SEO is the practice of getting a website to align with the ranking factors of Google. However, if you followed all the advice about SEO written on blogs, it’s unlikely you would receive top listings in Google, and there’s a risk you could damage your site performance and make it difficult to rank at all.
Articles about the latest SEO updates, techniques, or tips are often written by interns, assistants, and sometimes ghostwriters. Their job is to write articles.
The majority of SEO blog posts are rarely written by SEO professionals or experts who grow site traffic and achieve top search engine rankings on a daily basis.
So what are the most updated Google ranking factors? In this article, we will:
- Compare and contrast the technical, on-page, and off-page ranking factors.
- List the top ten Google ranking factors your website can optimize for.
- Provide an actionable suggestion for improving each ranking factor.
First, let’s review the basics of ranking factors to lay the groundwork for our understanding.
What are Google ranking factors?
The goal of SEO is to optimize your website to rank as high as possible in search engine results (and yes, you can aim for the first page). When it comes to search, we usually refer to organic results which are unpaid. Pay-per-click advertising (PPC), on the other hand, is focused on generating traffic through paid advertising.
On Google, organic rankings are determined by an algorithm that takes into account different qualities and SEO metrics – and these are your ranking factors.
In order to understand Google’s ranking factors, we must look at what Google has told us and what we have learned through experimentation and empirical practice. While ranking factors and algorithms may change, Google continues to seek to parse out qualities such as quality, trustworthiness, and performance through them.
Types of Google ranking factors
The following are the top 10 Google ranking factors that you can optimize your website pages around. Before we get into the top 10 factors, let’s first discuss their types. There are three main ranking factors, but marketers usually discuss on-page and off-page factors separately:
- Off-page ranking factors: They are measured by Google away from your site, and primarily involve backlinks.
- On-page ranking factors: They are mainly determined by the keywords you use and the content quality of your pages.
- Technical ranking factors: They are also measured on your site, but are more concerned with its overall performance, rather than individual pages.
There is no single ranking factor that can make or break your SEO efforts. An SEO-friendly website is the result of all of your technical, on-page, and off-page efforts.
Let’s now break down each of these groups, starting with technical factors, into the top 10 factors that affect Google rankings.
Technical Google ranking factors
Search engines index all of your site’s content by crawling and indexing it. It is essential that a few core technical elements function correctly in order to achieve this. Imagine these components as the building blocks of your website that allow it to function properly.
Technical SEO can be intimidating to many marketers. To execute many of these optimizations, a knowledge of website structure and content management systems is necessary. Because of this, it is increasingly common for marketing and development teams to work together to fix technical SEO errors. Once your website is functioning properly, you won’t have to do a lot of maintenance in terms of SEO. The following strategies will help you to improve your rank:
1. Page speed
Page speed is a ranking factor because users expect a smooth browsing experience. You will see an increase in bounce rate and a decrease in ranking if your pages take too long to load. Using GTmetrix or Google PageSpeed Insights, you can audit your website for SEO improvements.
2. Usability on mobile
When crawling websites, Google uses a mobile-first index. This means that search engines use mobile versions of websites when evaluating a page. All websites are now being indexed mobile-first starting in 2021.
No matter how good your desktop version of your site is, if it’s not mobile-friendly, your ranking in search engines could plummet. Always preview your web pages to make sure they’re accessible on different devices, not just desktop.
There are features built into most content management systems that let you do this before publishing. You could also use a free tool such as Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test, which provides similar insights.
Learn more about how to make a website mobile-friendly.
3. Core Web Vitals
Ranking factors don’t usually change as SEO trends fluctuate. As part of its page experience update in 2021, Google introduced a new ranking factor, Core Web Vitals. The Core Web Vitals measure how users experience your page. These include:
- LCP (Largest Contentful Paint): The time it takes for visible elements on a page to load.
- FID (First Input Delay): The time it takes for your page to register the first click or tap.
- CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift): Whether unexpected movements or popups occur
By using lazy loading, code minification, image compression, and more, you can improve your Core Web Vitals.
4. Internal links
Search engines crawl and index the different parts of your website, as we mentioned earlier. For the crawlers, internal links serve as a signal that helps them analyze and index this information properly.
The term “internal links” refers to hyperlinks pointing to internal pages within your website.
Search engines (and users) find what they’re looking for easier when your internal linking structure is organized and tightly-knit.
Every time you create a new page or piece of content, you must be aware of what pages you’re linking to.
Creating topic clusters is a common method for organizing your internal links. In essence, you create content around a single “pillar” topic and then interlink within it.
Imagine you are writing several articles on the topic of sales prospecting.
Your main resource would be an article that covers every aspect of sales prospecting. In addition to the main resource, any additional articles that cover related subtopics (e.g. cold calling tips, effective email outreach templates, etc.) should link to others in the cluster as well.
The reason this strategy works is that the links are tightly organized around the same topic.
The search engines are able to easily understand and index the content. The user experience is also improved by topic clusters. Your content will be easier to navigate, and readers will be able to discover what they’re looking for without having to visit multiple sites.
Your website likely already undergoes regular maintenance to ensure that there are no bugs or errors. An SEO audit is a good idea every couple of months for checking for things like 404 errors, redirect loops, and broken links.
On-page Google ranking factors
These next ranking factors are page-specific rather than technical search engine ranking factors.
A page’s relevance to the query is probably the most important ranking factor. To produce the SERP, the user types a query into the search bar. These words and phrases are known as keywords. Google will rank your website higher if you conduct keyword research to figure out what your target audience is looking for online, and then create quality content that answers the questions they are asking.
Seventy-eight percent of marketers surveyed by Directive identified keyword research as a high-impact practice to increase traffic. By conducting research, you can gain a deeper understanding of what your audience is searching for and create content that directly addresses their needs.
How do we define quality content? We mean that it is engaging, easy to read, accurate, useful, and relevant to the keyword it targets. It’s a good idea to use a targeted keyword in your page, but don’t stuff the page with it just to get high rankings. It’ll actually hurt your rankings. It should be naturally incorporated into your page along with 4-5 related keywords.
It’s important to note that even evergreen content loses relevance over time. Furthermore, you should update outdated pages with new content and search terms that are relevant for today in addition to writing new content. Keeping your freshness score high is essential.
6. Title and header tags
You should insert your keywords into specific places on your website, such as the title and header tags, once you know which keywords you want to rank for. In order to index a page correctly, search engines use these tags.
7. Meta description
In your web page’s HTML code, you can find the meta description. The result is displayed in search results even though it does not appear on the page itself.
Google sometimes uses the meta description to pull featured results snippets, despite the fact that it is not a major ranking factor. In addition, it provides searchers with more information about the page, which may increase the click-through rate. As such, it’s still essential to include a meta description in your SEO checklist and make sure it accurately sums up the content on the page.
8. Image alt-text
You may have guessed that images also have an SEO component if you’ve ever searched for anything on Google Images. A website’s images are accompanied by alt-text, sometimes referred to as alt-tags.
The purpose of this text is severalfold:
- You can use it to make your website accessible to visually-impaired readers who rely on screen readers.
- The alt-text will replace your image if it fails to load.
- In this way, search engines can understand and index the image properly.
The right alt-text can propel your images to the first page of the image search results, giving you an additional opportunity to rank higher.
9. URL structure
You may not realize it, but your page URL structure affects your search engine ranking. Search engines have a hard time making sense of a URL with a lot of mixed characters.
However, a URL that incorporates the target keyword, has a simple structure, and is concise is SEO-friendly.
Off-page Google ranking factors
Unlike on-page ranking factors, off-page ranking factors are based on entities outside of your website, such as social media platforms. However, any off-page SEO strategy should focus on one thing:
Backlinks are hyperlinks that point to another website outside your own. More than two decades ago, Google launched its game-changing PageRank algorithm update, proving that links to a page were an indication of a web page’s quality, and it still is today.
What is the best way to get backlinks? The following strategies will help:
The quality, uniqueness, and value of your content will start generating backlinks on their own. Google believes that a page with many links pointing back to it is providing exceptional value and is coming from a trustworthy website.
Building this kind of authority on the web, however, can take years. If you want to grow your backlink profile, it will take some extra effort.
In order to implement this backlinking strategy, you must find related content and request a link from the author. Cold outreach is not always effective, especially when there are so many other sites vying for the same links. This is a numbers game, and everyone is playing.
Finding guest blogging opportunities on external publications is another method of building backlinks. You can establish your expertise and build links to your website by writing guest posts. To succeed, you have to make sure that your posts come from high-quality, original sources that benefit your audience. Lackluster content doesn’t do anybody any good on websites that aren’t visited by your target audience.
Thought leadership content
Finally, more and more marketers are realizing the importance of thought leadership backlinks. There are two components to this strategy:
- Look for opportunities to be featured on podcasts, webinars, or other media.
- Generate links on your own using data-driven content.
The goal of this type of outreach is to establish your brand as a thought leader in your industry. A company that features you in a speaking engagement is likely to link back to your website and promote the appearance. By comparison, original research-based thought leadership content is instantly “linkable.”
Whatever approach you choose, ensure that you are tactical and focused on quality.
Learn more about how to get more backlinks.
Climbing search results pages takes time, so keep that in mind. Optimizing your website for several ranking factors today won’t make it magically appear at the top of Google tomorrow. You need to maintain your site’s relevance to your audience through the optimization process. You’ll begin to see organic growth as long as your website is functional and optimized with your target buyer in mind.