In this comprehensive two-part guide, we’ll take a deep dive into the major types of SEO ranking factors that can help your business amplify your marketing results and boost your revenues.
Every business on this planet wants to appear at the top of search engine results pages (or SERPs). And why not—with over 5 billion Internet users all over the globe (as of January 2023), you can literally sell to the world, if you wish!
We can confidently bet that every big corporation has a website, and at least 71 percent of businesses already have a site in 2023. There are now more than 1.13 billion websites and a new one is created every three seconds!
With more than a billion other sites on the web, it has become a must for every business to perform search engine optimization (SEO)—a process involving various steps that aim to help a website rank higher on SERPs. And with at least 4 in every 5 searches being done through Google, it makes complete sense for companies to focus their efforts on ranking high on this search engine giant.
So, how exactly can your website rank high on Google (as well as other search engines)? There’s a long list of SEO ranking factors that you should know in order to appear at the top results for local, national, or even global searches.
In this extensive guide, we’ve compiled a thorough list of crucial SEO ranking factors that your business should know.
Table of Contents
A Little Disclaimer About SEO Ranking Factors
Before we run through our exhaustive list of SEO ranking factors, it’s important to know one thing: Your website’s organic rank on Google (and practically all other search engines) is dictated by a complex algorithm that is strictly confidential.
Although Google sometimes states that certain factors are important for its search results ranking, it has also very clearly stated that it will never reveal its algorithm for two main reasons: First, it’s a business secret, and disclosing it would dramatically lower its competitiveness. And second, spammers can abuse knowledge of their algorithm, which can lead to poor user experience.
Therefore, the crucial SEO ranking factors that SEO experts discuss are based mostly on their keen observations over the years, as well as their first-hand experiences in optimizing websites for search engines.
Now that we’ve got that disclaimer out of the way, let’s take a look at why you need to know these SEO ranking factors in the first place.
Why You Absolutely Must Know SEO Ranking Factors
Here are some vital numbers that every business needs to be aware of:
- There are around 3.5 billion searches performed on Google every single day. (source: Internet Live Stats)
- The top 1 result in Google’s organic search results has an average click-through rate (CTR) of about 27.6%. (source: Backlinko)
- SEO brings in more than 1,000% more traffic than organic social media. (source: BrightEdge)
- The average top-ranking page usually is also shown in the top 10 results for around 1,000 other relevant keywords. (source: Ahrefs)
- A whopping 90% of consumers used the internet to search for a local business last year. (source: BrightLocal)
- About 3 in every 4 customers who performed a local search went to visit a store within 5 miles from their location. (source: InterGrowth)
- The average organic CTR of the top Google search result on desktop is 32%. (source: Advanced Web Ranking)
- The average organic CTR of the top Google search result on mobile is 26.9%. (source: Advanced Web Ranking)
- Unfortunately, an astounding 90.63% of all pages get no organic search traffic from Google. (source: Ahrefs)
Faced with those facts, it’s quite evident that if you want your business to increase its revenues, you need to—first and foremost—make users go to your website. There, they can either learn more about your company and what you offer before eventually proceeding to your brick-and-mortar site to make a purchase, or just buy directly from your online store. Whichever path they take, you need effective SEO.
The Major Factors That Can Boost Your SEO Ranking
Unless your brand is already a household name, you would need help to actually get users to visit your website in the first place (but, actually, even household names still spend millions on their online marketing campaigns, including SEO—but we digress). You’ll need your site to appear at the top results of search engines when they search for keywords that are related to your business.
There are hundreds of factors that can affect SEO and help increase your website ranking, but we can group them into several major categories.
Essential SEO Ranking Factor #1: Domain Factors
Here are the major factors related to your domain that may either positively or negatively affect your SEO ranking:
- Having a country code top-level domain (such as .ca for Canada, .cn for China, and so on) may be one of the national SEO ranking factors, although whether this has an impact on your global SEO ranking is still debated.
- Based on a Google patent, valuable or legitimate domains are usually paid for a couple of years ahead, compared to doorway or illegitimate domains. So your domain’s expiry date may matter for SEO. It’s a small SEO signal to Google, but it is believed to help if your domain is registered for longer than a period of 1 year.
- The presence of relevant keywords in a top-level domain used to be very good for SEO but is considered less important now. However, it’s still a sign of relevancy and may improve your SEO ranking.
- Many SEO experts believe that Google ranks older domains higher compared to newer ones (although Google’s own John Mueller stated that domain age is irrelevant).
- The expert panel of Moz believes that having the relevant keyword in the subdomain can improve a site’s ranking. However, there are other reasons to avoid a subdomain; so be careful and do additional research before going down this path.
- A website with an ever-changing owner or several drops may negatively affect the site’s rank. In some instances, previous penalties on a domain may be passed on to the new owner.
- Having an Exact Match Domain may affect the ranking of websites with poor quality.
- Having a Private WhoIs information (instead of Public) may signal fraudulent or suspicious activities, which may affect your site rank.
- If your domain’s WhoIs Owner has been penalized for spamming, other websites owned by that individual may be given a lower rank by search engines.
Essential SEO Ranking Factor #2: Site-Level Factors
Here are the major factors involving your entire website that may either positively or negatively affect your SEO ranking:
- Google has announced that it prefers websites that list a good amount of contact information. In addition, it’s best if your contact info also matches your whois details.
- Google also has confirmed that the SSL Certificate (i.e., HTTPS) is a factor for determining which sites rank higher in search engine results, but merely for breaking a tie in other ranking factors.
- Google also has stated that it will penalize websites that don’t provide valuable or new information, particularly thin affiliate sites.
- Since more than half of all searches are done using a mobile device, search engines like Google want your website to be optimized for mobile users. In fact, mobile-first indexing became the default for all new web domains from July 1, 2019 onwards, and Google now penalizes sites that are not mobile-friendly.
- A website’s compliance with Core Web Vitals is viewed as one of the major SEO ranking factors. Core Web Vitals can provide a good user experience and better recognition and organization for your site, which help improve your website’s visibility and ranking in browsers.
- Google seems to give websites that are high in “Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness” (or E-E-A-T) a higher ranking. This is especially true for websites that post content about health and wellness.
- Despite Google negating the importance of “publishing frequency” in its search results, many SEO experts believe that updating your website—particularly with new content—is an important factor in SEO ranking.
- A well-designed site architecture (for instance, a silo structure) enables Google to easily organize site content by theme and also enables Googlebot to access and index your pages. Thus, good site architecture may be rewarded with a higher ranking.
- Speaking of good site architecture, having ‘breadcrumbs’—that user-friendly navigation usually shown at the upper part of a page (e.g., Women > Clothing > Casual > Blouse)—is very helpful to users and search engines alike. As a cherry on top, Google stated that it uses breadcrumbs to classify information from pages, so this may help your site rank higher as well.
- Still in connection with site architecture and user-friendliness, sites that are hard to use or explore may have lower rankings as an indirect result of less time on the site, fewer pages viewed, and higher bounce rate—also known as RankBrain ranking factors.
- Although Google has also denied the value of HTML sitemaps in SEO, having a sitemap enables search engines to index your webpages easier and more completely. It is recommended to have both an XML sitemap and an HTML sitemap.
- A lot of SEO experts believe that TrustRank is an extremely important factor influencing a site’s SEO ranking. There’s also a Google Patent called “Search result ranking based on trust” that seems to support this assumption.
- If your website has a lot of downtime due to server problems or site maintenance, it may get a lower SEO ranking. Over time, lots of downtimes may even deindex your site, so make sure to take the necessary precautions to lessen (if not completely avoid) such issues.
- The location of your server may affect your website’s ranking in various regions, particularly when it comes to location-specific searches. Keep this in mind as one of the possible national SEO ranking factors to consider if your business serves a specific country or set of countries.
- Also, check if you have duplicate meta information on different pages of your website. This can lower your visibility and negatively affect your SEO ranking.
- YouTube videos appear to be prioritized in search results. This should not be surprising since Google owns the platform.
- Although Google debunked this, some SEO experts believe that having Google Analytics and Google Search Console installed on your website can help index your page and even directly improve your SEO ranking by providing more information to Google.
Essential SEO Ranking Factor #3: Page-Level Factors
Here are the major factors related to each webpage that may either positively or negatively affect your SEO ranking:
- Having the keyword in the page’s URL is a relevancy signal that’s confirmed by Google.
- In addition, the categories in a page’s URL string are used by Google’s algorithm to determine the page’s theme and content, which can affect the page’s ranking.
- UX signals coming from other keywords that the page also ranks for play a role in determining a page’s SEO ranking. The more keywords a page ranks for, the more likely Google may interpret this as a sign of the site’s quality. As a testament to this, Google’s “How Search Works” report stated that they “look for sites that many users seem to value for similar queries.”
- SEO experts expect a page on a domain with high Domain Authority (or DA) to have a better rank than one that’s on a domain with a lower DA.
- A page with good PageRank (which reflects lots of authority) typically ranks higher than pages with less link authority.
- Having your keywords in the H1 tag is one of the key page-level SEO ranking factors for Google.
- Having relevant keywords in your title tag is a major on-page signal for SEO. In fact, SEO experts from Moz stated that pages with title tags that begin with a relevant keyword have a better ranking than pages with title tags where the keyword is written at the end of the tag.
- SEO experts agree that Term Frequency – Inverse Document Frequency (TF-IDF)—which looks at how often a specific word is found on a page—is one of Google’s SEO ranking factors.
- A Google Rater Guidelines Document that became public revealed that useful “supplementary content” (such as currency converters, loan interest calculators, and so on) help boost a page’s quality in the eyes of Google, and as a result, also can likely boost rank on its SERPs.
- Pages with longer content are believed to be viewed by Google as superior vis-a-vis shorter pages. It also was found in a study that, on average, first-page Google results have around 1400 words.
- Speaking of content length, webpages that discuss topics in-depth also tend to rank higher on Google.
- Including target keywords in the first 100 words of a webpage’s content has a strong correlation to that page appearing on the first page of Google results.
- In addition, writing the keywords as subheadings using the H2 and H3 tags also serves as a relevancy signal. John Mueller of Google explained that those subheadings in HTML help their algorithm to understand the page’s structure.
- Besides long content, the Google Caffeine update prioritizes pages that were recently published or updated. This is particularly true for pages on topics that are time-sensitive, such as news or viral topics. As proof of this, in specific instances, Google displays the date that a page was last updated.
- In connection to the previous statement, here’s a surprising one: Even though Google is believed to generally favor fresh content, an older webpage that’s frequently updated may rank higher than a newer page.
- Speaking of content updates, just how much was updated also may be a key SEO ranking factor. Adding multiple paragraphs is considered more impactful than simply correcting a spelling mistake or changing the order of sentences.
- The number of times that the page was updated over time also may be significant for SEO ranking.
- The originality of the content on your page matters. Content that’s been copied or scraped from an indexed page usually doesn’t rank as high as completely original content. Worse, they may not be indexed at all.
- Having a very long URL may hurt a page’s visibility on SERPs. A couple of studies have even shown that shorter URLs generally perform better than longer ones on Google.
- A shorter URL path (i.e., a webpage that’s closer to the homepage) also may be rewarded with higher authority compared to webpages that are found deep in the site.
- Both Google and Bing consider a page’s loading speed via HTML as one of their SEO ranking factors. In fact, Google now relies on actual user data from Chrome to assess a page’s loading speed.
- Although Google doesn’t directly use a page’s meta description tag for ranking, it can affect your click-through rate (CTR), which is one of the major SEO ranking factors.
- As another way of improving site-friendliness, having a linked Table of Contents on your webpage also may enhance its search engine rank.
- The greater the number of internal links directed to a page, the more important that page appears in the eyes of search engines, which can push it higher on the results page.
- Besides the number of internal links directed to a page, their quality also seems to matter. SEO experts believe that internal links coming from high-authority pages are more valuable than those from pages with low or no PageRank.
- Including sources and references as external links in your content may be a quality signal, even if Google denied using such for ranking.
- Many SEO experts believe that having outbound links to high-authority websites is a trust signal to Google.
- In line with the previous item, too much of anything is really bad. Having too many dofollow outbound links can “leak” PageRank. Make sure to use only a reasonable number of dofollow links (and that they’re pointed to trusted and credible sites).
- Still on the topic of outbound links, Google also may look at the content of the pages you link to and use that as a relevancy signal. For example, if you have a webpage that enumerates the steps on how to grow an apple tree that includes an outbound link to the website of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this will likely instruct Google’s algorithm that your webpage is about the fruit apple and not the tech giant.
- Having a few necessary affiliate links probably has no effect on your page ranking, but if you have an excessive number of those, Google’s algorithm may tag you as a “thin affiliate site,“ so be wary.
- The Google Rater Guidelines Document lists broken links as another factor that it looks at when evaluating page quality. Make sure your webpage has as few broken links as possible. None is best, of course, as too many broken links would indicate an abandoned website.
- HTML errors and W3C validation also are important. Having multiple HTML errors or poor coding may harm your page’s ranking. Although this is still being debated, many SEO experts believe that how well a page is coded may be used by search engines as a quality signal.
- Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords in the title, description tag, and content itself enable search engines to distinguish between words that are associated with multiple things (e.g., Apple the tech company versus apple the fruit) and display results that are more likely to match user intent. LSI keywords even may serve as a content quality signal to search engines.
- Although it may not be a direct ranking factor, Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is a possible factor affecting rankings in the Google News Carousel’s mobile results.
- Being optimized for Google Hummingbird may be of benefit to pages’ Google rank.
- Optimizing your images for search engines in terms of their file name, alt text, title, description, and caption may increase your chances of ranking higher.
- Having different types of multimedia (such as images and videos) on a webpage also serves as a content quality signal to search engines.
- Cleverly termed ‘Mobilegeddon,’ Google’s algorithm update on April 21, 2015 favored webpages that are optimized for mobile devices. As mentioned in the previous section, a site’s mobile-friendliness also is considered an important SEO ranking factor.
- In relation to the previously discussed mobile-first indexing, content that’s not visible on mobile devices may not be favored by search engines, or possibly not get indexed at all. Make sure that all of your critical content is completely visible and easy to read on mobile.
- Similarly, the Google Quality Guidelines Document stated that “The page layout on highest quality pages makes the Main Content immediately visible.”
- Google also stated that content that’s seen by users only after they click a tab may not be indexed by the search engine.
- Numbered and bulleted lists improve content readability, and may also help your page rank better on Google.
- For obvious reasons, having correct grammar and spelling in your content is a quality signal. Besides being good for readers, it also may have a positive effect on Google’s rankings.
- The reading level of a page—or how complicated it is when read by users—also has an influence on how Google determines the ranking of search results. Try to keep sentences and paragraphs on the shorter side.
- Having duplicate content on your website (even if it’s tweaked a bit) may adversely affect your SEO ranking.
- In relation to that, the correct use of the Rel=Canonical tag may stop Google from imposing a penalty on your website for having duplicate content.
- The category that a page is put in also is viewed as a relevancy signal. The more related the category is to the page’s content, the better it is for SEO ranking.
- Having content that matches the “entity” that users search for may improve rankings.
- Ever since a Google update way back in December 2011, the visibility of parked domains in SERPs has decreased.
- Even though it was never confirmed, Google has filed a patent that directly involves human editors in deciding the results of searches. Regardless, perhaps the best SEO advice is to always write with human readers in mind. Through the years, Google’s algorithm updates only serve to emphasize this mantra.
- Finally, Google is believed to prioritize useful content over quality content. Although we can safely assume that all search engines include high-quality information as one of the factors in their ranking algorithm, Google in particular may give a higher rank to a page with useful content rather than a page with quality content. If this is true, this is in line with optimizing for humans rather than search engines, with the ultimate objective of satisfying user intent.
As we mentioned earlier, there are literally hundreds of SEO ranking factors that can either enhance or downgrade one’s rank in Google and other search engines, and in this Part 1, we covered those that are related to your Domain, Website, and Page.
Read Part 2 of our comprehensive guide on SEO Ranking Factors.