There is a famous joke in the SEO world:
Where's the best place to hide a dead body?
- On page 2 of Google.
Google’s mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Delivering relevant search results is a huge part of that.
But how does Google decide what is relevant?
Google uses so-called spiders (search bots) to "crawl the web" by visiting websites. Optimized pages of crawled websites are indexed and cataloged by Google.
So, when people perform a search, Google shows them what it thinks are the most relevant results.
So how do you go from indexed to first-page?
Factors impacting Google ranking
When people search for something, they type in words or phrases that are related to what they are looking for. These are called keywords and are one of the crucial factors in accomplishing good ranking.
Besides having correct/competitive keywords, the quality of information contain within the website is another very important criteria for good ranking.
According to Google’s own search quality ratings, when it indexes the main content of each page, it checks factors like:
Purpose of the page
Content quality and amount
Website info and info about the content creator
Website reputation and content creator reputation
User interaction with the page (time on page, bounce rates, and so on)
Expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E-A-T)
Before we explain more about these factors, let us introduce you to on-site and off-site SEO.
What is on-site and off-site SEO?
On-site SEO refers to factors on your own website that you can optimize to make your ranking go higher. These factors include underlying code and the content.
Off-site SEO refers to actions taken outside of your site that affect you site's trustworthiness and authority, by building inbound links and social signals.
Before you implement an SEO strategy, know where you stand (rank)
Want to know if your SEO efforts are paying off? You have to know your baseline first.
There are several ways to do this:
Open an incognito window (that way results won't be skewed by cookies), and perform search for all relevant keywords you are competing for. This is a very "manual" way to do this, but good enough for small sites.
However, if you have a website with hundreds of pages and subpages, you should use tools like SEMrush to track your keyword ranking.
Now, let's get back to the ranking factors!
1. A secure and accessible website
Remember those spiders? In order for them to do their job, your site needs a robots.txt file and a sitemap that lists all your pages. If your site is built on a well-coded website builder like Wix, this will be automatically created for you. If you are running a WordPress site, you can use an online sitemap generator. Needless to say, if you are missing a sitemap or robots.txt, your site's accessibility to spiders is hindered, and therefore your Google ranking.
How to check if your website is secure? Look at your domain prefix. If you see https (or a little lock sign), you've got a secure site. If not, you have to enable SSL certificate ASAP.
2. Domain Age and Authority
Did you know that nearly 60% of the sites that have a top ten Google search ranking are three years old or more? In fact, very few sites less than a year old achieve that ranking.
So how did they achieve this? By increasing their authority through a combination of great content and off-site SEO signals like inbound links and social shares.
3. Optimized Content
As we mentioned already, Google's search algorithm relies on keywords. These are the words and phrases that searchers use to look for information. If you've created your content correctly, these keywords and phrases will appear frequently in your website's text as well.
HOWEVER: keyword stuffing is a big no-no and will hurt your SEO ranking.
Here is an example of what not to do, using a keyword "black dress":
Looking for a black dress? Black dress is always a great outfit, so buy a black dress here. We have the best black dresses of all the black dresses out there. Everyone will love your black dress, made by our store "Black Dress".
Instead, target keywords and phrases you want to rank for should appear in a way that is organic and sounds natural.
The length of your content matters too! The research suggests that content over 2000 words is more often featured in top ten positions than shorter text. Longer content is more likely to be linked to and shared, which is important for ranking as well.
4. On-site SEO
Tinkering with your sites page titles and descriptions may sound intimidating, but the truth is- you don't have to be a coder to make them optimized for search engines.
Things you can do to help your on-site SEO:
Add keyword phrases in page titles. Because this is the first place Google looks when determining if the page has relevant information
Use header tags. Assign h1 tag for most important title on your page (most often the first tagline in the page), then work you way down to h2 and h3 for other subheadings.
Create meta description. This is a short paragraph that explains the content of page. Keep it catchy and under 160 characters.
Use keywords in image alt tags to show how those images are relevant to the main content.
Include alt tags also help people who are visually impaired enjoy your site with screen readers.
5. User Experience
Search engine ranking is affected by:
Click through rate: the percentage of people who click to visit your site after an entry comes up in search results
Bounce rate: the number of people who click on your page and quickly go back to search results
Dwell time: how long visitors stay on your site
When you think about it, it makes perfect sense these are factors that impact ranking. If people land on your site and don't like it, it load slow or you didn't provide the information they were looking for, they will quickly leave. And this is what give Google a signal that your site is not providing relevant information regarding that specific search.
On the other hand, if people click on the site and stay there for a long time, it gives your page a boost in the rankings because you are providing them with information they are looking for.
This is why it is important not to stuff page titles and descriptions with keywords that don't pertain to the content on that page.
There are three types of links that can lead to your page:
- inbound links
- outbound links
- internal links
Think about it as building a digital reputation. If a authoritative site includes a link of your page in their content, it signals Google that you maybe a reputable site. It is a linear relationship- the more authoritative inbound links you have, the better the reputation of your page, and subsequently it's rank.
These are sometimes referred to as backlinks.
You can also build outbound links, by linking your content to other sites with high domain authority. However, don't overdo it and link every other word - Google WILL penalize you and lower your ranking.
Lastly, linking to your own content can help tie pages together for both Google and your visitors. If a visitor clicks on an internal link on first page and leads him to the second page, the second page will get a boost in its search engine ranking.
7. Page Speed
Page speed is one of the leading SEO ranking factors. This is one of the main metrics that Google uses to measure users' experience on the web. So if your site is loading slow, especially on mobile devices, it could be penalized.
8. Mobile Friendliness
While we are on the subject of mobile devices, it is important to note that more than 2/3 of online traffic today is performed on mobile devices. Therefore, it is crucial that your web content load fast and that your site is mobile friendly/responsive.
Therefore, when designing your website, it is more important that your site looks good on mobile, than on desktop.
Things to keep in mind when designing a mobile-friendly website:
Implement a responsive web design, so that your page automatically resizes to the screen of the users' device.
Don't use fonts that are too small, because this impacts the site's readability
Make your site easy to navigate by making menus easily accessible
Ensure that content is visible and not hidden by ads
9. Social Signals
When your content is shared on social networks, it signals Google that your site is valuable. While Google does not officially state that links shared on socials impact ranking, studies show a good correlation between the two.
10. Real Business Information
The last, but not the least- it is important to share your business information on your site. Make sure you:
List your business name, address and phone number on your website
List your business on Google My Business and Facebook
Get positive reviews on Google, Facebook, Yelp and other relevant sites
Use right local search terms (local SEO)