Reach the Top of Google: SEO Ranking Factors
While other search engines and social media sites, especially Facebook and Twitter, have been increasing in importance, most searchers still start with the most popular search engine: Google. Therefore, SEO professionals must consider the ranking factors which Google considers to be important. Whenever we provide our clients with advice, we in turn consider this. However, Google makes changes to their algorithm on a regular basis. According to some reports, there are as many as 200 ranking factors which the search engine weighs, when considering where a website belongs within its search engine results pages (SERPs). Each of these factors can be adjusted for various effects.
In addition to smaller changes, Google SEO also makes much larger changes and revisions to its algorithm on occasion. For example, the revision named “Penguin” tackled the issue of spammy links. Penguin has been updated and ran a number of times and is now reportedly being rolled out as a continuous modification. Another revision, “Panda,” was designed to address websites with thin content. Like Penguin, Panda has been revised several times. Yet another update, “Pigeon,” was intended to improve results for websites of businesses with mostly local clients, such as restaurants.
Most recently, Google urged webmasters to make their websites more compatible with mobile devices like tablets and smartphones. The search engine could tell that nearly half of the people searching nowadays did so from a smartphone rather than a laptop or desktop computer. By encouraging site owners to make their websites mobile-friendly, Google hoped to improve the experience of searchers whom were using mobile devices.
Here is a chart that lists current ranking factors that are important for Google SEO (image courtesy of www.moz.com):
Below is an explanation of the terms used within the SEO Ranking Factors report.
- Keyword use in document title – The document title is the text located within the <title>…</title> tags in the HTML code of your web page. Google SEO looks here to determine what your web page is about, and its relevancy.
- Global link popularity of web site (backlinks) – This measures how many web pages link to your site. The quality of the web pages and domains that link to your site are more important than the quantity. Search engines assume that your web page offers relevant content if many quality sites link to it.
- Link texts of inbound links (backlink Anchor text) – These are links from other web sites to your site. If many sites link to yours, search engines consider your site to be popular. Relevance of the linking page and the link text (also known as anchor text) is important. Tip: this is why you should avoid using “click here” as anchor text.
- Keyword use in body text – The body text is the main text on your web page that does not include HTML commands, which search engines can index. Keywords must be used carefully here because Google SEO may consider you spammy if you have too many keywords and not relevant if you don’t have enough.
- Age of web site – Spam sites often come and go quickly, therefore search engines tend to trust a web site that has been around for a longer period of time. A domain’s age indicates its trustworthiness to a search engine.
- Keyword use in H1 headline texts – H1 headline texts are the texts that are written between the <h1>…</h1> tags in the HTML code of a web page. Some search engines, likely including Google, give extra relevance to search terms that appear in the headline texts.
- Keyword use in domain name – The domain name is the main part of the web page address. A keyword within a domain name was once very important but now not as crucial to the success of your page.
- Keyword use in page URL – The page URL is the part which follows the domain name in a web page address. As with domains, it was once an important aspect but not as much today.
- Links from social networks – Social network sites mainly function based on what the audiences finds to be popular. As a result, search engines may trust websites that are more popular on social media networks.
- Server speed – Popular web sites often have faster server response times when compared with smaller sites. In addition, most search engines also tend to index more pages from fast web sites.
- Keyword use in H2-H6 headline texts – H2, H3, H4, H5 and H6 headline texts is the text located within the <h2>…</h2>, <h3>…</h3>, etc. tags in the HTML code of your web page. Some search engines give extra relevance to search terms that appear in the headline texts.
- Keyword use in IMG ALT attributes – The <img alt> attribute defines an alternative text for an image when the user uses a text browser or when image display is turned off within a web browser. The importance of this attribute is fairly low in terms of Google SEO ranking.
- Top level domain of web site – Web sites with certain top level domains (TLD) are statistically more likely to contain higher quality, trustworthy content, therefore search engines may prefer web sites with restricted TLD (.edu, .gov., .mil) over younger TLD (e.g., .biz, .info, .jobs). Country code TLD (e.g., .ca, .de, .fr) are often preferred in the country’s local search results.
- Keyword use in bold body text – Bold body text uses a darker and heavier face than the regular type face and it is located within <b>…</b> or <strong>…</strong> tags in the HTML source of your web page.
- Number of visitors to the site – Some search engines may look at web site usage data such as the number of visitors to your site, to determine if your site is reputable.
- Keyword use in same domain link texts (anchor text) – Link texts, known as anchor text, are words and sentences that are used as links. Same domain link texts travel to a web page on the same domain.
- Keyword use in outbound link texts (anchor text) – Outbound link texts are located within the <a>…</a> tags when the <a> tag links to a web page on a different domain.
- Keyword use in same domain link URLs – Same domain links are the links in <a href> attributes that point to other pages on the same domain.
- Keyword use in outbound link URLs – Outbound links are the links on a web page that point to web pages on other web sites, i.e. links to other domains.
- Keyword use in Meta description – The Meta description tag allows you to describe your web page and some search engines display this text in the search results. You can add keywords to attract visitors to your website, but this tag is not used for ranking purposes.
- Number of trailing slashes in URL – The number of trailing slashes (/) in a URL indicates where a web page falls in a site’s overall hierarchy. URLs with many trailing slashes means your page is located in a deeper sub-directory, therefore search engines may assume the page is less important.
- HTML validation of web page to W3C standards – Web pages are written in special languages called HTML and CSS, which may change often and are governed by the web. Search engines obey the HTML/CSS standard and if there are errors in the HTML/CSS code of your web site, search engines might not be able to read all of your content.
- Readability level of web page – The Flesch Reading Ease is the U.S. governmental standard which determines how easy it is to read web content by meansuring approximate education level necessary to understand that content.
- Keyword use in Meta keywords – This allows you to manually define which search terms lead to your web page. The text is located within the <head>…</head> tags in the HTML code of your web page.
- Keyword use in the first sentence of the body text – This is the first sentence after the <body> tag in the HTML code of your web page. Some search engines give more relevance to search terms when they appear in the first sentence.
- Keyword use in HTML comments – These are “hidden comments” in the HTML code of your web page and they are not visible to the user. Using this to secretly stuff keywords into your page is frowned upon by Google and seen as a “black hat” SEO practice.
An Overview of Questions to Ask
Here are some questions we believe Google considers when examining a web page. They include both on-page and off-page optimization, and ranking factors.
- Are the web pages linking to your web page relevant to the primary search term?
- How fast does your web page get new links pointing to it?
- Do the web sites which link to your page belong to the same content category?
- How long have the links been pointing to your page?
- Is the text surrounding the link to your page relevant to the primary search term?
The individual web page and its relationship to your site
- What is the quality of the domains linking to your domain?
- How many links from your other pages point to your web page?
- Do the links on your web page point to high quality, topically-related pages?
- How often and how many changes do you make to your web page over time?
- Is your content up-to-date?
- How often and how many web pages do you add to your web site?
- How long do your visitors spend time on your web page?
Negative ranking factors (you should be able to say “no” to all the following questions)
- Is your content very similar to or a duplicate of existing content?
- Is your server often down when search engine crawlers try to access it?
- Do you link to web sites that do not deserve a link?
- Do you use the same title or Meta tags for many web pages?
- Do you overuse the same keyword or key phrase?
- Do you participate in link schemes?
- Do you actively sell links on your web page?
- Do a majority of your inbound links come from low quality or spam sites?
- Does your web page have any spelling or grammar mistakes?