The Incredible Importance of On-site SEO

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I’d like to tell you about my experience with on-site SEO changes. We have had thousands of clients in the past to whom we have recommended keyword changes on their sites. Some implemented their changes right away, and some held off for a while. We monitored the performance of these campaigns and found a massive difference in the keyword rankings at the end of the campaign.

After 6 months, over 85% of the clients who implemented their on-site changes were ranked on the first page. Conversely, very few of the clients who didn’t implement found first-page rankings. This would lead us to believe that on-site factors would be the most important search ranking factor, right?

According to, the 4 most important elements of your search engine rankings are:

  1. Trust/Authority of the pages that are linking to your page (linking metric – 24%)
  2. Link popularity of the pages that are linking to your page (linking metric – 22%)
  3. Anchor text of the links pointing to your page (linking metric – 20%)
  4. On-site keyword factors (on-site keyword metric – 15%)

Wait a minute! I can hear you saying to yourself, “You just got done telling us how important keyword usage on site is, and now you show us data supporting that it’s the 4th most important metric?” You’re right, I am. Let’s talk about why keyword factors are, in fact, more important than these percentages suggest.

Content Categorization

We think of the web as a bunch of websites because that’s how users navigate, but Google doesn’t see the web like that. Each individual webpage is a separate document. As a search engine spider crawls through your site, it looks at each individual page, searching for keywords that a user might search for in order to land on this particular page. Once it has categorized the page, it compares it to the other pages in its index that it also finds relevant for that keyword and orders them in a search when a user submits the query.

Optimizing your on-site content makes the process super efficient for the search engines to categorize your pages. If you choose a keyword for your page to be completely relevant for, you place that keyword around your page and make it impossible for Google to not choose the keyword to describe your page.

Where Can You Stick Keywords?

The following 6 areas are ones that you can and should include keywords:

  1. HTML title
  2. Meta description
  3. URL/page name
  4. H1 page header
  5. Image alt text
  6. Body text

Why is On-site Content So Important?

Think about it from a search spider’s perspective (just work with me on this one): if they can’t tell whether ‘Webpage A’ is about unicorns, ice cream, or medicine, how many links is it going to require for you to rank for your keyword? That’s just it–no amount of trust/authority/popularity can make your page rank for a term that you don’t specify!

You do get a good amount of help from the 3rd factor, which is the anchor text. If a lot of people link to you with variations of your keyword in their anchor text, Google can start to determine your relevance to the keyword by the way they describe that page.

But aside from anchor text cues, linking popularity is a driving force behind your keyword. Having solid on-site content means focusing that linkjuice at a keyword and driving it forward – giving it a purpose. This usually means that you will end up with a night/day difference when you focus your pages around their respective keywords. It seems, then, that the importance factor of 15% applies on competitive keywords.

On-site/Off-site Synergy

A page can rank pretty well with solid on-site optimization. It can also rank well with tons of great links. However, when you combine the two, you get an incredible synergistic effect. Optimize a page for a keyword, and then put popularity and authority behind that keyword, and you can achieve rankings that would not be possible solely by just one side.


Mike Ebert

Nice article AJ. This helps highlight what Matt Cutts is always talking about–SEO is really about relevance, for the human user, from one end of the experience to the other. I agree that onsite SEO is super important for establishing what you are trying to be relevant for.

AJ Wilcox

@Mike – Thanks for the comment! Matt Cutts is always talking about the relevance because it helps the spiders so much with categorization. It’s definitely overlooked by so many eve though you have full control over your site…this should be the first thing everyone does.

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