On-Page Ranking Signals

The most important Google ranking factors:

  • Referring domains
  • Organic click-through-rate
  • Domain authority
  • Mobile usability
  • Dwell time
  • Number of backlinks
  • Content quality
  • On-page SEO

Title Tags & Meta Descriptions

Title Tags & Meta Descriptions

Title tags and meta descriptions are HTML code in the header of a page that have very important roles to play in SEO. They help search engines understand the content on a page. A page’s title tag and meta description are usually shown whenever that page appears in search engine results.

Page Titles or “Title Tags” look like this:

<title>This Is A Title</title>

They are also visible if you hover over a tab whilst on a webpage.

Standard Title Tag & Meta Description Optimisation

A common title tag & meta description optimisation would look something like this:

Standard Title Tag & Meta Description Optimisation

As you can see from the heatmap the first two or three words of the Title Tag are what users focus most of their attention on. This has important implications for how you construct this most important of tags for each and every page. It is important for this title tag to be unique – that is – never duplicated on other pages you have indexed by Google.

The meta description or what I call the sales pitch (for click through purposes) is less of a direct ranking signal than a tag which you want to perform a role (of simply getting more people to click through). You have limited characters/space and a limited amount of users’ attention so you need to make it snappy & indicative of the value that your page offers users.

Hit

This is the title tag of a Top 3 organic search result on Google.com for “best software for video editing”. Notice how the first three words of this title tag are “video”, “editing” & “software”. These are surely the most important three words in the five word search query.

best software for video editing

Miss

This is the title tag of a PAGE 6 organic search result on Google.com for “best software for video editing”. Notice how the first two words after “video” of this title tag are wasted on “secrets” & “finding”. Partially explains the low ranking head-to-head.

alternate title tag for best video software editing

User Experience

Information Must Be:
  • Useful: Your content should be original and fulfill a need –  that need could be the need to be informed, or entertained or engaged with in some way or another (and not always positively either).
  • Usable: Site must be easy to use – the easier a website platform is to navigate, use and derive utility from the more users are likely to do what you want them to do (convert) and the better the chances are that they will come back at some time in the future and do so again.
  • Desirable: Image, identity, brand, and other design elements are used to evoke emotion, appreciation, envy, loyalty or prestige in some way.
  • Findable: Content needs to be navigable and locatable onsite and offsite
  • Accessible: Content needs to be accessible to people with disabilities
  • Credible: Users must trust and believe what you tell them
Areas Related To Building The User Experience

UX is a growing field that is very much still being defined. Creating a successful user-centered design encompasses the principles of human-computer interaction (HCI) and goes further to include the following disciplines:

  • Project Management focuses on planning and organizing a project and its resources. This includes identifying and managing the lifecycle to be used, applying it to the user-centered design process, formulating the project team, and efficiently guiding the team through all phases until project completion.
  • User Research focuses on understanding user behaviors, needs, and motivations through observation techniques, task analysis, and other feedback methodologies.
  • Usability Evaluation focuses on how well users can learn and use a product to achieve their goals. It also refers to how satisfied users are with that process.
  • Information Architecture (IA) focuses on how information is organized, structured, and presented to users.
  • User Interface Design focuses on anticipating what users might need to do and ensuring that the interface has elements that are easy to access, understand, and use to facilitate those actions.
  • Interaction Design (IxD) focuses on creating engaging interactive systems with well thought out behaviors.
  • Visual Design focuses on ensuring an aesthetically pleasing interface that is in line with brand goals.
  • Content Strategy focuses on writing and curating useful content by planning the creation, delivery and governance behind it.
  • Accessibility focuses on how a disabled individual accesses or benefits from a site, system or application. Section 508 is the governing principal for accessibility.
  • Web Analytics focuses on the collection, reporting, and analysis of website data.

Mobile-Friendly

Mobile-Usability Errors

The Mobile-Friendly Test tool can identify the following usability errors:

Uses Incompatible Plugins

The page includes plugins, such as Flash, that are not supported by most mobile browsers We recommend redesigning your page using modern, broadly-supported web technologies, such as HTML5.

Viewport Not Set

The page does not define a viewport property, which tells browsers how to adjust the page’s dimension and scaling to suit the screen size. Because visitors to your site use a variety of devices with varying screen sizes—from large desktop monitors, to tablets and small smartphones—your pages should specify a viewport using the meta viewport tag.

Viewport Not Set To “Device-Width”

The page defines a fixed-width viewport property, which means that it can’t adjust for different screen sizes. To fix this error, adopt a responsive design for your site’s pages, and set the viewport to match the device’s width and scale accordingly.

Content Wider Than Screen

Horizontal scrolling is necessary to see words and images on the page. This happens when pages use absolute values in CSS declarations, or use images designed to look best at a specific browser width (such as 980px). To fix this error, make sure the pages use relative width and position values for CSS elements, and make sure images can scale as well.

Text Too Small To Read

The font size for the page is too small to be legible and would require mobile visitors to “pinch to zoom” in order to read. After specifying a viewport for your web pages, set your font sizes to scale properly within the viewport.

Clickable Elements Too Close Together

Touch elements, such as buttons and navigational links, are so close to each other that a mobile user cannot easily tap a desired element with their finger without also tapping a neighboring element. To fix these errors, make sure to correctly size and space buttons and navigational links to be suitable for your mobile visitors.

Core Web Vitals

Page Experience Search Signals

Core Web Vitals are the subset of Web Vitals that apply to all web pages, should be measured by all site owners, and will be surfaced across all Google tools. Each of the Core Web Vitals represents a distinct facet of the user experience, is measurable in the field, and reflects the real-world experience of a critical user-centric outcome.

The metrics that make up Core Web Vitals will evolve over time. The current set for 2020 focuses on three aspects of the user experience—loadinginteractivity, and visual stability—and includes the following metrics (and their respective thresholds):

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): measures loading performance. To provide a good user experience, LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds of when the page first starts loading.
  • First Input Delay (FID): measures interactivity. To provide a good user experience, pages should have a FID of 100 milliseconds or less.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures visual stability. To provide a good user experience, pages should maintain a CLS of 0.1. or less.

For each of the above metrics, to ensure you’re hitting the recommended target for most of your users, a good threshold to measure is the 75th percentile of page loads, segmented across mobile and desktop devices.

Cumulative Layout Shift

What Is CLS?

CLS is a measure of the largest burst of layout shift scores for every unexpected layout shift that occurs during the entire lifespan of a page.

A layout shift occurs any time a visible element changes its position from one rendered frame to the next. (See below for details on how individual layout shift scores are calculated.)

A burst of layout shifts, known as a session window, is when one or more individual layout shifts occur in rapid succession with less than 1-second in between each shift and a maximum of 5 seconds for the total window duration.

The largest burst is the session window with the maximum cumulative score of all layout shifts within that window.

First Input Delay

What Is FID?

First Input Delay

FID measures the time from when a user first interacts with a page (i.e. when they click a link, tap on a button, or use a custom, JavaScript-powered control) to the time when the browser is actually able to begin processing event handlers in response to that interaction.

What Is A Good FID Score?

To provide a good user experience, sites should strive to have a First Input Delay of 100 milliseconds or less. For real world reference, Usain Bolt’s reaction time generally hovers around the 155ms mark. So >= 100ms is generally perceived as instantaneous. However 50ms is all the time a browser and the main thread need to load and react visually to user input. Every millisecond after that is technically a delay that you can improve. So what your threshold is for a good FID score (50ms or 100ms) is probably down to how ambitious you want to be.

To ensure you’re hitting this target for most of your users, a good threshold to measure is the 75th percentile of page loads, segmented across mobile and desktop devices.

FID In Detail

As developers who write code that responds to events, we often assume our code is going to be run immediately—as soon as the event happens. But as users, we’ve all frequently experienced the opposite—we’ve loaded a web page on our phone, tried to interact with it, and then been frustrated when nothing happened.

In general, input delay (a.k.a. input latency) happens because the browser’s main thread is busy doing something else, so it can’t (yet) respond to the user. One common reason this might happen is the browser is busy parsing and executing a large JavaScript file loaded by your app. While it’s doing that, it can’t run any event listeners because the JavaScript it’s loading might tell it to do something else.

How To Improve First Input Delay

  • Reduce third-party code.
  • Clean up bloated code.
  • After you’ve done these two things remeasure your FID. If under 100ms then job done. If over 100ms then move on to the next step.
  • Perform code-splitting (at the component level).

Useful Resources On The Topic Of First Input Delay

Measuring First Input Delay

Largest Contentful Paint

What Is LCP?

The Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) metric reports the render time of the largest image or text block visible within the viewport, relative to when the page first started loading.

What Is A Good LCP Score?

To provide a good user experience, sites should strive to have Largest Contentful Paint of 2.5 seconds or less. To ensure you’re hitting this target for most of your users, a good threshold to measure is the 75th percentile of page loads, segmented across mobile and desktop devices.

What Elements Are Considered?

As currently specified in the Largest Contentful Paint API, the types of elements considered for Largest Contentful Paint are:

  • <img> elements
  • <image> elements inside an <svg> element
  • <video> elements (the poster image is used)
  • An element with a background image loaded via the url() function (as opposed to a CSS gradient)
  • Block-level elements containing text nodes or other inline-level text elements children.

Note, restricting the elements to this limited set was intentional in order to keep things simple in the beginning. Additional elements (e.g. <svg>, <video>) may be added in the future as more research is conducted.

Duplicate Content

Duplicate content has been a major sin in the eye’s of the Google algorithm for about 8 years now. There are two types of duplicate content – one where you ostensibly repeat yourself and one where you scrape/steal content from someone else’s website. Of the two the second is the most damaging to you in terms of Google best practices and potential penalties.

In my experience simply repeating yourself on multiple URLs on your own website – if only done occassionally on a minority of your pages – rarely rises to the status of being a major issue. Correcting this, though, will always be the correct way to get things done & “good SEO housekeeping” so to speak. Obviously if the majority of your indexable pages are merely duplicates of other pages you could have a more significant problem on your hands.

Being ajudged to have stolen someone else’s content, though, can be very damaging to a website (across the board) in the eye’s of Google’s organic search algorithm. This goes to the foundations of Google at Stanford University where, in the upper echelons of academia, plagiarism is a capital offense. If you go to the Wikipedia entry on plagiarism, you will find the following:

Stanford defines plagiarism as the “use, without giving reasonable and appropriate credit to or acknowledging the author or source, of another person’s original work, whether such work is made up of code, formulas, ideas, language, research, strategies, writing or other form”.

Whilst the Google algorithm has undergone several thousand changes since Larry Page & Sergey Brin were post-graduate students at Stanford’s Computer Science Department I firmly believe that the basic inherent disdain for intellectual theft is hardwired into the Google algorithm to this day.

Duplicate Content Tool

For most company websites randomly being guilty of external duplicate content seems unlikely if you are responsible for the text content yourself. However in certain highly technical sectors or in cases where the text content creation has been outsourced it is worthwhile to double check content to make sure you have not plagiarised someone else without realising it.

I would recommend the following tool for this purpose:

Siteliner – quick and easy way to scan your website for duplicate content as well as a range of other useful SEO metrics. Make sure that your website has well under 19% for the duplicate content score. Ideally you want this to be 5% or less.

Intrusive Interstitials

What Is An Intrusive Interstitial?

Intrusive interstitials are essentially popup ads. They tend to block most or all of a page, leading to a bad user experience for desktop and mobile users alike.

These types of ads make it frustrating at best to access the page as intended. The general exception to the rule is when there are legally required (or ethically advised) notifications, such as popups for age verification.

Here are a few examples of how this goes wrong:

  1. The interstitial covers most or all of the content on a page.
  2. The interstitial is not responsive. That means it is difficult or impossible to close it on a mobile, rendering the page useless for mobile users.
  3. The interstitial is not triggered by an action, such as “Click here to subscribe.” Rather, it pops up on its own without prompting, creating an unpleasant surprise for the mobile viewer.

As you can see, the issue is not only the annoyance of popups but their role in ruining the user experience. If you find an interstitial on your own site that you’re not sure of, we find it best to err on the side of a pleasing experience for the user.

Serving Googlebot with different content than users see is usually considered cloaking, but it’s actually OK when it comes to interstitials.

That’s generally okay. The thing to watch out for there is that Googlebot, when we crawl and index your page, we don’t send a referrer. So that’s something where if users coming in from search see kind of an improved view – that’s fantastic. You just need to make sure that improved view is also the one Googlebot sees when it crawls and indexes the pages. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to take that into account.” Google’s John Mueller in June 2020

But What About GDPR & Cookie Notices?

We try to recognize legal interstitials and ignore those. So things like privacy policy, the data protection interstitials, those things we try to recognize and skip over. The important part is that you’re showing this on top of the HTML page; not that you’re showing it instead of the HTML page. So things like redirecting to a separate interstitial URL, or showing the interstitial instead of the actual content, that would mean that we wouldn’t be able to crawl and index the content. But if it’s a div on top of the HTML, that’s perfectly fine.” Google’s John Mueller in June 2020

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