If you want to rank high on Google, you don’t need to do everything right. However, you won’t land at the top unless some SEO best practices are in motion. You need to handle them in a strategic fashion.
Every website and really every page is a new challenge. For many years, marketers have cited the fact that Google looks at 200 signals or ranking factors for each page. It’s likely much higher than that given the nuances and variables within each factor.
It’s also not like Google says, “Come on into our house. We’ll show you all of our proprietary technology. Spend a few hours or days combing through everything. We don’t care. What’s important is that you know exactly what to do by having exclusive access to our data.”
Here’s the deal: not everything can be important. You can worry about the little stuff. I’m sure there is case study after case study about how rankings improved when a website went from http to https (secure). Or, maybe someone improved their page load speed. And then what? Suddenly she saw a ranking lift. Crank the celebration tunes.
Studies of search engine ranking factors have evolved over time. Some companies don’t provide recurring surveys any longer or they only offer niche data, not overall website data.
In a 2019 SparkToro survey, more than 1,500 SEO marketers offered their views of key ranking factors. Most of the professionals (66.3%) indicated that they believe the weight of Google ranking factors actually varies depending on the search query.
- I’ve been involved in thousands of websites the last 23 years – clients, competitor analyses and assorted research. By my estimation, the biggest factors in priority order are:
- Google’s ever-shifting algorithms
- Backlinks or website authority (based on the number and quality of websites linking to yours)
- Website content (include relevant keyword phrases)
- Page headers (like headlines)
- Overall website themes
- Domain name (if it includes keywords)
- Page titles
- Internal links
- Time (as new pages age they seem to rank better)
- Website traffic and engagement (i.e. the website attracts traffic and visitors stick around awhile)
You can get excited about all sorts of other variables, including image names, image alt text, page load speed, the use of subheads and more.
Ideally, you’ll have a couple elements in your favor. Having tons of backlinks doesn’t guarantee success. Copywriting won’t do it. A keyword-rich header won’t save the day.
If you want to rank well, keep testing several of your pages. Tinker with the words in headers and page titles.
But don’t change the URLs. Let them age. As they get older, your URLs gain some authority in their own right. The last thing you want to do is redirect an old URL to a new one – just because you decided to go that route. Yes, marketers and website developers redesign websites and redirects are inevitable. Make sure they’re called 301 (permanent) redirects. But avoid that hassle if you can.
Google’s Ever Shifting Algorithms
You can’t stop Google from changing the dials. On any given day, some rankings can jump up and down. Google fights spam and rewards and penalizes different industries. Keep making good content, attract inbound links and use keywords that aren’t too competitive. Google will do its thing.
One of the most annoying aspects about Google is how much it messes with the search engine results pages (SERPs). I go into detail about this problem in a Content Marketing Institute .
article, Rise Up in Google SERPs With the Right SEO Website Content.
https://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2020/03/serps-seo-content/Basically, Google pushes down the natural results and that affects traffic, leads and sales.
Backlinks or Website Authority
I harp on this all of the time. If you don’t rank, it’s likely that you have little or no credibility in the eyes of search engines. Moz has a scoring system that rates websites 1-100 based on the number and quality of backlinks pointing to your website. If your authority is 10, it’s time to get at it.
Website Content (Including Relevant Keyword Phrases)
Yes, you need to use keywords in your content. Yes, you can rank for keywords that aren’t even in your content – thank Google for being really sophisticated. It helps to use the words that people include in their search queries. Is there a certain number? No. Write naturally. Don’t just keep adding your prized keyword phrases. I’ve added keywords to content and decided to tone down text populated with keyword overkill. Remember, test your tactics.
Try to get the keyword phrase in the first couple of paragraphs, somewhere in the middle and at the end.
Just like content, your page headers (like headlines) need keywords too. Yes, a whole phrase is ideal. Get it near the beginning if possible.
But 77% of small business websites don’t have the right keywords that can rank (the words are general or too competitive), according to my 2020 study, “Small Businesses Aren’t Mining SEO Gold,” which looked at 200 websites.
Overall Website Themes
You’re going to rank better if the keyword phrase is related to a central theme on your website. For example, the more you write about different types of home remodeling, the better off you’ll be. Some marketers emphasize topic clusters or content hubs. Basically, you start with some core content and create other pages tied to the main theme.
If you’re an accounting firm, start with your services. But then go deep while showing off your expertise. Write about outdated or unusual tax laws, financial myths, how to hire a CFO, etc. Create a list of tips and resources, including calculators, money management blogs, studies and more.
Will that be enough? Maybe. Regardless of rankings, why wouldn’t you tell prospects why you’re the best (in so many words)?
If you write all of that content – and you don’t use relevant keywords and keep working at getting backlinks – it’s going to be a long road.
Domain Name (If It Includes Keywords)
In my SEO study, I found that most small businesses (73%) do have keywords in their domain names. They often struggle with rankings because they don’t use enough SEO practices on their pages and they often they lack backlinks (69% of small business websites had scores of 20 or far less in the same study). Sometimes, they’re within striking distance with keyword rankings. I credit their domain choices.
They’ll never be as powerful as page headers – sorry to rock your world if you’re in Website Page Title Fan Clubs across the globe). They do make a difference. They’re actually kind of behind the scenes – not in the visible text. You see them in browser tabs and when you rank on Google (the infamous blue link). In my study, I found that 60% of small businesses don’t even try to work keywords into their page titles.
You don’t want yours to be:
Products | XYZ Really Cool Company Found in 1878
What’s missing? Keywords!
Your internal links matter to Google – they are a signal about whether content is worthy. If you have content, and only one page on the website links to it, that tells Google something. It’s like you’re saying, “Don’t pay much attention to this content.”
If you make a new FAQ page, you can link to it from several pages, including a product summary page, blog posts and related FAQ pages – just for starters. In some cases, you may want to establish links from the home page or other high-profile pages on the website. The more prominent pages have their own authority on the Internet and it’s always good for them to give the new content their blessing (with a link). You gain an edge by associating with your website pages that rank well.
So should you stuff all new content into the main navigation or secondary navigation? I wouldn’t. Add it if it’s similar to other parts of your website. If you’re introducing a new category or product, of course your new content can join other categories and products (or services) in the navigation. But you can have success just by adding links within the main text of a page too.
I used to think that having links in the navigation would be a big help. After all, the new content can quickly have a ton of links pointing to it. However, whether it’s a main navigation set or the footer section with links, Google can detect structural redundancy. Yes, those internal link sources are valuable. At some point, Google won’t give your new content full credit for all of the easy navigation internal links. In Google’s eyes, your new website content will be viewed as credible if it gets a link from your most popular (and relevant) blog posts.
Time (Be Patient)
New content often ranks better after it’s been up awhile. Watch for days and even weeks. I don’t think it’s that Google keeps it in a holding pattern. Sometimes rankings are influenced by other website conditions. For example, Google never promises to index every page. But it does visit many. And even then, it doesn’t revisit every page at the same time.
In other words, your website page may not get picked up by Google right away. Be sure it’s linked in the content of at least a few pages on your website (it may not necessarily be in your main navigation sets). As each of those pages is reindexed by Google, the new link will be discovered. I still think Google takes into account the themes of your website. The ranking will likely improve if Google determines that your new content relates to some of your established themes or topic focus areas.
Website Traffic and Engagement
No one knows for sure how much website traffic matters, but marketers often agree that it’s a factor. If someone searches for “fun games for kids,” she may be thinking of outdoor activities. Maybe you sell indoor games. She may leave your website in a second or two. But if the searcher sticks around, then you benefit from the engagement or what’s known as dwell time. If your website is well designed, the visitor may check out several pages. Or, hopefully, in your case, she buys something.
Here are some other resources:
SEO myth-busting: What is not a Google search ranking factor
52 of the Best SEO Audit Tools to Improve Your Search Rankings (Updated May 2020)
The Best Keyword Rank Checking Tools For Bloggers
20 SEO and Keyword Tips for Your Best Google Rankings in 2020
Google’s 200 Ranking Factors: The Complete List (2020)
I’ll experiment with SEO tactics on USA Cities Guide.