Revisiting The Value of Page Elements

by Stephen Pitts on March 1, 2013

html-pageJust over three years ago I formulated a test to analyze the hierarchical value of a number of HTML elements for search engine rankings. There were some interesting findings coming from the results and my assumptions were proven wrong on a number of the elements.

So, with changes that have happened in the organic space over the past three years:

  1. Bing search results in Yahoo!
  2. Google algorithm updates: Panda & Penguin
  3. Google secure search
  4. among others…

I felt that it was time to revisit the results.

Simply, the results of the previous test are no longer valid. Bing did not index the test content to assess the value of each element, the Yahoo! results are no longer of value as the organic results are provided by Bing’s index and the significant changes in Google’s algorithm (Panda & Penguin).

Just as before, I wanted to find out what is real and what is falsely assumed, so I tested it (again). Here are the testing parameters:

  • Choose a three word keyword phrase with no words previously published on any other page on the domain
  • Create a unique page with all of the elements to be tested with the keyword phrase inserted in the unique HTML element to be tested
  • Publish all of these pages at the same time
  • Link to the pages to be tested from the HTML and XML sitemaps only
  • Once indexed, execute a site: search for all variations of the keyword phrase
  • Calculate and aggregate the results to rank the individual HTML value across all variations and engines
  • Publish the results
  • We are here now!

Testing Notes
– There were a couple of changes to the initial test.
– I did receive the ranking results for the home page and HTML sitemaps, but I will discount the results as these pages existed prior to the testing and likely had authority value.
– I included images hoping that I would be able to evaluate the impact of the file name, alternate text and title elements against the image search index as well as the normal web results.
– The image search valuation was null. Very disappointing, but I will just suck it up and look for a better test later.

So, I chose “Domino Castle Domination” as the keyword phrase (I still can’t believe that I had never used domination on this blog in the past 9 years, oh well). I created 14 pages to test with this keyword phrase inserted in the individual HTML element being tested. I included all elements in each page and surrounded it with Lorem Ipsum, making sure that even the Lorem Ipsum was varied on each page. I scheduled them to be pushed live on 12/15/2012 at 11:59 PM EST all housed under a blank parent page. All of the pages were indexed by both Google and Bing and I pulled the results against the 7 variations of the keyword phrase. I did aggregate the keyword phrases (2-3 word phrases) and individual single word keywords as well as all results.

So here are the individual pages with links:
Page Title
Heading 1
Heading 2
Heading 3
Body Copy
Body Copy – Bold
Body Copy – Italic
Body Copy – Bold & Italic
Image File Name
Image Alternate Text
Image Title
Meta Description
Meta Keywords
– Not included (HTML Sitemap, Home Page & XML Sitemap)

Google (descending order by value)
– Page Title
– Heading 1
– Heading 2
– Body Copy – Bold
– Body Copy – Italic
– Heading 3
– Body Copy – Bold & Italic
– Body Copy
– Image Alternate Text
all other test pages did not rank (not including Home Page, HTML or XML Sitemap)

Bing (descending order by value)
– Page Title
– Heading 1
– Heading 2 (tie)
– URL (tie)
– Heading 3
– Body Copy
– Body Copy – Italic (tie)
– Body Copy – Bold & Italic (tie)
all other test pages did not rank (not including Home Page, HTML or XML Sitemap)

Aggregated Results (descending order by value)
– Page Title
– Heading 1
– Heading 2
– Body Copy – Bold
– Heading 3
– Body Copy – Italic
– Body Copy – Bold & Italic
– Body Copy
– Image Alternate Text
all other test pages did not have enough rank data to calculate a position (not including Home Page, HTML or XML Sitemap)

Single word keyword results did differ from their multiple word counterparts in both Google and Bing.

Here are some high level details:
– The Page Title remains the most valuable HTML element in keyword rankings
– Image file names and title elements have no ranking value from a webpage perspective
– Keywords in URLs are only a ranking factor in Bing
– Meta Description and Keywords are no longer ranking factors in Bing and Google
– The primary heading (or H1) is the second greatest weight in ranking for organic keywords

These are exciting results! I was surprised that bold and italic styling would have a greater value than simple HTML copy, as well as the H1 element appears to have been revalued above H2 and H3.

You can find all of the results of the page element test here.

Feel free to share your questions. Cheers!

Matt Labuda March 4, 2013 at 11:40 pm


Really interesting test here, thanks for sharing. I appreciate the thoroughness of your approach and can see this research potentially turning into some talking points with clients. Though it doesn’t relate necessarily to the results, one question I had was to clarify the distinction between the Image Title and the other two Image tests, the Image Alt Text and Image File Name. In the simplest sense, how does the Image Title and Image Alt Text differ?

pittfall March 6, 2013 at 9:09 am

Great question. Simply put, the alternate text has SEO value for the page, the image title and title element of the HTML image tag did not have value for the page in my analysis.

Matt Labuda March 6, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Another question. Is there a reason you didn’t test strong tags?

pittfall March 6, 2013 at 7:18 pm

I did test strong tags, they were the tags used for bold copy.

BJ Bellamy March 10, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Very cool stuff, Steve! Thanks for running the test and for publishing the results. I was especially intrigued to see that keywords in the URL do not help rankings in Google compared with Bing. This seems an interesting additional layer to Google’s announcement last fall that exact match domains will not carry value.

pittfall March 10, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Thanks BJ. The thing to remember is that it was keyword in the URL string, not in the domain. I still feel strongly that exact match domains carry value in Google’s algorithm.

Virgil April 9, 2013 at 11:26 am

Very interesting results, it was no surprise that Meta Description and Keywords are no longer ranking factors. Page title and H1 tags have always been a big factor, but bold copy is a surprise, and it would seem that a keyword in the url would be considered as long as it relates to the title and h1 headings.

Tom Slage August 30, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Steve, good stuff!

The bold text is really interesting to me, but I’m more flabbergasted by how little alt text helped ranking, woah.

So here’s a potentially much more complex test idea, but one that I would love to see: value of low quality external link vs high quality internal link in boosting ranking. An example might be linking from an external site with a DA and PA of say, 10, versus linking from an internal page like your homepage with a DA of 36 and a PA of 46.

Thanks for sharing this!

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