Top Google Ranking Factors – REALLY Matters for SEO


Which Google ranking factors matter most to your SEO strategy? Read about the ones that top our list and why.

Ah, ranking factors. The ancient art of ranking in search engines is a lesson in balance and patience.

Yet some people read an article like the example below that talks about the most important ranking factors and think, “Yep, I’ll follow that advice.”

After reading these types of articles, I’m begging for a shower and a bar of soap.

So what ranking factors should you focus on to improve your SEO?

According to Google’s John Mueller, you should focus on “awesomeness.”

But with over 1.8 billion websites online today, how do you create awesomeness?

And with the oversaturated amount of articles claiming to be ranking factors, what is fact or fiction?

With Google evaluating sites based on hundreds of ranking factors, knowing where to aim your SEO strategy for the biggest bang might seem impossible.

What we do know is that Google will continue adjusting ranking signals to best meet the needs of searchers.

This means that even new SEO trends have roots in the current algorithm – and with a little creativity and SEO savvy, it’s entirely possible for you to rank well.

What are the Top Ranking Factors for Google?

In no particular order, the top factors for ranking on Google are:

  1. High-quality content.
  2. Mobile-first.
  3. Page Experience.
  4. Page speed
  5. On-page optimization.
  6. Internal links
  7. External links
  8. Plus, you’ll learn the top local ranking factors below, too. Let’s go to it!
  1. Publish High-Quality Content

“I don’t need quality content on my website to rank,” said no one ever.

The quality of your website and blog content is still crucial. Content still reigns as king.

Your content needs to provide valuable information. Creating pages with no real value can come back to haunt you, thanks to Google’s Panda and Fred algorithm updates.

High-quality content pages must do more for today’s SEO than just be well-written and long-form. They must also take the following into account to enjoy an increased presence in SERPs.

2. Make Your Site Mobile-First

Mobile-first indexing was officially finalized in March 2021. It’s been a long, slow process since it kicked off in 2017.

In short, mobile-first indexing is the way Google indexes your site. If you have a separate mobile website, the URL of your mobile site will be indexed and used for ranking instead of the desktop version.

To be clear, there is no separate mobile-first index. Google indexes and ranks your content that comes directly from the mobile version of your site.

Also, the mobile-first index should not be confused with mobile usability. Let’s dive into the difference in mobile usability.

3. Enhance Page Experience

Improve Your User Experience

User experience (UX) has an impact on SEO, as we have seen with the recent updates to Page Experience.

If you don’t think about UX, your website will end up in the metaphorical trash.

In fact, 38% of people will stop engaging with a website if the content and layout are unattractive.

Getting this right can bring big benefits. Main Street Host, a digital marketing agency, saw a 66% increase in page views to their attorney profile pages by updating the content and optimizing call-to-action buttons.

4. Optimize Your Page Speed

After being a desktop-only ranking factor, page speed became a Google mobile ranking factor in 2018.

The slower your site loads, the more visitors and revenue you’ll lose out on.

Why take that risk?

There are tools available to test a website’s average page speed.

Lighthouse is your friend.

Many fixes are relatively easy if they are done by someone who knows what they are doing (not everyone knows how to minify JavaScript, for example).

Faster loading pages lead to a better overall website experience, hence Google’s move toward making it a mobile ranking factor.

5. Master Your On-Page Optimization

Closely related to Page Experience is on-page optimization, which deals with the “behind the scenes” components of your content and SEO.

Worth it? I think so.

Optimizing your website can help your existing high-quality content get found faster by search engines and users.

6. Internal Link Structure

Internal link structure helps users and search engines better find pages.

Corey Morris, Vice President of Marketing for Voltage, talks about prioritizing your internal linking structure in five different areas:

  1. Helping users.
  2. Managing link flow (e.g., where the traffic goes once it gets to your site).
  3. Building a roadmap around specific content topics.
  4. Canonicals.
  5. Prioritizing indexing of particular pages.

What this means is that your strategy for linking to different pages on your site should be user-centered first. Then you can focus on how to drive traffic to a fundamental set of pages.

Think about how internal link structure can help guide users toward completing a conversion from signing up for your newsletter to completing a request for a live demo.

7. Earn Relevant & Authoritative Links

Links will continue to be one of the leading SEO components if you want to rank well.

Ignore those who say you can achieve success without inbound links (a.k.a., backlinks).

While some sites absolutely can and have, it would be silly not to pursue any powerful link-building strategies that work.

As each industry is unique, there are various link-building opportunities for each one.

8. Local

Google states local is broken down into three ranking factors.

Relevance is connected to how close the business is to the searcher’s query. You could see search queries like “best burritos” when speaking about local search relevance. Relevance is the lifeblood of Google’s local algorithm.

Your business listings like Google My Business, Bing Places listings, etc. are tied to your NAP (Name, Address, Phone number) and other key attributes related to your business. It’s key to fully complete all the detailed business information in these directories to help search engines better understand your business and its relevance to the searcher.

Distance refers to the physical distance between your business and the searcher. The closer your business is to the searcher, the more likely that location will appear in the local map results.

This is where search queries with “near me” come into focus.

Use These Ranking Factors to Create SEO “Awesomeness”

Ranking signals all flow together to help SEO marketers create “awesomeness.” Ranking factors don’t boil down to these nine. Ranking in the SERPs is not about the latest and greatest tips and tricks.

Ranking factors should be used as a guide on the work you need to put into being awesome.

Being awesome means a more comprehensive, sophisticated SEO strategy for better performance now and going forward.

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