If you optimize your site to rank on search engines, knowing the top SEO ranking factors for 2020 is imperative so you can soon be ranking high up in SERPs (search engine result pages) if executed properly.
To achieve your ranking goals, you must first answer a few critical questions that will guide your moves going forward. What criteria do search engines use to decide which pages should appear on their SERPs? How do search engines determine what order the pages should fall in the results? It’s all about SEO ranking factors.
Search engine ranking factors are constantly changing and evolving. The count for Google’s ranking factors stands at well over 200 at the moment. That said, it is worth noting that these factors are not equal. Some ranking factors carry more weight than others, and the heavier factors are the ones you should invest your resources towards implementing.
If you want to stand out from the rest of the pack and dominate the search results, then you need to be deliberate about familiarizing with and implementing these top SEO ranking factor guidelines. Out of more than a couple hundred, here is a rundown of the top 8 SEO ranking factors that are absolute game-changers.
SEO Ranking Factor #1 – Content Quality
Over the years, you’ve heard it being said over and over again that content is king. That remains to be the case to date and SEO written content should be your top priority in 2020.
Adding value for your visitors should be the primary priority when creating content for your pages. Create long-form, detailed content that delivers real value and is engaging to your users. While content length is an essential factor, going for a high word count without ensuring that the content will benefit users will hurt your ranking. Users find this type of long-form content comprehensive, and there is a higher probability of them sharing it with others.
Keyword optimization remains to be an essential part of SEO strategies. Before the search engine algorithm focused on the instant match and keyword density, that is, the number of instances of a keyword within a page or content piece. Today, it’s about keyword intent and not about how many times the keyword appears. Sites with keyword intent that deliver engaging and valuable information on the keyword will rank higher.
Optimizing your content with rich snippets will also help you rank better in search engine results. These snippets will reduce your bounce rates, boost the click-through rates on your content because they provide a preview of what they can expect. From product mark-ups and recipes to reviews, there are several rich snippets types to choose from for your content.
Engaging content is always a winner. Applying infographics, images, and other visual content will make your content more appealing to users as well. To be able to deliver such content, you will need to understand your target audience and what they respond to before crafting your content to match this preference. When applying graphics to your site, make sure your alt tags are keyword driven and informative for both your users and search engine bots (as they do not “see” an image, but read the description you put with the image).
With the growing popularity of AI assistants like Siri and Alexa, optimizing for voice search is no longer just an option. How do people ask questions? Are you able to pick up on the search intent? You need to understand conversational search challenges and strategize on how to overcome these challenges for a better voice search experience.
When you are aiming your sites to be full of quality content, search engines reward accordingly. Keyword usage has been a priority in SEO but as search engines evolve so do the strategies, we need to implement to achieve the best results. When you are developing your content, plan to keep these content SEO ranking factors in mind:
- Long-form, keyword driven informational content.
- Answer direct questions or queries for featured snippets.
- Utilize informational graphic with proper alt descriptions and tags.
- Implement voice-search based keywords, phrases, and questions into your content.
SEO Ranking Factor #2 – Site Security
Several domain nuances have an impact on SEO ranking factors. Domain age and authority aside, another critical factor is domain security. Website Security has remained to be a top-ranking factor since its addition to the list back in 2004. More than half of the results that populate on page 1 are HTTPS (secure sites).
Google flags down, non-secure sites and this very factor is why you should invest in making your domain secure. To do so, acquire an SSL certificate which provides site authentication and enables the setting up of an encrypted connection.
Google has made it easy for everyone to tell the secure sites from those flagged as “non-secure”. HTTPS sites will have a green padlock in the URL field and next to this padlock the word “secure” will be present. When users click on this padlock, they will find more detailed information on the security specifications of the current site they are on.
An audit of your site should reveal any vulnerabilities that you may have concerning site security (as well as many other factors). Installing security plugins, tightening network security and access control are a few easy-to-apply ways to secure your site against both internal and external attacks.
How does website security play into SEO ranking factors for search engines? When users are looking through search results, you can be sure that they will not be rushing to click on the SERPs marked as non-secure. Site security inspires trust and confidence in users, which inherently can improve your click through rates on search results as well as bolster your chances of ranking for your targeted keywords.
SEO Ranking Factor #3 – Mobile Friendliness
With the internet being highly accessible now via mobile devices and tablets, people are using these devices more and more for their search queries. Whether they are looking for a pizza place while out and about or they are looking up who the heck that character was in that one show while on their couch, having a site that is mobile friendly increases your chances of ranking. With the mobile-first index in place, Google is populating results from sites that are optimized for mobile-first before those that are only designed for desktop use.
There are several elements to mobile friendliness that search engines consider. One major determiner is the responsiveness of your site on mobile devices. Does the site automatically resize so that it fits well within a variety of device dimensions? Is your content readable on the screen or do they have to still zoom in? Do users have an easy time navigating through the site on their mobile devices as easily as they do on a desktop? All of these site optimizations for mobile devices are necessary when maintaining a successful SEO campaign.
There are many elements and layers of mobile optimization. At the heart of making your site mobile-friendly, though, is responsive web design. To reiterate that; it is not enough to have a mobile website, it must be responsive for your users to do well in SEO rankings.
Another big item to keep in consideration for mobile-friendliness is the importance of optimizing for voice search as it is becoming more and more relevant to SEO, especially since Google’s BERT update. Be sure to read up on how to optimize for voice search to add extra oomph to your mobile SEO strategy.
SEO Ranking Factor #4 – Page Speed
Just like mobile optimization, a fast-loading website will earn you a higher rank in search engine result searches. SEO aside, you may be losing business every extra second that your web page takes to load. Your bounce rates will be higher, which will impact your bottom line for your business and in your rankings.
Some common and easy-to-apply ways to speed up your site’s load time include:
- Image optimization.
- Minifying, compressing, and combining files.
- Enabling and leveraging browser caching.
- Reducing the amount of redirects.
- Using a content distribution network.
No one wants to wait around staring at the screen waiting for a webpage to load. Fail to fix this, and users will be quickly turning away from your site and straight to your competitor’s. Search engines will pick on these bounce rates, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find that your site’s ranking in SERPs has taken a nosedive.
Interested in finding out how your site speed is doing? Google is more than happy to help as one of their tools is which is highly utilized and revered in the SEO industry. If you can please Google’s site speed requirements with their tool, then you can take comfort knowing that these efforts will reflect in your rankings within Google’s search engine.
SEO Ranking Factor #5 – User Experience (UX)
Focus on providing a great user experience every time a user visits your site. Are users motivated to stay and explore your site? Are they getting value out of their visit to your site?
Click-through rates, dwell time, bounce rates, and repeat traffic are among key user signals that search engines use to assess the user experience your site delivers. In short, if users click through to your website and stick around, this signals to Google and other search engines that what you have is relevant to and matches the needs of your users. For this, you will be rewarded with a higher rank in search engine results.
A crucial element that helps in improving user experience is site architecture. How is your site laid out? Is it user-friendly? With proper site architecture, users will have an easy time navigating through the various pages, spending less time to find what they need and getting down to business. Strive to make sure that users can find what they are looking for with no more than 3 to 4 clicks.
SEO Ranking Factor #6 – On-Page Optimization
Search engines will be looking for signals throughout your page structure, pointing to the meaning of your content. On-page optimization focuses on more technical aspects of SEO.
One major contributor is metadata. Metadata is a page’s descriptive, keyword driven information which includes the title of the page and its description.
Meta title’s best practices include watching the length of the meta title. Keep it short and aim for a character count of less than 60. Describe what your page is about at the beginning of your meta title. Keyword driven meta titles are highly recommended as they perform well in boosting your page’s ranking in SERPs by giving an instant recognition of what your page is about to crawl bots.
Ensure that your site’s meta description appropriately describes the contents on your page. If search engines find that your customized meta description does not meet this criterion and is otherwise irrelevant to the content on your page, then the engines may go ahead and use content from your page to create a more appropriate description.
Adding at least one keyword towards the beginning that is used in the corresponding meta title is among best practices to keep in mind when writing your meta description.
Schema is a microdata type that tells search engines to interpret the content on your site better and more effectively. By so doing, the search engines can serve your content among relevant results based on user searches.
Including schema improves your pages’ rich snippets. Displaying rich snippets of your content boosts visibility and improve click-through-rates on the SERPs. Not sure what schema’s are all about? Read more on how to use FAQ, How To, and Q&A Schema for better search engine performance.
An internal link structure that focuses on delivering user experience will do a lot to boost your ranking. Is your link structure providing an easy roadmap for users or making navigation around certain topics more difficult?
A weak internal link strategy with many unnecessary navigations on each page will take away from the search engine’s crawling and indexing focus. Without crawling focus, the bots will not be able to get to some of your pages, and you miss out on being ranked properly in SERPs.
For your internal link building strategy, keep in mind that:
- The location of the link on a page matters. A link in the page’s footer or sidebar is generally less powerful compared to one in the page’s content. The links in the content are considered more contextual.
- The location of the link on the content matters. Links at the end of content carry slightly less weight compared to those at the beginning of the content.
HTML Header Tags
Header tags are crucial in defining content hierarchy. For every piece of content that you create, use proper header tags. H1 tags for content titles or headings and h2-h6 for subheadings. Utilizing keyword usage in your H1 and subheadings is crucial, but don’t over do it.
Breaking heading structure is not ideal for on-page SEO optimization. Following the proper structure not only makes your content more readable, but it also makes your page more relevant to user searches. Both of these will help boost your page’s visibility and ranking in SERPs.
SEO Ranking Factor #7 – Backlinks
Further on links, backlinks continue to be a top-ranking signal. Others that find your site worth linking to is a signal to search engines that your content may be relevant enough to inspire confidence in others, and therefore must be deserving of a top spot in SERPs.
Some links are more valuable than others. In your link earning or link building strategy, the focus should be to make sure that you get high-value backlinks. Make an effort to earn backlinks from popular sites that are regarded as trustworthy and high-authority. Link domain relevancy is a crucial aspect because links from websites in a similar niche as you are generally much more powerful than those from a completely unrelated and random site, however popular and credible the site.
The search algorithm recognizes a perfect balance between quantity and quality. It’s not just about having the most links, but also from where the links are coming. Search engines will consider the authority of the pages linking to your site and the diversity of these backlinks.
On the not-so-small matter of diversity, you should keep in mind that Google does not keep count of multiple links from the same site. Multiple links from the same source may signal web-spam, as opposed to the more natural link profile you will achieve with a diversified source of backlinks.
Part of your backlink building strategy should include, among others, the following
- Creating shareable content.
- Write more guest posts on high-authority sites.
- Collaborate with other industry players on different projects.
SEO Ranking Factor #8 – Brand Signals
There are specific cues that will signal to search engines that you are a trustworthy and credible brand. These cues build trust in Google and other search engines that you are indeed a legit brand and not generic.
Among top brand signals that search engines are on the lookout for include the following:
- An identity that can be verified. This includes current contact information and proper listing for your business entity. Is the business registered with relevant government agencies and industry-specific associations? Does the company have a presence offline? Is there a physical presence or office address?
- Mentions and references to your brand by others. Do others within and outside your niche recognize you and make mention of you? Do they know of, and acknowledge your very existence?
- User queries, that is, people, searching for your brand. Are users using organic patterns to search for your name?
- Presence and activity on social media accounts. Do you have an account on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and any of the other top social media platforms? Do you have a following on these platforms, and do you keep them updated with new uploads?
To build your brand and boost your rankings, make the following, among other strategies, work for you
- Have a detailed About page.
- Join and be active across different social media platforms with links to these accounts in your website’s footer.
- Join and be active on various platforms specific to your niche and industry.
- Consistently create guest posts on high-authority sites.
Competition is fierce, and businesses across all industries are investing in implementing the best practices to improve their SEO rankings. Users turn to search engines to help find what they are looking for and being able to dominate the search results will improve your bottom line. Understanding key search engine ranking factors is the first step towards developing and implementing an effective and winning strategy.
The list is very long. However, ranking factors certainly carry more weight than others. As time has shown, these ranking factors will continue to change over time. To succeed, you need to keep up with the changes, follow, and be compliant with the given guidelines when implementing your strategy.
Be in the know about top SEO ranking factors, do what needs doing, and you can look forward to all the benefits that come with winning the search results. Every ranking factor is important, regardless of their ranking on the list. For now, the highlighted factors remain high up on the list of top-ranking factors and as such, are worth prioritizing.