So often ignored by businesses and so easy to fix.
In this case we see from Distilled’s data that 55% of page one results in Google have the keyword in their title tag.
That’s significant for sure. Don’t ignore those title tags! But the occurrence of the keyword in the title tag on top Google search results is down by 20% compared to 2015.
The ahrefs study was slightly less conclusive. It did show interestingly enough though that some of the top results in Google for “on page seo” do not even have “on page seo” in their title tag.
I would say that your target keyword in your page title is still an important factor, however it does appear that it has decreased, and may continue to decrease in value.
Again, it’s too easy to game the system with a title tag. If everyone of your competitors has identical “Blue Widget Manufacturer” in their title tag, you don’t have a competitive advantage.
In his Whiteboard Friday video “On-Page SEO in 2016” Rand Fishkin of Moz advises that you should write your Title Tags to “satisfy the users goal and intent”. By doing so you’re increasing the chance that your result will be clicked on in search results, increasing your Click Through Rate and thus increasing your ranking in the long term by demonstrating to Google that your result is of relevant to users.
You probably still want your keyword in the page title, but you’re doing it to satisfy users, not solely to try to rank higher in a search engine.
Keyword in page text
How about the always reliable exact match keyword in page text?
According to ahrefs data, “almost 75% of pages that rank in Google top 10 don’t have even a single mention of an exact match keyword in their content”.
That’s a big percentage! It was so significant that they didn’t even do a study of keyword density because that seemed like it would be a waste of time.
I would say that I’ve considered “keyword density” to be a non-factor for quite awhile. It’s easy to see why. People wanted to think that they can just hit some “magic percentage” with their keyword and they are rewarded with page one rankings.
Again, too easy to game the system and wishful thinking. It’s easy to understand how simply having a keyword appear in your text a certain percentage does not guarantee quality of content or relevance.
Google wants to give it’s users relevant content that speaks to their needs, not content that simply contains the right percentage of a certain phrase.
It’s all about the content. We’ve know that for years. Still we want to try and game the system. It’s in our nature. It’s our jobs even!
But you need to focus on creating the best website with the best content and the best answers to users search queries.
That’s what Google wants to show people.
Don’t be focuses solely on keywords and keyword density or even traditional on page SEO, even though it still is an important factor.
Make your website better: Faster, mobile friendly, easier to use and navigate, with the best content.
I highly recommend the articles referenced below for further reading on the subject of on page SEO in 2016.