The quest to unlock the mysteries of Google’s top SEO ranking factors continues.
*This SEO ranking factors article was updated on June 19, 2019 to represent current SEO trends and best practices.
Search engines continually update their ranking algorithms to complement advances in technology and improve return results. Google currently uses about 200 factors when establishing search rankings. Once crucial SEO ranking factors have become less important as others, such as domain security and page speed, jump to the front of the line.
HubSpot’s “Ultimate Guide to Google Ranking Factors” breaks down all of the elements that contribute to where sites rank on Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) and how to optimize them on your website. Here are our top SEO ranking factors to start implementing into your strategy today:
Domain Security (HTTPS)
According to Search Engine Land, about 65 percent of domains in top result positions are secure. Google identifies secure websites from non-secure ones with its HTTPS protocol, ensuring that it’s indexing is safe for searchers. We recommend converting your sites to HTTPS using SSL certificates to boost website security and visitor trust.
Although this particular factor doesn’t have as significant of an impact on your search ranking as others, website architecture is the ideal starting point when developing your SEO strategy, especially when launching a new site. The architecture of your site relates to its layout as well as how customers find your content. This structure helps both search engines and visitors navigate through your site with ease, improving the user experience and increasing conversions. Make it easier for Google to crawl your webpages by organizing them with clear paths using optimized slugs at the end of each URL.
High-quality links, both referring domains and backlinks, rate consistently high among influential SEO ranking factors. They even affect which search engine results page you end up on. Backlinks from other websites show that people trust and value your content, which is a huge plus for Google’s ranking algorithm. We recommend including at least one inbound and one outbound link on each of your pages to enhance your domain authority.
Metadata are HTML tags that help search engines and visitors identify the specific purpose of a page using the target keyword. At Parallel Interactive, we recommend using the Yoast SEO plugin to optimize all of your metadata. Here are the 3 types of meta tags that should be completed on all of your pages and posts with your target keyword:
- Title Tag – The title tag is an HTML element that indicates the title of your page, which helps Google create the headline you see on SERPs. Google typically displays the first 50-60 characters of a title tag. According to Moz, you can expect about 90 percent of your titles to display properly if they are less than 60 characters. Title tags with the keyword in the beginning also perform better than those that have it towards the end.
- Meta Description – A meta description is the brief string of text that summarizes the page’s content and appears underneath the title tag on search results. Meta descriptions can highly influence user click-through rates, so we recommend optimizing your descriptions to pull in readers and demonstrate that the content of your page contains the information they are looking for based on their search query.
- Image Alt Tag – The primary purpose of alt text is to describe images to visitors who are unable to see them, such as when an image is unable to load. Not only do alt tags improve web accessibility, but they also maintain ADA compliance, allowing visually impaired users to better understand an on-page image. We recommend adding alt text that best describes each image and including your target keyword in at least one image on every page.
Keyword optimization is still one of the most important SEO ranking factors to utilize in your SEO strategy. Google’s algorithms are getting better at understanding the context of keywords in body copy over headlines. The content that best matches search intent now ranks much higher than exact keyword matches. Webpages that provide the most relevant information and topic authority for each keyword search will receive more traffic and engagement. In turn, Google will interpret this increase in engagement as a favorable response to the visitor’s search question, ranking the URL higher.
You shouldn’t approach website content like a term paper. Instead, create more relevant content based on your visitors’ needs. Proper content structure incorporates various headers and sub-heads to make your topic easier for readers to understand and digest. Include bullet points, images, and infographics to keep your readers engaged with your site and increase their session duration – another relevant Google ranking factor.
While user signals aren’t officially Google ranking factors, they serve as clues of how users are engaging with your site once they get there.
Bounce Rates: Domains in top search positions rarely have visitors navigate away from their sites after viewing only one page. Relevant content, efficient loading speed, and user trust can most likely take credit for this trend.
Pages Per Session: Visitors to higher ranking sites also view more pages per session.
Among long-standing SEO ranking factors, page speed is becoming more important as mobile continues to grow. Webpages that load in 3 seconds or less are considered fast enough for users. Here are a few quick ways to improve your page speed:
- Enable caching on more elements on your site for faster loading with return visitors.
- Remove all unused media files and update ones you anticipate using more often.
- Optimize images by reducing their file sizes to 300 KB or smaller.
Parallel Interactive is a leading SEO agency, San Diego-based, with a team of experts available to help you create an SEO strategy that boosts your search ranking and increases website traffic. Sign up for an SEO audit today.