Top 21 Factors That Influence SEO
Your company’s position in search rankings is critical. That’s why you either have employees whose entire jobs are dedicated to improving that position, or you hire SEO consultants to handle that work for you. In any event, search engine optimization, or SEO, is central to the success of any company’s online presence.
While SEO might seem like magic, it’s really not (well, maybe a little). How well your company performs in search rankings is based on a variety of factors that Google and other search engines take into account. Some you can control, and some you can’t.
Before diving into huge changes to your website and your digital content, it’s helpful to consider a handful of the factors that influence SEO. We say “handful” because there are at least 200 distinct factors used to determine search results — for Google alone.
Let’s look at several of the biggest factors, broken down by the level at which the factor appears. For instance, some factors are related to your website’s domain, while others are related to links from other pages.
Traffic: Perhaps it’s obvious, but pages with high levels of traffic are more likely to be pages users find valuable, so they will be rewarded in search engine results. Similarly, repeat traffic can boost a site’s standing.
Comments and interaction: You should be creating content that provides value and sparks conversation among your users. Google has confirmed it takes into account some user comments on pages as a sign that visitors are highly engaged.
Time spent on page: The more time visitors spend on your page, the better. This is a signal that your page is popular but also useful enough for them to find other interesting things in addition to whatever it was that sent them there in the first place.
User experience: If your site is not mobile-friendly, changing that fact should be first on your list. Sites without mobile versions are likely penalized in search rankings. In addition to having a mobile version, it should be intuitive and easy to use, so make sure fonts are large enough and menus are easy to access even on a small screen.
Search intent: Semantic search is a reality today, though it still is a work in progress. But search engines now are sophisticated enough to intuit a user’s meaning when they search for something, which has helped changed how people phrase their queries.
Pages & Content
Loading speed: The faster your page loads, the better. Google even uses data from users of its Chrome browser to help measure and record load times.
Keywords: Though the algorithm is frequently updated, the placement of keywords within the metadata of pages is important. They should appear at the beginning of the title tag, in the description tag and in the H1 tag. Outside of metadata, the formerly popular (and still annoying) practice of keyword stuffing will likely get you penalized now, so while your keywords should appear throughout your content, they should feel organic and necessary to the conversation.
Timeliness: Google rewards content recency as well as the scope and frequency of updates. Only publishing once a month? That’s not enough to rank for competitive keywords.
Content length: The more words on a page, the more likely the page is to be comprehensive and something readers would find useful. So it’s no wonder studies have correlated content length with results rankings.
Unique content: Search engines reward content that’s different from other content on your site. This is important to consider when repurposing other content; it’s OK for content to feel related, but they should not be twins.
Images & multimedia: Studies have indicated search engines reward content that contains at least one image.
Domain & Site
Domain age: It’s believed that Google does factor in the age of the domain, though the impact may be minor. Still, it’s likely that older, more established domains are more likely to perform better.
Policy pages: Having terms of service and privacy pages helps signal trustworthiness, which is highly prized by search engines.
Domain history: Somewhat related to the age of a domain, ones with rocky histories that have been frequently sold or abandoned may fall behind in results.
Keyword placement within domain: Domains that begin with the target keyword tend to perform better than those without their keyword in the domain or where the keyword appears in the middle or end.
Domain authority: High-authority domains will almost always perform better even if other content may be slightly more useful overall.
Linking domains: Links from established domains tend to be more valuable than backlinks from newer domains. Additionally, the number of linking domains is hugely influential in signaling the value and trustworthiness of your site and its content.
Competitors: While it may seem counterintuitive, links from other pages within the same keyword you’re targeting can give you a signal boost.
Location: Where on the referring page the backlink appears is important, as search engines seem to more heavily value backlinks appearing in content rather than in sidebars or footers.
Age and quality: Older links should be more prized than brand-new ones, so all things being equal, you should do everything you can to ensure those links stay active. And, of course, you want backlinks from high-quality (usually long-form) content.
Diversity: If all your backlinks are from a single type of link, such as product reviews or comments sections, that’s often a signal of spamming, but if your backlinks originate from a variety of methods, the search engines read that as organic.
While the exact recipe Google, Bing and other search engines use to create their results pages is unknown, years of real-world testing have helped identify hundreds of factors that are considered.
It’s difficult, even for SEO professionals, to keep all those factors in their minds, but a good way to understand why the search engines use the factors they do is to think about why search engines and algorithms exist at all. Google knows the better the results it delivers to a user each time they search, the more they will use the service. So it wants to bring the best possible content to help answer questions or solve problems.
So the next time you think about a technical aspect of why your content scores the way it does on Google, think about your user instead of the algorithm. They have a question or a problem, and it’s your company’s job to speak the clearest and the loudest so they’ll see your answer.
Backlinko, Google’s 200 Ranking Factors: The Complete List. (2019.) Retrieved from https://backlinko.com/google-ranking-factors
Moz, What Is Semantic Search and What Should You Do About It? (2016.) Retrieved from https://moz.com/blog/what-is-semantic-search