So you want to rank higher in Google. You are not the only one. There are millions of websites competing with you for higher rankings and more organic traffic.
To determine the quality and relevancy of a website, Google uses more than 200 metrics. In this post, you’ll find the most important Google ranking factors along with actionable tips that will help you improve your SEO considerably.
Before getting started with the SEO ranking factors, I would like to point out that Google changes their algorithm a few times over the course of a year. Therefore, some of these ranking factors may lose or increase their importance.
Most Important SEO Ranking Factors
For more than ten years backlinks have been the most important ranking factor in Google. There have been a lot of debates that backlinks will lose their value, and other factors will become more important. However, the truth is that it’s impossible to rank a website for a competitive term without having backlinks.
Matt Cutts stated that over time, backlinks will become a little less important, as Google is looking for new ways to evaluate websites. Nevertheless, for the time being, backlinks still carry the most value.
Here’s Matt Cutts answer to the question “Will backlinks lose their importance in rankings?”
Hint: Use Monitor Backlinks to keep track of your backlinks profile and get alerts when your website gets new links.
#2. Content quality
Lately, Google has improved their algorithm significantly, especially after Google Hummingbird update and now understands your content structure.
Useful articles that provide value will be rewarded with higher rankings, while those that bring nothing new to the table will have to work a bit more. For example, affiliate sites have fewer chances to rank high in Google, compared to websites that are publishing detailed tutorials and guides.
If you want to rank high, make sure your articles are worthy.
#3. Content length
The length of your content is very important. Many studies have proved that the longer your content is, the better it will rank in Google. Needless to say, your content has to be useful.
When it comes to content length, there are different opinions. One thing is certain, the days when 500 words articles were enough are long gone.
SerpIQ has analyzed the top 10 results, and their content length and the results speak for themselves:
#4. Backlinks relevancy and authority
It’s not just about the number of backlinks you have. It’s more about how relevant are the websites that are linking to you. Google analyzes your backlinks to determine if they are coming from websites related to yours.
Backlinks are your ticket to heaven or hell. If your website has a clean backlinks profile with a lot of quality and relevant backlinks, you will have a lot to gain, in the long run. However, if you have low-quality backlinks from unrelated websites, a penalty is on the verge of happening.
#5. Backlinks variety
While in context backlinks have the most SEO value, it’s best to have a variety of backlinks. For example, websites that have 80% of their backlinks coming from directories, can raise a flag to Google that something is unnatural, and someone is doing some sloppy SEO.
When doing link building, don’t overdo a method. Instead, be creative and try to get different types of links. Make sure you are not creating backlinks that are violating Google’s guidelines.
#6. Anchor text distribution
The anchor texts used for your backlinks are critical. Google uses this metric to determine if you have over optimized your links to rank for specific keywords. Diversity is the key to a good anchor text distribution.
The most used anchor texts should be your brand name, followed by a lot of generic ones. Over-optimizing your money keywords can mean troubles for your website.
#7. Content updates
Google looks at how often you are publishing new content on your website and if you are updating old content. They use this metric to determine if your website is still alive and give a lot of credit to sites that frequently publish articles.
Google started to highlight dates in search results, especially for searches where dates matter.
#8. Ads above the fold
The page layout algorithm checks if you have too many ads above the fold. Google encourages webmasters to create a good user experience and, needless to say, that is impossible if the above the fold section is full of ads.
If the first thing a visitor sees on your website is ads, you should consider removing some of them, to avoid being penalized. Google stated they had received numerous complaints from frustrated users claiming that they had to scroll down past a slew of ads to see the content.
#9. Sponsored Links
If you are selling or buying links, make sure you are using a nofollow attribute. Your paid backlinks should not influence search results. If you are buying or selling do follow backlinks, Google will consider you are participating in a link scheme, and they will penalize you for manipulating rankings.
#10. Outbound links to low quality or penalized websites
Don’t link to unrelated websites and sites that have been deindexed or penalized by Google. Your external backlinks are recommendations to your users and have to be of very high quality. If you have to link to a low-quality website, it’s best to use a no follow link.
Never insert links to adult or gambling websites, unless your website is from the same niche.
#11. Auto-generated content
Few years ago, auto-generated content was very common along webmasters. Nowadays, things have changed dramatically, and websites that have such content are quickly penalized by Google Panda.
#12. Duplicate content
Duplicate content can be your worst nightmare because it’s often hard to identify. Google’s bots are analyzing your website and look for duplicate content. If you have similar paragraphs or articles with what’s already indexed, there’s a chance Google will label your content as spam and take action against it.
Google says it’s fine to publish quotes from articles, as this will not affect anything. However, if you have more than one paragraph of duplicate content, to avoid being penalized by Google’s filters, it’s recommended to use rel=canonical.
#13. Website loading speed
All major search engines give more credit to websites that load faster. It comes to no one’s surprise, considering most users expect a website to load in no more than 2 seconds. At the time of writing this post, Google is testing a snippet that labels websites that have a bad loading time. K Neeraj has recently posted a screenshot, showing such a snippet:
#14. Number of comments per post
To determine how engaging your content is, Google looks at how often users are posting comments on your website. Blog comments are also considered an update to existing content, so it is very important to make your users share their opinion.
Articles with lots of comments are usually ranking better.
#15. Backlinks loss
Gaining backlinks is always great, and Google gives you more credibility, especially if these links are coming from authoritative domains. However, if your website is losing a lot of backlinks, this can have a negative effect on your rankings.
To know when your website is losing links, use Monitor Backlinks SEO Tool. It automatically checks your whole backlinks profile and sends email alerts when one of your links status changes.
#16. Backlinks IP location & TLD
A very important factor to consider, especially if you are doing SEO for a local business. For example, websites from UK should have the majority of backlinks coming from other sites located in UK. It would make no sense to get links from Russian, Chinese or other parts of the world websites.
Check both the IP and TLD or the domains that are linking to you.
#17. Most linked pages
In Google Webmaster Tools, you can get some insights about your most linked pages. Usually, the majority of your backlinks will go to your homepage. However, if you have no other backlinks pointing to internal links, this may look unnatural in Google’s eyes.
#18. Title tag
Title tags are one of the most important on-page SEO factors of your website. Besides the content itself, this is how you tell Google what your article is about. Your title tags should contain or start with your main keywords.
#19. Meta Description
Meta description is another very important on-page SEO signal. Each page should be optimized and contain a description of your content. Use your main keywords, but don’t abuse them.
#20. Number of total pages on your website
While it’s not just about the number of articles your website has, but more about the quality, it also matters how many total pages your website has indexed in Google.
#21. SSL certificate
Recently, Google stated they will give slightly more advantage to e-commerce websites that are using SSL certificates. While this will not boost your traffic or rankings too much, it’s best to follow SEO best practices.
#22. Unnatural backlinks built
If you are running link building campaigns and building too many backlinks in a short period, Google might have a closer look at your website. If your backlinks profile is unnatural, your website is at risk.
There can also be the case that someone is running a negative SEO attack against your website, and in this case you should take action before it’s too late.
Use Monitor Backlinks to determine when your website is getting new backlinks and keep a natural flow.
A sitemap can help Google find and crawl your website’s pages. However, there is no guarantee that Google will index all of those pages. To increase your index and crawling rate, you should get more authority and reputation.
#24. Internal linking
Links to your content have a lot of value and can also help you increase your visitors average time per visit. A good internal linking structure can decrease the bounce rate and improve the overall user experience.
#25. Bounce rate and average time per visit
Google is using different methods to determine if a visitor was pleased with the search results. A common way to do this, is to look at the bounce rate of your pages and at how long your visitors are staying on your pages.
There are two different ways Google can analyze your bounce rate and AVG time per visit. The first one is to take the data directly from Google Analytics.
If you don’t have Analytics installed, Google can determine your bounce rate by analyzing how long it take for the user to click the back button on his browser, and return to the initial search query.
#26. Affiliate links
Google doesn’t penalize websites with affiliate links. But if you have too many such links, the algorithm may label your website as ‘thin affiliate site’ and decrease your authority.
#27. Site uptime
Maintenance or server problems may affect your rankings if they are often happening. It depends for how long your website has been down.
#28. HTML errors and coding problems
Sites with plenty of HTML errors can signal sloppy coding and a low-quality site. Make sure your website doesn’t have any HTML errors in Google Webmaster Tools that may affect your rankings.
#29. Use H1, H2 and H3 tags
While head titles may not play a critical role in your overall SEO performance, it’s best to use them in your content along with your most important keywords.
Use only one H1 title in your content to tell Google what your page is about. H2 and H3 should support your main title.
The hierarchy order should be H1 > multiple H2 > multiple H3. Don’t use H3 titles ahead of H2.
#30. Over-optimizing anything
Nothing on your website should be over optimized, either on-page or off-page SEO. When doing SEO for your website, try to follow the best practices, but without thinking too much about it.
#31. Image optimization
Your images should include descriptions, captions, and titles. Make sure the name of your images is also relevant, so you can rank in Google images as well.
#32. Broken links
Having too many broken links on your site can be a sign of neglect and can eventually affect your SEO. A few broken links here and there won’t be too much of a problem, but if you have too many of them, you might be in trouble.
#33. Bullets and numbered lists
Use ordered and unordered lists to structure your content. They make your content more user-friendly and Google clearly prefers content well organized.
#34. Breadcrumb and categories
Add your posts to the most relevant categories and make the navigation on your website as smooth as possible.
#35. Domain History
Before purchasing a new domain, analyze the website’s backlinks and history to determine if the website has been penalized or deindexed from Google’s results before.
#36. Each match domains
Few years ago, all you needed to rank on the first page in Google, was a domain containing your main keywords. After the exact match domains algorithm update, the value of exact match domains has decreased considerably. Don’t rush into buying exact match domains. Better build a brand around your main keywords.
#37. Grammar and spelling
Grammar is not a direct signal that helps determining the quality of a page. However, statistics shows that websites with fewer grammar mistakes tend to rank better in SERPS.
#38. “Contact us” and “About us” pages
Google doesn’t like anonymous sites and encourages webmasters to create “contact us” and “abous us” pages. Allow the users to connect with you with ease.
#39. URLs length
Length matters. There’s no need to include all your keywords in your posts URLs. This would create unnecessarily long URLs, which are not good for SEO and neither for social media sharing.
#40. Terms of service and privacy pages
If you have an SAS business or an e-commerce website, it’s important to create a terms & conditions page.
You can rank your website high in Google for any keyword, by following the best SEO practices.
Consider the above most important SEO ranking factors and build a solid strategy to outrank your most important competitors.