One question that people often ask me is “When I’m optimizing a page for SEO, what steps do I need to take? What’s essential?”
I’m writing this guide to break down the ten major ranking factors that I focus on when doing a Website X-Ray for a store optimizing pages for specific keywords.
What Factors Should I Consider?
There are ten major factors that you want to consider:
- The keyword you’re targeting
- The average search volume for that keyword
- The #1, #2, and #10 ranking sites for that keyword
- The number of external links from unique sites the #1, #2, and #10 sites have
- Your Page Title
- Your Page URL (or URL Slug)
- Your Page Headline
- The Number of words on your page
- The instances of your keyword on your page
- The number of internal links pointing to your page
I put together This Spreadsheet that you can use to keep track of these factors for your keyword, your site, and your competitors’ sites. Just go to ‘File, Make a Copy’ to make your own copy.
Factor #1: The keyword you’re targeting
The first thing we have to consider is what keyword do we want the page to target?
A good rule of thumb is that each page on your site should target one primary keyword.
Following a 1-to-1 relationship between the keyword you’re targeting and a page on your site makes it easier as you plan out your SEO strategy.
If there are three primary keywords you’re targeting like:
- Baseball Tickets
- Chicago Baseball Tickets
- Discount Chicago Baseball Tickets
You’d want a single page on your site targeting each keyword.
That’s a basic best practice to follow. There are situations where you can have or will want to have one-page targeting multiple keywords, but, for simplicity, let’s focus on a 1-to-1 relationship.
For the page you’re optimizing, do you have a specific keyword in mind? Is it part of some larger SEO strategy? How did you decide that this keyword was worth targeting? What keyword do you want to optimize for?
Once you have a keyword in mind, you’re ready to qualify that keyword based on search traffic and competition and then optimize for that keyword.
Factor #2: The average search volume for that keyword
The first criteria we’ll use to qualify that keyword is the average monthly search volume we can expect for this keyword.
Now, there are two components to this:
- The first component is the total monthly search volume for that keyword
- The second component is the position we can expect to rank for when we optimize for that keyword
Each position on the top 10 has a different click-through rate.
- Position #1: 31.24% Click Through Rate
- Position #2: 14.04% Click Through Rate
- Position #3: 9.85% Click Through Rate
- Position #4: 6.97% Click Through Rate
- Position #5: 5.50% Click Through Rate
- Position #6-10: 3.73% Click Through Rate
- 2nd Page (inclusive): 3.99% Click Through Rate
Calculating Total Search Volume
I like to use the Google Keyword Planner to search for my keyword and see what the appoximate total expected search volume is for that keyword.
Calculating Actual Monthly Search Volume
Once you figure out the total monthly search volume for your keyword, you’ll want to multiply the total search volume by the click through rate for the 1st, 2nd, and 10th positions.
This will give you a healthy range for the traffic you can expect as you optimize for the keyword.
If your keyword gets 1,000 total searches/month, that means you’ll get ~300 unique searches/month if you ranked 1st for that keyword.
Factor #3: The #1, #2, and #10 Ranking Sites
First, do a Google search for the keyword that you’re targeting. Then, write down the URLs for the 1st, 2nd, and 10th ranking sites for that keyword search.
Factor #4: The number of links the #1, #2, and #10 sites ranking for that keyword have
Then, we want to look at the number of links pointing to the #1, #2, and #10 ranking sites. We want to think about the number of unique sites linking to those pages.
It’s infinitely easier to get 1,000 links from one site than 1,000 links from 1,000 sites, so ranking algorithms place more weight on the number of unique sites linking to a page than the total number of links.
To figure out the number of unique domains linking to a competitor’s page, you’ll want to use a backlink checker like:
Of the three, I prefer Majestic. I find that their database of sites is broader than SEOMoz or AHrefs. However, any of the three will work fine for you.
Simply enter the URL of the page you want to check into the backlink checker and you’ll get back a report that tells you exactly how many unique referring domains (unique sites) are linking to that site.
For all four domains — your site and the #1, #2, and #10 ranking sites — use the backlink checker of your choice to determine the number of links pointing to that site. Record those in the spreadsheet.
Factor #5: Page Title
Your page title is like the headline of your newspaper. The headline tells the search engines and visitors what your page is about.
You’d be confused if you were reading a newspaper and came across two stories with the same title “Is this the same content? What’s going on?”
When creating a page title, Google weights the keywords contained in a page title left to right. That means that keywords that are closer to the start of the page title are more relevant than keywords towards the end of the URL.
When optimizing a page title for a specific keyword, if you’re able to include the keyword closer to the start of the page title, it’ll be slightly more effective and relevant.
For the four pages you’re auditing, you want to record the page title for each of them. One easy way to do this is to use the SEOMoz Toolbar or the bulk title tag checker.
Install the toolbar (Firefox and Chrome only). Then, when you’re on the site, activate the toolbar by clicking on it and then exploring the page information.
Bulk Title Tag Checker
Simply enter your list of URLs into the bulk title tag checker and get back the titles of the pages.
Factor #6: Page URL Slug
When looking at the Page URL, you’re interested in seeing if the page URL includes your keyword.
Point of reference: the ‘page URL’ is the full URL for the domain. The ‘Page URL Slug’ is the part of the URL that comes after the Page Domain.
Here’s an example.
We have the URL DoubleYourEcommerce.com/article/
For this URL:
- The Page URL is
- The Page Domain is
- The Page URL Slug is
For your URLs, we’re interested in the Page URL Slug. If the page you’re looking at is the root page (homepage) of the site, you’ll want to use the Page URL.
For each site on your list, record the Page URL Slug or Page Domain in your spreadsheet.
Factor #7 Page Headline
If the Page Title is the name of the story, the headline is the title sentence. The headline is what gets visitors reading and moves them further down the page into the content itself.
You want your headline to contain the keyword that you’re optimizing for. If you’re creating a page about
Discount Chicago Baseball Tickets, then the headline should include the phrase
Discount Chicago Baseball Tickets.
If your headline does not contain that relevant phrase, you’ll confuse your visitors (“I thought this page was about Discount Chicago Baseball Tickets…?”) and confuse search engines visiting your site (they’ll be getting mixed signals about what the page is about).
For each URL on your list, you want to through and record the headline (H1 tag) for that page. There are a few tools that you can use:
- The SEOMoz Toolbar
- The HTML Headlines Checker
Open up the SEOMoz Toolbar and check the headline displayed on the page.
For each site, repeat this process and record the Headline / H1 in your spreadsheet.
HTML Headlines Checker
Enter the URL you want to check and submit the form. On the next page, you’ll see all the headlines (H1, H2, etc.) for that page.
For each site, repeat this process and record the Headline / H1 in your spreadsheet.
Factor #8: Words On Page
The next factor you want to consider is the number of words on your page.
This is an important metric to consider when we think about both the experience for the visitor and the experience for a search engine.
The type of page that our visitor wants to find has high-quality, relevant content that answers the visitors questions or directs them to more relevant resources. It has more content, not less.
Likewise, the type of page that a search engine wants to see is content rich with a good amount of unique text, images, and links pointing out to other pages and other websites.
When you think about creating content for your website, you want to focus on creating high-quality, relevant content with a good word count.
How many words should you include?
It’s hard to say. What we can do is assess the relative number of words that you need on your page to compete.
By looking at the number of words on the page, you can see, specifically, how your competitors stack up. And from that, you can see how many words you should target writing for your page.
How To Figure Out Word Count
If you want to figure out the word count on a page, you can use the Bulk Webpage Word Count Checker tool. Enter the URL(s) you want to check and this tool will tell you the number of words on the page.
Factor #9: Instances of Keyword On Page
One level deeper than just word count is the question ‘how often is a keyword used on this page?’
There’s a limit to the number of times that you want to include your target keyword in the content. You want the content to appear natural, but ‘natural’ is a hard quality to shoot for. How many times would a keyword ‘naturally’ be included in a page?
Hard to say.
What I advise is looking at the competing pages (The #1, #2, and #10 ranking sites) for your keyword and seeing how many times they include your target keyword in the content on their page. This will give you a ballpark number to target for ‘number of times to include the keyword’ when creating or optimizing your content.
For this, I just open up the page and then use the ‘find’ command in my browser to see how many times that keyword is repeated on the page.
Factor #10: Internal Links to Page
The final factor you want to consider is the number of internal links on the site that are pointing to the page.
Internal links are a valuable resource. They’re a way for you to get a high-quality, relevant, keyword rich link pointing to a page on your site.
And the sooner that a search engine encounters this link on your site, the sooner they’ll discover the page you’re linking to. (So, as an aside, it’s valuable to link to your most important pages on your homepage or top landing pages. This will make them more easily visible to Google).
There’s a lot that can be said about auditing and optimizing internal links on your site. What I recommend is just focusing on two things:
- If the page is an important marketing page, link to the page from the footer or header navigation on your site
- Whenever possible, link to the page using keyword rich anchor text from other articles or pages on your site
Your Optimization Checklist
When you’re optimizing your page, these are the major elements you’ll want to optimize:
- First, identify your keyword
- Then, make sure you’re including your keyword in the Page Title, the URL Slug, and the Headline
- After that, make sure that your page has high-quality, relevant, unique content on it, that includes your targeted keyword multiple times
Wrapping It All Up
There we are. Ten factors to consider when you’re creating a new page on your site or optimizing an existing page on your site.
When you run through this yourself, you’ll want to use the data that you uncover in this audit as you create your page.
This direct data from the search rankings of your competitors will tell you how to optimize your site to compete and out-rank your competitors for your most valuable keywords.