The SEO ranking factors in 2020 have changed since 2019. Just as what was relevant in 2019 was different than the year before, 2021 will bring new updates. But if you want to dominate Google’s search rankings, you’ll need to remain up to date on current search engine optimisation best practices.
Search engine optimisation is a long-term strategy. Over time, well-optimised sites receive more traffic, and this translates to more leads and sales. Simply put, SEO delivers web traffic to your site as you target keywords people search for on Google.
In this guide, we’ll share the top ranking factors for SEO, including an SEO checklist and in-depth explanations of on-page SEO factors and off-page SEO techniques.
Once you finish reading this post, you’ll have a firm understanding of the SEO ranking factors that play a role in ranking your site for high-traffic keywords.
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is how you’ll dominate Google’s search results with your brand. But what exactly is SEO?
SEO is the process of optimising a website to attract organic traffic from search engine results pages (SERPs). Rather than paying to have your site appear first in the SERPs, you’re optimising your website using on-page and off-page SEO strategies.
Changes in your website design and content tell Google–and other search engines–that your website deserves to be displayed as a top result in the SERPs. But there’s more to it than that.
While many factors will impact your website’s ranking, don’t get discouraged; like all good things, dominating the SERPs takes time.
Google’s goal is to provide the best experience for its users. And this means your mission to dominate Google’s SERPs revolves around showing the mecca of search engines that your website is high quality and relevant.
Each time Google sends web traffic to a website, it’s telling its users that the website is authoritative; it’s guaranteeing that the website is a trustworthy source of information about the search terms. For this reason, Google uses bots to crawl websites and learn what they’re about, ensuring it delivers the most relevant results and provides the best user experience possible.
Google also scans sites to see if they’re easy to navigate and read. It rewards user-friendly sites by moving them higher in the SERPs. But there are other factors to consider, of course.
If you’re new to SEO, you’re probably wondering, “How can I improve my SEO ranking?” This is where ranking factors come into play.
But What Is The Most Important Factor In SEO?
According to Google’s Andry Lipattsev, the top 3 SEO ranking factors that impact Google’s search algorithm are links, content, and RankBrain.
Andrey Lipattsex, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, didn’t explain which ranking factor is most important. But he made it clear that links, content, and RankBrain determine how well your site will rank.
Whether you’re building links yourself or sourcing high-quality backlinks from a reliable service, one thing is for sure: backlinks will help your brand dominate the SERPs.
But what’s the difference between inbound and outbound links?
Inbound links, also known as “backlinks,” are hyperlinks on third-party websites that point to a web page. While spammy backlinks exist, high-quality, authoritative backlinks from a relevant site will improve your website’s authority in Google’s eyes.
A spammy backlink profile will hurt your website’s reputation. However, if you build or buy high-quality inbound links, your site can experience a spike in traffic as it climbs the SERPs.
Rather than keeping visitors on your site, outbound links direct people to another specific page or website altogether. But they can still have a positive impact on your site’s SEO.
While most websites have outbound links, it’s crucial to incorporate the right sources as you create content. Direct these external links to high authority sites for an extra SEO boost.
By linking to authoritative sources, you show Google that your website gets its information from trustworthy sources.
This strengthens your site’s topic signal to Google, revealing your site as a reliable source of information about the topic.
As one of the most important Google SEO ranking factors, it’s essential to get your content right. Between optimising your content and obtaining authoritative backlinks, it’s possible to ensure your brand soars high in the SERPs.
But what does this really mean?
Since Google’s algorithm depends on keywords, it considers words and phrases searchers use as they look for information. These are also the words and phrases that are related to the topics your site covers.
Thus, optimising content means using keywords in it.
But some content can be problematic for brands trying to rank. There’s such a thing as negative SEO ranking factors – factors that negatively impact your search engine ranking.
Beware of duplicate content. For SEO purposes, it’s crucial to publish fresh, original content.
If you have multiple pieces of content that are similar to each other on your site, you should use canonical URLs. These tell search engines which version of the web page you’d like to be treated as authoritative and enables you to avoid duplicate content issues.
Avoid keyword stuffing too. This generally results in overly optimised low-quality content that will damage your SEO ranking.
Do LSI keywords matter for SEO? Main keywords are important for SEO. However, despite what some people think, including terms related to your main terms, also known as LSI (latent semantic indexing) keywords will not help your brand in the SERPs.
The old train of thought is that since Google is intelligent, it identifies keywords related to your main keywords. But, according to experts – specifically Bill Slawski – LSI keywords do not move the needle for SEO purposes.
Google rewrites queries that people search for to show each user pages that they think meet the user’s informational or situational needs. This is where Google’s Hummingbird update comes into play. But you cannot optimise your content for this update with LSI keywords.
Simply put, if you’re considering incorporating LSI keywords into your content for SEO purposes, your time is better spent elsewhere.
Search intent takes what people are looking for and how they use specific keywords to find it.
For instance, if you’ve decided you want to rank your computer repair shop’s website for “Florida computer shop,” you might think your content should focus on explaining how to fix computers. But if people searching for that term includes people looking to purchase computers, your content won’t suit their needs. This means your page will not rank.
Google will identify that your content isn’t matching their user’s search intent. Between low click-through rates and high bounce rates, it’s not difficult for Google to determine whether your content provides its users with value.
As you determine which keywords to target, keep in mind what the keywords tell you. What are those users looking for, and can you provide it? The right content will include information covering all questions related to the search terms.
Google depends on RankBrain’s machine-learn artificial intelligence to process search results. Mainly, it handles the rarer inquiries. After its launch in 2015, Google has been using it globally ever since.
RankBrain is responsible for refining the queries Google processes. However, Google also admits the system helps with ranking web pages.
Google can’t share the specifics of how their algorithms work because this always leads to abuse of the system. Historically speaking, low-quality content is usually the result of SEOs learning what the algorithm takes into consideration.
Since RankBrain is an artificially intelligent machine algorithm that can learn, it can adapt and gain knowledge about Google’s users’ intentions and the information they want to find. Thus, if you create unique content that’s useful, interesting, and engaging, RankBrain will show you some love.
Here’s what you can do:
While a single keyword is usually the go-to, RankBrain is looking for keyword phrases. This means using natural longtail phrases that compare to smartphone voice searches.
If you can connect search terms to your keyword phrases, this tells RankBrain your website clearly matches specific search requests. In essence, you facilitate RankBrain’s ability to understand that your informative content is valuable to the searcher, enticing the algorithm to prioritise your content.
Google AdWords Keyword Planner identifies keyword phrases you should build your content around. The list this planner generates will guide you with basic topics you can further develop into in-depth content covering all avenues of the topic.
Google reveals related phrases that encourage topic development. You’ll also learn how Google links topics. Then, you can use specific keyword phrases and sub-headers in your content to cover information RankBrain pushes to the top of the SERPs for your topic.
It’s 2020; we’re no longer writing for robots. Focus on making your content natural and linking to relevant information. High-quality information is how you’ll add value to your content.
Think about these two questions as you create content:
By appealing to human emotions, you tell bots that your content has important information. It should be easy for bots to determine the following:
If Google RankBrain’s AI algorithm can quickly determine your content’s purpose and subject, it will know where your content belongs. This translates to better user experience and your content reaching its intended audience as it’s ranked for the right keywords and phrases.
RankBrian rewards content that’s optimised for mobile use. But that’s not the only reason mobile optimisation for content is important.
Furthermore, organic long-tail queries are usually generated with voice commands from smartphone users. Laptop or desktop users are generally more focused on typing search queries, meaning as you’re targeting voice phrases, optimising for mobile is essential.
Ensuring your website is secure and accessible means having a URL that makes it easy for Google’s bots to reach and crawl. This means Google can visit your URL and view the page content to understand what it’s about.
Here’s what you’ll need:
If your website was built on WordPress, you could use Yoast SEO to set up your sitemap. If it isn’t, you can find an online sitemap generator to get the job done.
While HTTPS doesn’t determine whether your page will be indexed, John Mueller of Google claims it’s a light-weight ranking factor. It’s also great for users.
You’ll need to enable SSL security on your website to get HTTPS in front of your domain name. This feature tells users your site is safe.
A slow page is frustrating for users, and this contributes to a higher bounce rate. Since Google is interested in maintaining the best user experience possible, fast-loading web pages are prioritized in the SERPs.
This goes for all devices.
Google’s search engine algorithm update takes mobile page speed into consideration. So if your site isn’t optimised to load fast on mobile devices, it might not rank high in the SERPs.
Speaking of mobile optimisation, now that so many people use smartphones to access the internet, Google ranks search results with mobile-friendliness in mind.
Sites that aren’t mobile-optimised risk being penalised.
This is because mobile-optimised sites are given priority over sites that target desktop users.
It all has to do with the user experience you’re providing.
To offer the best mobile experience possible, here’s what we recommend:
During an Ahrefs study of two million pages, they found evidence of how rare it is for a site less than a year old to achieve a top ten Google search ranking. Most of these sites are three years old or older.
The domain name can also matter. Google can penalise exact-match domains. These are domains in which the target keyword is found in the URL. Most of the time, this rule targets spammy sites with sub-par content.
Authority is also one of the ranking factors to consider. This involves a combination of incredible content and off-page SEO signals, such as social shares and inbound links.
While being a coder can help, you can handle your on-page SEO with this on-page SEO checklist:
If your content is share-worthy, people will share it across social networks. This shows that your content is valuable because people want their friends to see it.
Google claims social shares aren’t a direct ranking factor. Links from social networks like Twitter and Facebook don’t count the same as links from authoritative sites.
However, the highest-ranking pages in the SERPs generally have plenty of shares. With this being the case, this could be because:
Thus, it’s likely that while social shares don’t directly help your brand in the SERPs, they can assist indirectly.
Content should be easy to share, allowing you to amplify your social signals. Keep this in mind as you’re publishing your content.
So should you try creating content for your users or Google? Well, while you want your content easy for Google to read and rank, your users must enjoy it too.
If your users love your content, they usually spend more time on your page, share it across social media, and explore the rest of your content. These are all signals to Google that your content is worth ranking high in the SERPs.
First and foremost, it’s best to follow SEO best practices and incorporate the SEO ranking factors we’ve discussed in this guide. But once these become commonplace in your content, it’s time to enhance the user experience.
Providing a poor user experience will result in your site getting penalised by Google. With this in mind, while your Google ranking can drive organic traffic to your site, the search engine isn’t going to pay the bills.
Ultimately, how well your site does will come down to how your readers respond to your content. The right response will encourage Google to reward your site appropriately, ranking you high for your targeted keywords and phrases.