RANKING FACTORS FOR GOOGLE SEARCH (2021)
Google is the largest search engine in the world. It boasts the highest volume of users. Google aims to bring the best possible search engine results to its user base. They determine their search results using a variety of ranking factors. These ranking factors determine the worth of a website. The higher the score, the better the website will rank.
GOOGLE’S MOST IMPORTANT RANKING FACTORS
Google use many ranking factors in their algorithms. Some are very important, whilst others not so much. In this article, we will cover the categories that these ranking factors fall into. We will then expand on the most important ranking factors. Some of these ranking factors are proven by Google, whilst others are based on research. In addition to this, we will provide clarity for each individual point mentioned. The aim of this article is to help others to create a better internet for us all.
Marble SEO Evidence Score
Under each point, we have put an SEO score. This is marked from 1 to 10 and is evidence-based. The higher the score, the more evidence that it is a confirmed ranking factor. Please note, this is not a ranking of importance. In theory, a score of 10 may be less impactful than a score of 5 when it comes to search rankings. The evidence would be higher on the 10 to suggest that it is a ranking signal. The actual impact of the 10 ranking signal could itself be lower. The Marble SEO evidence score is based on our own findings as well as confirmation from Google.
This article is split into 8 different sections.
- On Page Ranking Factors
- Domain Ranking Factors
- Backlink Ranking Factors
- Webspam Factors
- UI Ranking Factors
- Speed And Security Factors
- Algorithm Rules
- Social And Brand Signals
ON PAGE RANKING FACTORS
This refers to any content on the actual web page itself. On page factors are important because it is what a visitor is directly displayed.
TITLE TAG OPTIMISATION
The title tag determines the title in the search engine results page. Title tags with the keyword at the start perform better than those with the keyword at the end. Google use the title tag to determine what your page is about. Optimising titles can help boost a website in the SERPs. We recommend keeping the title tag below 70 characters.
HEADER TAG OPTIMISATION
The H1 header tag is arguably less important than it once was, however, it is still a ranking factor. Google use this as a secondary title and therefore should include your keyword. As with the title tag, keywords at the start perform better.
The length of your content impacts the likelihood of that page ranking well. Studies show that pages with over 1500 words tend to rank better than those that don’t. Furthermore, a longer article is likely to be more in depth and therefore more informative. Google’s aim is to provide value to the user, which is why you should do just that.
There is little point in writing a lot of content if the content does not cover your focus keyword in depth. Content depth is a factor that will help you rank better for your desired keyword. Aim for long informative pieces and avoid drifting off topic. If the content does not provide information relevant to the keyword you are trying to rank, you will most likely not get ranked for it.
META DESCRIPTION OPTIMISATION
Your meta description is the text that appears under your title in the SERP. Google claims it’s NOT a ranking factor, however, this does not mean that you should not optimise it. A keyword rich and engaging meta description will gain a higher click through rate. CTR (Click-through rate) is a ranking factor. Optimising your meta description can have a knock on effect and therefore improve rankings.
Google is able to crawl your website and determine how often a keyword appears in your content. The more a word appears, the more likely the page will be about that word. Google has claimed that this is a ranking factor. They also do not welcome keyword stuffing – too much can be harmful. Make your content natural sounding. In addition to this, you should ensure you regularly mention the keyword without appearing spammy.
Duplicate content used to negatively affect search engine rankings. Google have confirmed that duplicate content won’t harm you but it also won’t help you. This means you will need to make an effort to write unique engaging content. This includes both internal and external duplicate content. In some instances, such as E-Commerce websites, duplicate content is simply unavoidable. In this case, you should use the “Rel=Canonical” tag. This tag can help avoid you getting penalised by duplicate content. It does this by pointing to the original source of the content and therefore giving Google a clearer understanding of your website.
Your images should be optimised to include a description, title, alt tag and also relevant file name. This gives Google a clearer understanding of what your page is about. This can increase search visibility, especially on image search.
Google will favour the most up to date and recent content. They look at publish dates as well as any changes since the last crawl. Google uses this data to determine if your content is the most up to date to serve to a user. Up to date and updated content will perform better than older pages that have gone stall. Google also takes into consideration the amount that you publish to your website. A website that is constantly added to or updated would be seen as higher importance.
The ranking strength of the quality of your content is ambiguous. For best practice, ensure that your spelling and grammar is good. Good spelling and grammar give off a quality signal. The reading level is something that Google also look at. Write at a reading level targeted to your audience. No need to over complicate things for the sake of it.
Studies show that websites with a combination of multimedia types perform better than those that don’t. Websites with at least one image are more likely to rank on page one. Try to mix multimedia on your website up. This includes videos
CORRECT HTML ERRORS
This has not been proven as a ranking factor, however, many people speculate that it is. For best practice, ensure that your website is coded without errors. Use W3C validation to help eliminate sloppy coding.
A website’s domain authority is a confirmed ranking factor. The higher the domain authority, the greater chance a website has to rank. Domain authority is based upon the backlink profile of a website. In most cases, the greater number of high quality backlinks equates to a higher DA (Domain authority)
Although it is not confirmed, a Google patent suggests that TrustRank is an important ranking factor. The higher the TrustRank, the more likely a page can rank. The patent can support this claim.
Just like fine wine, a website gets better with age. Domain age does make a difference with search rankings, however not much. Matt Cutts admitted that the difference between a six month old website and a one year old website is not that big at all.
INSTALLING AN SSL CERTIFICATE
Search engines such as Google use https:// as a ranking factor. An SSL certificate enables encryption, which improves site security. If a competitor website held equal weight on all other factors, an SSL certificate would make you victorious. In 2021, there is no reason why you should not have an SSL certificate installed on your website. You can even get them for free at LetsEncrpyt.
THE LENGTH OF THE URL
A lengthy URL may be harder to read and look unattractive. This is not user friendly and therefore is not favoured over shorter URLs. Shorter URLs boast a ranking advantage in the search engines. The same applies to URL paths. URLs closer to the domain will also have an advantage. It is best practice to keep URLs short and not buried in multiple folders.
KEYWORD IN THE URL
The keyword in the URL is a small ranking factor that can help give you the edge over competing pages. It is important to keep the page relevant to the targeted keyword. It is also worth noting that you should not attempt to rank for a keyword across multiple URLs.
BACKLINK RANKING FACTORS
It is good to create outbound links on your website. This shows Google you are willing to point your visitors to external information that they may be seeking. Google sees this as user friendly act, which will help increase your visibility. It is vital that the outbound links are trusted, relevant and of high quality. If you point users to irrelevant bad links, you will be penalised for doing so. It is also worth noting that too many links could leak your page rank. Make sure you do not overdo it. Outbound link quality is the key.
Internal linking shows Google the significance of your pages. A page with more internal links linking to it indicates importance. Internal links from higher authoritative pages on the domain hold a heavier weight. Develop a strategy to distribute internal link juice. Nofollow links to pages of little importance, such as terms or privacy policies. These are pages that do not necessarily need to be indexed or hold any weight but can still be accessed on your website.
Breadcrumb navigation is useful to both users and search engines to navigate your website. Breadcrumbs are user friendly and therefore score points with search engines. Google stated that “Google Search uses breadcrumb markup in the body of a web page to categorise the information from the page in search results”
A sitemap is a great way to let the search engines know what links are included on your page. This makes your website easier to crawl and navigate. XML Sitemaps are relatively easy to make and can even be generated The priority of a given page in the sitemap may also give that page a slight boost.
BACKLINK ROOT DOMAIN QUANTITY
The quantity of root domain backlinks going to your page is an important ranking factor. Google sees that other websites are essentially talking about your website and therefore up your importance. It is worth noting that the quality of these links is also important. Hundreds of “bad” or spammy links may harm your website. It is important to go for both quality and quantity when it comes to backlinks.
Even if the links are from the same domain, the number of linking pages can positively affect search rankings. As mentioned previously, always try to go after high quality backlinks.
Search engines such as Google examine IP addresses that link to your website. A wide range of C-Class IPs shows that you have a diversity in reach. This can help with search rankings. In addition to this, links from different “types” of websites can increase rankings. For example, you do not want to build a 100% link portfolio on purely blog type websites.
The relevance of your backlink portfolio will boost your rankings. For example, a pet store would want links from animal-related websites. A backlink to the pet store from a hairdresser would not make sense and would most likely be forced or unnatural. A lot of irrelevant links can confuse search engines as to what your website is about and may appear manipulative. For best practice, obtain high-quality relevant links to your website.
BACKLINK PAGE AUTHORITY
The page authority of a linking domain will have an impact. A backlink coming from a page with a high page authority will hold more weight and therefore positively affect search rankings. Remember that PageRank is not infinite. A link from a website with thousands of outbound links could water down the juice passed and therefore also hold little value.
AVOID BAD LINKS
Bad links are links from websites that have built up a bad reputation in the search engines. These are websites that may have viruses or contain little to no value. A website filled with spam can also turn that site into a “bad” link. In addition to this, websites with bad backlinks could turn into one by association. The best practice is to avoid these bad links entirely. If you acquire links back from bad websites, you should disavow these immediately and ask the site owner to take it down.
Searches engines will look out for sponsored links or links from partner websites. Google sees these links as less valuable and therefore may decrease the weight that the link holds.
LINK LOCATION AND ANCHOR TEXT
Links that are above the fold will be treated with higher importance. This is because it is the first thing a user sees. Link anchor text is a relevancy signal to help Google determine what your page is about. The location and also the anchor text can help with search rankings.
COUNTRY TLD OF REFERRING DOMAIN
If you want to rank well in a particular country, studies suggest that obtaining links from that country may help rank position in that location. If you are a UK business, it makes sense to obtain the majority of your links from within the UK.
Backlinks should be natural and not paid for. Obvious paid links could be flagged up and therefore harm search rankings. Backlinks should be a reflection of your relevancy on the web. If you struggle to get people talking about your website, you need to focus on creating content for people to talk about.
AVOID BROKEN LINKS
You should scan your website regularly to ensure that you are not linking to dead content. Google does not see this as user friendly, and nor do they like it when a website is filled with broken links. As the internet ages, websites die. It happens. You can use tools such as screaming frog to check if your website has broken links. If you do have broken links, make an effort to link to other relevant content.
Blogging used to be a great way to increase visibility and obtain backlinks. Guest blogging is still a viable option in 2021, however, it should be limited. If the majority of your links are from guest blogs, it could potentially harm your website. It is also worth noting that a guest blog does not hold as much weight as a true editorial link. Follow links from forums should be avoided entirely due to a spammy reputation.
CONTENT QUALITY FROM LINKING PAGE
If a link comes from a page that has spun or poorly written content, it will hold little weight. Value from these pages would be limited and too many could harm search rankings. The same goes for links from pages that have little content on them.
AVOID SPAMMY POP UPS
Websites that use excessive pop-ups are often associated with low quality. This can harm a website from ranking well.
AVOID SPUN CONTENT
Content that has been spun or auto-generated provides little value to those reading it. Often this content will sound like gibberish and therefore will harm search rankings.
AVOID ADS ABOVE THE FOLD
Websites that use ads above the fold are often associated with low quality. This can harm a website from ranking well.
CHECK IF YOUR IP IS FLAGGED AS SPAM
If your website IP address has been flagged as spam, it will harm your website as well as all of the other websites on that IP. It is best practice to have a dedicated IP address for your website.
CHECK IF YOUR SITE IS HACKED
Make sure you install patches and secure your site to lower the chance of your website being hacked. Did you know Google believed that Search Engine Lands website was hacked? This resulted in their entire website being deindexed for a day.
USER INTERACTION FACTORS
USER FRIENDLY LAYOUT
A user-friendly layout will help search rankings. This is a clean design, which is clear and easy to navigate. Important content should be within the fold. For best practice, you should refer to the Google Quality Guidelines Document in the search console help.
CONTENT LINKS / LISTS
By creating a table of contents, it is easier for users to navigate your content. An internal table of contents can also appear in the search engine results. This can increase click-through rate and enhance user interaction, which can increase ranking. Bullet and numbered lists may also help search rankings as it makes a page more user friendly and easier to read.
DEVICE READY WEBSITES
Ensure that your website is user friendly on all devices. This means your website will need the ability to scale down in size on mobiles and tablets. The term for device-friendly design is responsive design. A responsive website will be naturally higher in the SERPs. An update, which was dubbed “Mobilegeddon” was released by Google. Many websites that were not mobile-friendly lost their search visibility overnight. All websites should be responsive, as over 50% off all traffic is non-desktop.
Hiding your content is something many web designers choose to do on mobile-friendly devices. It is wise to keep in mind that this hidden content may not be getting indexed, or weighted heavily. Only hide content if it is not important or absolutely necessary. The more visible content, the more visible you will be in the search engines.
RELEVANT PAGE CATEGORIES
A page category that features highly relevant content will receive a relevancy page boost. It is important to create categories in the correct manner. This keeps content relevant to the user.
INFORMATIVE CONTACT US PAGE
A website with an appropriate amount of contact information will rank better than those that do not. Matching whois information also reassures trust and therefore an increase in rank.
It is rumoured that repeating traffic is a ranking signal that shows Google your content is so good that users have come back. Google has not confirmed nor denied this.
Pogosticking is a term given when a user clicks a search result and then fails to find the answer to their query. The user would then click off onto another search result to find the answer to their query. This is a special type of bounce that Google uses to determine relevance. Pogosticking shows Google that the answer could not be found on the first clicked site and therefore can affect search rankings.
Google pays attention to how long a user is on your website. This is also known as long clicks, and the longer the better. Google has not confirmed if this is a ranking factor but many top SEOs believe this to be the case.
SITE SPEED AND SECURITY / SERVER FACTORS
PAGE LOAD SPEED
The loading speed of page HTML is a ranking factor confirmed by Google. They stated that longer loading times equates to a less enjoyable experience. The quicker the website, the more user friendly it is. Google also use the Chrome browser to measure the time it takes for websites to load to actual users. Make sure your HTML loads fast in all browsers.
AMP pages are ideal for news websites with static content. They are fast loading and designed to be accelerated on mobile devices. It is not said to be a direct ranking factor, however, it may help you rank on Google’s mobile news carousel.
Compressing images saves on load time, which is great for SEO. Ensure that all images are compressed. If you use a CMS such as WordPress, there may be plugins available to automate this task.
A website that has a lot of reported downtime or maintenance issues can risk being deindexed entirely if not corrected. Search engines such as Google see constant downtime as proof of unreliability. If you have downtime, resolve the issue as fast as possible to minimise hurt to your rankings.
LOCATION OF A SERVER
The location of a server can influence rankings in that region. Generally speaking, most top performing .co.uk websites have servers based in the UK. A closer server reduces ping and the time it takes to send and receive data. If you are looking to rank in a particular region, it makes sense from an SEO viewpoint to rent a server in that location.
SPECIAL GOOGLE ALGORITHM FACTORS
Websites that have a lot of swearing or adult content will not appear in the SERPs when SafeSearch is enabled. This is something to consider when writing content. Will bad language add attitude to your copy? Or will it just lose your rankings?
RECENTLY VISITED WEBSITES
Google may influence search results based on user behaviour. If a user has visited your website a lot of times, Google may rank your website higher for them as opposed to someone who has never been on your website before.
Google may also influence the search results based on your search history. For example, if you searched for “reviews” and then searched for “laptops”, Google will be more likely to show you laptop review websites than a regular user.
GEO TARGETING RULES
Google will alter the results based upon where you are searching from. It would not be user friendly for a UK search to return French websites. Your location will also determine the map listings you see. These listings will more likely be companies who are closer geographically.
Google will downrank websites who have genuine DMCA complaints filed against them.
Certain keywords will trigger the top stories box to appear at the top of the search results. These are pages that Google deems most relevant to the story you are searching. Often these stories will be new.
Google understands search patterns and knows when people are more likely to be looking for big brand products. For this reason, branded products get a slight boost in the SERPs.
Google shopping results may appear at the top of the SERPs when a product is searched. This feature enables users to compare prices.
HIGHLIGHTED TEXT RESULTS
Google are now showing highlighting text on your website when it is relevant to the user. This is to help users find directly the information they are looking for.
SOCIAL / BRAND SIGNALS
Having a Linkedin page is seen to be more credible. This can help Google search results
HIGH SOCIAL MEDIA FOLLOWER COUNT
If a company has a high social media following across the big social platforms, it can send social signals to improve relevance. These social signals can help the credibility of a website and therefore improve search rankings.
HIGH SOCIAL MEDIA ENGAGEMENT
Good social engagement can help Google determine your credibility. Trust is a ranking factor and brand/social signals can help improve trust.
AVOID FAKE LIKES AND BOTS
Google is smart enough to spot a fraud. Never buy likes or use bots to improve your engagement. Engagement should be natural. It is a good rule of thumb to never try and trick Google, as they will always win in the end.
REGULAR CONTENT UPDATES
Regular blog and social media updates can create a positive brand or social signals. These show that your company is active and relevant. It is in Googles best interests to serve relevant content to their audience.
BRAND MENTIONS IN NEWS UPDATES
Your brand does not need to be linked to give off-brand signals. Google can pick up when your brand has been mentioned in news articles. If your brand is mentioned often, it helps Google to rank the importance of your brand. If Google sees your brand as important, they will boost your search visibility.
It is rumoured that Google favours businesses with physical locations such as offices or stores. “Google My Business” pages can also help improve SERP visibility.
Thank you for taking the time to read our article. SEO evolves every day and this forces us to keep on top. In addition to this, we will regularly update this article as and when new factors are brought in. Furthermore, we will make the effort to update the strength of each factor.