There are several major ranking factors you need to know about with regards to SEO. Page speed, high-quality content, user experience (UX), and backlinks are are just a few. Google considers many things when they rank a website. There is no single ranking factor that Google uses in isolation. 

In fact, it seems these factors change almost every year. Let’s take a quick look at how Google has changed ranking factors so far.

In 2014, HTTPS started being a ranking factor. Among search ranking signals, mobile usability was the most important in 2015. A year later, in 2016, RankBrain emerged, changing how content development must be done to get ranked. And just in 2017, HTTPS websites were reportedly given preference. In 2018 mobile page speed became critical.

You can see it has always been about a particular factor almost every year. And to make your SEO strategies work, you have to follow the trend.  John Mueller, a senior Webmaster analyst stated in a tweet saying the key to getting your business ranked on Google is “Awesomeness”.

As simple as that sounds, how do you arrive at Awesomeness in the midst of over one billion websites competing for visibility online today? There is no doubt that all of these ranking factors were created to make for a better, more awesome user experience.

While it’s true that Google uses many numbers of factors to rank your site, understanding and knowing the best SEO strategy to get you on the right track might be difficult.

But there’s good news: Ranking signals will always be tweaked to match the users’ preferences.

What does that mean?

It means that new SEO trends currently working have the algorithm backing — and it is entirely possible to rank well with creative tweaks and SEO knowledge. So what are the factors you need to consider to get ranked on Google? 

Well, getting up there on Google requires many factors. However, this post is about 7 of them that are most essential to include in your SEO strategy. Although this post on ranking signals isn’t all-encompassing, it provides some excellent insight into what’s most important when it comes to SEO strategies.

So let’s dig into each of the factors and why they matter.

1. Deliver Only High-Quality Content

Content is King. Always has been and always will be. The quality of your content represents a critical piece of the overall SEO campaign for your site.

You might have the best SEO strategy in the world, but if your content is full of errors and poorly written or formatted, to begin with then your site won’t rank on the first page.

For SEO to work, you need to write meaningful, useful content for your target audience. Whether you are writing a short article or a long-form blog post, you should aim to keep your audience in mind. 

Based on a Whiteboard Friday presentation by Rand Fishkin, optimized content with the right keywords still has significant SEO power.

Be sure to include keywords and phrases in your content, but do not overdo it. It is always better to create useful content with great writing than keyword-rich content with nonsense.

High-quality content is essential for creating trust between you and Google, which leads to increased rankings. Providing helpful information that your target audience is looking for increases visibility and the ability to convert visitors into leads or sales. You could get caught up in the web of Google’s Panda and Google algorithm update if you are publishing content with no value.

Content that increases time on the page, reduces bounce rate, and delivers helpful information is what makes pages high-quality.

Rather than simply being well-written and long-form, high-quality content pages must do more for today’s SEO. To improve their ranking in SERPs, they must also address the following points:

Search Intent

To create organic traffic-driver pages, it is essential to understand user search intent. After all, the only reason we create web pages is to meet the user’s needs.  Sure you can guess what happens when your content isn’t answering users’ questions or not suitable for the user’s search intent.  

You won’t get featured on the first page.

By tweaking their SEO content approach to be more in line with searcher aim, CoSchedule saw a 594% rise in traffic.

And recently, Google has included a new featured snippet for “multi-intent” queries in its search results. So, it has become ever more essential to know what your prospects are searching for. And the best way to go about this is Google Analytics.

Google Analytics will allow you to see what your users are looking for, so you can more accurately target your marketing efforts. You can find out more about your customers’ search behaviors by looking at reports like Site Search and User Flow. Also made available in Google Search Console is the Search Analytics report

This will further give you an overview of what people are clicking on the SERPs to get to your site.

Keyword Research

Keyword research is a process that helps clarify your market or user’s needs. Keyword research has spawned a business of its own and is fundamental to SEO.  Proper keyword research guides you in creating effective and useful content. This means creating content that satisfies the users’ needs. 

What do you get in return?  Increase in visibility, user satisfaction, repeat visits, and increased sales for your business.

Keyword gems that have high click-through rates and a significant search volume can be found through competitor research and data mining. See for yourself how Chris Hornack, the Founder of Blog Hands, increased his site’s traffic by 80% with keyword research.

Keyword research is a very big part of the SEO process and an important factor for improving a website’s performance in search engines. 

You want to tailor your topic to that keyword. You don’t want to do a broad general topic.  Your content needs to be relevant to that keyword, so your searcher is getting what they were looking for and not just a broad blanket statement about your services or products in general.

For example, according to a Google survey, mobile search queries for “brands like” and “stores like” have risen by 60% in the last two years. The importance of adapting your keyword approach for the mobile consumer is explained in this report.

Andrea Lehr, a Brand Relationship Strategist at Fractl, is another example, having shared insights on how she categorizes her keywords.

Voice Search

As stated by Google, 72% of people that have voice-activated speakers report they use their devices regularly. So what does that mean?

As the trend of intelligent, voice-enabled assistants continues to grow in our homes and offices, businesses need to start integrating voice search into their strategy to craft high-quality content.

Making your content optimized for the way people speak may be like going to a yoga class for the first time. While you’re looking around at what other people are doing and holding your lotus cup high above your head, you’re just waiting for savasana. 

Awkward right?

I quite understand. And so does Dan Shewan. She offers some killer SEO tips for voice searches, such as how to use Schema Metadata and understand local queries and intent.

To further help you understand better, here are powerful insights Backlinko owner, Brian Dean shared about optimizing for voice search after reviewing 10,000 Google Home results.

Rich Snippets

Rich Snippets work to improve the visibility of your content for search engines and users alike. They are designed to be an additional tool for the SERPs.

Featured snippets could include photos or ratings of your result. With rich snippets, your bounce rate can reduce, and your click-through rate increases because it gives users a better glimpse of your content before they click it.

While the SERP is the gateway to your business, your website content pages are like an interior decorator working to make your space attractive and inviting. 

A well-designed landing page, product page or company overview will not only encourage your users to convert but also build trust with a professional image that better reflects the type of service you offer.

High-quality, consistent content is a cornerstone of search engine optimization.  Unique, curated, and valuable content will entice your users to consume your offerings and learn more about your company, services, or products.

High-quality content is one of the key ways that search engines deduct that your site is worth displaying. We can only rely on Google’s featured snippet guidelines since John Mueller won’t divulge ranking factors.

Also, a presentation presented by Rob Bucci, CEO of STAT Search Analytics, at SearchLove 2018 in San Diego demonstrates how to create featured snippets. Here is the full presentation.

2. Make Your Site Mobile-Friendly

Well, now there is much more reason to ensure your website is mobile-friendly. More than half of users will access your website using their mobile phone or tablet at some point in time now.  Beyond that though, Google wants mobile pages to be seen as equal to desktop pages. 

Google has been pushing responsive website design to help address this large change on the web.

The key point here is that instead of creating a separate website for each different screen size, the same content is used to create sites for different screen sizes.  This means that you can build one site that you know will adapt perfectly to every user’s device, making your website much more relevant to your users, less work for you, and fewer file sizes.

Searching on mobile is growing rapidly. This is why it’s recommended that you make your website responsive. Aside from the fact that it’s one of the ranking factors, it has an advantage. Anyone who visits your site from a mobile device will be just as happy as someone visiting from a desktop computer.

This is the perfect way to make your site accessible to all (global audience). In Google’s words, responsive pages make the algorithm better at assigning indexing properties to a page, compared to signaling the creation of a corresponding desktop/mobile page.

Your mobile site is the foundation of your online presence, but it’s also a huge factor in Google’s search rankings. Good SEO design means carefully choosing each page element, so it’s fast and easy for Google to crawl and index. 

Don’t know where to start?

Follow the Google guidelines and ensure that your content matches identically on desktops and mobile phones. A search engine’s functionality is only as good as its index. That’s why keeping a close watch on your web pages’ health matters so much. 

It’s not enough to be incredible. You also need to get your content accessible to the people who need that information at the time they’re looking for it.

3. Optimize Your Page Speed

Have you tested your site’s mobile speed recently?  Having moved from desktop search to mobile in 2018, Google continues to favor mobile devices. Therefore, the slower your site loads, the fewer visitors and revenue you’ll retain.

Mobile users have different expectations than desktop users and require a faster loading website.

According to The Telegraph, a leading British publication, a four-second delay can reduce page views by 11.02%. And for Amazon, a one-second delay could cost $1.6 billion each year in sales. 

That is how important it is to make your website mobile-friendly. Nobody has the time to stare at their screen for minutes waiting for a single page to load.  The good news is that several tools can be used to test the page speed of a website. And, most fixes are relatively easy if done by someone who does it well.

Page speed is a significant factor in search rankings. The faster your page loads the lower your bounce rate will be.  Slow websites frustrate visitors. Google wants to make sure that your website’s pages load quickly before it can put you up there for a good visitor’s overall experience. 

4. Create a Safe Website (HTTPS)

In 2017, Dr. Peter J. Meyers noted that 30% of Google results on the first page were HTTPS. While not moving to HTTPS is unlikely to immediately harm your website, there have been several updates since Google first announced HTTPS as a ranking factor back in 2014.  Those who assume it’s no longer a significant ranking factor may be missing out on a big opportunity.

As of 2017 Google Chrome has begun flagging sites in the URL bar as “not secure” when they are not HTTPS.  As a result, many sites that haven’t made the transition experience an increase in their bounce rates.

Basically, all of these points to Google’s view that HTTPS is essential when it comes to ranking.

However, there are a lot of (relatively small) potential canonicalization issues that can take place when changing from HTTP to HTTPS.  Unless all of these issues are fixed, your website may have a poor user experience related to search engine crawling, indexing, and ranking.

Here is a step-by-step guide to migrate your site to HTTPS.

While the Chrome update hasn’t been shown to have any substantial impact on SEO by itself, it might be worthwhile to switch from HTTP to HTTPS.

5. Improve Your User Experience

Users experience (UX) is a critically important element of any website. If you don’t take it seriously, your website might end up getting trashed like mushy peas and TV dinner.

The right design can increase sales, engagement, and trust. But if your website is designed poorly, you risk losing a huge chunk of business. According to research, 38% of people will stop using a website as long as the design and content are unattractive.

By updating the content and optimizing the call-to-action buttons on Main Street Host’s attorney profiles, the digital marketing agency saw an increase of 66% in page views. Additionally, Ezoic saw an increase in revenue per 1,000 visitors of 186% following creating a better UX.

A good UX can help your site gain credibility from both search engines and users. You can also increase the value of a user’s visit by providing them with resources to increase dwell time.

Why is it important you increase your website dwell time?

Dwell time is a proxy for search engines to assess the length of time it takes for a user to spend on a site before returning to the search results. The main goal of good UX is to help the users accomplish their goals in an efficient, and easy manner. 

Is that not the same goal Google is always looking to achieve? So, if you want to sing your way to the top of the SERPs, then consider improving your user experience

Site Architecture

Site architecture is the practice of designing websites so that the sites are easily crawled, indexed, and navigated by search engines.  Site architecture has a significant impact on SEO and is closely related to the user experience. Providing a thematic framework for their site, John Doherty at Credo argues, is essential.

John went on to talk about a website where he changed the URLs from a tag page to a subcategory page in order to connect higher up the site architecture. The result was an increase in organic sessions by 74% and pages per session by 41%.

Besides improving website navigation for users, site architecture can also help search engine crawlers find more pages on your website.

In a nutshell, the layout of all pages and navigation on your site should be as simple as possible. Visitors should be able to locate every page on your website in three to four clicks.  Although this isn’t necessarily easy for websites with numerous pages, there are options to assist people in searching for and finding pages internally to guarantee they locate what they’re looking for.

6. Master Your On-Page Optimization

User experience is closely related to on-page optimization, which deals with technical elements of SEO.  These components have been around for years and still make a significant difference in your website’s visibility and search engine ranking.

By merely updating H1 tags, Mockingbird experienced a 62% boost in organic traffic, and Brand New Copy scored a 48% boost in organic traffic by cleaning up metadata and internal linking structure.

That’s the awesomeness a little tweak in your on-page optimization can achieve.

Optimizing your site can improve your search ranking and improve user experience. In 2021, on-page optimization will still play an important role in the following ways:

Metadata

The page description and title tags are the descriptions of your sites people see in the SERPs. According to SEJ, Google increased the length of snippets. However, more recently, Google executive Danny Sullivan confirmed Google has decreased the length of snippets and that they do not have a fixed length.

In either case, don’t rewrite your existing descriptions entirely.  When it better matches the user’s query, Google occasionally pulls content from the page and inserts it as the description in SERPs.

Keep it in mind that those titles and descriptions for your pages may not always be used, but that shouldn’t stop you from writing the best possible titles and descriptions.

Schema

Using schema on your web pages allows search engines to better understand the content of your websites.  This “hidden” markup is invisible to viewers but can increase the relevancy and visibility of your web pages in search results. Almost 600 different types of information are now available since it was created in 2011.

When you create content using core schemas, it’s easier for search engines to understand the main concepts and words on your web pages.  This can help search engines and browsers better process the information on your site, and also provide a better user experience when people are conducting searches.

Google’s Andrew Valente shared one example of how Schema markup and rich results can boost engagement and click-throughs in search during the session titled “How to Stand Out in Search with Structured Data“.

In addition, in Food Network’s case, the click-through rate increased by 35% for with markup while Rotten Tomatoes experienced a 25% click-through rate. 

Schemas help Google show relevant snippets when browsing search results, so they play an important role in SEO. For basic markup needs, a generator like this one from Hall Analysis is perfect for adding schema to a page’s header.

Internal Link Structure

Internal links are a critical part of any SEO strategy. They help users and search engines find pages that are relevant to search queries. According to sales and marketing director Corey Morris, internal linking structures need to be prioritized in five important areas:

  • Providing assistance to users.
  • Making sure the link flow is the right one (i.e. where the traffic goes once the traffic reaches your website).
  • Establishing a content roadmap around certain topics.
  • Canonicals.
  • Indexing specific pages in priority.

The bottom line is that you need to orient your linking strategy to different pages on your site to better serve users, then focus on how to get traffic to a small set of pages. The best way to do that?

Consider how internal link structure can help guide users through the process of signing up for your newsletter to requesting a demo.

7. Earn Relevant & Authoritative Backlinks

If you are looking for good SEO rankings in 2021, then links will continue to be a major component. Among those who claim that you can succeed without backlinks, certain websites regularly do so. However, it would be foolish not to use these effective link-building strategies:

Customer case studies: Clients sometimes share case studies, and they are often very excited about sharing how they achieved their results, which can be helpful to others.

Expert Roundups: Keep it relevant and focus on relevant information that is unique.

Infographics: They get shared widely online and are an excellent way to provide a fresh, immediate snapshot of data on a particular topic. They can be entertaining and informative and are often republished by other bloggers and social media.

Additional content featuring influencers: Podcasts and video interviews are some examples of content that highlights influencers.

Industry survey: Content Market Institute’s studies on both B2C and B2B content marketing are frequently cited by other writers and publishers to illustrate their points. Publishers regularly release industry surveys, which become quite well-known and cited, each time they are released.

Free tools/content: These often include books and other useful content such as quizzes and personalized reports that include details users didn’t previously know. Dave Ramsey has tons of calculators on his site that are free.

The value of backlinks may lower over time, but they can still play an important role in SEO.

Summary

SEO marketers can create awesomeness by integrating ranking signals. This means a more thorough, sophisticated SEO strategy that is tailored to your current and future needs.

Rest assured that SEO focusing on quality over short-term gains will help you move up in the SERPs regardless of the mobile-first index, page speed rank factors, and other changes rolled out throughout the year.

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