Did you know Google takes around 200 factors into account to rank a webpage? This sounds overwhelming, especially for new webmasters and SEOs. Fortunately, we can break down and prioritize focus on which factors are weighted most highly by Google. Through the process of focusing on the most impactful SEO factors, there’s a good chance that you will achieve more of the lower-impact signals naturally.
Breaking Down Google SEO Factors
Optimizing for search engines can be broken down into 2 realms of focus. On-page and off-page optimization. While subject to change, below are many of the factors looked at by Google to rank your webpages in its search results.
Ranking well for a target topical phrase or keyword phrase requires a content-first approach. You need to make sure your webpages provide quality content that can compete with other similar, ranking pages sharing the same kind of information.
User Intent in Search is Key
Aligning your content with user intent behind the topic/keyword phrase you want to rank for is key. Google wants to provide the absolute best results for a user’s search query. Here are some of the primary on-page optimization factors that can affect the search visibility of your webpages:
- Target topic/keyword utilized your page search title. This is the title that appears in your browser tab and in the page HTML code, but not displayed in your page’s copy. The title users will see displayed in your page’s Google search result snippet.
- Target topic/keyword in meta description tag. Your meta description is a 300 character limited description of your page displayed below your page search title in your page’s Google search result snippet. Re-visiting your meta description copy over time for incorporating related terms and relevant take action copy can help improve click-through rates (CTR) for your webpage. CTR is a theorized ranking signal to determine if your webpage should receive and maintain a high position in Google search results.
- Heading and layout structure of your webpage. A clean structure includes utilizing a <h1>Main Heading</h1> and subheadings that use <h2> and <h3> tags to nest content into meaningful sections. Chunking up <p> tag content for better readability on multiple devices. Google loves a clean, well-formatted page that looks good for users on desktop, laptop, tablet, and mobile devices.
- Aligning keywords and related phrases in your webpage. Check the content of competing webpages for the primary topic phrase or keyword phrase your webpage is targeting. Examine which words and phrases are used often to provide more in-depth and relevant information for users.
- Expanding content length and depth. The most comprehensive webpages tend to rank for the most competitive search queries. And, they often rank for 100’s of related long-tail keyword phrases as well, due to their authority on the topic presented.
- Including other forms of media on your pages. Examples include static images and embedded YouTube videos to improve user engagement and dwell time. Optimizing your image and video titles to stay relevant and in-context with your webpage topic. Supplying Alt text tags to your images. An Alt tag provides a brief description of the image to Google for use in its Image Search and for those who rely on descriptions by audio.
- Revising your content over time based on web analytics data. Get web data from tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console. User dwell time and time on page are theorized to be behavioral-based ranking signals possibly used by Google, depending on the search query and the situation between competing pages.
- There’s fresh website activity involved. Google may consider how active your website is in general at a broad level, as well as at an individual page and post level. It never hurts to take some time revisiting your content, especially more time-sensitive blog post content. This will inform Google of updates as Google bots recrawl your content over time. Through updating, you’ll often be rewarded over time, as the now more in-depth piece gains wider visibility in search results.
- Including internal links in your webpage copy. Internal links allow your users to jump to other relevant pages on your site, maintaining their viewership and engagement with your information and what you have to offer. Internal links can help Google crawl your website pages more efficiently for indexing page updates into their search engine results. They also provide meaning and context to a page based on the “anchor text” used in the link. If a page has many internal (and external/backlinks, an off-page factor) pointing to it that include related terms to the page’s topic, that page will earn more authority and trust on the topic and will be rewarded with better rankings.
- Use of outbound links or links pointing to other websites. Outbound links help your page by providing support information that’s relevant to your page’s content. However, it’s best not to go overboard with external links on any one page, as you will be sending valuable “contextual authority” or “link juice” to those websites versus your own. If you have another piece of content that can help support your current piece, you might want to link to that piece instead. While this can change in the future and depends on the page in question, you might find more ranking benefit for your web pages by maintaining a higher internal link to external link ratio on the majority of your pages you want to rank. Of course, there are exceptions like resource lists, and other helpful pages that are not necessarily targeting a keyword phrase and competing with others.
- Target topic/keyword phrase in your page URL. This is a crucial step to get right before publishing your page and submitting to Google for crawling and indexing. For example, this page about SEO ranking factors includes “seo-ranking-factors” in the URL string. Keep in mind, Google is taking related terms into account more than ever now, so a page with “seo-ranking-guide” in the URL could be deemed just as relevant to the topic of “SEO ranking factors”. That page may even rank better for the same search queries if the page better satisfies other ranking factors in the eyes of Google.
- Avoiding duplicate content. While it’s relatively common to re-use pieces of content across multiple pages on your site, its best to take the time to re-phrase similar content if possible. You want to avoid the concept of “keyword cannibalization”, and other forms of “confusion” that may make it difficult for Google to discern which webpage is about which topic.
- Clear navigational structure and smart content siloing. The architecture of your site links and webpages can make or break your sites ability to rank for the most rewarding and competitive terms in the long run. For example, since the majority of links and activity will stem from your home page, about page, and other top-level pages, you’ll want to make sure all other pieces of content are easily discoverable from these pages.
- Your website’s domain authority and trust level. Through SEO, social media, and other outreach and promotional efforts, your website will increase in domain authority and trust over time. Your site’s domain authority derives from detailed metrics including individual page authority, quantity and types of links, social share activity, number of positive reviews, and visitor behavior across your site.
- Other domain factors including domain registration length and domain history. Somewhat time-based and out of our control, but supposedly still accounted for by Google in some ways. The country TLD (top-level domain) extension your website uses like .co or .uk may alter the types of queries you rank for as well. For instance, your site may find it easier to rank in the UK using a .uk extension but may cause your website to be compartmentalized to UK search results.
- Your website is optimized for mobile devices. With Google’s increasing focus on quality mobile search results and their new mobile-first indexing capabilities, you’ll want to make sure your webpage content is prepared for these changes. Optimizing for mobile includes aspects like responsive design, how fast your pages load, navigation, usability, copy layout, and readability.
- Your website is Google Search Console verified. Make sure your site is verified under your Gmail account at Google Webmasters. This will allow you to request your site for indexing in Google’s search engine. As your content ages and gets crawled enough by Google, you’ll start collecting insightful search query and page data like clicks, views, impressions, click-through rates, and average ranking positions. You’ll also be able to see who’s linking to your site over time, how often Google bots are crawling your site, and more.
- Local content relevancy. Does your website content match your local citation and NAP (business name, address, phone number) information accurately across the web, and provide local service information in a clear, helpful manner versus other local sites in your industry?
On-Page or Off-Page
For new, or content-thin websites, optimizing for on-page factors should be a priority before focusing on many of the off-page factors. You’ll want to build up unique and engaging content that can match and compete with similar pages on that topic, before involving factors that include sharing, syndication, and promotion.
Quality vs Quantity
With SEO and marketing online, you’ll often achieve better results by taking your time to produce and promote a smaller number of refined and in-depth web pages, versus impatiently publishing large volumes of low-quality content. This especially holds true for smaller business operations with a lack of content development, online following, and marketing resources. For large publishers like popular news sites, on the other hand, a complex mixture of content types might suit their model best for achieving ranking and organic traffic results.
Being able to rank well in Google doesn’t end with the content and links you create and optimize for on your site. Off-site SEO signals are taken into account as well:
- The number of referring domains linking to your site. Also known as “backlinks” or incoming links from an external website source. This is currently one of the most impactful off-page SEO factors. While great content that’s shared will naturally attract links from other high authority domains, there’s also methods of SEO and outreach you can use to build up your website’s link profile. You’ll notice the highest authority, most popular, high traffic sites like Amazon, Facebook, Yelp, and Google have millions of links pointing to them. Off-page SEO can be a very time-consuming and expensive process, depending on your goals, industry, and competition. For example, most higher volume, competitive search queries require your site to have many more backlinks and other off-page factors satisfied to rank on the 1st page. If a search result for a target keyword of yours provides 5 amazon results and a few Best Buy results, for example, you’ll be better off directing your SEO energy towards less competitive keyword phrases.
- The number of relevant local links. For a small local business, it may only take you 5-20 in-depth interlinking pages or posts of local content and 20-30 local referring domains or so to outdo your local competitions’ link profiles and rank well in smaller local areas. Of course, competition becomes more fierce as you target busy cities and broad keyword phrases where the sites ranking well are large, aged, highly pointed to websites.
- The number of total linking pages. While its best to have a diverse set of backlinks from different quality, relevant domains, you’ll commonly earn more than 1 link from the same source. A higher link count should only benefit your website’s off-page SEO performance, as long as the sources are spammy and sending thousands of links to your site from only one or a few pages.
- Relevancy of links and the content behind those links. As Google’s search algorithm becomes smarter in terms of language and semantics, there is a good chance that Google is looking at more than just incoming links for off-page SEO signals. The search giant is probably assessing the HTML and content surrounding the link source pointing to your site too, further supporting the case of quality over quantity with links and content development.
- The ratio of dofollow and nofollow links. The rel=”nofollow” tag is a way to instruct Google bots to not crawl through that link. Many sites will link to you with or without using a nofollow tag in the link, depending on the source. The tag can be used in links on your webpages too, such as for affiliate links or slightly irrelevant links you rather not pass “link authority” or “link juice”. Essentially, to help you “link sculpt” and contain Google crawl budget and topic relevancy to certain pages. Google has stated that they don’t count nofollow links in terms of adding ranking power to a page. However, their ranking algorithm may look into the ratio of follow to nofollow links to and within your site, to make sure your website’s link profile looks legitimate and non-spammy compared to similar sites.
- Diversity of link types is taken into account. A site will naturally have say, some .org links, some .edu links, some links from social media platforms, and links from other related blogs and sites. If the majority of a U.S. site’s backlinks are from all international website sources with little links from U.S. domains, Google may find something strange about this site, and penalize or prevent its site pages from ranking in search results.
- Link anchor text. Keyword phrases within the text of backlinks can provide more impactful relevancy signals to Google for ranking your webpage for a target phrase. However, be careful not to over-optimize for anchor text from 3rd party sources. Just like with your site’s internal links’ anchor text, you’ll want to diversity phrases used in a natural way when possible.
- Contextual linking from other sources and between your webpages. For many search professionals and those with experience ranking webpages, links within the body content of pages and posts, whether backlinks or internal links, seem to be more highly weighted versus other forms of links like sidebar and footer links, in terms of the ability to prop up a pages relevancy for target phrases. Depending on the size of the website and company, managing the research, use, and continual optimization of links can be a full-time endeavor. The same can go for other aspects of on-site and off-site SEO, like link building and content development to support SEO efforts.
- Homepage linking structure. How are your links crafted in terms of placement around your homepage content and the text used in link anchors? Homepage links are believed by some to be a priority to Google and should be a priority to SEO, as homepages are usually one of the most often crawled pages and the entry point to your other pages. While every site is different, links on homepages are often created with the idea of pointing to your next set of most important “2nd-level” content pieces that you’d like to lead your visitors into, such as your service pages, category pages, content offerings, and most popular blog posts.
- Collecting reviews and improving local reputation online. Google can tell how well your site is “locally networked” online versus competing sites in your industry. Review data is aggregated from the top review sources like your Google My Business (GMB) listing, Yelp page, Facebook page, HomeAdvisor, and others. Generating more positive reviews should always be a part of a company’s SEO and online marketing efforts in 2018. Having review-heavy local “digital real estate” in Google search results and on other high local traffic sites like Yelp will help you build referrals, more customers, and gain natural local links back to your site. A win, win, win!
Optimizing for Search Visibility
While the above SEO factors are just some of the 200 factors looked at by Google, focusing on these should be plenty to get your webpages optimized, ranking higher, and generating more organic web traffic from Google Search.
Bonus: What About Ranking in Position 0?
Ahh, the mysterious “featured snippet”. Or what many online marketers, SEMs, and SEOs refer to as “position 0”. A featured snippet is a highly sought after block of descriptive content that appears at the top of Google’s SERPs (search engine results pages) for different user search queries. Featured snippets have the opportunity to appear before all other natural (non-paid) search result listings.
The Value in Featured Snippets
Featured snippets offer valuable digital real estate for businesses that aim to achieve strong search engine visibility and generate a higher quantity of interested website visitors. Even if a particular search query isn’t searched often right now, they’re still very important to go after. You never know which phrases might become actively used in the future.
A New Way to Rank
Featured snippets can be obtained by producing high-quality, helpful content that answers the topical questions asked by your target audience in Google. With the support of strategic SEO, you can extend, refine, and further align the content in a way that best answers these questions for potential Google search users.
“When a user asks a question in Google Search, we might show a search result in a special featured snippet block at the top of the search results page. This featured snippet block includes a summary of the answer, extracted from a webpage, plus a link to the page, the page title and URL.” – Google Support
The benefits of ranking in a featured snippet in Google:
- Provides an updated experience for Google search users.
- Satisfies user search questions by displaying more comprehensive answers.
- Offers attractive, new, unique display real estate in Google’s search engine.
- Attracts interested visitors to your featured snippet linked website.
- Builds positive brand reputation, topical influence, and site engagement.
Thoughts on Google Search
Google is consistently attempting to improve its search algorithms to provide the most helpful, relevant result listings for a user’s search query. These are the results that will acquire the most featured snippet visibility.
Through experiencing the trends, it’s looking like Google aims to better decipher and extract the linguistics behind an indexed page’s content, by improving the intelligence of their website crawl bots and data analysis systems.
The result of these improvements? Possibly that high-quality, content-filled websites will populate the majority of 1st-page results, for the highest number of page listings and keyword rankings. As competition rises, it’s going to take more website optimizing effort to rank, and these ranking positions will inevitably become more valuable.
An active, content-producing, user-oriented website will send more favorable ranking signals to Google than ever before, as their system begins observing more extensive user engagement and user experience signals across devices, sifting out the hundreds of thousands of inactive, outdated websites from the SERPs.
How to Rank in Position 0
So how do you acquire a featured snippet result for one of your website’s pages? Just like achieving organic rankings through an SEO campaign, depending on the primary keyword phrase you want a page to rank for and the corresponding topic, that page’s content needs to be comprehensive, and helpful or entertaining, depending on the original intent behind the keyword phrase.
Your page must stand out over competing pages that are already ranking for the target keyword, giving potential searchers of the keyword and closely related keywords exactly what they’re looking for.
Here’s how to possibly achieve a featured snippet result:
- Write content focused on a primary keyword and topic relevant to your business.
- Answer common conversational questions related to the keyword topic.
- Review currently ranking pages in the search results for your target keyword.
- Provide answers based on Google’s “related searches” section.
(can observe this near bottom of search results page)
- Think about how you can differentiate your page content from competitors.
- Incorporate extensive, value-adding support information.
- Produce a high word count compared to ranking pages.
- Structure the page and elements of user experience flow.
- Confirm the content looks great on large and mobile devices.
- Add media elements ie. images, video supporting your content.
- Apply relevant structured data markup to the page’s HTML.
(helps Google further understand page content).
- Build relevant internal links to the page from supporting site pages.
- Build relevant external links through genuine social promotion and outreach.
More Factors for Ranking
If there’s already a ranked featured snippet, aim to be even more comprehensive, differentiating, unique and helpful on your page than the current ranking page. There’s always room to improve a piece of content, such as keyword density improvements, incorporating a variety of related terms that current ranking pages are also using, chunking up the content to make it more readable, providing a FAQ, resource, or comments section near the end of the page, adding social elements. There are tons of enhancements you can make!
Powerful, Time-Saving SEO Tools
Want to analyze featured snippet competition and generate content ideas fast? Check out SEMRush, an incredibly useful digital marketing software that saves you time when you need to research, track, and implement your content marketing efforts. Ahrefs is another leading SEO tool for organic keyword research & optimization, link research, and keyword tracking.
The Importance of Structured Data for Ranking
Moving forward, once general SEO understanding and efforts are in place, it’ll be beneficial to gain an understanding of structured data, and how this type of data can be marked up across your website pages for more featured snippet and rich snippet/card opportunities. As of now, there’s no conclusive evidence that structured data improves page ranking ability, but it can provide your site with uniquely visual snippets of content that appear in Google search results.
Structured data helps provide more data context to Google for potential search engine visibility and getting featured in rich snippets. This data can be local-oriented, brand-oriented, product-oriented, convenience-oriented, and much more. Structured data will probably have a stronger impact on voice search results down the line too.
Structured Data is Still in its Infancy
As seen through industry news updates, and improvements to Google’s structured data testing tool and structured data debugging features in Google Search Console, it’s safe to say that Google is continuing the development of structured data, featured snippets, rich cards, and the types of results snippets eligible for display in their search results. Interactive snippets that will continue to surface in a variety of unique ways based on content types like local business info, products, reviews, podcasts, articles, videos, recipes, movies, and more.
SEO Factors to Improve Your Rankings
Now that you have some comprehensive knowledge about structured data, on-page, and off-page SEO factors for ranking your webpages in Google, its time to get started! If you need some motivation, try the 5 second rule.