SEO ranking factors

SEO ranking factors determine which website pages and content feature in the organic search results or SERPs (search engine results pages).

Although it is often reported that there are hundreds of ranking factors such as in this compilation of SEO ranking factors by Brian Dean, they can be simplified to these six main types of factors featured in Search Engine Land’s excellent periodic table of SEO Ranking Factors.

The six main types of ranking factors to be aware of if you are managing SEO activities are:

1 Content

Correctly choosing which content to display on a URL, and the form it should be in, is one of the most fundamental factors determining the success and failure of websites. When making decisions regarding the length of texts and/or the inclusion of rich content like images or videos, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The bottom line is that your content needs to provide valuable information.

2 Architecture

Ensuring that users are greeted with a fast-loading, malware-free landing page if they click through from a search engine results page (SERP) is critical. This must be equally effective on mobile and desktop. Even though Google has said they don’t publicly favour any one set way of doing mobile websites (whether it’s responsive, dynamic, or separate URLs) when it comes to rankings, a responsive website is their recommended format. Whatever helps search engines know what your pages are about such as the URLs you use, the page load speed, your security and crawlability can improve your ranking.

3 HTML

When building your website you may already know that search engines look for formatting elements like titles and headings to determine what your page’s content is about. These cues should work just as well for human readers as well. One significant difference is that search engines also utilize special fields like structured data markup and meta descriptions as clues to the meaning and purpose of the page so these need to be included to enhance your ranking.

4 Trust (Shown by user signals)

Authority and reputation are vital for defining how your site fulfils the needs of searchers – is this site the most authoritative in its field and have an established reputation developed over the years? Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness are measures of a high-value site to search engines. Search engines also look at the engagement of the visitors to your site – do searchers seem satisfied with the site and stay on it, or do they immediately go back and review alternative result SERPs?

5 Links

Of all of the elements, this group has been around the longest. Google has made it clear that links are a factor in how well a website performs in search. The higher the quality and relevancy of the sites that link to your own, the better it is for your site. Relevancy of links depends on the context, e.g. the topic linking and the anchor text of the links. This is due to sites of outstanding quality usually providing their audiences with links to equally high-value sites and avoid linking to poor-quality sites. Internal links are also important.

6 User

The way users interact with your site, and the experience they have, is very important. User-specific factors that affect how you rank in particular countries and localities, while important, is mostly out of your control. The main thing you can do is to make sure your site really speaks to users in the area where they reside. Using ‘hreflang’ to indicate your site’s language (eng-us for the U.S. and eng-gb for Britain, for example) is essential if you’re a local business targeting specific locations.

‘Pogo-sticking’ – when users jump to a search result page and come right back because they haven’t found what they were looking for is seen by the search engines as a sign of a bad user experience. The extent to which your page meets the user’s intent will also play a role in how your site is ranked for similar searches.

So make sure you focus your attention creating relevant, compelling page titles, meta description and breadcrumbs with appropriate structured data. Also use structured data to mark up on page content wherever relevant. This will help your SERPs (search engine results pages) listings stand out from the crowd. Invest in social engagement, this will help to re-enforce the organic reputation of your website.

Notice that many SEO experts consider that Google monitors clickthrough rates on the search results and dwell time-on-site and overall site volume to help rank pages. Likewise, it’s important to create a trusted brand, which often makes SEO challenging for smaller businesses and startups.

What are the most important ranking factors?

These break down into on-page, on-page and behavioural factors. Moz and Searchmetrics no longer publish their experts’ review. Instead, here is an alternative experts summary of SEO ranking factors according to Decibite.

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Dr Dave Chaffey is co-founder and Content Director of digital marketing advice site Smart Insights. We’re a publisher and learning platform that helps our 150,000 active members in over 100 countries plan, manage and optimize their digital marketing activities by applying the actionable advice in our planning templates, guides and interactive e-learning tools.

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