Every time a question pops into your head, where do you usually go to find answers? When you’re curious about a product or how things work, you probably don’t go to libraries anymore to quench your interest.
At this point where the Internet is at its peak, Google is the ultimate destination. If you have any questions about anything under the sun, all you have to do is whip out your phone and get an answer in a few seconds. Most of you won’t go past the first page, and sometimes even the first article.
This is how SEO agencies have poured their efforts into understanding SEO rankings in an attempt to get the top spot. How does Google determine a website’s position in the SERPs? How can you—as an SEO marketer—help users find your site and generate leads?
Let’s delve deeper into it below to further understand how SEO rankings work!
Getting Started: What is SEO Ranking?
Also referred to as search engine ranking, SEO ranking refers to the position of a certain website within the search engine results pages (SERPs). Web pages with the best ranking typically appear at the top of the first page, while others that don’t rank well may be positioned on the next pages.
For example, if your web page talks about real estate and you appear second in line on the first page of the SERPs, you are ranked second.
Keep in mind that SEO rankings take place on two different levels: search engine bots and human searchers. Let’s say you want to focus first on optimising your web pages for crawlers and bots; what do you exactly do? Some of your options include technical SEO, keyword placement and website design.
To optimise your website for users, you need to pinpoint your market, improve the mobile experience and publish high-quality SEO content.
Every time a search is being performed, search engines like Google include features like videos, smart snippets and answer boxes to collect all relevant information. That’s why it’s important to act and think like a bot if you want to get better results in SEO rankings.
Most importantly, SEO rankings are ever-changing. Things are always updated in real time. So, to make sure you maintain the top position on the SERPs, you need to adapt to SEO trends and search queries.
Remember, if you don’t go above and beyond when it comes to SEO, your web pages that rank well today may rank terribly tomorrow.
How Search Engines Work
To fully comprehend SEO rankings, you also have to understand how search engines work.
Every search engine—whether it’s Bing, Google, Yahoo or Ecosia—aims to provide the most relevant websites to users. That’s one of the ways they obtain market share. They also need to catalogue the whole Internet, with Google having over 50,000,000,000 web pages to crawl and index in 2023.
But here’s a secret most SEO beginners might not know: not all search engines are equal. Even if there are more than 30 major search engines, a huge chunk of the SEO industry only caters to Google. This is because more than 90% of search queries take place on the platform, which is nearly 20 times Yahoo and Bing combined.
To accomplish SEO rankings quickly and efficiently, search engines have three primary functions, including:
First Step: Crawling
Crawling is the process used by search engine web crawlers (bots and spiders) to view and download pages. They extract the links they can find within these pages to discover additional content.
Once a search engine records your web pages, they will be crawled periodically to keep track of the changes being made to update its index.
Search engines use web crawlers in downloading a website’s robots.txt file which states what pages are allowed to be crawled. It also contains sitemaps—a file where you provide information about the pages, videos and information found on your site.
Second Step: Indexing
Indexing refers to the process where search engines efficiently organise information before a search to provide ultra-fast responses.
When crawlers are done scanning images, following links and collecting data, they deliver the information to a search engine’s database for indexing.
Image source: Seobility
One way to do it is to create an XML version using sitemap generators by labelling the canonical version of every page that contains duplicate content.
Third Step: Ranking
At this point, you might wonder why search engines go through these complicated steps to rank web pages. It would be easier to randomly display pages by word count, freshness and other straightforward sorting methods.
The answer to this question is simple: user experience. Search engines need to provide content that will answer a searcher’s query. This explains why the results are always arranged from most relevant to least relevant.
The rankings of search results are calculated using highly advanced algorithms and factors. It includes URL structure, backlinks and internal linking, among other things.
Let’s discuss them in detail below.
The Most Important SEO Ranking Factors You Should Know
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re just starting in the SEO scene. There are lots of ranking signals, easter eggs and contradicting advice on the Internet, making it harder for you to build an effective SEO strategy.
Although Google has released general guidelines on how they determine SEO rankings, its highly advanced algorithm is well-guarded. No matter how dedicated you are, it’s impossible to know everything about ranking factors.
No need to fret! In this guide, we will talk about the SEO ranking factors that Google has been confirmed to use.
Search Intent Relevancy
One of the most important SEO ranking factors you should remember is search intent and content relevancy. Simply put, it describes what users are trying to accomplish and find when performing a search.
Do they want to buy a smartphone but don’t know which brand is the best? Are they looking for tutorials and how-to guides? Or do they just want to learn more about a particular topic?
Bear in mind that every searcher’s intention behind a search query is different. How? Let’s give you an example. Say you want to talk about gaming laptops but you’re clueless about the kind of content you have to create. This is where the SERPs come into play.
The top result above is a blog post listing the best brands in the market. Meaning to say, your target audience is likely in research mode, not buying mode. You probably have a greater chance of ranking well if you also publish a blog post instead of focusing on e-commerce categories.
Whatever you do, make sure you meet your target audience in their respective customer journey.
On July 1, 2019, Google launched the mobile-first indexing. Instead of looking at the desktop version of the page, Google evaluates your website’s mobile version for indexing and ranking.
It’s not surprising that Google made this shift since there are approximately 4,320,000,000 active mobile internet users worldwide. It means that you have to test whether your website is mobile-friendly, helping you maximise your SEO rankings.
You can check the Mobile Usability report found in Google Search Console to address any issues your website may be experiencing.
Also referred to as one-way links, backlinks are links from one website to another. In fact, Google’s Andrey Lipattsev confirmed that they are one of Google’s ranking factors in 2016.
Think of backlinks as a vote of confidence for your website. Search engines will evaluate these votes as well as the quality and quantity of your links to gauge your authority.
However, not all backlinks carry the same weight and relevance. Links from high-authority websites, for example, will help you boost your rankings and increase your website visibility more than backlinks from lower-rated platforms.
That’s why you have to establish a diverse backlink profile through link building. It includes building relationships with other experts in your field, guest blogging and listing your site in trustworthy directories, among others.
Once you’re done with keyword research, the next step you should take is to place them strategically throughout your page. This includes the following:
- Title tag or the title that appears on the SERPs
- H1 title or the title that is displayed on the page
- Aim for at least two H2 headings and include keywords
- Write engaging meta descriptions that accurately describe what your page is about. Don’t forget to include your focus keywords so readers will know what to expect.
Domain Age and URL
According to a study conducted by Ahrefs, almost 60% of websites that have a top ten search engine ranking are more than three years old.
Image source: Ahrefs
If you’ve launched your site for several years now and optimised it, you already have the upper hand.
You should also pay attention to creating an SEO-friendly domain name. Because once you pick the wrong one, you’re likely going to lose organic traffic, revenue and credibility. The worst-case scenario even involves Google marking your website as spam.
For starters, focus on choosing a URL that reflects your business and is easy to remember. Avoid using complex characters, use top-level domain extensions like ‘.com’ or ‘.net’ and add a relevant keyword, to name a few.
Page speed (including mobile page speed) has been cited as one of the crucial SEO ranking factors since 2010. And eleven years later, Google made it a significant part of its Core Web Vitals (CVW).
The Core Web Vitals report shows a page’s loading performance, visual stability and interactivity. It follows three metrics: Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS), Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) and First Input Delay (FID).
You can take advantage of various SEO tools online to check your page speed. For instance, if you’re using Ahrefs Webmasters Tools, start by crawling your website using the Site Audit feature. Once done, view the Performance Report and check the CVW section.
Image Source: Ahrefs
This doesn’t mean that you have to make the page speed lightning-fast. You just need to meet a minimum standard of page loading time since Google only denotes sites that deliver the slowest experience.
Website security, specifically HTTPS encryption, plays a huge role in search engine rankings. A ‘Not Secure’ warning may be displayed in browsers if your website doesn’t use HTTPS, driving away potential visitors before they can even browse your site.
Image Source: DigiCert
HTTPS is considered a secure method of exchanging information across the Internet by protecting communication and data transfer. First, it uses encryption to keep data secure from potential eavesdroppers. Users can safely browse the site without anyone tracking their activities across the Web and stealing their information.
This encryption also implements data integrity and authentication. That way, data cannot be compromised or corrupted during transfer without going undetected.
It goes to say that HTTPS is required for e-commerce stores, payment gateways and any site that processes transactions.
Aside from website security, Google assesses how good your website design or architecture is. This is especially true if you’re planning to launch a new website.
When you have a simple structure without too many subdirectories, search engine bots can efficiently crawl and index your web pages. You can create a sitemap on WordPress, for example, to guide crawlers in navigating through your website and discovering new content.
Intrusive interstitials are basically what you call popup ads. In most scenarios, they take up and block too much space, resulting in a terrible user experience for mobile and desktop users.
Image Source: Search Engine Journal
Here are specific examples of intrusive interstitials:
- Any banner, pop-up ad or overlay pages that cover most—if not all—content.
- Something that appears without the user activating it, such as the ‘click here to subscribe’ button.
- If it’s almost impossible to close on a mobile device, Google considers it an unresponsive interstitial.
However, some interstitials are allowed, such as:
- Interstitials for legal obligations (age verifications, cookie usage, etc.)
- Banners that don’t take up too much space and are easily dismissible
Google made intrusive interstitials a negative ranking factor in 2017, making them a part of the Page Experience signals.
Dominating The SERPs: How to Improve Your SEO Ranking
Now that you’re familiar with the proven SEO ranking factors, let’s take a look at the most effective tips for improving your SEO rankings. Let’s get started!
Understand Your Audience
Traditional and digital marketing may be different in a lot of ways but they follow the same foundation: understanding one’s audience.
Let’s say a user starts searching for a particular product or service. They will possibly go through the usual buyer’s journey:
- Awareness – The user becomes aware of a problem that needs to be solved. To find potential solutions, they use broad search terms like ‘preventing burglary’.
- Consideration – At this stage, the customer searches for the best solutions that can meet their needs. This is where they start using search keywords that include product types, features and locations. For example: ‘home security services in Singapore’.
- Purchase – The user is ready to make a purchase from a specific company they found during the search. They will search directly for the name of the service, like ‘ABC Alarm Systems Company’.
When you put yourself in your customers’ shoes, you know exactly which keywords to target in your content.
Use Keywords Moderately and Appropriately
Check out the main components of the Google ranking algorithm:
Image Source: WEBITMD
As you can observe, keywords occupy a significant space in the pie. This is why you should include words or phrases that people may search for on your content and web pages.
But here’s the catch: you have to do it moderately.
If you make the mistake of overdoing it and stuffing your content with keywords, Google will consider it as a black-hat SEO tactic. Sure, you will reap its short-term benefits but you will be demoted in rankings in the long run. What’s worse is that Google may even remove your website altogether!
Keep in mind that keywords should fit naturally into sentences.
Including long-tail keywords—a phrase that’s generally made up of three to five words—is also recommended. Since they are more specific, they let you target niche demographics and expand your reach.
For example, a user won’t just input the word ‘laptop’ when they’re looking for specific features. They may type in ‘best laptop for gaming’ to find exactly what meets their needs best.
Remember, you will have a better chance of getting the top position in the SERPs if your keywords match search queries.
Encourage The Audience to Share Your Links on Social Media
The meteoric rise of social media platforms has encouraged several businesses to make social media marketing a part of their SEO campaign.
When people are encouraged to share your links (blog posts, service pages, etc.) on social media, your SEO rankings can dramatically increase.
Let’s give you a real-life example.
A client who runs a business in the pest control industry hired a digital marketing agency from New York City. He wanted to improve his website’s SEO performance through impactful content.
However, since the industry he’s in can be a bit technical, publishing blog posts is out of the equation since it might bore his audience to sleep. The agency decided to focus on visual content instead. It was titled ‘DIY Pest Control for the Savvy Gardener’.
The infographic surprisingly generated more than 4,000 shares on social media:
Image Source: Backlinko
Consequently, these social media shares improved the client’s organic traffic:
Image Source: Backlinko
If you want to achieve the same result, we highly recommend that you include share buttons on your blog posts, infographics, tutorials, newsletters and many more. Make sure that you also actively share links on your social media platforms to keep your audience in the loop!
Update Existing Content
We understand that writing new blog posts might be your top priority to improve your search engine rankings. But what about the old and underperforming blog posts on your site that don’t gain enough traction? What are you supposed to do with them?
Update them regularly, that’s what. Content loses its value and relevance over time, especially since search engines aim to provide fresh content to users.
Here’s how you should do it:
First, look for your pages that haven’t been updated in the last year or so. Review if the post has grammatical errors, lack of internal linking and many more. Make sure you identify and list down all the changes that need to be made before revising.
There’s a good chance that your page can gain a freshness boost if you include significant updates. And to speed up the indexing of your newly updated page, use Google Search Console and press the ‘Request Indexing’ button after you enter the URL.
Improve Your Page Loading Speed
As we previously mentioned, page speed is a Google ranking factor. A slow-loading website might reduce the chances of converting users into paying customers and increase your bounce rate.
Check out these helpful tips on how to decrease load times:
Optimise and Compress Images
Inserting images within your content can increase its quality and help readers further understand your point through a visual guide. However, if their size is too large, it can delay the loading speed.
Make sure that you optimise images first before pressing the publish button. Change their file formats, compress them through lossless compression or activate lazy loading, among other things.
Having redirect chains on your site can sometimes be inevitable, but they can harm your SEO if you’re not careful. You may take advantage of SEO tools like Screaming Frog to detect redirects and WordPress plugins to fix them.
You can also perform a technical SEO audit to remove broken links, 404 errors and create a better sitemap for enhanced user experience.
Choose a Performance-Focused Hosting Solution
Page speed optimisation starts with choosing the most ideal infrastructure. No matter how clean and polished your website code is, using shared servers can slow down your page loading time.
Host your website on a performance-optimised hosting solution such as BlueHost, InMotion and Host Gator, to name a few. You have to find a provider that doesn’t offer shared hosting. That way, you won’t worry about other websites potentially consuming resources.
Keep Up With The Latest SEO Trends
Being in the SEO industry can feel a bit tricky. There are days when you feel like you know the ins and outs of search engines, how to rank and outperform your competitors on the SERPs. Then in the blink of an eye, Google changes the algorithms. You’re back to square one.
Whether you’re a seasoned or an up-and-coming SEO expert, staying up-to-date with the latest SEO trends is a must.
One way to do it is to join online forums and talk with professionals. Since SEO is a community, you’re going to meet lots of passionate SEO experts willing to share their knowledge. You can even build an effective SEO strategy from them and get feedback!
You can also collaborate with an SEO agency and get the chance to work with diverse experts. This includes content writers, web developers, SEO professionals and ad operations specialists. They will help you monitor your website’s health, boost your rankings and diagnose issues to prevent penalties.
Get Ahead: Best SEO Tools To Track SEO Rankings
It’s not entirely surprising that climbing the SERP ladder and reaching the top can’t just happen in a snap. Since there are lots of factors and strategies to consider, investing time and resources into your SEO efforts is part of the game.
Fortunately, several SEO tools are available online to help you keep track of your SEO rankings. They can also provide you with helpful insights into your site’s progress and points for improvement.
We’ve chosen the best SEO solutions based on their features and accessibility:
Semrush has a tool called Semrush Position Tracking that uses data collection to show your rankings, featured snippets, competitors and keyword cannibalisation.
Thanks to their user-friendly interface, you can view your data, create e-mail alerts and download your information in a PDF format. This is where you can evaluate your estimated daily traffic and average position on the SERPs.
With Semrush, you can also perform SEO audits on your published content, optimise landing pages, find backlink opportunities and many more.
SE Ranking is the best rank-tracking tool if you run a large website. It is considered a high-powered, all-in-one SEO platform that provides insights into your competitors, allowing you to adjust your strategies accordingly.
What’s good about SE Ranking is that it doesn’t only focus on SERPs alone. It also looks at paid ads, videos and map search results.
Most importantly, this SEO tool has impressive B2B features where you can access the API for data analysis.
Google Analytics and Google Search Console
If you’re a beginner looking for SEO baseline tools, Google Analytics and Google Search Console are the best place to be. While it may take a while to discover and unlock their full features, they are both considered well-rounded.
With these tools, you can audit your technical SEO, increase conversion rates through your content and track rankings in real time.
Exploring SEO rankings and the factors that might affect your position on the SERPs can make you wonder: Should you focus on pleasing your audience or Google’s algorithm?
The answer is actually simple: It’s both. You have to build an SEO strategy that caters to web crawlers and human users alike. Even if you follow every rule in Google’s book, you won’t automatically be placed on the first page of the SERPs if your website is not user-centred.
Because at the end of the day, it’s the audience that will buy your products and services, not search engines.
It all boils down to publishing great content, optimising your pages, understanding your target audience and staying on top of the latest SEO techniques. Always remember, mastering SEO takes a lot of patience and hard work. And of course, a bit of luck on the side.
You don’t have to do this alone. Get in touch with our team of talented SEO professionals here at Roots Digital SEO service to boost your SEO rankings. Together, we can tilt the scales in your favour.
What are the top SEO ranking factors?
The top SEO ranking factors are:
1. Search intent relevancy
4. Keyword Placement
5. Domain Age and URL
6. Page Speed
7. Website Security
8. Website Structure
9. Intrusive Interstitials
How do I check my Google SEO ranking?
To check your SEO ranking, you can use various SEO tools online, such as Semrush, SE Ranking, Google Analytics, Google Search Console and many more.
How do I improve my search engine ranking?
There are many ways you can do to boost your SEO ranking and get the top spot. This includes:
– Using keywords appropriately
– Improving your page loading speed
– Updating existing content regularly
– Staying up to date with the latest SEO trends and techniques