The actual mechanics behind what factors drive search engine rankings are incredibly complex. Google is known to use hundreds of different elements to understand and rank websites, and the SEO community is always working to get a better understanding of these elements and develop optimization strategies around them.
Of course, we in the SEO industry can never know exactly what drives Google’s rankings – those secrets are hidden deep within Google’s highly proprietary rankings algorithms. However, we can use experience and analysis to get at least a working understanding of how Google works and how to optimize. Obviously, this understanding forms the basis for the SEO industry.
However, we also know that ranking factors are always changing. As Google becomes increasingly sophisticated and complex, SEOs are always racing to understand new rankings systems. While many practical SEO ideas are gathered through individual experience, as the SEO industry has grown, it has become possible to perform large-scale rankings analysis.
One such analysis was recently done by SEO platform SearchMetrics, which just published a very substantial study on the modern rankings landscape. In this post, we’ve dug through their analysis to extract a few key points, which combined with our own SEO experience is presented below in a short and simple guide to the modern rankings landscape.
OnPage Ranking Factors
OnPage ranking factors basically refer to the content and structure of your actual website. The nice thing about onpage optimization is that it’s completely under your control: with a good SEO analysis, a strong content team, and a capable developers, you can implement basically every onpage strategy without needing external outreach or resources.
So what really matters in onpage optimization? A basic list includes,
- Use of relevant keywords in body copy
- Use of semantically related keywords
- Length of text content
- Keywords in internal and external links
- Keywords in title tags
- Use of images
- Length of URL
- H1 and H2 headings
- Meta descriptions
- Video integration
- Website speed
Of course, this list won’t surprise anyone with some SEO background. The reality is that onpage SEO has remained fairly similar over the last few years. However, one important trend we’re seeing over time is a move away from rigid and mechanical ranking factors like “keywords in the H1 heading”, towards more intelligent rankings signals like “informative and well-written articles rich in semantically related terms.”
Over time, we can safely assume that the strict rules about onpage SEO will fade away in favor of real content quality analysis. This means that for webmasters and marketers, the new major challenge is producing really good content pages. Text content throughout your website should be well-written and informative, and include supporting content element like links, images, and videos.
OffPage Ranking Factors
OffPage SEO basically refers to marketing work that promotes your website outside of your actual domain. This can include things like social media, link building, and really any development of web properties outside of your main domain.
OffPage SEO has always been a core ranking factor, but as the web increasingly moves towards social media, the offpage landscape has changed. Some of the most important offpage ranking factors include,
- Google +1s
- Total Number of Backlinks
- Facebook Shares
- Facebook Comments
- Pinterest Activity
- SEO Quality of Backlinks
- Facebook Likes
- Twitter Activity
- New Backlinks
- Backlinks from News Domains
- Word Count in Anchor Text
OffPage has really changed dramatically over the last few years. The Google Penguin update has aggressively punished low-quality link building schemes, and increasing social media integration has pushed the offpage strategies heavily towards content and user interaction.
However, don’t let anyone tell you that links are dead: quantity and quality of backlinks are still critical rankings factors. Combined with a good social strategy, link building is still key towards SEO success, as long as you’re able to meet Google’s strict quality guidelines.
User Experience Ranking Factors
One of the newer areas of SEO is user experience. While of course, marketing specialists have been advising clients to make user-friendly websites since the dark ages, the SEO industry is growing more and more convinced that user experience signals directly impact search engine rankings.
This means that building a better, more intuitive, conversion-optimized website can also help improve your SEO! Some user experience factors that seem correlated with rankings include,
- Click Through Rate in Search
- Time on Site
- Bounce Rate
- Conversion Data
The tricky part here is not to confuse correlation with causation. Do websites with better bounce rates rank higher in search because of the low bounce rates, or is it just likely that companies with good user experience are also likely have strong SEO campaigns? It’s hard to know for sure.
However, it certainly seems logical that Google would be leveraging whatever data it can find to improve the rankings of websites that users like. After all, Google’s main goal in ranking websites is to help users find content that they want. (and therefore, continue choosing to use Google).
Realistically, it’s impossible to compile a complete list of all ranking factors, and we’ll never know for sure what Google is using to rank websites. However, the factors above are certainly a strong place to start. If you’re a small business located in the DFW area or surrounding cities like Arlington, Dallas, Plano, Fort Worth, or Austin, and you’re interested in learning more about how to optimize your website for search, the Tech-Critic team can help. Contact us today for a free SEO analysis.