Google’s top 10 SEO factors (in our opinion)

Search Engine Optimization

It’s every web developer’s dream to know Google’s algorithm for determining page rank. Unfortunately, the secret is ever-changing and unknown to most of the population. Our list of the top 10 SEO ranking factors is based on years of research, website development and SEO. In our opinion, these factors make a huge difference in the way your website ranks organically.

In 2018, SEO is all about proving to Google that your site is an authority in your industry and offers searchers the information they’re looking for. Each one of these factors helps a website provide a smooth user experience to its visitors. This encourages users to stay a while and interact with a website’s pages, signaling to Google that they found what they were looking for.

Content SEO Factors

High quality, informative content throughout your website helps Google determine what your website is about and which searcher will benefit from it most.

1. In-Depth Website Content

Website content is probably the most important factor in determining relevancy to search engines. In-depth, unique, high-quality content signals to Google that you’re knowledgeable about the topic you’re writing about.

When creating content, we use tools like Google Trends to research keywords and Google Search Console to analyze what search terms are already driving organic traffic to a website.

While users still type keywords into Google, and keywords do still have an effect on SEO, they are no longer the only content SEO factor that matters. Instead of focusing on placing a single keyword into text as many times as possible, we naturally use related terms to appeal to both search engines and readers.

2. Updated, Relevant Content

Once upon a time, it was enough for an “SEO expert” to go through a site and make slight modifications to content and code to trick Google into believing the information is up to date. Those days are gone; Google is too smart to fall for this trick and others like it.

Now, the only way to convince Google that your content is “fresh” is to actually update it. Keeping your main web pages, product pages and blog posts current helps users find relevant information, which is what Google is focused on these days.

3. Descriptive Title and Meta Tags

Placing your focus keyword in your page title tags is an important part of optimizing your website. This gives Google a quick summary of what your page is about. You also want your title to appeal to searchers, because it draws them in and encourages them to read your meta description and click through to your page.

When your website appears in search results, Google has an expected click through rate (CTR) based on your position. The number of people who do click on your website from the results page in comparison to Google’s prediction affects your rank. A compelling meta description that closely relates to the page’s topic can encourage people to click through.

Technical SEO Factors

A pleasant user experience combines both informative content and technical SEO. These search engine ranking factors are based on the structure and code of your website.

4. Page Load Time

Both Google and Bing use page load time in search engine ranking. Optimizing your website to load more quickly can be an easy way to increase your organic performance. Google prioritizes faster websites because they deliver a better user experience. Searchers get the information they’re looking for faster and are more likely to spend time clicking around your website, instead of bouncing back to the search results page.

5. Responsive Design

Google has stated that responsive design is their preferred configuration for mobile-friendly websites for years. Now, it’s more important than ever. Google is in the process of transitioning to a mobile-first index, which means pages will be ranked based on their smartphone version instead of their desktop version.

6. XML Sitemap File

Before Google can rank your site at all, it needs to know your website exists. You can wait for Google to find your site on its own, but that’s going to take much longer than you’d like.

Instead, submitting a well-organized XML sitemap file to Google through Search Console encourages Google to crawl and index your website. It’s important to keep Google up to date when you create new content by submitting updated sitemaps. Fortunately, this is one SEO factor that can be automated.

7. Organized Website Hierarchy

The position of pages within your website’s structure can affect their importance to search engines. The top-level domains in your XML sitemap are seen as more as important than pages lower down on your hierarchy. When building your website, visualize a root system. The plant is the most important part, with the “support” content extending lower into the ground.

8. A Secure Site

If your website collects any personal information from visitors, Google expects you to use an SSL Certificate to ensure that information is safe. While transitioning from an HTTP to an HTTPS site will probably not directly affect your Google rankings, it will help reassure customers. With Google’s continued efforts to deliver what people are looking for, it’s a good idea to do everything you can to appeal to users. This includes reassuring them that their information is safe with your company.

9. Schema Markup

Schema markup alone may not directly affect your rankings in search engine results. However, using this form of code helps point out important information about your business to Google. Google uses this information to determine how relevant your website is to a particular search.

Depending on what industry your business is a part of, you may also notice extra additions to some search engine results. These “rich snippets,” which can be in the form of review stars, product pricing and more, help results stand out and can increase click through rate.

Off-Page SEO Factors

While many of the factors that affect search engine rankings are on-page SEO factors, there are also signals that take place outside of your website. These factors are more difficult to control than on-page SEO, but it is possible to positively influence your site’s off-page SEO.

10. Number of Linking Root Domains

There is no disputing that the number of referring domains is one of the most important factors in Google’s algorithm. These links back to your website create relevancy and authority.

Signals from social media such as followers, likes, comments and shares, do not have a large impact on SEO on their own. However, an exceptionally popular post on social media can increase the number of backlinks, which is an incredibly important SEO ranking factor.