Rankings refer to where a website or webpage falls positionally on a SERP. For example, if your webpage is about insurance and you appear third in line on a SERP, you are ranked third. Effective SEO is important for ranking, because nearly 92% of internet traffic is generated by sites listed on page one of the SERP, and almost 33% of traffic is received by the first search result (excluding paid traffic).
SEO occurs on two levels; human searchers, and search engine bots. To optimize web pages best for bots, you need to take technical SEO and keyword placement into consideration. For any given search, Google’s ranking results could incorporate features such as image results, video, smart snippets (a piece of the page being displayed directly on the SERP), as well as answer boxes (where information from multiple pages is automatically cobbled together to create a quick, easy resource for searchers). It becomes increasingly necessary to think like a bot because any of the items listed above can account for high or low ranking.
Page rankings are updated in real-time. For a website to maintain a particular ranking or improve in ranking, the web page must be a constant work in progress that is adapted to new search queries to display notably higher in the SERPs. What ranks well today, may rank tomorrow if you’re not invested in good SEO.
What Are the Most Important Website SEO Ranking Factors?
There are a variety of factors that influence search engine rankings. Search engines calculate search results via intricate, patented algorithms. Google does have general guidelines about how they calculate rankings, but, because Google’s algorithm is a closely guarded secret, it’s impossible to know everything about ranking factors. That being said, certain elements have been observed to generally contribute to higher rankings:
- User-Friendly Websites: A website that ranks high in the SERPs is usually considered user-friendly. Factors that encompass user-friendliness include easy navigation, mobile phone inclusive/friendly, and ADA-accessibility.
- Page Speed: Google prioritizes how quickly a website loads when taking rankings into account. How well sites load on mobile phones and other devices are also taken into account, so use Google’s mobile-friendly test to view how well your website loads.
- Webpage Content Quality: Webpages must be easily digestible through complete coverage of a topic, correct grammatically, parallel in writing/tenses as well as free from spelling errors. If Google crawls a website and it is strewn with inaccuracy and general errors, it is less likely to appear high in the SERPs.
- Website Age: Although it is not the sole reason, an older website is more likely to have earned a strong backlink profile, have a greater breadth and depth of content, and will have a record in search engine indexes showing how it is updated and maintained — all of which are important ranking factors.
- Satisfying Search Intent: Google’s purpose is to find the most relevant information for a specific query. If you have an article titled “How to Get Out of Debt” but your content is about taking out loans, Google will probably not rank you for getting out of debt because the content does not align. Satisfying the intent behind a query is largely based on an understanding of search intent and keyword research to find terms that searchers are using to define the question being asked.
- Backlinks: Backlinks are hyperlinks pointing from one web page to another web page. They are assessed through quantity and quality, and more links may potentially lead to more authority; however, not all sites have equal authority. Nevertheless, highly relevant links from sites with lower authority can be just as valuable as higher authority links with less relevancy. By and large, it is important to have a relevant, yet diverse backlink profile.
- Technical SEO: There are small techniques that make big differences in technical SEO:
- Use headers (i.e. H1, H2, and H3) to show pecking order;
- Place keywords and keyword phrases in headers;
- Design a brief meta description (between 140-160 characters) that grabs the reader’s attention and also includes keywords and keyword phrases;
- Avoid cramming as many keywords or keyword phrases as possible into the domain. This is also known as keyword stuffing.
Although the algorithms that establish rankings are widely unknown, there are techniques in SEO that have been proven to help achieve a higher ranking in the SERPs:
- Keyword Research: Tools like SEMrush help us understand what an audience is searching for as well as understand the specific language used when searching. Use this knowledge to tailor your content to the queries of the audience and to satisfy searcher intent.
- Design Engaging and Direct Content: Find the balance between producing educational and entertaining content. While longer content gives the ability to place more links throughout, readers want concise, accurate information that is easy to find and understand.
- Create Accurate Content: Aside from grammatical and spelling errors, avoid using the information without evidence or backing. When using statistics, cite the source and use reputable sources that are not direct competitors to build authority. In some cases, a direct competitor may be an authority on the subject, so it is okay to link to a competitor in this instance.
- Relevant Internal/External Links: While it is important to create a web of links to internal and external sources, the information needs to be relevant. Building authority is directly affected while you build links. If you are writing about taxes and include an internal link to an article about sports injuries, Google will likely decide that your page shouldn’t rank for either topic — not both. To help with the placement and execution of links that are built to meet your site’s specific needs, there are custom link-building services available.
- Domain Authority (DA): Domain authority (DA) is a metric, developed by Moz, to score a page from 1 to 100 using root domains and backlinks. While DA is not a direct factor that Google takes into account when determining a SERP, it does give users a prediction of how well a website is intended to rank in the SERP.
- Check Technical SEO: Technical inadequacies such as broken links, keyword cramming, and mislabeled headings deter from how high on a SERP you will rank. When Google crawls an error-prone webpage, it questions the credibility of the rest of the content. When dealing with technical SEO, it is important to consider SEO auditing services that help uncover and fix technical issues that are holding a site back.
How to Monitor website SEO Rankings
Before you can improve your website’s SEO ranking, you’ll need to know your starting point.
There are a couple of ways to find this. First, you could search Google using the terms you think your customers will be using. Use an incognito or private window in your browser, so the results aren’t skewed by Google’s personalization. See where your content appears.
However, this is a little impractical for larger sites with hundreds of pages, so you’ll likely want a tool to help you out.
For example, with SEMrush, you can type your domain into the search box, wait for the report to run, and see the top organic keywords you’re ranking for. Or, use their keyword position tracking tool to track the exact keywords you’re trying to rank for.
Now let’s look in detail at the top ranking factors and how to go about mastering Google search engine optimization. After all, SEO is mostly about getting that #1 spot specifically on Google.
Top 10 Current Ranking Factors for Google
1. A Secure and Accessible Website
Unsurprisingly, the first of our website seo ranking factors 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 via 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 own John Mueller has tweeted that it’s a “light-weight ranking factor” and that “having HTTPS is great for users.” We at OptinMonster agree.
If you haven’t yet enabled SSL security on your website, get to it.
2. Page Speed (Including Mobile Page Speed)
Page speed has been cited as one of the leading SEO ranking factors for years. Google wants to improve users’ experience of the web, and fast-loading web pages will do that.
Google announced a search engine algorithm update focused on mobile page speed that started to affect sites in July 2018. If your site doesn’t load fast on mobile devices, then it could be penalized.
Use Google’s mobile testing tool to see how your site stacks up.
And, if you’re using WordPress, check out these tips for speeding up a WordPress site from WPBeginner.
But the best idea is to start using Google Search Console (if you’re not already). This has an entire section dedicated to updating you on your site’s performance, including speed.
For a more in-depth overview, check out this guide on how to use Google Search Console to improve your SEO.
3. Mobile Friendliness
While we’re on the subject of mobile, mobile-friendliness is another major SEO ranking factor. More people use mobile devices than desktops to access the web, and that’s one reason there’ve been changes in how Google ranks search results.
Google’s mobile-first index is now a reality, which means it’s drawing its results from mobile-optimized sites first, rather than sites geared to desktop computers. If your site isn’t mobile-optimized, you risk getting needlessly under-ranked.
Many of the SEO ranking factors we’ll look at in this article will help you lay the foundation for a good search engine ranking, but you also have to look after user experience when people land on your site.
Things to look at include whether you:
- 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 link: https://optinmonster.com/how-to-increase-your-mobile-conversion-rate/
If you have the team, the time, and the energy, 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 rumors that Google ranks sites built with AMP more highly than others.
The downside is that you need to make another version of your site following AMP’s guidelines. Then, you need to maintain everything. As you can imagine, this can be a time-intensive project.
But whether you decide to try Google AMP or not, you still need to be sure that your site is 100% optimized for mobile devices.
4. 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 where 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 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.
We’ll look more at linking practices to improve SEO ranking in tip #8.
5. Optimized Content
We’ve talked a lot about content in this guide to Google SEO ranking factors. That’s because it’s one of the most important search ranking factors (right up there with user experience, links, and RankBrain, which we’ll get to in a while).
Now let’s dig down and see what optimizing content for SEO means.
As we said in our keyword research guide, Google’s search algorithm relies on keywords. These are the words and phrases searchers use when they’re looking for information. They’re also the words and phrases that describe the topics your site is about.
Ideally, those will match up. That’s why it’s so important to use keywords in your content.
One negative SEO ranking factor to be aware of is duplicate content. For SEO, fresh, original content is always best. And if you do have similar content, tell Google which one should be ranked as most authoritative by using canonical URLs.
But one of the biggest questions we get at OptinMonster is about how to use LSI keywords to optimize content. So let’s start there.
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.
For example, using the right LSI keywords will tell Google that when searchers type in “mini,” your page is relevant to the car, rather than the skirt, and vice versa.
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.
Think about it: Let’s say you own a restaurant. And half of your customers type the phrase “best restaurant near me.” But then people also search for “what’s the best restaurant in Montreal” when searching by voice.
Even though both questions are targeting the same thing, Google’s results may show up differently. Using LSI keywords would be one way of making sure your restaurant ranks for both sets of questions. The more help you can give to Google in understanding your content, the more likely you are to rank in your niche.
Here’s an important point, though: keyword stuffing is outlawed because it will result in poor-quality web pages and will hurt your SEO ranking.
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 looking for when they type in search keywords.
For example, let’s say you’ve identified “Florida real estate” as a keyword you want to rank for. You might think that writing content for people looking for real estate in Florida is a good idea. But if the people searching for that term also include realtors looking to sell in Florida, then your content won’t meet their needs, and your page won’t rank.
Through a series of low click-through rates and high bounce rates (which we’ll discuss more in a moment), Google will pick up on the fact that your content isn’t matching their user’s search intent.
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.
So how do you go about making sure your keyword matches user intent? Go straight to the source!
Open a Google search in your in-private browser and type in your keyword. See which results are currently ranking and determine whether or not your content would be a good fit. If not, you need to restart your keyword research. If so, take this opportunity to see why certain pages are ranking.
You can do a competitive analysis of the top 10 results in the SERP to see how you can make your content even better! Then you can fully optimize your content by making it an improvement over the current search results.
Still a bit confused? Learn more about keyword ranking, LSI keywords, and keyword intent here.
Is Content Length an SEO Ranking Factor?
In a word, yes. Google wants content to be quality and have some length to it. While writing more words just to stretch out the length is never advisable, if a subject calls for depth, give it depth.
The research suggests that content over 2000 words gets more top ten positions in Google search engine rankings.
This isn’t a rule set in stone, and there are certainly some exceptions. But as a general rule of thumb, your content should be around the 2k word mark or more if you want to be competitive on the SERP.
Longer content attracts more links and shares too, which are 2 other important ranking signals we’ll cover shortly.
SEO Ranking Factors: Answer Boxes or the “Zero Position”
Google’s increasingly delivering answers via answer boxes, so that’s another aspect of optimizing for better search engine rankings. Here’s what an answer box looks like:
Our experience suggests that optimizing for answer boxes means:
- Answering questions
- Including the questions as headings with properly formatted title tags (more about that in the next tip)
- Ensuring that the answers are correct, relevant, and not too long
- Targeting content to keywords that already have answer boxes
- Adding lists or tables
There is one downside to the coveted “zero position” however:
It sometimes hinders people from clicking through to your site.
Since people get the answer to their questions directly, they may have no reason to continue with the content. That means you may have 100,000 people see your slot in the answer box, but only 10,000 clicks through to the article.
But let’s be honest: getting that zero position rocks because it means Google thinks highly of your content (which is always flattering), you’ll get way more brand recognition, and you’ll also end up with more traffic than you would have.
Plus, if you don’t get that spot, someone else will.
Using Video to Improve SEO Ranking
According to Cisco, video content will represent a whopping 80% of online traffic by 2021.
Our roundup of video marketing stats shows that:
- People are watching videos across all age groups
- Some 79% of people would rather watch a video than read a blog post
- People are using video to help them make purchase decisions (remember those transactional searches?)
The bottom line? Start to include video in your content strategy. Video gets read, shared, and linked to, providing plenty of signals to amplify your search ranking.
6. Technical SEO
We said earlier that getting the code right is one aspect of optimizing content for better search engine rankings. This can be intimidating, especially if you’re more of a wordsmith and less of a “techie.”
Here are some of the aspects you can control even if you’re not a coder:
- Add keyword phrases in page titles, which is where Google first looks to determine which content is relevant to which search
- Use header tags to show content hierarchy starting with your title at h1 and then use h2 or h3 for subheads
- Create a meta description that both entices readers and includes your keyword phrase
- Keep those meta descriptions short and catchy at around 160 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 screenreaders
- Use schema markup to tell Google what kind of content you’re producing
With All in One SEO, you can set a focus keyphrase, as well as additional keyphrases, and the TruSEO on-page analysis will score how well your pages and posts are optimized. Plus, it gives you an actionable checklist you can use to make improvements.
The on-page SEO checklist also includes a smart meta tag generator so you can easily set your SEO titles and meta descriptions with dynamic fields like current year, month, custom fields, author info, and more.
Other powerful All in One SEO features includes schema markup, smart XML sitemaps, robots.txt editor, SEO health check, and much more.
7. User Experience (RankBrain)
For a while now, Google’s been using artificial intelligence to better rank web pages. It calls that signal RankBrain. This includes other signals that affect your search engine ranking. These include:
- Click-through rate: the percentage of people who click to visit your site after an entry comes up in search results
- Bounce rate (especially pogo-sticking): the number of people who click on your page and quickly go back to the search results
- Dwell time: how long visitors stay on your site after they’ve arrived
If people land on your site, don’t like it and bounce away, then Google will think it’s not relevant to their needs. If enough people do this, then you might find it more difficult for your site to rank higher in search results.
This is probably a good indicator that your content isn’t matching the searcher’s intent. You may need to go back and target a more effective keyword.
In contrast, if people click through to your web page and stick around for a while, that tells Google your content is relevant to their search.
So when you optimize titles, descriptions, and content to get the clicks and deliver value on the other end, you can boost your search engine ranking.
As we said at the start, the web is built on links. So, naturally, links are a crucial SEO ranking signal. 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. So, if the Content Marketing Institute includes a link to your content marketing resource, that’ll be perceived better than if a random person with a low-quality site links to it.
You’ve likely heard inbound links referred to as “backlinks.” Your goal is 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.
You can find your inbound links using a tool like SEMrush or one of the keyword research tools shared earlier in this guide.
At the same time, you want to show that you’re creating quality content for your visitors. That involves using outbound links by linking to relevant, authoritative sites in your niche.
So does that mean you should just give out tons of outbound links to boost your authority? Not.
All it means is that as you’re doing research, you should only pull from reliable sources with high domain authority. To be honest, for your users’ sake, you should probably be doing this anyway to ensure you provide the most value.
Finally, linking to your content can help tie pages together for both Google and your visitors, making each page more valuable. If you have an authoritative page and link to another page on your site, that helps your visitors find the other page and also passes on some authority.
This helps the second page boost its search engine ranking.
As you create new content, be sure to build a solid web of internal links so your pages can support one another. Also, don’t forget what we said at the start of this section:
All three types of links are tied to descriptive anchor text. When you add a link to a piece of text in your content, that text should describe where the link is headed!
To speed up the internal linking process, you can use the All in One SEO’s Link Assistant addon. It will automatically generate a link report for your site that gives you insight into:
- Linking opportunities: Suggestions of relevant pages you can link to and anchor text you can use.
- Orphaned posts: All of the pages/posts on your site with no internal links.
9. 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, if only indirectly.
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 guest blogging guide and guide to growing your email list with social media.
We also highly recommend using a plugin like Smash Balloon:
Smash Balloon lets you easily display your Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feed directly on your site. Or, if you want to be more aggressive, OptinMonster recently created a popup campaign that is designed to grow your social media following:
This little campaign packs quite the punch when it comes to growing your brand on social media.
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.
o 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:
And you’ll want to check out these SEO statistics to help you boost traffic to your site.
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