SEO ranking factors are the website elements, concepts and external factors that digital marketing professionals and SEO experts use to help your website gain traction, traffic, leads and sales from search engines.
Here are some of the most important search engine ranking factors, that, when optimised, could help your website grow visibility, traffic and sales from search engines.
Google has updated the list of defined ranking algorithms dropping selected technical ranking factors, so we have updated this guide to reflect these changes.
What is an SEO Ranking Factor?
SEO ranking factors are the elements search engines use to help decide where a website should rank in search results.
These factors can include; website features, external facets like the number and quality of referring links a website has, or elements like page speed, which is a measure of how quickly a website page loads.
We’ve also tested popular AI chatbots on their knowledge of search engine ranking factors both on what they consider as search engine ranking factors and how much importance or weight they would apply to each ranking factor. Here is; What ChatGPT considers as the most important SEO ranking factors, Google Bard SEO ranking factors and Bing search engine ranking algorithms according to Bing AI.
Here are some SEO ranking factors which are used by the world’s biggest search engines that you should work on to help your website improve in the rankings.
Technical SEO ranking factors can be more difficult than some on page or content ranking factors to optimise, but they can also offer big rewards.
Here are some key technical SEO ranking factors to consider as part of your organic search performance strategy.
A high number of internal links to your page help search engines to determine the importance and priority of the page on your website. Some even argue that internal links help to filter hypothetical “page rank” from your website homepage, where the accumulation of ranking potential is high through any links included on the page.
Whether or not PageRank exists, there is evidence to suggest that increasing the number of internal links, where you mention relevant topics in content across your website
Google also reference internal links as a ranking factor in their beginner’s guide to SEO stating;
Create a naturally flowing hierarchy
Make it as easy as possible for users to go from general content to the more specific content they want on your site. Add navigation pages when it makes sense and effectively work these into your internal link structure. Make sure all of the pages on your site are reachable through links, and that they don’t require an internal search functionality to be found. Link to related pages, where appropriate, to allow users to discover similar content.Google Search Central SEO starter guide
If you want to optimise a set of pages to help improve your rankings, consider how it is linked to internally.
Search engine ranking algorithms are better than ever at understanding the content of your pages. However, where HTML content is low they can sometimes struggle.
To improve this, schema markup in the form of JSON-LD, MIcrodata and RDFa was adopted by search engines like Google, Bing and Yandex as a consistent markup language that can be applied to all websites to help search engines categorise sites and web pages by topic more easily.
The simplified code base known as schema markup allows you to tag up website elements, features, tools and content to offer a full understanding of what your web pages to search engines without affecting the experience of human users.
Although Google does suggest it isn’t a “generic ranking factor”, they do concede that it;
“Can help Google to understand what the page is about, which can make it easier for us to show it where relevant and make it eligible for additional search experiences”.
Referenced from developer.google.com
For many working in SEO this makes schema markup a priority, especially on niche ecommerce sites.
Page speed & Page Experience – Deprecated 21st April 2023
Google have updated their ranking systems list to remove page experience and page speed from their list of ranking algorithms. This change took place on April 21st 2023.
Page speed has been a confirmed Google ranking factor since July 2018. This is because search engines like Google have noticed a correlation between faster websites and better experiences for users. Closely tied to page speed is “page experience” including core web vitals, and is also a ranking signal.
Mobile usability – Deprecated 21st April 2023
Google updated their list of ranking systems to remove mobile friendly ranking systems from their ranking systems. This means that, optimising mobile usability and making your website more mobile friendly will no longer benefit your website in organic rankings.
Google has been considering mobile usability and mobile design of websites as a ranking factor since 2014.
You need to make sure that you are serving the same content, links and website features when your site is loaded via mobile device with a smaller viewport as a user will see when they load your website on a desktop PC or laptop.
Dropping links, making content impossible for users to find or removing website features altogether can mean that, when search engines like Google crawl your website using a mobile user agent, your best content is missed.
One of the best tools for mobile issues is the Google’s free mobile friendly test tool.
Deprecated Ranking Systems 21st April 2023
On the 21st April, Google deprecated several, previously “important” ranking factors and the systems that measure them from their guide of search engine ranking systems.
The removed systems were:
Page experience – including core web vitals like cumulative layout shift, first contentful paint and first input delay
Mobile friendly ranking system – a ranking system adopted in 2015 as the World began to resort to web browsing on mobile devices
Page speed ranking system – although largely already replaced by page experience factors, page speed was allegedly a factor in Google’s algorithm from 2010.
Secure sites system – from 2014, Google offered “ranking boosts” to websites adopting secure SSL/HTTPS i.e. if your website migrated from http:// to https:// in order to send data securely via https encryption, you may have experienced a small ranking benefit. As of 2023, the secure sites system is no longer included in Google’s ranking system, so there’s no additional benefit.
Keyword in your title tags
title tags are one of your website’s most powerful ranking factors. This is because;
- They are easy to change, almost any CMS lets you customise your titles tags
- Targeting keywords within your title tags is simple and very beneficial for specifying which pages you want to rank for a particular keyword or subset of keywords.
Keyword in H1
Similar to title tags, H1 tags are used as the main header on a website page. Here’s an example of an H1 tag in the codebase;
If your page is about a specific topic, it’s a good idea to ensure that the H1 tag that appears on the page matches, reflects, or is topically associated with a keyword that a user might search for to find information about the product or service you offer.
Your pages include Keywords (content relevance)
The relevance of your content to the topic your page addresses could be inferred by search engines from the number of keywords on the page and from the number of associated keywords that you reference within your content.
This isn’t to say that a page that references a specific keyword, or set of keywords, more often, will always outrank a competitor. You will get nowhere just repeating keywords back at users.
However, you will need to reference some keywords to help ensure both search engines and users know that your page offers detailed and relevant information about the topic your users are looking for.
Ensuring your page helps to meet the needs of a user and helps them to achieve their goals.
Keywords in H2s – H3s
Similar to keyword usage within the body content of your page, using keywords within subsequent content headers on the page. For example, your page about Cash ISAs might benefit from a subheader like “What interest rate can I get with my cash ISA?” or “What are the advantages of a cash ISA”. Use relevant keywords within header tags throughout your pages.
Logical structuring of your pages, with the appropriate header, for each content section.
Content quality is essential to how your pages perform in search engine results. Ensure that your content, clearly, accurately and succinctly delivers information to users visiting your pages and you’ll have a better chance of performing well in search engine ranking systems.
Spelling and Grammar
Similarly to content quality, good spelling and correct grammar are important to search engines. While you won’t find yourself at the top of search engine results for spelling everything correctly, if you make basic spelling mistakes, grammatical errors or publish content that’s unfinished or could be considered as low quality by one of your users, you may find yourself struggling to rank on key search phrases that you are targeting.
breadcrumbs are well established as an important feature for websites. Not only do they help users navigate between website pages, but they also help denote hierarchy and site structure to web crawlers.
If you have a category page for your website called “men’s t-shirts” you could add any “men’s t-shirt” product pages to this category and increase the number of links pointing back towards this category page by the number of products you have using breadcrumbs.
Search engines will understand that these pages sit within and under the men’s t-shirt category and it’ll be easier for users to find additional products they are interested in by using the breadcrumb navigation.
Table of contents
Keeping your users happy has been a priority for search engines for a long time. Google especially has been behind many web changes aimed at keeping websites user friendly including algorithms to look out for; doorway pages, intrusive on page adverts, interstitial pages, a high density of above the fold adverts and deceptive on page practices like “cloaking”.
Now, more than ever, search engines are looking for positive user interaction features on web pages to help determine which pages are best suited to the needs of their users, for example; table of contents, reading time, quick scroll back to the top, external link denotation and interactive content features are all good examples of this.
Chief among usability features, especially in long form content are “table of contents’ widgets that allow users to quickly navigate to the section of the piece they are most interested in to help them save time.
Content Parity Across Mobile & Desktop Display Viewports
As the world invested heavily in mobile technology through the 2010s, search engines began to see mobile device traffic increase.
This led them to place an increased focus on the importance on websites interactions, display and design on mobile devices instead of desktop. So mobile first indexing became a reality in Google from July 2019.
If your site has noticeable differences in what users see in terms of;
between mobile and desktop devices, then you may find that search engines have trouble determining where your pages should rank in search engines.
Valuable content or HTML links that search engines would ordinarily crawl might be missing when the search engine crawls your website using a mobile user agent.
We can help identify mobile vs desktop parity issues with a full SEO audit and we can work alongside your team to fix the issues.
This will help ensure your website offers the best possible user experience to both human readers and search engine spiders.
Authority, Links and E.A.T
The authority of a website can be built in many ways. Content creation, link acquisition and generating reviews are all viable methods to help improve the authority of your website.
Here are some of the best ranking factors to improve authority of your online business.
External Links pointing to your website
Links have long been used as part of Google’s ranking algorithms. Links are an obvious way for users and search engines to navigate websites and the internet as an ecosystem.
Inherently, help to move users from one page or website to another, so the existence of links pointing to a single site or page can help determine the overall importance of that page to a website or the internet as a whole.
Links as part of Google’s ranking algorithm have gone through numerous iterations but they’re as important as ever, at least to SEOs and site owners.
You should look to;
- Understand the current link profile of your website
- Understand the types of websites linking to your domain
- Understand which of your pages attract links and why
- Establish a strategy to help your website gain additional links from additional websites where engaged users or potential customers could be found.
Quality and authority of links from other sites if overall link counts make a difference, the next logical step for search engines to consider is link quality and relevance. Simply put, gain more links from high quality, authoritative websites than your competitors and you’ll have a better chance of ranking well than them.
High quality, relevant websites can be considered as those that;
- Perform well in organic search in yours or a niche related to your business
- Have been established in your sector for a long time
- Host high quality content on their website.
By assessing the quality of linking domains, search engines are better able to customise search engine results to their users’ needs.
Anchor text is the link text that you see highlighted to represent a link on a website. Search engines use anchor text in links to help determine the keywords that a website should rank for.
E.E.A.T. (Experience, Expertise, Authority and Trust)
Eat itself is not a ranking factor. However, Google’s wording on this is quite specific and something that does provide an upvote for prioritising the addition of established E.A.T website features into the design of your pages.
Google updated their E.A.T. guidelines to include an additional E, making it E.E.A.T as of January 2022. Google added “experience” to the guidelines, intending to mean, content should show someone has first hand experience of the product, service or information within the content to to help users be sure they can trust the advice and recommendations.
When asked if E.A.T. is a ranking factor Google respond with;
“Our automated system uses a mix of different signals to rank great content. We’ve tried to make this mix align what human beings would agree is great content as they would assess it according to E-A-T criteria.”
Google details specifically how Y.M.Y.L. (your money, your life) websites are treated, so Y.M.Y.L can be thought of as a way for Google to categorise websites by the overall importance of the topics that they discuss.
For example, a website that contains investment recommendations would be considered a YMYL site.
Whereas a website about football stickers would be less likely to.
YMYL pages or topics are considered by Google as;
“types of pages or topics could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety. We call such pages “Your Money or Your Life” pages, or YMYL. We have very high Page Quality rating standards for YMYL pages because low quality YMYL pages could potentially negatively impact a person’s happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.”
Specific YMYL topics mentioned in Google’s search quality rater guidelines include;
- News and current events
- Governmental, civic and law sites
- Finance websites
- Shopping sites
- Health and safety, including medical sites.
- Groups of people; i.e. demographically, ethnicity, gender or nationality based sites
- Others; fitness and nutrition, housing, college and education, jobs.
So consider how your website might fit into the above categories. If you’re selling products or providing expertise, then you can consider yourself as a YMYL website.
If you are a YMYL website (or even if you’re not), be mindful of how you can ensure you can win the trust of users and search engines through your website content, features, because Google holds YMYL sites to a higher standard than websites outside of the YMYL sphere.
YMYL relates heavily to expertise and user trust so when you visit a website think about whether “you would feel comfortable trusting this content for issues relating to your money or your life?”
In the search quality rater guidelines mention YMYL 104 times.
To improve YMYL websites you need to consider E.A.T. so think about things like;
- Your website’s reputation and your content creators; can you consider yourself an expert in the space? Are your writers trained and qualified to discuss a certain topic?
- Consider your topics carefully. Try to give a balanced view of each topic you discuss so your users can reach their conclusions about a topic or service from a balanced viewpoint.
- Keep customer service information clear. Allow users to find contact information easily so they can resolve issues.
- Meet the needs of users visiting your website; don’t allow intrusive or aggressive adverts to get in the way of delivering the latest news headlines to your readers.
- Get awards; awards can help instill trust in your website and help users understand the areas where you are strong.
- Keep the quality of your main website content incredibly high. Research key topics relevant to your niche in detail and show users references where you’ve sourced key information and statistics.
- Avoid misleading users with content or web interactions, both inaccurate content and deceptive interactions on your website can lower user trust and cause ranking issues, especially on Google search platforms.
The simplest way to improve a YMYL website is to pay attention to Google’s E.A.T guidelines.
Here is more about what E.A.T is in SEO and how to improve E.A.T. on your website.
What are the Most Important SEO Ranking Factors?
Links are often considered to be one of the fastest ways to gain authority, traffic, leads and sales to your website. However, the most important SEO ranking factor is not any single element of a website.
The highest quality backlink profile would generate no value at all if content on the website they link to is inaccessible to users.
Equally, great content for users will never generate organic leads if the website is blocking search engines from crawling and understanding the content.
Creating and running websites that generate leads from organic search works best when you take a holistic approach to SEO and ensure that technical SEO, Content quality and authority & digital reputation management is considered equally valuable.
Top 5 SEO On Site Ranking Factors
Here are our Top 5 key SEO ranking factors, condensed into a short video. Make a note of these and optimise them on your website to help improve your SEO performance.