Learning SEO : Technical On-Page Factors
The Title Tag
The title tag is the single most important factor on the page itself, for two primary reasons:
- It has more influence on your ability to rank for related search queries than anything else on the page.
- It is the first impression people have of your page in the search results:
Several factors are at play here:
- If the words used in the searcher’s query are similar or identical to the words in the title tag, you are more likely to rank well for that particular search.
- The position of the keywords in the title may have some influence on your ability to rank for them, according to a study by SearchMetrics. However, it is possible that this is merely a byproduct of other factors at work. It is generally believed that you get a slight boost by including your keywords closer to the beginning of the title than the end.
- Increasingly, if the title tag hints at an answer to the searcher’s question, it tends to rank well. This is a relatively recent development that will become more commonplace as Google and other search engines become more advanced.
- There is a limited amount of space available for the title in the search results. Redesigns for mobile devices have made this space even smaller than it was in the past. Limitations on title length are limited by pixels, not character count. However, if you keep the number of characters below 30, your title should typically fit in search results under the current design.
- It is important that only one title tag is used on a page. Some designs lead to multiple title tags, whether intentional or not. This is confusing to search engines, and if the search engine uses the wrong title, you will not rank for relevant queries, and titles will fail to entice relevant users.
- It should go without saying that titles which users can’t resist clicking on is good for your bottom line. Less obvious, however, is the fact that the click through rate can actually improve your rankings over time.
Factors that influence click through rate:
According to research by Outbrain, who analyzed 150,000 article headlines for click through rates:
- 8 words appears to be the magic number, with click through rates 21 percent above average
- A colon or hyphen, suggesting a subtitle, improves clicks
- Question titles often do better
- The tried and true list post still works, and for whatever reason, an odd number of list items tends to do better than an even number of list items
And according to a study by StartupMoon that analyzed 100 blogs for their most widely shared posts:
- Violent words get attention even when used to describe nonviolent or even mundane subjects. “Google Kills Google Reader” will do better than “Google Shuts Down Google Reader.”
- Words of negation like “No,” “Without,” or “Stop” also tend to get more attention, likely because of the human tendency toward loss aversion. Avoiding pain is a more powerful motivator than seeking pleasure.
- The usefulness of numbers goes beyond list posts. Statistics also enhance click through rates.
- Larger numbers also tend to do better than smaller numbers.
- Use units of time
- Start the headline with the number
- Use digits, not words. “9” not “nine”
- Use “introduction,” “beginner’s guide,” “in 5 minutes,” or “DIY.”
- Piggyback on big brands
- Miscellaneous words that seem to improve performance include “smart,” “science,” “surprising,” “history,” “hacks,” “huge,” “big,” and “critical.”
The H1 Tag
The H1 tag is the tag used for the most prominent headline on a page. It is generally considered the second most important on-page factor for SEO. Much of what was said above about titles applies to the H1 tag as well, but it’s important to realize that the H1 tag doesn’t show up in the search results (except occasionally in the snippet below the title).
Many modern CMS interfaces automatically use an H1 tag that is identical to the title that you choose. For blog posts and similar resources, this is generally the right choice. However, for landing pages and other less magazine/news oriented content, it isn’t always a good idea to use identical H1 and title tags.
- The title tag acts as a call to action from the search engine results page. It should be written with the understanding that it will primarily be seen in this context.
- The H1 tag appears on the page. A call to action designed for the search engine results page isn’t necessarily ideal as the headline for a page once users have landed on it.
- An H1 tag with slightly different language than the title tag could potentially help you rank for a wider variety of search queries, as long as both are genuinely relevant. While it’s typically not a good idea to make slight alterations to the H1 tag specifically for this reason, it’s an added perk if there are other genuine reasons to do it.
Far more frequently than with title tags, it’s common for multiple H1 tags to be used on the same post. This is a misuse of the H1 tag. The H1 heading is meant to act as a heading for the entire page. Subheadings should be marked as H2, and subsequently, H3 tags.
Here are a few common misuses of heading tags:
- Using the H1 as a heading for an entire section of the site, with multiple pages. The H1 tag should be unique for each individual page.
- Using the H1 heading for subheadings. As mentioned above, these should use H2 tags.
- Missing heading tags. It’s fairly common for a page to use no H1 tag, or to use subheadings that aren’t wrapped in H2 or H3 tags. These tags help structure a page so that it is more understandable to search engines.
- Heading tags in the navigation. Heading tags should never be used in the menu, footer, sidebar, or other navigational elements. This includes H1, H2, and beyond. Heading tags should be used strictly to refer to the unique page they exist on. They should not be used for navigation.