What is an SEO ranking factor? Well, to begin with, what is SEO itself?
SEO stands for search engine optimization. It’s the blanket term for any and all actions that are taken to improve a website’s ranking in the SERPs (search engine results pages).
The ranking is the position a website shows up in the SERPs when a keyword it ranks for is searched by an online user.
The best rank is obviously the first rank, meaning your site shows up at the top of the first page. But to be fair, if you are ranking anywhere on the first page at all, you are pretty much successful.
Anyways, you cannot just rank on the top page without any effort. Search engines have a lot of ranking factors that they evaluate for each website on their index. If those ranking factors are present and optimized for, then the site will rank higher.
So, what are these factors? That’s what we shall look at in this post.
9 Essential SEO Ranking Factors You Need to Know in 2023
As you may very well know, nowadays most of the website traffic is not from desktops/laptops but from mobile platforms such as smartphones and tablets.
Seeing that staggering figure, you might have realized why mobile-friendliness is an important factor. If your website is unable to satisfy over half its visitors, then it is not a very good website, is it?
You may ask, what does mobile-friendliness even mean? Well, it means that:
- A website is responsive. In web development, responsiveness means whether a website can change its shape and layout according to different screen sizes without breaking. Mobile phones don’t come in standard sizes. To cater to all of them, a website has to be responsive
- Its UI is designed to be intuitive and easy to use according to mobile users.
That’s pretty much what being mobile-friendly means. Google is a search engine that has adopted the “mobile first” strategy when ranking a site. As it is the largest search engine, it is a very good idea to adopt that policy yourself.
High-quality content is very important among SEO ranking factors. Search engines check if the content of a site is relevant to the keywords it ranks for. This is measured by metrics such as bounce rate and dwell time which will be discussed later on in this article.
Suffice it to say, that if your site content is deemed to be the irrelevant or low quality by the search engine then it will rank it lower on the SERPs.
Another thing that is important to take care of is plagiarism. The content you post on your site cannot be copied or duplicated from other sources. It should be unique enough so that search engines do not penalize your site. The two possible penalties for plagiarizing are:
- Lowering of rank.
- Delisting/removal from search engine index.
Both of these outcomes are very serious. To prevent them you can employ a plagiarism checker to detect any plagiarism in your content. Remove and edit any instances of duplication, and you will be able to safeguard your site’s rank from falling.
Essentially “Loading speed” should fall under the “User Experience” category but it is important enough to warrant a heading of its own.
So, why is it so important? Well, to understand that, have an example. Imagine yourself using a website. Let’s assume you are there to find something…like an answer to a query or to read an announcement. Let us also assume that you are pressed for time (nothing too urgent, but enough to make you impatient).
You click on a page that might have what you need, but the page doesn’t load instantly. Instead, you get to see some kind of loading bar that inches forward ever so slowly. You wait for like three seconds before you close the page and search for a new one.
See what happened? You left the site entirely. That is what is known as a “Bounce” in the SEO world. Bounce rate is the number of instances bounces occurred in a particular time frame.
A large bounce rate negatively affects your ranking, for it signals to the search engine that this website does not have what its visitors need.
You can improve loading speed by reducing image sizes and the number of plugins. Just leave only the most essential plugins on your site to minimize its loading time. You can also use tools that can help you identify issues in your site design and coding to improve the loading speed even further.
You can’t deny the user experience while discussing SEO ranking factors. It is essentially measured by three metrics:
- Click-through rate
- Bounce rate
- Dwell time
Search engines want their users to be able to find the best and most relevant information. To facilitate that, they check websites to see if they do indeed provide what they claim to provide.
So, what are these metrics? The click-through rate is the percentage of traffic you get from the SERPs. This basically involves the people who did not intentionally search for your site, but rather found it. A high click-through rate is good.
Bounce rate, as was previously mentioned, is the percentage of people who leave your website soon after arriving on it. It can be affected by a number of things such as page loading speed, UI, and ease of use. Having a low bounce rate is good for your site.
Dwell time is the average amount of time a visitor spends on your website before eventually leaving. Increased dwell time is good.
To make sure these metrics are within the desired range, you need to make sure that your site is designed and optimized well enough so that a normal user can have a good experience with it.
Accessible and Secure Website
There is much more awareness among netizens about security compared to a few years back. Due to large-scale hacking incidents on big companies that resulted in private information being leaked and stolen, more and more emphasis has been put on security.
Websites can enable SSL security. SSL stands for Secure Socket Layer. It is a security protocol that encrypts any data that is passed between the server and the browser. Websites that have SSL enabled, have a “Lock” symbol on the left side of their URL.
This lock symbol instantly tells a visitor that the site is secure whereas an absence of this lock shows that the site is not secure. You can bet that insecure websites have a much higher bounce rate than secured ones because no one is willing to put their private information in jeopardy. This will cause the site ranking to drop.
Another thing to look out for is to make the website accessible to crawlers. Crawlers are search engine bots that go through websites while collecting data. This data is later used to rank the sites.
A bot-accessible site has:
- A bot-optimized URL
- A robots.txt file
- A sitemap
These three things allow the crawlers to peruse your site with ease and collect the data. If they are unable to collect data, your site will automatically drop in rank because to the search engine it looks incomplete or poorly optimized.
Quality of Linking
The entire web is based on links. Websites can be visited due to links leading to them. Without a link, you cannot navigate to a site. So, it is not a stretch to say that linking is the lifeblood of the internet.
A website can have many types of links. It is your responsibility to make sure that these links are safe, secure, and of high quality. High-quality links mean that they are:
- Not broken.
- Do not lead to insecure sites.
- Do not lead to spammy or virus-riddled sites.
- Lead in from high authority sites.
Some common types of links found in a site are:
- Inbound links
- Outbound links
- Internal links
Inbound links also known as backlinks are leading to your website from another. A high-quality backlink is from a site that is reputable, has high authority, and is secure. A low-quality backlink is from a spammy, low-authority website that may be insecure.
The quality of backlinks is important as it can transfer “link juice” to your website and increase its authority. So, always try to get good backlinks to increase your rank.
Outbound links are those which lead from your site to others. Outbound links to high authority sites give search engines the signal that your website is authentic. That’s because only authentic people give credit where credit is due. However, linking to a bad site will do the opposite. The sites you link to and link from are very important to search engines as they (the search engines) determine whether your site is genuine and authoritative from that.
Internal links are those which lead from one page of your site to another. Without internal links, your site cannot be navigated. Hence, a great internal linking structure is necessary.
Make sure that no links lead to 404 pages. If there are any broken links on your site, make sure to fix them. A good linking structure also allows crawlers to index your site easily.
Hence, link quality is an important ranking factor.
Domain Age and Name
Domain age is now considered SEO ranking factor. Sites that are made for nefarious purposes are usually new. That’s because authorities do not let such websites stay up for too long. Hence, such websites are usually new.
According to a study by Ahrefs, websites that rank at the top for their keywords have a domain age of at least three years or more. And that very few websites that have an age of less than a year can rank at the top.
This is further substantiated by the fact that a website’s authority is also tied to its age. A domain with more years under its belt will have a much higher authority than a younger competitor. That is of course if the webmaster did, in fact, try taking steps to increase the authority.
From the previous point, we already know that site authority is dependent on quality backlinks. These backlinks do not come instantly; you have to work to get them. So an older domain has two advantages:
- It has higher authority
- It is known to be safe (because otherwise it would have been taken down).
So, just by being older, a website can rank higher.
Domain names are also important. An exact match domain name can work wonders under the right circumstances. An exact match domain name refers to a URL that contains the target keyword in itself. For example, a website for car repair services would have an exact match domain name of “carrepair.com”.
Such domain names are very successful in ranking high if they provide high-quality and relevant content. If the dwell time is high and bounce rate is low, search engines will put them higher than they should have been (had they got a different domain name).
Older websites do not need to worry about exact domain name matches as they already have a solid reputation and authority. Exact match domains can also be severely penalized if the content is irrelevant or barely related to the name.
On-page SEO Optimization
On-page optimization (AKA on-page SEO) refers to all measures that can be taken directly within the website in order to improve its position in the search ranking.
All other factors have some kind of dependence on external influences. But on-page SEO is the one thing that you have complete control over.
On-page SEO includes things such as:
- Having keywords/phrases present in titles.
- Having a meta description that uses a keyword.
- Adding keywords to the alt text of images.
- Employ header tags.
- Add a schema markup.
Using keywords in titles instantly tells the search engine what your website is about, as they are the first things that engines look at.
Meta descriptions further reinforce that concept and have the added benefit of being useful to users. These are usually small (about 160 characters) and catchy.
Search engines cannot see pictures, so they use their alt text to “see” what they are about. Adding keywords to alt text will tell the engine what your content is about.
Breaking down your site structure using headings and subheadings makes it easier for your site to be indexed. Schema markups also just tell the engine what kind of content your site has.
All of these things just serve to tell the search engine exactly what your website is providing so that it can match the search intent more reliably. This will increase traffic, dwell time, reduce bounce rate and increase your rank.
E.A.T stands for “Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness”. Search engines, such as Google, check for these three things when they are related to sensitive topics.
By sensitive topics we mean topics that are related to a person’s health and finances. Any content that can potentially give information that can affect someone’s health and finance are scrutinized very thoroughly.
That is so because bad advice could potentially ruin a real life. Hence, we get E.A.T.
If your website deals with such sensitive matters, then you need to make sure that your content is not going against certified sources such as scientific journals. It should also cite other trustworthy sources to back up any claims that are made.
Google in particular doesn’t just look at the content and the site but also checks the author. The content would only be given a higher rank if the author of the content is known to be a trustworthy expert on the subject. This is unconfirmed, however. So take it with a grain of salt.
Think of SEO Ranking Factors
These were the most important ranking factors that all site owners/managers need to know about. When you optimize your site keeping these factors in mind, naturally its rank will rise over time.
Increasing the site rank is a slow process, so all you can do is just keep at it steadily.