The On-Page SEO Factors With the Most Impact on Rankings

When we explore SEO at a macro level, there are two parts every SEO campaign should include to give it the best chance of increasing rankings, traffic, and conversions. These two parts are on-site or on-page SEO and offsite SEO. In this post, we will explain the basics of on-page SEO and the on-site strategies that can impact SEO rankings.

What is on-page SEO?

We approach the definition of on-site SEO from a few different perspectives; these include who’s in control, impact points, who it’s for, and the amount of SEO impact.

  1. On-site SEO includes the SEO ranking factors a site owner controls.
  2. It consists of activities directly affecting the site’s content, pages, and architecture – in other words, all the internal factors that make a site useful for the visitor.
  3. On-site SEO begins and ends with the user. We don’t build a website for search engines (or at least we shouldn’t). We create websites with the intention that people will come to our website, interact with its content, and complete a defined goal.
  4. In theory, on-site SEO factors play less of a role in Google’s overall ranking algorithm (because a website owner can easily optimize/change these factors), compared to their SEO counterpart, off-site ranking factors, which at their core includes inbound links. With that said, like with most search engine optimization, there are caveats to most theories. Two of these primary caveats are:

With that said, like with most search engine optimization, there are caveats to most theories. Two of these primary caveats are:

  1. If your foundational SEO elements are not optimized, any off-site SEO can/will have much less of an impact on rankings.
  2. It is widely accepted that earning external ranking factors such as links will be nearly impossible without a strong SEO foundation.

The most impactful on-site SEO factors

Hundreds of on-site ranking factors may impact rankings within the search engines – some have more impact than others. Below, you will find a checklist of on-page ranking factors that we feel have the most impact and should be audited and addressed first.

#1: Website Design Experience

We have written numerous articles explaining why a great design and website experience are essential for a successful SEO campaign. Having a great design and website experience for users helps build trust and authority and contributes to brand building, all of which impact organic rankings.

#2: Information Architecture

A well-thought-out IA benefits both users and search engines. Defining your IA based on user expectations will help users discover and consume content. A solid information architecture aids in topic modeling and optimizes search engine crawl budget and indexation, all positively impacting on-page SEO.

#3: Content Quality and Value

It’s no secret that over the past 3 to 4 years, Google has become strict on what it considers great content. In our opinion, search engines have evolved three aspects of content grading.

  1. When Google first launched, the mantra was creating “unique content.” This resulted in tactics such as article spinning to ensure a certain percentage of uniqueness for each article.
  2. The next evolution of content grading was focused on “content quality” – this was soon equated to creating content of a particular length.
  3. The most recent evolution of content puts the user at the center and is about creating valuable content. Valuable content includes the first two iterations of content creation (unique and quality) and user engagement metrics for scoring content.

On-site SEO Best Practices: Make sure your content is valuable to users by first understanding what they will find useful. Then, make sure it offers a unique slant on the topic and is long enough to cover it thoroughly.

#4: Topics and Keywords

SEO is rooted in a website’s keyword selection. Ranking and driving traffic and conversions for these keywords is the strategic core of SEO.

Choosing the best keywords can be difficult due to the vast number of options, and is a strategy in itself. Once you have defined your priority keywords, it’s time to become strategic with your on-site placement and content creation. There are three parts to targeting keywords:

  1. Keyword Research: This involves understanding your users enough to know what they want information about.
  2. Content Creation: Understanding your current content inventory, where gaps exist, and creating targeted/optimized content to fill those gaps.
  3. Iteration: Refining your content based on data and feedback.

#5: SEO Title Tags

Many tags are used in the header of a website, providing Google insight into a piece of content. These include meta tags, verification tags, social tags, and arguably the most important, title tags. There are four main parts to a title tag these include:

  1. Keyword Target: What keywords are you targeting?
  2. Keyword Placement: Where to place the keyword? The old SEO thought processes said to put it at the beginning; new research shows that might not be as important.
  3. Brand Name Placement: Where should your brand name be placed in the title tag? At the beginning or the end of the title tag?
  4. Structure/Length: How do you present your title tag content, and how much space do you have to include in your messaging?

#6: Scanability and Content Hierarchy

Most people probably don’t think that on-site SEO includes content structure, but in fact, it plays a huge role in the user experience when landing on your web page. A study by Jacob Nielsen indicated that less than 20% of content is read.

So, how do scannability and a well-defined content hierarchy impact on-site SEO? Think about it this way.

  1. If your blog post structure is poorly defined, you could frustrate users trying to scan your content to find information.
  2. This frustration could cause them to leave your website.
  3. If users frequently bounce from your website, this can potentially give Google negative user data about your content’s value.
  4. This negative user feedback data could impact your search engine rankings.

Still not convinced? Let’s explain it in terms of ROI on effort. Another study by Nielson Norman Group demonstrated that improving the scannability and readability of text led to a 124% improvement in content capture. Content capture can result in better recall and, thus, better branding.

#7: Internal Links

Internal links are any link that takes a user to another page within your website. The goal of internal links is to help users discover information that will help expand their knowledge about a topic. For a search engine, an internal link gives them access to new content and helps distribute ranking power throughout a website.

A strong internal link structure can amplify SEO efforts by creating a strong on-site foundation for discovering and ranking new pages.

#8: URL Structure

The structure of your URL can impact many things that contribute to your SEO.

  • For Search Engines: A poorly structured URL can confuse search engines or cause them to think you’re trying to keyword stuff the URL.
  • For Users: A poorly structured URL can make it difficult for users to understand page content and make social sharing difficult.


Once these primary on-site SEO ranking factors have been audited and optimized and the results measured, a website owner can focus on the slight SEO nuances of each page to try to improve their rankings further.

Even though on-site SEO may not have the impact of strategies such as link building, it is a necessity for any website that wants to build a strong foundation and get the most out of its link building and social campaigns.