When you search for a specific keyword or question, or when you submit a query to any search engine, the results you see in front of you aren’t randomly selected and added to the results page. Results are carefully selected by algorithms and ranked based on various factors. A search engine like Google has a lot of ranking factors that dictate how sites should appear on the search results page.
Ranking factors are a set of metrics that the Google search engine algorithm looks into when it is scanning a website and its content. If the factors are present and aligned with corresponding guidelines, the algorithm starts ranking the content based on keywords, niche, and search intent.
Google has quite a lot of content to deal with. We’re talking about billions upon billions of content. So, the search engine has to introduce new ranking factors every now and then to serve the best results to searchers. Therefore, content writers begin to optimize their content accordingly to stay in the competition for free organic traffic.
Why Google Search Engine?
You may ask why all of the content marketing and SEO marketing efforts are put into the faith of the Google search engine. It’s simple! Google is the most powerful search engine out there and handles more than 90% of all daily searchers on the internet.
This means Google is the number one source of driving organic traffic to a website with higher results, and the best thing about it is this organic traffic is free!
Therefore, all marketing agencies and content writers are looking into what ranking factors Google introduced so they can optimize their content. Other search engines’ ranking factors aren’t far from Google.
How to Rank on Google?
Ranking on Google requires search engine optimization (SEO). When you write a piece of content, you have to optimize it for Google search engines based on guidelines and criteria provided either by Google or by research and algorithm behavior study.
Also, SEO is not only for content. It is also for the entire website and every aspect of it. Content is just a portion of it. And SEO is not just for websites and content. Everything you publish online requires optimization. This applies to YouTube videos, Instagram posts, Tweets, etc.
We can’t say that ranking on Google is easy, but we can’t say it’s hard either. It depends on a lot of factors, many of which can be forecasted during topic research and keyword research. Some of the data that keyword research tools provide can give you a gist of ranking difficulty but it’s just an estimate.
Read More: An Introduction to WordPress
What are Ranking Factors?
Throughout the time, Google introduced more than 200 ranking factors for websites, which is a lot and really hard to track. But, many of these are either no longer a crucial factor or enforced to rank certain types of websites.
We must keep an eye on the top-ranking factors that affect all websites and content. Here are the top 17 ranking factors that Google considers across most websites on the search results page.
1. Helpful Content
One of the latest Google algorithm updates is to rank helpful content higher. With the rise of AI in content generation, Google had to deal with one month’s worth of content in a day. The speed of new content published increased tenfold and the search engine servers couldn’t simply keep up.
So this helpful content algorithm was introduced to battle unhelpful, low-quality, AI-generated content and rank real content higher. Therefore, a piece of content should be high-quality, helpful, and adds value to the reader.
Also, websites should have expertise in the niche they are operating, be authoritative among similar websites, and the information should be trustworthy. This is the concept of E-A-T (Expertise – Authoritative – Trustworthy), which is outside the scope of this article.
2. Keyword Optimization
Keyword optimization refers to the use of keywords in the content. Keywords should be relevant to the topics of the content so Google can understand what it is about and can rank it for that keyword.
Keyword optimization is important to be done in moderation. Not using related keywords can possibly result in not ranking at all. Too much use can result in marked as keyword stuffing and spam content, leading the content and even the entire website to be penalized by Google.
To optimize your content, first, find related keywords by conducting keyword research, then include it in the title of the blog post, once or twice in the first paragraph of the content, and a few more times in the rest of the content and subheadings. You can also include some keyword variations and synonyms, but Google may rank the content for them even if you don’t include those keywords.
3. Mobile-first Site
These days, 60% of internet users search on Google on their smartphones. This means that Google prefers to rank websites that are compatible with small mobile screens; often called responsive design or mobile-friendly.
It’s important to keep this in mind when starting a new website. Everything on the website should be mobile-friendly including text size, button size, menus, and site layout. Use Google Mobile-Friendly Test to see if your website passes this ranking factor.
4. Internal Linkbuilding
Internal linking means connecting a piece of content to another related content within the website by linking them together. If you write content and there is a piece of text that needs more explanation, link it to another content that explains it.
This way, not only your users can find more of your content on the website, but also Google can index more pages from your website and understand that your content is helpful and provides more information by internal link building.
Backlinks are the backbone of SEO and website authoritativeness. Backlinks are links from content on other websites that lead to your website. They can also be links from social network profiles, forum posts, comment sections, weblogs, etc. back to your website.
Good backlinks in moderate quantity from websites with higher authority can hugely increase your website’s rank on Google. But, similar to keyword stuffing, if you overdo it by buying backlinks from spammy websites, Google may penalize your website and even remove your website from the search results page entirely.
6. Site URL Structure
Site URL structure (e.g. www.sitename.com/blog-title) is another Google ranking factor that must be optimized. All you need to do is to try to make it short and include the main keyword in it. And never change it after the content is ranked on Google unless you really need to and know how to drive traffic to the new URL.
7. Secured Connection
Google tends to cater to websites that have implemented secured connections (HTTPS protocol). Since unsecured connections may pose risk to users visiting the website, Google prefers to rank websites with secured connections and valid SSL certificates.
8. Site Loading Speed
Website loading speed is one of the top three important ranking factors for Google after quality content and backlinks. Google wants to rank websites that load as fast as possible for users. Let me tell you the truth. People are incredibly impatient. If your website loads slowly, they just close the tab and move to another website.
Loading speed optimization is a technical SEO matter. There are many ways to do that:
- Introducing efficient cache policies
- Using Content Delivery Networks (CDN)
- Optimizing images and other media on the website
- Using Lazy-Load scripts for image content
- Host the website within the target region data centers
- Using light-weight website designs
You can use Google PageSpeed Insight to see how fast your website loads and find out what makes your website load like a snail.
9. Core Web Vitals
Core web vitals is a rather new Google ranking factor that directly deals with users’ experience (UX) on your website. It is also similar to site loading speed. While Google might access your website easily and give a high score to site speed, the story might be different with other users, especially those with slower internet connections.
The Google PageSpeed Insight I talked about above can provide Core Web Vitals. Google Search Console gives you some information too, but you might not see anything unless your website has enough traffic to calculate results.
10. Image Optimization
Image optimization as a ranking factor for the Google search engine requires websites to include informative images that help users understand the content better. This includes using images to illustrate a point and providing charts or infographics to make data digestion easier.
Besides this, image size, dimension, format, and metadata are also important. This includes:
- Don’t use images that are too small or too big
- Serve images in newer formats like WebP
- Compress the image as much as possible based on its size and details
- Use a file name that is related to the image as well as the content
- Include image alt text, caption, and description (write what the image shows)
Also, as said before, using scripts like Lazy-Load for image-heavy content is important. Lazy-load only loads an image when it is required, like when the user scrolls down to where the image is placed.
11. External Links
When you are writing content and providing some data or facts, you should link back to the source of the data or fact. This way, your audience can make sure the data is valid. Also, Google can fact-check the data and understand that your content is actually helpful and trustworthy.
Just select the piece of text that contains that data or fact and link it back to the website that provided it in the first place. It’s a really easy thing to do that has a huge effect on your website rank on Google search results page.
12. Site Niche
In the eyes of Google, not all niches and topics rank equally. Some require higher E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthy) to rank. These topics are called YMYL or Your Money Your Life.
Ranking for YMYL topics requires extra content marketing efforts because Google wants to make sure your content is written by an expert using trustworthy sources, and not just by a guy in some far country who was paid way too less than he should’ve been. YMYL niche includes anything related to the following topics:
- Important news & ongoing events
- Shopping (not every category)
- Health & safety
- Kids & minorities
- Groups of people
If you decided to embark on a YMYL niche journey, you’ll need extensive content marketing to establish E-A-T and see results. I personally advise clients not to get into such niches.
13. Structured Data
Structured data are markups that help Google understand the website, its structure, and its content. It also includes snippets of the content or adds extra features directly on the results page.
While structured data are not directly a ranking factor for Google, their use can greatly increase the click-through rate (CRT). This means the addition of extra features on the results page increases your chance of getting clicks from organic traffic, and this is a good signal for Google.
To see how to include some of these markups to your website & content, you can check the Google structured data gallery or visit the Schema.org website. Also, you can use Google Rich Results Test to see if they work correctly on your website.
14. Returning Audience
Google measures both new users and returning users of your website as a ranking factor. While acquiring new users is a good signal for Google, returning audiences are more valuable because they indicate that your content is helpful. This is a strong signal of the reliability and trustworthiness of your website as a good source for its topic.
This is not limited to returning users coming from the search results page, but also users who directly accessed your website, either from social media profiles or by typing the address in the browser.
15. Time on Page
Time on page, like returning audience, is also a metric Google monitors and uses for ranking websites. When a user clicks on your website on the search engine results page, Google begins monitoring the user behavior.
If the user leaves the page after a few scrolls, this indicates the content of your website is either not relevant to the keyword user submitted to the search engine or it is not good enough or informative.
On the other hand, if the user scrolls through your content and reads it, the time on page metric increases. This informs Google that the content is good, helpful, and engaging so it should be ranked higher.
Both the returning audience and the time on the page can be monitored by implementing Google Analytics on your website.
16. Content Markups & Metadata
Content markups & metadata help Google understand the structure of your content, title, keywords, tags, categories, etc. so it can understand what content is about and rank it for corresponding keywords.
This includes structuring the blog post and its content according to the standard HTML tags. For example:
- Blog post title should be an H1 tag
- Post content (paragraphs) should be in P tags
- Subheadings should be in H2 to H6 tags
- SEO title and short description should be determined (description is no longer necessary)
- Main keywords and tags should be provided (no longer necessary)
Fortunately, Google automatically identifies many content markups & metadata, but the examples above should be followed in order to get the best results.
Social signals refer to a set of websites or brand activities on social networks. This is an indirect ranking factor that Google employs mostly for brands and companies.
No matter if you have a personal website, a company website, or an online store, your website is bound to have some branded social media accounts and occasionally post something over there.
These activities on social media plus what people are talking about your overall company performance on the internet define a set of signals that Google uses to rank your website for brand-related queries.
Staying active on social media, frequently publishing content, and keeping in touch with the audience on social media by replying to comments, DMs, or even holding competitions on social media can provide some good social signals for Google to evaluate the website ranking.
To wrap up this post, let’s see what we learned about Google ranking factors. First, we talk about the Google algorithm and why Google is the chosen search engine for content marketers. Then we talk about how to rank on the Google search engine and how to stay in the competition.
And at last, we took a deep dive into the most important Google ranking factors for 2023. Although there are over 200 ranking factors, if this list is still too long, then pay attention to these more important ranking factors and try to put 80% to 90% of your focus on them. The higher on the list, the more important it is.
- Helpful Content
- Site Loading Speed
- Site Niche
- Mobile-first Site
- Keyword Optimization
- Internal Linkbuilding
- External Links
- Image Optimization
Each of these ranking factors was described briefly with some examples and how to optimize the website and content for it, which is important considering the competition for higher ranks on the search results page is getting harder every day, and that’s about it.