Google is the most popular search engine in the world. With more than 70 percent of internet searches done on Google, it’s no wonder that businesses want to rank higher on their search results pages.
However, what many business owners don’t realize is that there are a number of established Google ranking factors that determine how high your website ranks.
These include things like site-based ranking factors, technical ranking factors, page-based ranking factors, as well as external ranking factors.
Site-based Ranking Factors
Site-based ranking factors are those types of factors that are based on the site itself. While there are situations where
Google has been explicit that they do not use domain authority as a ranking factor and that it is exclusively a set of metrics devised by third-party companies such as Moz and AHREFs.
That being said, there is no denying that there is at least some significance to domain authority, even if it is not yet explicitly known how it is calculated or otherwise inferred by other metrics such as links, quality content, and others.
This is what Google says directly about domain authority, from the Search Engine Land above:
What are those things? Here, Google’s quiet, not providing specifics. The most it will say is that the bucket of factors it uses to arrive at a proxy for authority are something it hopes really does correspond to making authoritative content more visible.
The main takeaway from this is – don’t count on domain authority too much when analyzing your ranking and working out a plan to counter your competitors. This could lead to errors in your thinking process.
The domain history is how the domain has been used over time.
Has the domain been a blog, an e-commerce site, or something else? How has the domain itself been used?
Was it used as part of a PBN, or was it used as part of a negative SEO campaign? Was it used as a tier 1, tier 2, or tier 3 link building domain? Or was it used as a quality money site domain?
You don’t want to get a domain that has been used in a nefarious manner in the past. Nor do you want to get a domain that has been used in a less shady way.
What you do want is either 1. A clean domain name that has had no link building to use as your own authority or niche site, or 2. A domain that has been used properly with a clean link profile. The former is generally rarer than the latter, although they are available.
This is why it’s important to always perform your due diligence when researching any domain you are about to buy.
Your site’s performance will thank you later on.
Your site’s architecture determines how your site is set up and how large it is.
It’s important to note that for larger sites, the ranking of individual pages tends to be more stable as there are a lot more links coming in from other sources.
Also, larger sites tend to be more popular among their user base, because they deliver on content quality and quantity.
A website architecture is important because you don’t want to stuff all your pages in the root directory. It helps you tell Google what pages you think are important.
If you stuff all your pages in the root directory, you’re basically telling Google you think all of your pages are important. This is seldom the case.
This is why working on a solid website architecture is important, and why this architecture could mean the success (or failure) of your SEO efforts.
It’s also important to mention that while Google could potentially algorithmically devalue you if you try spamming them with backlinks or keyword stuffing your content (and don’t think they won’t find out!), while they do care about a page being good enough quality-wise to rank all by itself, their goal is finding what people want when searching online.
It may seem counterintuitive, but if one person wants information about a certain topic…let’s say…apple pie recipes. They end up at a blog post because your author name was mentioned once in the comments section of another article you wrote about a similar topic, then the goal was met by that user.
Content quality is another ranking factor. This refers to how good Google determines your content to be based on how well-written it is and if it’s deemed relevant for users searching for specific terms or phrases.
It’s important to note that word count does not factor into content quality at Google (or so they say). While randomly brute-force pounding Google with 500 four thousand word articles per day with no regard for content quality or overall quality in general is not a good idea, writing content that doesn’t match what your competition is writing is also not the best idea.
It’s all based on your competition. If they’re writing 250 word pieces to cover their topics, you might have an easier time ranking.
However, if they’re all writing 4,500 words of content and going deep into their topics, you will want to write just as much as they are writing.
But Google doesn’t use word count as a ranking factor. At least, that’s what they say. They use the quality of your content. John Mueller has stated as much:
We don’t use the word count at all. So the number of words in your articles that’s totally up to you. I think some people like to have a guideline with regards to the number of words but that’s, that’s really an internal guideline for you for your authors. It’s not something that we will use for SEO purposes.
While publishing longer content may be a by-product of improving your content quality, and may result in measurable improvements, it’s not likely that word count alone was the defining factor.
However, Brian Dean of backlinko disagrees with several case studies showing that more and longer content shows up as ranking in the top results.
Do you publish new content often enough to keep people coming back for more (at least once a week)?
How fresh a site is overall is definitely a ranking factor. If you haven’t updated your site since the year 2002, you’d better get cracking if you care about that site at all.
Also, publishing consistently is important. It’s better to have a site that publishes content on a consistent basis than a site that doesn’t.
User engagement metrics: Total user sessions per month (how many people are visiting your site every month) and bounce rate (percentage of people who arrive on your site and click away)
The number of links pointing at your site from external websites can also affect ranking.
How Many Links Your Site Has
Link popularity and link quality: Which pages have links coming to them from other sites? How many of those are internal (coming from the same domain) vs. external (come from another domain)?
Inbound links, also known as backlinks are a ranking factor—you need them here too!
Links are crucial for improving your site’s visibility online and help establish authoritativeness and trustworthiness. They’re an indication that others think highly enough of your pages to link back to them which makes those pages even easier for Google to find when someone searches their keywords. They are considered one of the most important ranking factors.
In general, more powerful domains will have higher domain authority than less-powerful ones because there are more opportunities for them to be found by search engines and they will also be crawled more regularly.
Internal links are also a ranking factor.
Internal links are important because they help Google crawl your site easier and faster, plus it’s a way to provide more context for your readers.
It’s also another way to point your readers to great resources that will help them learn more about their chosen topic.
Also referred to as backlinks, or inbound links.
The number of inbound links that point at your content will help determine how much “link equity” you get.
Link equity is defined as what percentage of your ranking is thanks to incoming links rather than Google’s own algorithm figuring out where it can rank based on all their data across the entire search ecosystem.
This also means that if someone tries to hack your site’s link profile by pointing a bunch of low-quality backlinks at your page with spammy SEO tactics, they could actually end up doing harm to your site’s reputation and ranking.
Make no mistake: We believe they are real, as we have seen evidence of these attacks with our own eyes.
Even though Google maintains that they believe their algorithm will ignore large influxes of links due to negative SEO attacks, we have seen sites take dives overnight after these attacks.
This occurs often enough that we have disavow processes baked into our own client processes to help mitigate site performance issues as a result.
Page-based Ranking Factors
Ranking factors based on the page itself. These factors can affect your rankings significantly.
Information on the page that helps Google understand what it’s about.
The quality of content and how much time is spent browsing the page. The more people spend reading a web page, the higher its rank in search results will be; therefore it’s important to keep visitors engaged with captivating copy.
User Intent Based on the Keywords You Choose
Google will examine the content and determine what users are looking for by analyzing their queries.
In other words, it’s a matter of the intention behind why a user is doing the actual search.
Whether or not someone is searching for an informational query, a transactional query, or navigational.
- An informational query is one that is looking for information,
- A transactional query is one that looks to find a specific action, such as booking an airline ticket or finding the nearest gas station.
- Navigational queries are those queries users utilize in order to find specific sites through the SERPS.
Targeting the correct user intent can sometimes be ambiguous. If you’re doing the right research, however, it should not be.
This is why it’s important to double check the user intent behind your keywords, and make sure that you really are targeting the correct intent behind them.
Make sure the meaning and intent behind your keyword choices are clear and disambiguous.
If you don’t, you may end up making a gaffe that you otherwise would not have made.
Authentic and Original Content
You can’t game this one. However, it’s worth noting that when content is original and unique to an individual website (as opposed to copied from another source), there’s less chance of getting penalized by algorithms designed to detect spammy sites or plagiarism.
It’s important to note as well that Google doesn’t have a duplicate content penalty; it’s actually a filter.
They don’t want to have the same page of content showing up, one right after the other. Instead, they would rather include content on sites that have unique value and bring something new to the table.
This is why a cookie-cutter approach is never the best idea for website creation. While you may be impressive from a volume point of view, Google will not be impressed with your content.
Content also needs to be engaging so visitors want to stay there!
Your website’s content has two jobs: first, to engage your readers, and second, to be search engine-friendly.
In fact, one of Google’s first rules on content is to write content for users, not search engines. But, this doesn’t mean that you can’t include keywords.
Keywords are not dead, like some in the industry would have you believe.
You can include them! The copy must be written in a way that’s high quality and natural to the reader, not to reward search engines.
The instructions “write for users, not search engines” does not mean to not include keywords at all, like some SEOs want to believe.
Instead, it means that you need to include keywords naturally and in such a way that engages and impresses the reader.
Using Keywords Properly
Keyword use in title tags is also a ranking factor. This means that the keywords you use in the titles of blog posts or articles should be present on search engine results pages (SERPs) when someone who searches for those terms clicks through to read them.
If you optimize your page titles and meta descriptions in this way, you will fulfill this requirement quite nicely.
Also, you want to aim for a linear distribution of your keywords. Don’t overstuff your headlines with keywords; a few well-chosen words in the right places is more effective than repeating them over and over ad nauseum.
How many keywords do you need to include on the page? It depends on how your competition is doing it.
The best approach is to use the keywords that are most relevant for your content—not just what you think may generate more traffic or rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Here’s one example of how we might achieve linear distribution of our keywords. We will use the keyword “chocolate cake” for our example.
In our introduction, we might write something like this: Chocolate cakes are my favorite desserts! I love how moist they are and how sweet the frosting is.
Later in the introduction, we might mention that chocolate cake also comes in different textures from light and fluffy to denser with a bit more richness to it.
We would link out at this point to another blog post about all of the different types of chocolate cakes there are so people can learn more if they want!
In turn, linking back here could help bring in some traffic from that other post as well!
We could also mention that, not only does chocolate cake come in many different textures from light and fluffy to denser with a bit more richness to it, but there is also an array of flavors too.
Chocolate cakes can be made out of milk or dark chocolate, vanilla extract, coconut flakes, hazelnuts, or any other combination that comes into the baker’s mind when making them!
The possibilities really do seem endless sometimes—especially if we’re talking about one of our favorite desserts: CHOCOLATE CAKE!!
This example also illustrates how to accomplish the following: inserting supporting keywords into the content.
We can also assess the fact that “milk, dark chocolate, vanilla extract, coconut flakes, etc. are all supporting keywords of the main keyword chocolate cake.
The key, again, is to make sure the content is written naturally (don’t sound like you’re trying to stuff it with keywords over and over).
2004 SEO is all over and done with. There are brand-new subtleties and things to take into account when you’re performing modern SEO, such as entities.
In order for this article to stand out amongst others you must ensure it is unique, well-written, has a clear point of view and is well organized.
In addition to following these guidelines, include good quality images in your blog posts with captions that give valuable context about them.
This will not only help people better understand what you’re saying but also engage their senses more than just reading text alone ever could!
But, don’t just include images for the sake of including images. These images should help tell a story and help support your content.
They should not be random stock photos. If you have a choice, it’s better to go without images than to include images that are of a substandard quality.
Optimizing images for search engine visibility can be difficult, but there are some simple steps you can take to ensure that they’ll come up higher on SERPs when someone searches those terms.
One thing to keep in mind is whether or not an image has captions and descriptions.
Pictures provide both context and visual interest, so it’s worth taking the time to craft good metadata around them if possible!
Images also need alt text—or something else descriptive about what’s happening within the photo—to prevent screen readers from getting confused by just seeing a bunch of gibberish.
Don’t forget to use keywords in the file name, and don’t forget to enter them into alternative text and title text!
Technical SEO Ranking Factors
There are ranking factors that are also based on your technical SEO. These include things like page speed, site security, canonicals, meta-robots use, and others.
Page speed, or how fast your page loads, is a ranking factor that Google takes into account.
People will not want to wait for pages and content to load, so it’s important to make sure your site is coded well and has fast loading times. What does this mean, exactly?
W3C Valid Coding
W3C valid coding is recommended.
While it may not be a hard requirement and Google has said it accepts pages no matter how they are coded, there’s no denying that the W3C valid coding practice is best for things like cross-browser compatibility, page rendering and usability.
All three of these things, when done well, will help you achieve page experience requirements mandated by Google’s guidelines coming up in their page experience update.
Site Security (HTTP vs. HTTPS Protocols)
Site security is another ranking factor that Google considers. You want to make sure your site has a secure connection, and that any media content is also secure (don’t mix http:// URLs with https:// content).
If your site is on WordPress, one good way to take care of this problem is to use the WordPress HTTPS redirection plugin to auto redirect all URLs to https://.
For secure multimedia, you are also encouraged not to use Flash on the website for better performance.
Not only that, but Flash is deprecated, and Adobe killed it officially, so there is no support for any further brand-new versions.
It’s also recommended to use HTML 5-based videos for best results.
Google is on record as saying that, all things being equal, HTTPS is a tie-breaker ranking factor. And that it is a smaller ranking signal than others.
So, definitely implement it. Just don’t expect it to be a driving ranking signal on your site unless everything is equal compared to your competitors.
Canonicals help ensure you don’t have duplicate content across different domains or pages.
This way, it’s clear which page someone should link back to when they share a URL from your site. This will ultimately help search engine rankings because people generally prefer one canonical version of certain articles over others (i.e., if two versions exist).
Canonicals are also used to express the preferred version of the page that you want Google to index.
This is especially useful for syndication when you want to make sure that only one version of that page is considered the de facto version of that page: yours.
When you use canonicals in this manner, your version will be prioritized for ranking above all others, and all other versions of that page will not be considered the de facto version of that page.
Knowing Ranking Factors is Only Half the Battle
Once you know the ranking factors, you must perform analysis and implementation for an effective strategy.
The analysis part is what will make or break your site’s success. You must perform a search analysis for specific queries you want to rank for.
You must also analyze other sites to determine exactly what your site will need to beat them.
Are most pages writing 1,500 words of content? You may want to be near that target.
Are most pages including the keyword in a certain fashion? Then you may want to make sure that your page includes the keyword phrase in that same (or similar) way.
What kind of links do the pages have?
How do the pages optimize their content? Do they use questions, ordered lists or unordered lists?
While generalized ranking factors are fine, they take on a deeper meaning when you begin to compare your competitors’ pages, how they rank, and how they stack up against each other.
Then, you can really begin to dial in the ranking factors as we discuss them in this guide.
How do you plan on using these Google ranking factors to level up your SEO?