The Most Important Search Engine Ranking Factors

According to John Mueller, “awesomeness” is the key to ranking well in the Google SERPs. The vagueness of this advice makes it no less poignant.

The Internet is home to an unfathomable amount of information. Breaching the endless sea of digital content is an ambitious goal, to say the least. On the surface, John’s remark is a cheeky write off. But if you take a moment to chew on it, you can infer that user experience needs to be your primary focus.

People have too many options to settle for average.

What Does It Take To Rank?

Gaining top organic rankings is a hyper-competitive business. It requires patience, diligence, and a deep knowledge of search engine ranking signals.

Stay the course – SEO takes time.

It’s not enough to read about the latest SEO trends and practices from gurus (although you should). Eventually, you have to get out on the field to test and refine your processes.

If you’re looking for a good starting point, here are five ranking factors to consider when creating and optimizing content for the web.

1. Create Quality Content

This one is easy to grasp, but hard to practice. It would be difficult to find a digital marketing professional that didn’t understand the importance of creating high-quality content.

But what does that actually mean?

It means creating content designed and optimized to answer searcher intent. Content that is engaging enough to keep the time on page high and the bounce rate low. Content informed by smart keyword research. The goal is to make content that is thorough, unique, useful, and engaging.

If this sounds hard it’s because it is. The Internet leveled the playing field by lowering the barrier to entry – which raised the bar.

Keep in mind that different types of content work better for different industries. Some options include blogging, informative guides, infographics, case studies, video marketing, and many more. Invest in the appropriate types of content that best serve your business goals.

Always remember that content is made for real people with real questions. Whoever provides the best answer wins.

2. Mobile Optimized Site

Google has come right out and said, “Mobile pages that provide a poor searcher experience can be demoted in rankings or displayed with a warning in mobile search results.”

I don’t think they’re kidding. Google doesn’t often give such direct recommendations for how to improve a site’s rankings. So when they do, it’s best to pay attention.

The takeaway here is simple: your website needs to be responsive. It has to look good and load fast on any device. With Google’s transition to mobile-first indexing, a mobile optimized site isn’t a recommendation – it’s a must.

Use Google’s very own Mobile-Friendly Test to see where your website can improve it’s mobile indexing.

3. Onpage SEO Strategy

Effective onpage SEO is closely related to user experience. It can also help improve time on page and lower bounce rate – two other important ranking signals. Structuring your page in an organized and uncluttered way can keep the user scrolling.

Smart use of headers and negative space can make a page far more appealing to look at. Let’s face it, most of us don’t read every word of every article. We skim. Headers act as anchors that catch our attention and help us find what we’re looking for. This is why it’s so important to target keywords in headers.

Internal links are another way to improve our onpage SEO efforts. For starters, they give readers the opportunity to explore another facet of the topic, keeping them onsite for a longer duration. Additionally, the help provide web robots context clues about your content. Lastly, internal links give you an opportunity to directly target a keyword through the use of anchor text.

4. Number of Backlinks

Think of a backlink as a vote of confidence. Since Google revolutionized the search engine game, backlinks have been (and remain) one of the most important ranking signals. The formula is a fairly easy one to follow. It basically goes like this: the more backlinks a page has, the higher it will rank in the SERPs.

Getting backlinks, on the other hand, is not so simple. Digital marketers, media outlets, bloggers, and webmasters know the value of a link. Link building has become a hybridized form of PR, outreach, and social media management. It takes a lot of time, energy, and money.

Check out our post on ethical link building for ideas and strategies on how to improve your site’s link portfolio.

5. Security Matters (HTTPS)

If you still haven’t migrated your site from HTTP to HTTPS, it’s time to do so. There is much speculation about whether or not this is an official search engine ranking factor, but there is enough evidence to suggest that it’s a wise move either way.

For starters, Google overtly flags sites as “not secure” when they don’t have an SSL. Remember, user experience is a top priority. Would you enter someone’s home if it had a big flag stating that it was not secure?

If you’re unsure as to how to go about getting your HTTPS status, this detailed guide about HTTP to HTTPS Migration is a useful resource.

The Takeaway

There are over 200 ranking factors in Google’s algorithm, which are tweaked on an ongoing basis. Understanding how search engines work is the very heart of SEO. Accomplishing this feat with even a modest amount of success requires SEO professionals to be scientific in their approach.

Internalize the rules of the game – then let your experience guide you. There is no blanket approach to SEO (or anything). Each industry is different. Each website is different. Having a solid understanding about how search engine ranking factors work will better equip you to succeed in your efforts.