The requirements for proper website optimization keep changing and there are no hard rules. Google rolls out updates daily and major updates to its algorithm are released once in a while. Being able to rank in top positions therefore requires that you keep up with the changes and monitor the rules to implement them as they roll out.
SEO is important for your business success and it probably remains the leading strategy for small businesses to outperform large businesses on the web and that can also translate into large sales and revenues.
According to Backlinko, Google uses about 200 signals to rank websites. Attempting to comply with all these signals will be an excellent thing to do but in reality, that can be really enormous. Moreover, some of those signals carry so little weight that if you implement the weighty signals, you can still perform very well in the search engines without scoring well on all 200 signals.
In this post, we examine the top 10 search ranking signals that matter most to rank in the top of Google’s Search Engine Result Pages, SERPs. These ten factors will help you dominate the search engine result pages , bring you traffic, more business and revenue.
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The Most Important SEO Ranking Factors (Not in order of importance)
- Technical SEO
- Optimized Content
- Secure and accessible website
- Mobile friendliness
- Page speed
- User experience
- Social signals
- Domain age
- Real business information
Understanding SEO and How To Rank Higher on Google
Every website wants to rank top on Google but do not know exactly how to go about that. The simple answer will be to do what Google loves and the question then is what does Google love?
Below, we delve into the top factors you need to address to be in Google’s good books. But before we look at that, lets provide some background information on how Google ranking works.
What Is “Ranking” in SEO?
SEO is an acronym for search engine optimization, which simply means making the web pages more likely to get ranked on a search engine. The higher you can rank on the search engines, the better for the website.
So SEO is a competitive world. When people search for a word in the search engines, called “keywords” a result is displayed. The content that occupies number No.1 is the top ranked by Google for the results. That excludes featured snippets, and answer boxes.
If a page can appear in the top 3 results, then it is doing excellently because it will get good traffic and high click-through rates.
Appearing within the top 10 results is also useful. That’s because 95% of people never make it past the first page. Moreover, you rarely can get it to the top if you are not found within the top 10 results.
What Does Google Look for in SEO?
Google’s stated purpose is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Delivering relevant search results is a huge part of that. Here’s how they work:
First, Google’s search bots (pieces of automated software called “spiders”) crawl the web. That simply means they look for web pages.
Second, they add correctly optimized and crawlable pages to Google’s index and catalog them.
Third, when people search Google, it shows what it thinks are the most relevant results based on the search terms they enter (out of the trillions of pages in Google’s index).
Google has various and deeply complex algorithms to decide which content gets displayed and in which order.
The task of an SEO is to prepare content for the search engines and see that they get the high ranks in the displayed results during any search.
According to Google’s own search quality ratings, when it indexes the main content of each page, it checks factors like:
- Purpose of the page
- Content quality and amount
- Website info and info about the content creator
- Website reputation and content creator reputation
- User interaction with the page (time on page, bounce rates, and so on)
- Expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E-A-T)
So ranking is something tied to the quality of information your website provides.
One critical factor Google has given a lot of weight recently is the concept of expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.
What Is E-A-T and Why Does It Matter?
Back in August 2018, Google rolled out the “medic update,” which emphasized expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) as major ranking factors. They even changed some instances of “high-quality content” to “high EAT.”
The goal of this change was to ensure that users weren’t just getting the highest quality content but also getting the right information from that content.
When someone goes to Google for information that could have real-world consequences, Google wants to be sure it’s giving its users the most accurate information possible. Part of this means evaluating not only a page’s content, but the creator’s reputation as well.
So instead of focusing solely on what a site’s page says, Google now tries to understand who is saying it.
That means looking at each category individually:
- Expertise: Does the author of a piece of content have the requisite skills and knowledge in their field?
- Authority: Is this the best source to answer the searcher’s question, or is there another “go-to” person who would be a better source?
- Trustworthiness: Does the author provide an honest, unbiased presentation of the topic in their content?
But what is Google’s exact formula for measuring E-A-T? Well, that’s the tricky part.
How Google Measures E-A-T
According to Ahrefs, Google measures E-A-T in three steps:
- Engineers create an algorithm to improve search results
- Quality Raters (the human searchers) see search results with and without the changes made by the engineers
- Google takes feedback from the Quality Raters to decide whether or not to use the algorithm change permanently
It’s not a perfect system yet. But it is surprisingly accurate at measuring a site’s expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.
Now, some SEOs downplay the place of E-A-T as a ranking factor. Well, we cannot really argue with them as no one knows exactly how Google actually operates but one thing that is sure is that Google has placed some premium on E-A-T and so we can reasonably assert that it is an important factor and relevant in assessing website quality. Because quality is important to Google, we are able to conclude that E-A-T is a ranking factor.
That said, some industry experts have documented strong correlations between E-A-T and ranking.
SEO expert Marie Haynes, CEO of Marie Haynes Consulting (MHC), sheds some light on how E-A-T affects rankings:
“The team at MHC has seen quite a few websites that we believe have been negatively affected by Google Quality updates because they have a lack of E-A-T. We have also had the joy of helping businesses to improve their Google E-A-T with resulting traffic increases.”
But what does any of this mean for you, and how can you increase your E-A-T? Here are a few helpful tips:
- Create a detailed “About Us” page on your site
- Optimize your page for searcher intent (which we will cover later)
- Display any awards, certificates, or credentials proudly on your site
- Build your authority across the web with guest posts
- Respond to both positive and negative reviews
- Keep all the information on your page as unbiased and as accurate as possible
- Provide an easily accessible contact page with various ways your users can reach you or your team
These are all ways that people can increase their E-A-T for higher rankings. And, honestly, a lot of it boils down to using best practices for managing your online reputation.
What is On-Page SEO and Off-Page SEO?
Two terms you’ll hear mentioned a lot when talking about SEO ranking factors are on-page SEO and off-page SEO.
On-page SEO refers to factors relating to your website which are within your control to manipulate such as page title, word count, the underlying code and the content.
Off-page SEO refers to factors not directly within your control and actions that are taken outside of your site that affect your website such as website trustworthiness and authority which are related to building the right inbound links and social signals.
Both types are important for your ranking and you need to work hard to improve your website performance on both scales.
Now let’s look in detail at the top ranking factors for Google search engine optimization. After all, SEO is about getting that #1 spot on Google.
Top 10 SEO Ranking Factors for Google
1. Technical SEO
Technical SEO covers nearly all aspects of SEO but have been used in this article in a limited sense. Generally speaking, most of the other factors we cover in this article will fall under technical SEO. Technical SEO will broadly include on-page SEO, off-page SEO and other issues related to the crawling of your website by search engine crawlers. These will include:
- A domain
- Optimizing the Robots.txt
- Optimizing Your URL Structure
- Navigation and Site Structure
- Breadcrumb Menus
- Implementing Structured Data Markup
- Canonical URLs
- Optimized 404 Page
- XML Sitemap Optimization
- SSL and HTTPS
- Website Speed
- Mobile Friendliness
- Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
- Pagination and Multilingual Websites
- Registering your site with webmaster tools
Here are aspects of your technical SEO you can control and you should carefully craft for good ranking:
- Let your domain name contain the keyword for which you intend to rank. However, try to keep your domain name short as much as possible.
- Optimize your robots.txt file by making sure you are not blocking any content or sections of your website you want crawled.
- Ensure that your URL structure makes it easy to use your website and can provide easy links and navigation to your content.
- Use header tags to show content hierarchy starting with your title at h1 and then use h2 or h3 for subheads
- Make sure your titles are optimized to rank for your desired keywords, keep titles under 50 characters.
- Also create a meta description for users and let it provide a sales opportunity to win your visitors to try your offer. Note that the description metatag according to Google is not used in ranking pages. Keep your meta descriptions short and around 150 characters
- Use keyword phrases in image alt tags to show how those images are relevant to the main content
- Include alt tags also help people who are visually impaired enjoy your site with screen readers
- Use schema markup to tell Google what kind of content you’re producing
If you use WordPress, you can easily set all of this up with a plugin like All in One SEO, it’s one of the best WordPress SEO plugin on the market. All in One features also include schema markup, smart XML sitemaps, robots.txt editor, SEO health check, and much more.
2. Optimized Content
Another very important ranking signal used by Google is content. But the key takeaway here is the content has to be optimized. Usually, when we talk of optimization, we are referring to the search engines. So what really is an optimized content. We briefly look at that.
As noted earlier, Google’s search algorithm relies on keywords. These are words and phrases that searchers use to find information in the search engines. In rolling out results for searches, Google matches the keywords with existing content to produce what it considers the best results relative to the search query. So, you have to optimize your content to make a preferred content for Google to display for certain terms.
This brings us to the concept of LSI keywords as a strategy to optimize content.
Understanding LSI Keywords and SEO Ranking
SEO isn’t just about the main keyword. It’s also important to include terms related to the main terms people are searching for. These are called LSI (latent semantic indexing) keywords. They provide a kind of online word association to help Google know which results to show.
It’s worth noting that as more people search by voice, content optimization includes optimizing for questions and natural language searches. That means some LSI keywords will be longer because people tend to speak differently than they type.
You need to avoid keyword stuffing, a practice of increasingly using the same keywords all over your content. Your content should flow along a natural language, that is, you just write the way you speak.
So make sure that once you’ve targeted your keyword, you’re only including it (and your LSI keywords) in a way that is organic and sounds natural.
Understanding Search Intent for Content Optimization
Search intent is also important when optimizing content. That means understanding what people are really looking for when they type in search keywords.
Sometimes, it’s clear what people are looking for. For example, if they use the word “compare,” they’re likely trying to decide between buying a product. And if they use the word “buy,” then they’re looking to make a purchase.
The keywords they use will change depending on whether they want to:
- Find a particular website (navigational)
- Get the answer to a question (informational)
- Research information before making a purchase (investigational)
- Make a purchase (transactional)
Well-optimized business sites will include content for each of those search types.
Is Content Length an SEO Ranking Factor?
In a way, yes. Google now emphasizes content quality and one way Google is able to determine the quality of your content is through its length. Google sees a long content as one that has dealt with the subject matter sufficiently and considers it quality content. In building long form content to achieve the quality benchmark, it is advisable not to just write words to make your content long. Write for your users and ensure that your article has value and catches their interest. That way, you will have a longer dwell time on your page and that can tell Google that the content offers value and deserves to be ranked higher.
Hubspot and MOZ suggest that content over 2000 words gets more top ten positions in Google search engine rankings.
This does not mean that valuable content of less that 2,000 words will not rank well in the search engines. But you must dedicate time to write quality content and keep it around the 2000 word mark or more if you really want to be competitive on the SERP.
3. A Secure and Accessible Website
This has to do with having the right kind of URL. Specifically, that’s a URL that Google’s bots can easily reach and crawl.
In other words, Google has to be able to visit the URL and look at the page content to understand what that page is about. To help the bots out, you’ll need:
- A website created with a well-coded website builder.
- A robots.txt file that tells Google where it can and can’t look for your site information.
- A sitemap that lists all your pages.
If you’re running a WordPress site, you can set up a sitemap using All in One SEO. If not, then you can use an online sitemap generator.
HTTPS isn’t a factor in deciding whether or not to index a page, but Google’s John Mueller has tweeted that it’s a “light-weight ranking factor” and that “having HTTPS is great for users.”. One thing we can say from our experience is that if you do not have SSL enabled on your website, you are sure not to make it to the top 10 and if you did, you can be sure that Google will devalue your website.
4. Mobile Friendliness
Mobile friendliness have grown as a ranking factor especially as more people now browse the web with mobile devices
Google’s mobile-first index which has gained more priority means iGoogle is drawing its results from mobile-optimized sites first, rather than sites geared to desktop computers. If your site isn’t mobile-optimized, you risk being poorly ranked.
Optimizing your website for mobile involves looking at the following:
- Have a responsive site that automatically resizes to fit the device
- Use large fonts for easy readability on a small screen
- Include accessible menus, so your site is easy to navigate
- Ensure that essential content isn’t hidden by ads
Get more tips on mobile-friendly design to improve Google search ranking in our guide to improving your mobile conversion rate.
If you are able to, you have the capacity and time, you may want to explore Google AMP (accelerated mobile pages). The upside is that your pages load nearly instantly from mobile devices. There have also been suggestions that Google ranks sites built with AMP more highly than others. This may not be far from the truth as the speed boost that comes with AMP can lead to ranking gains.
Whatever you decide, choosing to implement AMP or not, you still need to be sure that your site is well optimized for mobile devices.
Links power the web and are such a big and important ranking factor. There are three kinds of links to think about:
- Inbound links
- Outbound links
- Internal links
All three are typically tied to a descriptive anchor text.
Google uses inbound links as one way to help determine how authoritative and relevant your content is.
The best-case scenario is where an authoritative site includes a relevant link to yours in a piece of their content. When you earn a quality inbound link, it tells Google you are making a very valuable contribution to content and you are authoritative. So the more quality inbound links you get coming from a reference in an article, the better for your website.
Inbound links are also referred to as “backlinks.” Your goal should be to get as many highly authoritative sites to link back to you. That also means you want to have very few inbound links from low-quality domains.
On the reverse side is Outbound links. These are links to other websites coming from your own website. When you link to authoritative websites, it tells Google you are encouraging what it supports and that you are credible. When you link to spammy websites, it tells Google you are promoting what the search engines hate and that can earn you a penalty or ranking loss.
What this means is that you should be mindful of the sources you pull your content from and protect your users by not referring them to low quality and spammy websites
Internal links are links within your own websites. They help you give your visitors more guidance to learn more and further digest the information you provide by looking at pages where those topics have been dealt with in greater detail.
Internal links help pass authority from one page to another and also help both visitors and Google find more pages on your website. That helps boost the search engine ranking for your pages.
In linking to pages and websites, always use a descriptive anchor text. Do not paste bare links on your pages, Google no longer values such links and ensures that your anchor text describes the link.
6. Page Speed (Including Mobile Page Speed)
The importance of page speed as a ranking factor increased as Google attached more importance to user experience. Google wants its users to enjoy their browsing experience and one way to get this done is to serve them fast loading websites.
Google announced a search engine algorithm update focused on mobile page speed and from July 2018, that came into force. So if your website doesn’t load fast on mobile devices, then it is not providing the expected good user experience and could lose its rankings.
You can use Google’s mobile testing tool to see how your site loads.
For a more in-depth overview, check out this guide on how to speed up your website to improve your ranking.
7. User Experience (RankBrain)
Google now uses artificial intelligence to better rank web pages. It is called RankBrain. This includes signals that affect your search engine ranking and basically includes:
- Click-through rate: the percentage of people who click to visit your site from a displayed search results
- Bounce rate (especially pogo-sticking): the number of people who click on your page and quickly go back to the search results without visiting any other page outside the landing page. One way you can improve this metric is to improve the quality of your landing pages.
- Dwell time: how long visitors stay on your site. Sometimes, visitors spend a long time on your page and do not go back to another page nor return to the search results. Google understands that in such cases, they likely found the answers they sought.
So when you optimize your web pages from the titles to the descriptions, and content, ensure that they are optimized to deliver value and also get clicks because Google values all those metrics.
8. Social Signals
When people share your content on social networks, that’s another sign that it’s valuable. Cognitive SEO’s study of 23 million shares found a definitive link between social shares and search engine ranking.
Google’s official word is that social shares are not a direct ranking factor. Links from Twitter or Facebook aren’t counted the same as links from other authoritative websites.
Still, there’s no denying that the highest-ranking pages in Google search results usually have a lot of shares. Though this is probably due to a few related factors:
- More social shares generate more traffic to the page itself
- More shares also make your content more likely to build backlinks
Because of that, getting more social shares does help your search engine rankings.
Not only do you need to have a social media presence yourself, but you need to make it easy to share your content and amplify those social signals. We have some great tips for doing this in our guide to growing your content with social media.
9. Domain Age, URL, and Authority
Did you know that nearly 60% of the sites that have a top ten Google search ranking are three years old or more? Data from an Ahrefs study of two million pages suggests that very few sites less than a year old achieve that ranking.
So if you’ve had your site for a while and have optimized it using the tips in this article, that’s already an advantage.
In some cases, the domain name matters. Though Google has penalized exact-match domains (those were the target keyword is in the URL), that penalty is generally for spammy sites with thin content.
Research from Moz shows that exact-match domains that are deemed to be relevant, valuable, and high-quality can see a ranking boost because of it. However, if you already have an established website, you don’t need to go looking for an exact-match domain for your business.
The best route for choosing your domain? Focus on a URL that reflects your business and optimize the heck out of it instead!
When it comes to search engine ranking factors, authority matters. As you’ll see, that’s usually a combination of great content (see the next tip) and off-page SEO signals like inbound links and social shares. And thanks to E-A-T, it can also include the authority of the content’s creator.
Moz has codified this into page authority and domain authority scores, both ranked from 0 to 100, which tell you how likely a particular page or domain is to rank in search results.
You can check domain authority or page authority with ‘Moz Open Site Explorer’. Just plug your URL into the onsite search box, and you’ll get a report showing domain authority, page authority, established links, and new links.
10. Real Business Information
This last tip is important for businesses targeting particular local areas. The presence or absence of business information is one of the most crucial local SEO ranking factors.
So it’s important to look after areas like:
- NAP (name, address, phone number)
- Business listings on Google My Business and Facebook
- Reviews on both those sites and relevant directories like Yelp and others
- The right local search terms
That’s it! Now you know the essential SEO ranking factors. For more helpful information, check out our other SEO guides:
Good SEO definitely is rewarding and worth every effort. But you must be diligent, not over doing things and never attempt to impress the search engines.
This last point is worth our emphasis. Every attempt you make to impress Google will be counter productive, the only way to impress Google is to create valuable and quality content that shows strong and good user experience signals. When Google sees that, Google will be impressed with your performance and reward you with higher rankings.
So if you want to get the best SEO advice ever, here it is:
Create awesome content that your users will love. Then, with an equal amount of energy, optimize that content to help Google understand why your audience loves it so much. But always, no matter what, begin with your user in mind.
Very importantly, be patient and do not find a way to respond to or correct any slight changes to your ranking you observe. If you have done your best optimization to your website, just continue to build quality content and be patient. Do not expect that you will get the best results immediately for every change or improvement that you make.
Would you want us to help you with your website optimization? Just contact us and we will discuss your project to get started