In a recent Google Hangout, John Mueller, webmaster trends analyst at Google, said that for long-term rankings it is better to focus on quality relevant content rather than individual ranking factors.
The revelation came after Mueller was asked multiple questions in a Google Hangout on a general theme of "when is Google going to be more transparent with what we need to rank well." Some of the questions related to needing more and better documentation, less cryptic answers to questions and more information in the search console.
Mueller commented (transcription edited slightly for readability):
So from my point of view, a lot of the questions that we sometimes get in these Hangouts and on Twitter or elsewhere are fairly theoretical in nature, in the sense that which technical trick can I use on my website to make Google think that my pages are suddenly more important for users?
And in a lot of cases, there might be some technical tweaks that you can do to trick Google's algorithms and rank one point higher than you would otherwise.
But, for the most part, these are things where, if you're focusing on all of these technical details; should I capitalize my keywords, should I list them alphabetically, should I put my keywords in H1 tags, on top of the page or the second line of the page — these are all things that don't really change how relevant to your pages are for users. So what happens there is you spend a lot of time on all of these technical tweaks that don't improve your website in general. And maybe it will happen that they rank one slot higher. Maybe they're just theoretically a tiny bit better than the page without those tweaks.
But in the long run, these are things that are going to change in our algorithms over time, where the engineers are going to look at it and say, well, maybe this isn't actually a sign of a website being more relevant, more useful to users if the keyword is in the first place on H1. Maybe we should look at the second keyword or the third keyword or maybe we should skip the H1s altogether.
So these are things where, for a large part, you're spending your time chasing something that's changing all the time. And I think for normal websites, that's the wrong approach.
You should be spending your time to make your website better. And that should be, in turn, something that our algorithms pick up and that they should be picking up a little better over time.
Mueller continues for a short while, going over similar examples, so it might be worth checking out the video of the relevant part of the hangout below.
Ultimately, though, the key message is that Google will adapt to your great content. If you write great content, Google will, over time, adjust its algorithm to ensure you rank highly.
If on the other hand, you write poor quality content and use ranking factors or other on-page techniques to rank higher than a website with great content, Google will similar adapt its algorithm to ensure that you rank poorly.
The ideal situation is that you not only write great content, but you also make sure it is correct from a technical SEO perspective. Sure, Google may devalue some of the ranking factors over time. That being said, as long as you don't over-optimize (i.e. too many keywords, narrow-keyword focus instead of topic authority, etc.) there is no harm in using your keyword in the Title Tag, or beginning of the URL, or whatever other SEO optimization you think will help.