Tom Howlett

Site Content and Usability Metrics: What Do Google Use to Rank Your Website?

2nd Sep 2011 SEO Blog 9 minutes to read

Site content and usability metrics are believed to play an important role when it comes to factors involving the ranking of your website. Google particularly are suspected to use various metrics within their algorithm to determine quality websites and this is growing in importance, especially in competitive industries.

We have made a list of important on page elements which will improve your website from a usability point of view. These elements should also help your users understand the context of each page and this practise will also help the search engines understand the context which can have a significant improvement from a rankings standpoint.

Site Performance

Site performance is believed to be an important metric in ranking a website, Google prefer faster websites as these could be a sign of a better quality website compared to one that is slow which can also considerably affect usability.

There are a few tools nowadays which enable webmasters to find out how slow their site is compared to others; there is currently one built into Google Webmaster Tools.

There are various ways to speed up your website from externalising your CSS and JavaScript to optimising the image size on each of the pages. More information can be found on the following post: How to Speed up a Website.


Website Tagline

A tagline is useful to sum up overall what a website is about. This provides direction to any user who has landed on the site; it can also be a prominent place to include some main target keywords for your site.

An Easily Understandable Site Message

Understandable Site Message

When a searcher lands on your website, they are usually looking for information relating to their search query. If they find it hard to figure out what your website offers them, they are likely to leave quickly and are unlikely to return. This is why it’s important to develop a clear and prominent message to site visitors, so you can describe in a quick summary what the site is about and what you’re going to offer your visitors.

Including short paragraph(s) can help briefly describe the function of the website, this can help retain customers and also create space to include some prominent keywords to improve page relevance.

Page Titles and Meta

The page Meta is an important factor for SEO and helping to improve the click through rate for your website. Carefully considered keyword research should highlight the best and most relevant keywords to go for on each page. These keywords should be present in the Title tag for each page and if possible, in the Meta description. If your keywords match a search query, the text will appear in bold within the search listings. This can be a powerful tool to help encourage a click.

Well written Meta can also help encourage a click through to the website. Try to keep the Meta description to 155 characters in length as this will ensure it’s not cut off within the listings. This should be enough space to fit in some keywords and a brief persuasive description for each page.

Avoid adding lots of Meta keywords to each page. In fact, you can just leave the Meta keywords altogether. These were popular in the early days of search engines and people used to fill them with lots of keywords. As a result of this, Google has openly said that these keywords do not offer any ranking value.

Header Tags

Header tags are there to reinforce the page message. Just like a newspaper, you have main headings and sub-headings to describe the subject of the page or page section. Implementation of H1 and other header tags can help catch people’s attention when browsing your website. They can also provide a great space to include some keywords relevant to that page.

Remember to only use one H1 tag for each page, this should be an overview of the page content. Other Header tags (H2, H3 to H6) can be used multiple times in order of importance. These shouldn’t be overused if the page content is relatively small.

Logo Link to Home page

A logo link to your Home page is good practice as far as usability is concerned; people naturally tend to click this if they want to go back to the Home page. This also creates an additional link on each page back to the Home page; this should be the page with the most links back to it which highlights its importance to a search engine.

Site Navigation

Website Navigation

It is important to have a clear navigation on your website. The main navigation should include all the main top level pages on your website (the most important pages), this provides a clear site structure for a user and from an SEO perspective it will help pass page relevance from the Home page.

As a general rule, some websites try and stick to a ‘3-click rule’ which makes any page on the website no more than three clicks from the Home page. This is something to keep in mind as it will help some of the deepest pages of the site receive more ‘link juice’.

Using text links instead of images for the navigation links helps improve the internal link structure for the website and you can fit in some anchor text relevant to the page you are linking to. This is a good way to build keyword relevance to the pages of the website.

Image Alt Text

It is good practice to have relevant Alt Text associated with every image on the site. Search engines and users unable to view images can read the Alt text which then provides a mini description related to the contents of the image.

Best practices are to add a few words which include a keyword relevant to the page and contents of the image. These images also have a possibility of being shown within Google’s image search and could also send traffic through to the website. It is likely that your main website logo is an image, so including a keyword optimised Alt tag to that image is a good idea.

Internal Links

Aside from navigation links, internal links can also help to improve the overall link structure of the website and offer an opportunity to include anchor optimised links to the main pages on the website.

Good places and opportunities for internal links can include but are not restricted to the following:

  • Product/Service and Blog pages to offer a similar Product or Post that a visitor might be interested in. This is commonly seen on E-commerce websites to suggest similar products.
  • Within the body of text on a page, if you naturally mention another service, product or refer to another blog post, this offers a good opportunity to add a link to the relevant page.
  • Lists of services can also provide a good opportunity to fit in a link.

The above examples provide good ways to fit in links naturally within your pages. Making the decision to add a link should primarily be influenced from a usability point of view. Ask yourself whether a link would be useful to someone wanting to find that page.

Once you have added a few links on your pages to aid usability, this will likely be enough. Adding too many could have a negative effect and dilute the focus of the page you are working on. Common practice is to restrict the number of links on each page to 100 as a maximum, this however is a large number and most small websites shouldn’t need to reach that.

On Page Content (Is Content King?)

Of course content is important for all websites, Google favours unique content and for certain websites, the more the merrier. More important than the amount of content is the quality of this content. If you have a website which is highly specialised within a niche area and you have unique content which is regularly updated, you are quite likely to rank well in a fairly uncompetitive space. Introducing SEO optimised pages and building you’re off site link profile will help you rank well, even in a competitive niche.

Content provides a great space to include keywords, internal links and of course potentially provide something that is link worthy and gain external links naturally. This is particularly true if you have a Blog page on your website. A Blog space gives web owners the opportunity to keep adding fresh content to the site (which the search engines like). Blogs also enable sites to rank for additional keywords and longer tail phrases.

More content helps improve a website’s on page SEO and also can help search engines determine what the page is about. Do this well and you could see an improvement in your rankings.

Click Through Rate & Bounce Rate

Click through Rates and Bounce Rates are metrics that are believed to have an influence on ranking factors for a website. If there are a lot of searches for a certain keyword term, and each user that’s clicking through to your website leaves almost immediately because you don’t offer what they’re looking for, then Google could assume that your website isn’t as relevant to that term as they initially believed. This highlights the importance of keyword research and maintaining keyword relevance on page.

All of the above on page and usability best practices can influence the click through rate and the bounce rate for your website. If the message/service of each page is unclear, you are likely to lose visitors which can be detrimental to your rankings. Careful thought and consideration to the points mentioned above can help avoid any potential issues and loss in rankings.

What to Avoid

There is probably an endless list of things you shouldn’t include on your website, but here are some of the main things to avoid:

  • Avoid annoying pop-ups. Although they grab attention, they can be very annoying and cause someone to leave your website.
  • Avoid lots of internal and external links on your pages. For example, avoid lots of anchor optimised links in your website footer, this will border on keyword stuffing – which is frowned upon.
  • Avoid cramming your pages with lots of content consisting of different subjects; it is best to create a separate page for any subject/product/service.
  • Avoid using splash pages; you ideally want the main Home page to be the page that people land on. This is so you have a greater chance of retaining a visitor and splash pages aren’t SEO friendly.

A messy and disorganised design can result in a website which is hard to understand and also put off visitors to your website.

These are just some of the important factors that Google will use to rank your website. If you would like to share any more that I may have missed, please leave a comment below.

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