How to Rank in Google (Search Engine Ranking Factors)

Because Google is the most-used search engine in the US, it makes sense for businesses that market to US markets to concentrate their efforts on Google. Most of the changes you make for the sake of Google will benefit your site on other search engines, such as Bing and Yahoo! (which is powered by Bing).

Just as Coca-Cola and KFC keep their recipes closely-guarded secrets, so Google and other search engines guard their algorithms that determine how a website is ranked. Google doesn't publish a complete guide to ranking well, so SEO (search engine optimization) professionals rely on Google's recommendations, the results of correlation studies, and inference.

Let's see what factors contribute to a website ranking highly in Google, with questions to ask yourself for each factor.

Definitions

  • On-site SEO: factors within your website
    • Technical SEO: factors related to your entire website, infrastructure, and crawlability
    • On-page SEO: factors related to individual pages/URLs within your website
  • Off-site/off-page: factors outside your website
  • Violations/penalties: when a search engine lowers your ranking because your site breaks their guidelines
  • Content: text, images, videos, audio, etc. that people come to your site to consume
  • Keywords: topics/concepts that your content is about; may be a single word or a phrase
  • Domain: the main part of your web address; for example, our domain is *optimwise.com*
  • Anchor text: the words that a link is made up of (they're often underlined)

On-Site Factors

On-site factors are those within your website, related to your website itself rather than how the world interacts with it. They're related to your website's content and technical aspects (such as architecture and code).

"On-page SEO" is one of the 8 "most important Google ranking factors" according to Brian Dean of Backlinko.

Content Quality

What's the quality of your content? Is it accurate, relevant, and useful?

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 3/3. By saying, "Perhaps the most important SEO factor after creating good content is good keyword research," they indicate that this is the most important factor.

SEMRush rates "content length" at 5/10.

"Content quality" is one of the 8 "most important Google ranking factors" according to Brian Dean of Backlinko.

Keyword Research

Have you researched the keywords that you should use in your content, to ensure that you're using the words people are searching for?

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 3/3. They say, "Perhaps the most important SEO factor after creating good content is good keyword research."

Content Words & Keywords

Have you used the keywords that you found in your research throughout your content?

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 2/3.

SEMRush rates "keyword in body" at 2/10 and "keyword density" at 2/10.

Content Freshness

Search engines see new/recent content as fresh. For certain searches, such as those related to news, politics, or trends, newer content has an advantage. Are you publishing content about current topics?

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 2/3.

Vertical Search

Are you producing content that will appear in narrower types of searches, such as image searches, video searches, local/map searches, or product searches?

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 2/3.

Direct Answers

Google wants to provide answers quickly, and will often pull answers from websites and display them directly in search results. Are you publishing answers to common questions?

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 2/3.

Site Crawlability

Search engines use software called bots or spiders to crawl (move through) your website and discover what it contains. Have you made your website easy to crawl? Have you provided an XML sitemap that serves as a map of your site?

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 3/3.

Mobile-friendly

Is your site easy to navigate, read, and use on mobile devices (phones, tablets, etc.)?

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 3/3.

"Mobile usability" is one of the 8 "most important Google ranking factors" according to Brian Dean of Backlinko.

Learn more in our posts Is Your Website Ready for Google’s Mobile-First Index? and Why Your Business Needs a Mobile-Friendly Design Now.

Duplication/Canonicalization

Do you have the same content published in multiple places on your site? If so, you're hurting the chances of that content ranking.

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 2/3.

Site Speed

Are you making search engines (and humans) wait for your site to load? Because humans want websites to load swiftly, so do search engines!

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 2/3.

If you're using WordPress, check out our post 6 Quick Wins to Speed Up WordPress Performance.

Descriptive URLs

Can a human tell by looking at your site's URLs what's on those pages? Do the URLs describe the pages, like their titles do?

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 1/3.

HTTPS (Secure Site)

Do all your URLs start with HTTPS, indicating that the pages of your site are delivered securely? Do you have a TLS/SSL certificate installed?

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 1/3.

SEMRush rates "website security" at 4/10.

See our posts Why Your Website Needs SSL and, if you use WordPress, How to Secure WordPress Login & Admin Area.

HTML Titles

Do the HTML titles of your pages accurately describe the content on those pages?

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 3/3.

SEMRush rates "keyword in title" at 2/10.

Meta Description

The meta description is the short description of a page that appears in search results. It's like a preview of the content of the page, giving the searcher an idea for what they'll find on the page. Do your meta descriptions accurately summarize the content of their pages? Do they entice the searcher to click?

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 2/3.

SEMRush rates "keyword in meta" at 2/10.

Structured Data

Even though Google is great at figuring out a lot about webpages, it still helps to provide additional details for Google (and other search engines). Can you provide any extra data? Structured data can include recipe details, real estate property details, product details, geographic location details, and much more.

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 2/3.

Heading Tags

In HTML, you can use multiple levels of headings. Search engines assume that the higher the heading level, the more important the content that follows it. For example, an H1 has more weight than an H3. Are you using an H1 for the most important content on each page, and using other headings as appropriate?

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 1/3.

Thin/Shallow Content

This is a violation/penalty, which hurts your ranking. Is your content "fluff" that isn't useful to anyone? Are you publishing content for the sake of content, resulting in low-quality content?

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of -2/-3 (the negative score indicates a violation/penalty).

Cloaking

This is a violation/penalty, which hurts your ranking. Have you set up your site so that it appears one way to search engines, and another way to humans? Are you being deceptive in what you show to search engines?

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of -3/-3 (the negative score indicates a violation/penalty).

Keyword Stuffing

This is a violation/penalty, which hurts your ranking. Are you packing keywords anywhere you can fit them, making your content read unnaturally? Are you using keywords more frequently than you would do if you weren't writing or speaking with keywords in mind?

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of -2/-3 (the negative score indicates a violation/penalty).

Hidden Text

This is a violation/penalty, which hurts your ranking. Are you hiding any text from humans so that only search engines pick it up, hoping to gain a rankings boost? Are you being deceptive in what you show to search engines?

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of -1/-3 (the negative score indicates a violation/penalty).

Off-Site Factors

Off-site factors are factors outside your website, related how the world interacts with your website and brand. They're related to your website's trustworthiness, how others link to your site, the personalization of searchers, and your social media presence.

According to Moz, "off-site SEO-related factors likely carry more than 50% of the ranking factor weight."

Authority

Is your site recognized as an authority within your space? Do other websites link to yours, effectively voting in favor of its content? Does your site have a reputation as a go-to source? Are pages within your site seen as authoritative?

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 3/3.

"Domain authority" is one of the 8 "most important Google ranking factors" according to Brian Dean of Backlinko.

Engagement

How do people interact with your site? How long do they stay on a page? How many pages do they visit? Do they fill out forms? Do they leave comments? The more engaged users are, the better.

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 2/3.

SEMRush rates "time on site" at 9/10.

SEMRush rates "pages per session" at 8/10.

SEMRush rates "bounce rate" at 7/10.

"Dwell time" and "organic click-through rate" are two of the 8 "most important Google ranking factors" according to Brian Dean of Backlinko.

History

How long has your site existed? How has it changed over time? Is it improving, or declining? Has it suffered penalties in the past? Search engines watch your site over time.

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 1/3.

Link Quality

Which sites are linking to yours? A link from an authoritative, reputable, recognized site counts for more than a link from a small hobbyist blog or a shady site. A link from a high-quality site can count for more than multiple links from low-quality sites.

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 3/3.

"Referring domains" is one of the 8 "most important Google ranking factors" according to Brian Dean of Backlinko.

Link/Anchor Text

What words do people use when they link to your site? Words are relevant to your site are better than those that are irrelevant. Links that contain your site name, business name, brand name, or product name, or other words related to your website are better than those that don't contain any.

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 2/3.

SEMRush rates "keyword in anchor" at 2/10.

Link Quantity

Are a large number of websites linking to yours, effectively voting for it? Although the quality of links matters, so does the quantity of links.

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 1/3.

SEMRush rates "total referring domains" at 6/10.

SEMRush rates "total backlinks" at 6/10.

SEMRush rates "total referring IPs" at 6/10.

SEMRush rates "total follow-backlinks" at 6/10.

SEMRush rates "total anchors" at 3/10.

"Total number of backlinks" is one of the 8 "most important Google ranking factors" according to Brian Dean of Backlinko.

Country

Is your site relevant to the country that your audience is in? Is your content aimed at that country? Search engines give precedence to content that's relevant to the country of the searcher.

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 3/3.

Locality

Is your site relevant to the region, state, province, and city that your audience is in? Is your content aimed at that geographic area? Search engines give precedence to content that's relevant to the location of the searcher.

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 3/3.

Personal History

What history have your visitors built with your site? Have they visited multiple times? Have they clicked on your site in several different searches? Have they interacted with your site's overall web presence (search results, social media, etc.)? Search engines notice when people interact with a website, and will show that website to them more often.

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 2/3.

Social Reputation

Is your organization on social media? Are those social media accounts connected to your website? How engaged are you on social media? How do others engage with you on social media? Are interactions and mentions generally positive or negative? How many followers do you have? What's the quality, authority, reputation, and influence of those followers? Because so much Internet activity has moved to social media, search engines pay attention to your reputation on social media.

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 2/3.

Social Shares

How much is content from your website or organization shared by others on social media? Who shares that content? Who engages with that shared content? How many engage with that shared content?

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of 1/3.

Piracy & DMCA Takedowns

This is a violation/penalty, which hurts your ranking. Have you taken copyrighted content from others and put it on your site without proper credit or permission? Have you ignored any requests to remove such content?

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of -1/-3 (the negative score indicates a violation/penalty).

Ads & Top Heavy Layout

This is a violation/penalty, which hurts your ranking. Does your site hit visitors with several ads before they're able to get to the content? Is the user's experience interrupted by ads?

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of -1/-3 (the negative score indicates a violation/penalty).

Paid Links

This is a violation/penalty, which hurts your ranking. Are you paying others to link to you, hoping that you'll benefit from those additional links to your site? This is against Google's policies.

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of -3/-3 (the negative score indicates a violation/penalty).

Link Spam

This is a violation/penalty, which hurts your ranking. Are you littering the Web with links to your website, dropping them anywhere you can in forums, comments, etc.? The quality of a link matters, and these do more harm than good.

Search Engine Land gives this factor a weight of -3/-3 (the negative score indicates a violation/penalty).

Local SEO

If your website's audience is limited to a geographic area, such as a restaurant or retail store, then you need to pay attention to Local SEO as well as the general SEO above. Rather than diving into that in this post, I'll refer you to Moz's Local Search Ranking Factors.

Sources

Need Help With SEO?

Are you sending out an SOS to get help with your SEO? Are you unsure how to turn the information in this post into an action plan for getting your website to rank higher in Google? Contact us to find out how we can help!

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3 comments on “How to Rank in Google (Search Engine Ranking Factors)”

  1. An interesting and informative article.

    Especially as a start-up, finding sound advice is very important for you, and one of the most important pieces of advice is that no matter at what stage of development you are, you need to be constantly working at boosting your SEO and making sure your website appears in front of as many people as possible.

    Backlinks are so important and Backlinko by Brian Dean (which you mentioned above in your article) is probably the best place to learn about backlinking strategies.

    I urge all your readers to take a look at his site.

    Thanks

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