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Most Important Google Ranking Factors
Ignore these and your site will *never* end up on page one
There are over 200 ranking factors that Google takes into consideration when evaluating your website and comparing it to your competition. Most factors have a very minor effect on your rankings and aren’t worth spending too much time optimizing for.
A small number of ranking factors have an outsized influence on your performance in the SERPs (search engine results pages). Optimizing your website for these factors will yield the most results, and ignoring them will prevent your site from ever appearing on page one.
Don’t believe the propaganda that tells you that backlinks don’t matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that high-quality, relevant links will always be the most important ranking factor for both a particular webpage and for your entire domain.
We wrote an entire article about how to determine if a backlink is high-quality (LINK). I recommend reading it thoroughly, since this is the one ranking factor that will make or break your website.
This is a little-known ranking factor that is actually *extremely* important. Freshness refers to how recently the article was published or updated.
Most people focus almost 100% of their effort on creating brand new articles, thinking that flooding their site with new content is the best way to rank. While you definitely want to keep adding new content to your site, at a certain point you’ll need to start updating old articles.
If you want to keep your content “fresh” in Google’s eyes, you don’t necessarily need to completely rewrite the entire article from scratch. Small updates will definitely help.
Once per year you should go back through your old content and make sure that it’s still showing accurate information. For example, if it’s a product review, you might want to make sure that the images are correct and add information about new versions of the product. Even if you can’t find new information, you should still change something small to keep the content “fresh”.
Make sure that you update the “published on” date once you finish making your updates.
Match content type to searcher intent
Searcher intent is something that Google takes very seriously. When considering this ranking factor, you need to make sure that the type of content that you’re writing is matching what the searcher is looking for when they type in a particular query.
For example, if they are searching for the query “best coffee mugs”, they are likely looking for a best-of list that provides a roundup of the top brands in that category. If you wrote a strictly informational article about coffee mugs that targeted that particular keyword, then your article likely wouldn’t rank.
If someone typed “what is a coffee mug made out of” into Google then they are probably trying to find an informational article about the different materials that coffee mugs are made out of.
The best way to figure out searcher intent for a keyword is to type it into Google and see which types of articles are on the first page for that query.
After backlinks, this is likely the most important ranking factor. Topical authority is an extremely important concept that you *need* to understand if you want to rank in 2021 and beyond.
Your website needs to come across as an authoritative source on whatever topic your article is about if you want to rank in Google. This ranking factor isn’t just about one particular article, rather it’s about the entire content ecosystem on your website.
To gain topical authority, you need to break your website down into sub-niches and write both product-focused and informational articles about every single aspect of that sub-niche, hitting all of the most important keywords. You then need to interlink those articles to help spread authority throughout the different pieces of content.
I wrote an entire article about topical authority (LINK) that you should read if you want to know exactly what to do and which tools to use.
You should optimize your site for speed as much as humanly possible. Speed is a ranking factor on its own, but it also influences your bounce rate. If a page is taking too long to load and users start backing out of your site, it’s going to hurt two different ranking factors.
Page speed is a complex topic that deserves its own article (I have this scheduled for premium paid subscribers), but the basic things you need to consider are:
Compression for images and files
Changing internal redirects to the new link
Increase length of browser caching
Use correct image format
Optimize server response time
Time on site
The amount of time that users spend on your site before exiting is an important ranking factor.
Improving the user experience of your site is the primary way to improve your TOS. UX is a very broad concept that touches on things like design, trust, internal linking, site architecture, etc. The best way to improve this is to look at the top sites in your niche and figure out what it is about the site that is compelling enough that people are lingering for long periods of time without going to a different site.
Some quick things that you need to think about are:
Adding internal links to your posts that link out to relevant articles
Making sure that external links open in a new tab
Adding videos to your posts
Minimizing popups and annoying advertisements
Using font that is easy to read
Improving the design of your site
Additional ranking factors
The factors that I listed above are by far the most important and require your full attention. Google doesn’t officially list all of their ranking factors, but SEOs have come to the conclusion that there are about 200 of them.
Covering all 200 would be beyond the scope of this beginner’s article, but Hubspot (LINK) has a great list of all of the known factors. You should be aware of them but don’t worry about all of them too much. As long as you’re optimizing for the most important ones, I find that the secondary factors almost take care of themselves.
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