Last update : 14 October 2020
Have you ever wondered what kind of techno-sorcery Google uses to decide which websites appear on the first page of its search results?
If you run an online business or blog for a living, chances are you have spent more than one sleepless night looking for the answer.
If this is the case, you might have been shocked to discover that Google claimed to use over 10000 ranking signals when positioning your site. And that was in 2010.
The truth is, no matter how much sleuthing you do online, there is no clear consensus on the exact methods Google uses to rank your site and even if there was, the algorithm would likely change overnight without much warning.
The sad reality is that Google is rarely as transparent as we would like them to be and therefore some level of speculation will always be involved when optimizing your site for their search engine.
That said, there are a good number of Google ranking factors that our experts agree you should take into account when trying to improve your search rankings. In this article, we have used those elements to present you with 22½ actionable SEO techniques you can implement to target the most important Google ranking factors.
Domain-level SEO techniques that target Google ranking factors
Domain-level ranking factors are some of the most important elements to think about when looking to improve your positioning on Google.
Before we get started, we feel it’s important to note that your domain age actually doesn’t matter all that much beyond the first few months, so you can breath a sigh of relief if your domain is relatively new or you want to create a new domain. Your domain history, however, will have an impact on its authority.
#1 Exact Match Domain
Our first SEO technique can only be implemented before creating your domain. Exact Match Domain, or EMD for short, means having a domain name that perfectly matches the keyword a user enters in the search bar. This used to be a much bigger ranking factor before Google decided to implement its EMD Update, which prevents low-quality sites from gaming the system with these keyword-specific domains. This SEO hack will therefore only slightly help your site rank so don’t worry if you already have a registered domain name.
#2 Keep your WhoIs data public
Turning your WhoIs privacy on isn’t necessarily a bad thing on its own, but Google engineer Matt Cutts has been quoted as saying that Google uses it to mark your domain as suspicious when combined with other factors. With this in mind, you should keep your WhoIs information set to public just to be safe.
What is this website up to? – someone at Google, probably
#3 Top-Level Domain (TLD) extension
If you run a business that exclusively serves the Canadian market with no foreseeable plans to expand to other countries, choosing a domain with a country specific TLD extension (.ca in this case) can help your site rank better in the country you operate in. Businesses that operate internationally are better off sticking with the standard .com domain extension.
Page-level SEO techniques that send Google ranking signals
Page-level SEO techniques are those that will boost your on-page ranking factors and often relate to content writing and user experience.
#4 Insert keywords in your URLs
Inserting well-chosen keywords into your page URLs is a great way to increase the relevance of a service page or blog article. Avoid using keywords more than once in the same URL and try to keep your URLs as short as possible for maximum impact.
A URL that contains a keyword. Short and sweet.
#5 Insert keywords in your title tags and meta descriptions
Title tag in red. Meta description in blue.
Title tags and meta descriptions are the elements that appear in the SERP when a user performs a search. These should never be overlooked and should include primary and secondary keywords related to your page. Keep your title tags between 60-70 characters and your meta descriptions between 120-158 characters for an optimal display in the Google search results.
Meta description length in 2019.
#6 Insert keywords in your headings and body
Keywords inserted in your various page headings (H1, H2, H3, etc.) are known to be strong ranking factors for Google. As you go down the structure, each successive heading category carries less weight. However, be careful not to overstuff your headings with the same keyword and use some LSI keywords to shake things up a bit.
The body of your page should also contain your chosen keywords but, once again, be very careful not to overstuff your page. Keep your words flowing in a natural way and avoid inserting keywords awkwardly to bolster your density. As you will see below, Google does not weigh keyword density the way you might think.
#7 TF-IDF analysis
A less well-known and more advanced on-page SEO technique is TF-IDF (Term Frequency-Inverse Document Frequency) analysis. TD-IDF is Google’s method of weighing keyword density to determine the quality of your content.
Rather than using a set density percentage, Google now assigns importance to keywords based on the number of times it appears on a page and then determines how relevant it is when compared to other pages on the web.
Sound complicated? If you have math anxiety it certainly can be. However, if you are willing to go the extra mile, a TF-IDF analysis can be an all-powerful SEO technique that gives you a serious competitive edge.
TF-IDF formula. Not for the faint of mind.
#8 Use different formatting
Making use of different formatting throughout your page to highlight certain key phrases is known to be a ranking factor for Google. Highlight a few important phrases containing keywords with bold, italic, underline or even a larger font size to send a signal that it should be weighted as more relevant.
#9 Write long-form content
The content quality vs quantity debate is as old as time and, while both aspects matter, one thing is certain: word length is an important Google ranking factor. When it comes to writing blog articles, longer form content will always have the upper hand.
#9.5 Avoid duplicate content
This should be obvious to most content writers, but duplicate content should be avoided at all costs. This means you shouldn’t copy sections of your site on multiple pages and, of course, never ever plagiarize content for your long-form articles. Having unique content on your entire site is a strong ranking factor for Google.
A 2015 Moz study found that content length correlates with social media shares and backlinks.
#10 Insert keywords in image ALT tags
Another great way to use keywords to your advantage is to add them to your image ALT tags. Once again, don’t overstuff by adding the same keyword to 5 different images on the same page. Diversify your ALT tags by using synonyms and descriptions that users might search for on Google Images.
#11 Rev up your page speed
The loading speed of your pages is a well-known Google ranking factor. Faster sites improve the user experience and encourage more visitors to perform the actions you want them to. Enter your URL into Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to discover how your loading time can be improved.
PageSpeed Insights will tell you exactly what needs to be done to speed up your pages.
#11 Internal links
Internal links are links made from one page of your website to another. They encourage visitors to spend more time on your site, help Google’s robots figure out the relationship between your pages and transfer value from one page to another.
Every internal link you create should have an anchor text (the clickable words on the hyperlink) that is both contextually relevant and contains keywords that will help boost the linked page.
An example of internal linking with anchor texts from one of our previous articles.
#12 Schema markup
Implementing structured data, or more specifically schema.org markup, on your pages helps Google better understand your content and provide the most accurate search results possible. Structured data also helps you increase your click-through rate.
There are many types of structured data you can implement depending on the nature of your content, so make sure to choose the ones that make the most sense.
Once your markup has been integrated, always test your structured data to make sure there are no errors in the code, which can be a very common problem.
An example of the SiteNavigationElement markup.
Site-level ranking factors to target
Site-level ranking factors for Google include more broad optimizations you can perform on your site to rank better. Here are the most important ones to implement.
Site security is a key Google ranking factor so make sure you get an SSL certificate as soon as possible. Google’s Webmaster Trend Analyst Gary Illyes is on record as saying that HTTPS acts as a tiebreaker, meaning your site will appear ahead of another site for the same query if your site is secure and the other is not.
#14 Silo structure
Your site structure is another important site-level ranking factor. Ideally, your URLs should be organized into a silo format. For example, if you offer web marketing services and web design services, each with their own range of sub-services, you could create a silo structure that looks similar to this:
In this example, each sub-service URL might look something like mysite.com/web-marketing/web-marketing-service-1/. Rather than having the name of your service appear directly after your domain name in the URL, you have a section in between that acts as a silo and helps Google better comprehend your structure.
#15 Responsive design
After the recent unveiling of Google’s mobile-first index, having a responsive web design is more important than ever if you want to rank on the first page of search results. You can use Google’s mobile-friendly testing tool to see if your site is up to par.
Backlink (off-site) ranking factors
#16 Backlink quantity and quality
The number of referring domains that provide inbound links to your domain is a known ranking factor for Google. A higher number of backlinks will affect the Citation Flow metric in Majestic’s analysis tool.
However, it is important to point out that quality will always matter more than quantity. If you receive thousands of links from a domain that Google considers untrustworthy, it can have a negative impact on your site and you will risk a penalty from Google.
Focus on building high-quality authoritative backlinks over time rather than looking for bulk links from questionable domains.
A simple way to gauge the quality of a site is by checking its domain authority.
#17 Anchor texts
One of the most important SEO techniques when it comes to link building is the anchor text that the link appears on. Anchor texts send signals to Google about the relevance of the content on the linked page and help it understand the topic of the page in question.
Just be mindful not to spam the same search term over and over again on links pointing to the same page. Diversifying your anchor links is a much more effective strategy.
#18 Different C-Class IPs
Building links from many different domains is great, but even more important is acquiring links from domains with different C-Class IP ranges. An IP address contains 4 octets that can be labeled as A.B.C.D. If any domains linking to your page have the same numbers in the first three octets, Google will infer that they belong to the same site owner and decrease the positive impact to your website.
User interactions and engagement
#19 Natural CTR (Click-Through Rate) in SERPs
The rate at which users click-through to your pages and domain as a whole will increase your ranking on Google. Page-level click-throughs are known to rank single pages higher for the keyword that was entered by the user, while domain-level click-through rate will rank your entire domain higher in search results.
#20 Bounce rate
Although officially denied by Google, a number of studies have demonstrated correlation between bounce rate (the rate at which users leave or “click back” after landing on your page) and the ranking of various websites.
There is even a special type of bounce called “pogo-sticking” that may be taken into account by Google. Pogo-sticking occurs when a user bounces back to the search results page and then clicks on another result to find what they are looking for.
With this in mind, improving your bounce rate will likely help you position your pages higher in search results.
#21 Dwell time and pages per visit
The amount of time users spend on your site and the number of different pages they visit can also have an impact on your search rankings. Google presumes that sites that keep users browsing for longer and navigating to other pages have higher quality content.
#22 Social signals
User interactions and engagement are also a ranking factor when it comes to your social media strategy. Twitter tweets, Facebook likes, comments and shares, Pinterest pins, LinkedIn pages, YouTube links and brand mentions can all have an impact on your search rankings. Make sure you maintain a strong presence across different platforms if you want an extra boost.
Boost your ranking factors with the help of experts
As you can see, there are many different ranking factors for Google and targeting them all with the proper SEO techniques can be a time-consuming endeavour (a complete list would be near endless).
If you want professional help from a team of experienced SEO experts to give your Google ranking factors a boost, don’t hesitate to contact our agency.