Consumers today live in a digital realm. They depend on the internet to look for answers to their questions or solutions to their problems. In fact, more than 3.5 billion searches are made every day on Google alone.
Majority of the users only click the first few pages shown in the search engine results page (SERP), that’s why many businesses are fighting their way up to the top spots. They invest in SEO to grow their online presence, drive more traffic to their site, and bring prospects into their sales funnel.
SEO, however, continues to evolve more quickly as days go by. While the core aspects remain the same, you will still discover some changes that you cannot disregard if you want your search rankings to soar high.
Chances are, the search engine algorithm comprises hundreds of factors, but not all of them hold the same weight. We’ve listed down the most significant ranking factors you should start focusing on:
On-Page SEO Ranking Factors
On-page SEO is the low-hanging fruit opportunity to generate more organic traffic because it’s the part of SEO that you have total control. It involves the optimisations that you can make on your website. Here are the most important ranking factors:
You may have already heard that among the ranking factors, content reigns king. This remains true. It’s the main reason why visitors come to your website, after all, that’s why it is so important to search engines.
But what is quality content? First, it should be insightful, relevant, and engaging to your audience. It’s the information that people want to consume because it entertains them or helps them with their needs. Your content should match the queries of your prospects, so it should wrap around the right keywords.
Second, it should be linkable. People typically link to a particular content because they find it valuable and unique. Thus, search engines use links as a signal of trust. They consider sites with linkable content as credible and authoritative as they answer several questions that the reader might have.
You should optimise your site’s metadata. It informs users and search engines what your page is all about in a clear and useful manner, thus improving user experience and click-through rate.
Title tags and meta descriptions are essential in making a positive first impression because they are the first thing that users see in the SERPs. Tweak them by highlighting the key parts of your content and including your target keywords so you can make your pages shine in the search results.
Header tags are important for SEO as well. They are used to structure your page to increase content quality and readability. An H1 tag represents the page title or article headline, while H2 and below serve as subheadlines that split up your content.
Image source: RSPCA
There are other meta tags you should optimise to make sure that search engine crawlers process your page the way you want them to. Robot meta tags, for one, instruct which pages should be indexed. Meanwhile, canonical tags specify the preferred version of the URL you want search engines to prioritise in case you have identical pages. This prevents duplicate content issues.
Well-written URLs are one of the keys to an effective site hierarchy. They make it easier for users to determine what the destination page will be about. They also categorise your pages so search engine crawlers can better understand what the different sections of your website are about and how they relate to each other.
Here’s an example of a good URL:
You can tell at a glance that the page discusses different ways to eat avocados. A descriptive URL like this one is more likely to generate more clicks because it gives users a clear picture of the page they will be directed to. It can include keywords to match their search queries, which can contribute to SEO as well.
Take note that you should keep your URLs as short and concise as possible. Otherwise, they can get truncated in the search results.
Here’s a bad example of URL structure:
This URL doesn’t show the information hierarchy of the website, complicating its usability. Users can’t tell where they are going to end up when they click your result.
Nobody wants a website that takes ages to load, even if it’s one of the top search results. Users will be quick to hit the back button and choose another site. They also tend to stop engaging if the content and layout is unappealing.
Since search engines only want the best possible experience for users, they put a premium on quality. They reward websites that are secure, fast, and user-friendly. For starters, use Google PageSpeed Insights to identify the areas of your site that need improvements to enhance load speed.
Schema is a structured data that ‘describes’ your website to search engines in their own language. It involves tags that you add to your website’s HTML so that bots can understand your content on a deeper level.
When properly implemented, it can enhance the way your page appears in the search results. Search engines will be able to provide additional information in listings in the form of knowledge graphs, rich snippets, and more.
In the example below, Google displays lasagna recipes with high ratings at the top of the search results. People are more likely to trust these sites with rich snippets because they are informative and appealing.
Search results with rich snippets
Google is taking steps to protect users from hackers and identity thieves by making website security a strong ranking factor. Secured sites, which have the lock bar icon and “https” at the beginning of the URL, encrypt the user’s sensitive information and ensure that activities can’t be tracked.
If your website doesn’t have an SSL certificate, Google will label it as “not safe”. There’s a high chance that you’ll lose potential customers and your hard-earned search rankings.
“A picture is worth a thousand words”. We use pictures to understand difficult text that describes concepts or processes. However, search engines don’t easily discern the message they convey. To maximise ranking opportunities, it’s important to optimise the images on your website.
There are several ways to optimise your photos. Here are the basics:
- Add an alt text. Also known as “alt descriptions” and “alt attributes”, an alt text is the text alternative to an image when a browser can’t properly load it. Not only it benefits visually impaired users but search engines as well because it helps them understand what the image is about.
- Pick a descriptive file name. Images with descriptive, keyword-rich file names add SEO value to your website. Instead of sticking to the default name (e.g. IMG_0001.JPG), it’s better to rename it as “brown-leather-shoes.jpg”. Use relevant, helpful keywords and keep them to five words or fewer.
- Reduce the file size. This avoids hampering your website’s load speed, especially on mobile devices. There are free tools online that allow you to reduce the file size of your images without compromising their quality.
- Include a concise caption. Captions under images are read four times more than the body copy because it makes your content easier to digest. Using them properly can keep your readers engaged.
As mobile search continues to increase, you need to prioritise your website’s mobile usability more than ever. Google has already shifted to mobile-first indexing this year, which means that the search engine giant will start to index and rank your site based on your site’s mobile version rather than its desktop version.
Since mobile-friendliness is one of the top ranking factors, you need to make sure your website performs well across all devices. If you have a responsive site which shows the same content across desktop and mobile, then you have nothing to worry about.
Off-Page SEO Ranking Factors
To dominate the online realm, it’s not enough that you rank well for your target keywords. You need to create a sense of authority as well. Search engines evaluate your site based on how the world perceives it. The more quality links and mentions pointing back to your site, the more they will assume that your site is reliable and authoritative. This results in higher rankings.
This is where off page SEO comes in. It involves promoting your site via other channels to build your reputation. Here are the critical ranking factors:
Link building is one of the fundamental steps to growing your brand and establishing your authority. This process refers to earning links from other websites to your own.
Links serve as paths for users and search engines to navigate from one page to another. They are a vital ranking factor because search engines treat them as votes of trust and credibility. Google will see your site as authoritative if you have several links from relevant websites, which results in higher chances of ranking.
When it comes to link building, quality will always reign over quantity. Google will penalise your site if you get caught using black hat practices like buying spammy and low-quality links.
Another proven tactic to raise your local rankings is to get local citations. It involves getting your business name, address, and phone number (NAP) mentioned online in directory sites, review sites, and social media platforms. Examples include Yelp, Google My Business, and Chamber of Commerce.
Google loves to read all the information they can get about your business. The more citations from high authority sites that they find, the more credibility it gives to that information. The key here is to ensure that your NAP is consistent across the web. This validates your business as legitimate and trustworthy.
Citations also develop a sense of community and confirm that you’re a member of one, too. It further proves that you’re real and not mere pretence, and that is something that Google values.
Even though social media is not a direct ranking factor, it actually contributes to your SEO. For one, it has the potential to generate links. When your content gets shared on social media, more people will be able to see and possibly link to it.
It’s also a great place to build your brand and your followers. You can interact with your audience in a more personal way and establish meaningful relationships.
Furthermore, search engines can crawl and index your social media profiles and posts (although not all of them), which can influence your rankings. It’s an easy way to cement your online presence and legitimise your business.
Start Growing Your Business Today
Planning your SEO strategy around these factors will pave the way to online marketing success. This long-term investment will take a lot of time and patience, but it will give you an impressive return over time.
Feeling overwhelmed with SEO? DigitalMaas can simplify it for you. Our digital marketing platform comes with a website audit tool that runs over 30 tests to identify the existing gaps in your site. It also features a detailed reporting dashboard that shows real-time metrics and insights so you can track the progress of your SEO campaign. We craft tailored strategies that suit your business’ unique needs, making sure you meet your goals with exceptional results.