SEO requirements keep changing, and it can be hard to keep up with the latest developments. But if you want your Google rankings to go from unseen to the top of the list, you have to be in the know.
Well-optimized sites get more and more traffic over time, and that means more leads and sales. Without SEO, searchers won’t be able to find your site, and all your hard work will be for nothing.
A Secure and Accessible Website
Unsurprisingly, the first of our 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
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.”
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 from July 2018. If your site doesn’t load fast on mobile devices, then it could be penalized.
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.
Domain Age, URL, and Authority
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!
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 content that’s similar, tell Google which one should be ranked as most authoritative by using canonical URLs.
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)
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
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
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’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.
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.