There are more than 200 ranking factors that help Google determine which websites should be located on the top of SERPs and which ones are sentenced to be unseen. However, the algorithms are constantly changing making some signals less or more important. For digital marketers and business owners, it is crucial to stay up-to-date with the latest SEO updates to be sure they are following the most relevant optimization practices and make changes to their strategy if necessary.
In this post, we are not going to list all 200+ ranking factors and put our minds on the ten that we believe most deserve your attention.
Here are the top 10 SEO ranking factors, in no particular order:
- Page Load Speed
- Content Quality
- User Experience
- Site Security
- Domain Age
- Keyword Targeting
- Structured Data
- Brand Reputation
The number, as well as the quality of referring domains, is one of the most prominent off-page SEO signals that tells Google that a website is authoritative and trustworthy. The fact is that this search engine makes allowance for PageRank – a formula that “judges the value of a page” by looking at the credibility of other pages that link to it. This means you need a plan for gaining a high-quality backlink profile if you want your site to rank.
The high importance of backlinks is also confirmed by independent research. For instance, Ahrefs.com analyzed over a billion web pages and found out the correlation between the number of inbound linking pages and organic traffic.
Yet, not all links are equal. There are some factors that distinguish a good domain from a bad one. In general, relevance and authority are two main aspects that move the needle and are taken into consideration when evaluating backlinks value. Just keep in mind that some links can hurt your ranking just as much as they can help you.
Page Load Speed
Page load speed that is closely connected to user experience is one of the most important factors that affect SEO both directly and indirectly. To start with, Google indicates this metric as one of the signals used by its algorithms to rank pages. Since users prefer to find answers as fast as possible, they want web pages to load quickly, especially on mobile devices.
It has been a long time since Google announced that performance would be a full-fledged ranking factor for mobile devices and encouraged webmasters and digital marketers to take this benchmark into account when evaluating the effectiveness of the SEO strategies.
Ideally, a web page should load within 2.5 sec. But how can you make sure that a site loads quickly enough? In fact, this benchmark can be measured with PageSpeed Insights and Google Search Console.
Content Quality And Freshness
Publishing high-quality content on a site is a great way to boost user engagement and appeal to search engines. Since Google strives for providing the most relevant information based on search queries, it prioritizes websites that have in-depth, well-crafted, and fresh content.
As such, Google employs a freshness factor that prioritizes new, constantly updated content over outdated and stale web pages. For instance, all the results for “election news” are super fresh and were updated just a few hours ago.
Google targets the users’ interaction with SERPs to determine which web page is better and provides more value to visitors. But how can the overall user experience be measured? To do this, Google has employed artificial intelligence and machine learning which have been translated into RankBrain, an algorithm that is used to sort through the billions of pages and find the ones that seem most relevant for particular queries. The program collects data and analyzes a great number of factors, such as:
- dwell time
- bounce rate
- top exit page
- pages per session, and others.
When we speak about website security as a ranking factor, we mean the use of HTTPS protocol and an SSL certificate that alongside provide a secure connection between an end user and a domain. This is especially important for those sites which deal with private user data and checkouts. HTTPS and SSL show the search engine that a site is on the safe side.
Google not only penalizes unsafe websites in SERPs but marks them as “not secure” with a warning message appearing in a Chrome browser when a visitor lands on an unencrypted website.
Since more and more traffic comes from mobile devices, optimizing websites for smartphones and tablets is a must. Being mobile-friendly means applying a responsive design that adjusts the content in a way that it looks perfect on every screen size. According to the latest research, more than 58% of queries now are conducted from mobile devices.
More importantly, with the mobile-first index update, Google prioritizes the mobile version of websites over desktop ones. And this occurs no matter what type of device you use.
In order to make sure your website is mobile-friendly and see how it performs on different devices, you can use an interesting tool found in Search Console – “Mobile Usability”. The tool will let you know about existing mobile issues if any.
This SEO ranking factor is not something that you can control but it is definitely worth mentioning. The study showed that the older domains are, the higher their ranking in SERPs.
Business owners have two options here: launching a brand new URL or buying an expired domain name to immediately restart a high-authority website. With the first option, they have to invest efforts and time in a fresh project, gaining trust and improving ranking with continual SEO work. When you buy a dropped domain that fits your niche, you can quickly launch a website that already has a good rank.
- Keyword Targeting
Keywords have always been at the heart of every SEO strategy. It is crucial to do keyword research that can tell you what the users are looking for and what topics to cover before starting to create content for a site. The research will help get to know your target audience, better understand their search intent (what people want to buy or learn), and drive traffic to your site.
- Structured Data
Apart from keywords, another way to let search engines know about what a page is about is the use of structured data (or so-called Schema Markup). This term is used to denote microdata that is added to the back-end of a page in order to tell Google how to classify the content and return more informative results for users.
Here is an example of the TripAdvisor website that has markup on its page for every hotel in the database. The SERP looks like this:
Structured data is considered to be one of the most crucial SEO ranking factors as it tells engines what is really important about a web page. Besides, markup can lead to features snippets, which are able to increase CTR and ranking.
- Brand Reputation
This factor is not about link building but with the importance of having an established brand reputation meaning that your company should have a community of people discussing and mentioning your brand within their society. As we said, it doesn’t necessarily mean that this community should add a do-follow link to your website but talking about you in forums and social networks.
That is why we believe that brand promotion in Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other networks is essential for businesses of all sizes. If people talk about you, they are likely to type your brand name in Google. Eventually, this will translate to a signal for the engine’s algorithms.
Ranking in search engines is about putting efforts to create engaging, well-researched, and valuable content by applying the latest tricks, tips, and techniques. Besides, you should not forget about providing the best user experience with clear navigation and structured content.