Search engine optimization (SEO) is both an art and a science. While search algorithms are complex, experts agree there are several core factors that contribute to high rankings and traffic.
Understanding SEO Ranking Factors
Google’s ingenious algorithm analyzes a multitude of signals to deliver the most useful, relevant search results. For SEOs, understanding these core ranking factors is the key that unlocks high visibility in organic search results.
These SEO ranking factors are the specific elements and signals that search engines, especially Google, use to evaluate pages and determine where to rank them in results.
Ranking factors cover both on-page elements that can be directly optimized, as well as off-page signals related to links, citations, user engagement and more.
Now, knowing your SEO ranking factors is certainly important knowledge for guiding your optimization tactics. However, at Direction.com, we don’t optimize for search engines — we optimize for users.
Real SEO success all boils down to how well you can cater to your target audience’s wants and needs. While the information provided below will point you in the right direction; never lose sight of catering to your website visitors. They should always comes first.
11 Known SEO Ranking Factors
We can safely say that there are 100% valid and working ranking factors that influence how your site performs organically on Google.
- Page speed and performance (10-20%)
- Mobile optimization (10-20%)
- Domain authority and trust (10-15%)
- On-page optimization (10-15%)
- Keyword usage
- Page titles and meta descriptions
- Headings and content
- Image alt text
- Internal linking
- Schema markup
- Off-page optimization (20-30%)
- Quality backlinks
- Social signals
- Local listings and citations
- Brand mentions
- Click-through-rate from SERPs (5-10%)
- Bounce rate from SERPs (5-10%)
- Site architecture (5%)
- Page experience signals (5%)
- Safe browsing
- Ad experience
- User behavior (5%)
- Time on site
- Pages per visit
- Localization and translation (5%)
Page Speed and Performance
Page speed and performance is a major SEO ranking factor because it directly impacts the user experience on a website.
Fast page loads create seamless browsing that search engines want to promote. Quickly rendering above-the-fold content keeps visitors focused on what matters most. Faster speeds also allow for quicker indexing and crawling by search bots. On mobile, where every second matters, speed is even more critical to user experience.
From an technical perspective, optimized speed demonstrates expertise with images, code, hosting and more. It shows an investment in site quality that search algorithms reward over time through better rankings. Plus, faster pages simply convert better, as visitors are more likely to click through and engage versus abandoning slow sites.
With over 50% of searches now happening on phones and tablets, delivering an excellent mobile experience is no longer optional – it’s essential for success.
Google’s algorithm heavily favors sites optimized for mobile because they want to provide the best possible search experience regardless of the device.
A mobile-friendly site simply works better for users on the go, and often translates really well for tablet and desktop users.
From a technical SEO perspective, sites not optimized for mobile face indexing issues since they’re harder for Google bots to crawl. Structured data and page speed also become problems without mobile in mind.
So in many ways, from page experience to site quality signals, mobile optimization is make-or-break for rankings.
Google does have the Mobile-Friendly Test to diagnose mobile usability issues. If you’re curious how your site is graded for mobile usage, this is the tool to use.
Domain Authority and Trust
This is really broad, but there are still a few things to mention. First, your domain authority will be measured by a wide variety of signals — and they’re not all known to SEOs.
Secondly, (and completely off the cuff) we can boil it down to the following:
- quality of your content
- quality of your backlink portfolio (and brand mentions)
- quality of your user experience
- visibility index (local listings and social signals)
- your overall online reputation (think average star rating for reviews and frequency of new reviews)
- your domain history
Now, we can break this down even further. For instance, when grading “quality of your content” we can say that the following criteria needs to be met:
- the content is written by a trustworthy expert (E-A-T)
- it provides a unique point of view on the subject matter
- it covers to the topic thoroughly (topical authority)
- the webpage where it’s published has high session duration and low bounce rates
- the user is engaging the content by interacting with page elements
- and on and on
Just know that domain authority and trust are critical ranking factors that speak to a website’s credibility and influence.
When you’re trying to get your website to rank high in Google search results, on-page optimization is key.
The Power of Internal Linking
One aspect often overlooked in on-page optimization is the power of internal linking. These are links that connect one page of your site to another. They not only help users navigate through your content but also allow search engine bots to crawl and index pages more effectively.
Page Titles And Meta Descriptions
Title tags, or page titles, and meta descriptions play significant roles too.
Title tags give both users and search engines an idea about what the topic of a particular web page is. Meanwhile, meta descriptions provide further insight into what visitors can expect from the content.
To optimize these elements for better google ranking factors, ensure they contain targeted keywords without being guilty of keyword stuffing.
Beyond title tags and meta descriptions lie other aspects like headings & quality contents.
Properly structured headings (H1, H2, H3) using relevant keywords can enhance your on-page SEO efforts.
But it’s not just about structuring; the content under those headings matters too. Content quality is a crucial google ranking factor and plays a pivotal role in determining your brand authority and trust.
Outside of your site, there is a whole realm that has an immense influence on how search engines view you.
Leveraging Local Listings and Citations
Imagine these platforms as digital billboards strategically located across town—each one reinforcing your brand name, address, phone number (NAP), and website URL consistently to Google.
Citations from reputable directories give added weight to your credibility because they act like quality backlinks without actually linking back to you directly.
When working on off-page SEO strategies make sure your brand gets mentioned even without a link, and keep an eye on those social signals.
The internet doesn’t just hear—it listens. Each time someone mentions your brand online but doesn’t link back to you counts as an implied link or a brand mention—a powerful signal for Google about how much people are talking about you.
Social signals also come into play in a big way here as they reflect interactions such as likes, shares, votes on social media platforms—that speak volumes about user engagement levels with your content.
Click-through rates from search engine results pages (SERPs) directly influence search rankings because they signal how useful and relevant search engines perceive a page to be for a given query.
Specifically, higher click-through rates show searchers are frequently finding a result compelling and clicking through to the page. This engagement indicates the title tag, meta description, and displayed URL are enticing relevance for the keyword searched. It suggests the content on the landing page satisfies the user intent behind the query.
Bounce rate is an accepted SEO ranking factor because it indicates how engaged users are with a page after clicking through from a search.
A high bounce rate suggests searchers are quickly returning to the SERP after landing on a page, which signals that the content does not sufficiently answer the user’s query or meet their needs.
People bounce because the page lacks relevance or provides a poor user experience.
Site architecture refers to the structure and technical layout of a website, which is significant because it impacts the crawling and indexing capacity of search engines.
Basically, complex site architectures with excessive pages, convoluted navigation and overlapping structures make it hard for search engines to read your content and determine your area of expertise.
On the other hand, a clean internal linking structure, easy-to-reach pages, and a sitemap help search bots navigate and catalog a site more efficiently.
The Role of XML Sitemaps
For SEOs, implementing an XML sitemap is a best practice for facilitating efficient crawling of website content. Sitemaps essentially provide search bots like Googlebot with an index of all pages on a domain to guide discovery and indexing.
Without a sitemap, large or complex sites run the risk of search engines failing to uncover all relevant pages. This leads to issues with rankings, as unindexed pages cannot position for relevant queries.
Search engines care a lot about page experience factors – like is your site secure, mobile-friendly and ad-free? They look at stuff like that closely because it shows how much you respect your site visitors’ experience.
If you make the effort to encrypt your site’s connections with HTTPS, make sure your site looks great on phones, and don’t blast people with annoying ads, then search engines notice.
They see you care about giving your visitors a smooth, hassle-free experience.
User behavior signals, like time on site and pages per visit offer clues about how engaging and useful search engines perceive a website’s content to be.
Visitors spending more time exploring a site’s pages shows they are finding the information valuable. Lots of pageviews per visit implies users are interested in delving deeper into the content being offered.
This signals relevance and quality, and is often rewarded with better keyword rankings.
Localization and Translation
Localization and proper translation helps search engines better understand the relevance of a page for users in specific geographic regions and languages.
This is especially important if you want your website to rank in local searches, but also has an impact on national and international SEO campaigns.
What Do We Gain by Knowing These SEO Ranking Factors?
Understanding how Google’s algorithm prioritizes these known SEO ranking factors allows us to take a strategic, comprehensive approach to optimizing pages for higher rankings and visibility.
Specifically, knowledge of these factors enables:
- Prioritizing technical site improvements around page speed and mobile optimization for better crawling, indexing and usability.
- Building authority and trust through high-quality content, backlinks, citations, reviews and other signals that establish credibility.
- Enhancing on-page elements like titles, headlines, alt text and schema markup to improve relevance for searchers.
- Cultivating backlinks, social engagement and brand mentions to increase awareness and referral traffic.
- Creating compelling page experiences via site security, responsiveness and ad placement to improve perceptions.
- Analyzing user behavior metrics to optimize content for engagement and exploration.
- Localizing site content and translating pages to better target international and regional audiences.
- Tracking ranking factor performance to diagnose issues and measure SEO success over time.
- Developing short and long-term SEO strategies across technical, content and trust-building initiatives.
- Prioritizing high-impact activities based on ranking factor influence for efficient optimization.
- Competing more effectively in both local and broad SEO by leveraging these key signals.
Having reviewed the key ranking factors that drive search visibility, you now possess valuable SEO knowledge to help websites succeed.
However, truly optimizing search presence requires diligently applying these insights through on-page enhancements and off-page strategies over an extended timeframe.
Tangible results will not materialize overnight. But by implementing a comprehensive SEO plan, you can make incremental gains in organic visibility and authority.
If you’re still debating where to start, or think having an SEO expert in your corner would be time (and money) better spent, then get in touch with our team for a free SEO audit of your website.
Together, we can review what’s working and what needs improvement, and provide you with a clear roadmap for how to make massive gains in organic search.