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Top 8 SEO Ranking Factors in 2021

Whether your business is Fortune 500 or a local retailer, an SEO strategy is important to growing your online presence and achieving organic visibility.

Search engines look at many different factors when it comes to their ranking system, that much is obvious. But, with SEO constantly changing, it can be a challenge to keep on top of new algorithms and ranking factors.

What are ranking factors?

SEO, also known as Search Engine Optimisation, is the practice of improving your website to make it more visible in search engine results. Ranking factors is a term commonly used to describe the various characteristics and metrics considered by search engines when deciding which pages to rank when a user performs a search. SEO ranking factors are often used in combination with search engine algorithms to deliver web pages ranked by relevance.

Types of Google ranking factors 

Before we jump into the different SEO ranking factors to look out for, let us first run through the types.

  1. On-page ranking factors: As the name suggests, these relate to the ranking factors that are found on your landing pages, including keywords and content.
  2. Technical ranking factors: Ranging from 4xx errors to page speed, technical SEO ranking factors relate to the overall health of your website.
  3. Off-page ranking factors: Often missing from an integrated marketing strategy but equally as important, off-page relates to your website’s popularity, relevance, trustworthiness, and authority. These include backlinks, brand mentions, and influencer marketing.

search listings

The biggest difficulty met by many is that these three types are often neglected as a whole, with some specialists only concentrating on one facet. By amalgamating all of your efforts for on-page, technical, and off-page, you’re giving yourself the best shot of having a well-rounded SEO strategy.

How many ranking factors does Google use?

Google’s search algorithm and ranking system may be one of the most complex minefields in our entire evolution of technology. Having a grasp of what is important vs what isn’t helps make it seem a little less hazy for us SEO specialists. But, believe it or not, it’s reported that there are around 200 different ranking factors. Some are proven, whilst others are controversial and largely debated.

Instead of listing out every single potential SEO ranking factor, let’s concentrate on the most important (proven) ones.

What are the most important ranking factors today?

User Intent 

Understanding search intent is essential when creating your website’s landing pages and should not be overlooked. After all, Google’s main purpose is to serve the most relevant pages for a searcher’s query.

The importance of which was reinforced when, back in 2019, Google’s algorithm change included the introduction to BERT (also referred to as Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers). Simply put, BERT allows Google to contextualise user’s searches – essentially understanding searches better than ever before. Its impact on the organic search landscape is rather monumental. Remember, relevance forms the foundation of SEO.

To help you organise your content, comb through each landing page and determine its relevant keyword and search intent. Simply looking at the top-ranking pages can help you understand how Google perceives the intent for your keyword.

 

Content Quality 

Is content a ranking factor? Content is king is a well-known saying in the SEO world, so we’ll let you answer that one for yourselves. As with the user’s intent, Google wants to serve high-quality, relevant content to its searchers. Ultimately, the content on a page is what makes it worthy of ranking. It’s not as simple as writing a few lines and calling it quits. 

Keep in mind the following when supplying a page with content:

  • Aim for around 1,000 words – longer content often means you’re providing in-depth quality content (but don’t just write extra words for the sake of meeting a word count)
  • Use keyword-rich phrases, but avoid keyword stuffing!
  • Structure your content by using a heading tag hierarchy and breaking up paragraphs into manageable sections

 

Brand Signals 

Brand signals are fast becoming a crucial way to show Google you’re a legitimate, authoritative, and trustworthy company. So much so that it is now used as a search engine ranking factor when determining a website’s authority.

Legitimizing your brand can come in many different forms. Some of the main ways to establish reputable brand signals include:

  • Brand mentions on the web
  • Volume of brand search queries 
  • NAP consistency
  • The activity across social media accounts

 

Page Speed

If your site is not loading within two to three seconds, chances are your bounce rate will suffer the consequences. Opportunities are regularly missed as more than half of traffic will wait no longer than three seconds for a page to load before bouncing off.

Interestingly, your page speed can both, directly and indirectly, affect your site’s performance. It has been directly affecting your organic performance since 2018 when Google’s Speed Update was introduced for mobile searches. It can indirectly affect your organic performance as, as previously mentioned, bounce rate, new users, and session duration will all be impacted by a slow-moving site and impatient users.

Get started today by evaluating your page speed with Google’s PageSpeed Insights.

 

Mobile Usability

Almost two-thirds of searches take place on mobile devices, hence why Google made it a ranking factor for mobile searches back in 2015.

Additionally, since 2019, by default, Google introduced mobile-first indexing. This means Google predominantly uses the mobile version of your site’s content for indexing and ranking. Due to this, mobile usability is also a ranking factor for desktop searches.

Want to see how mobile-friendly your site really is? Check out Google Search Console’s Mobile Usability.

Blue mobile screen

Core Web Vitals

 Late last year, Google announced that, as of May 2021, Core Web Vitals – a subset of factors relating to speed, responsiveness, and visual stability – will be a key ranking factor. A user’s experience should be at the focus of every website’s plan and should reiterate the importance of your page’s overall UX performance.

There are several ways to tools to test your core web vitals. Some of the most popular include:

 

E-A-T factors 

E-A-T stands for expertise, authority, and trustworthiness. You may have guessed from previous ranking factors mentioned above, but each of these aspects plays a crucial role for Google to determine your website’s legitimacy and ranking power. Although these website quality standards need to be met by every website, Google highlights that companies who rely on YMYL (Your Money, Your Life) topics should and will be scrutinized to a higher degree. This is because, if false information is spread on these topics, detrimental effects on the user’s general wellbeing, finances, and safety will ensue. Some of these topics include:

  • News and current events
  • Finances
  • Health and safety
  • Government and law

Establishing expertise, authority, and trustworthiness takes time, investments, and a lot of groundwork. If done correctly, you’ll experience the benefits of this across your rankings and overall SEO performance.

 

Backlinks

It may be 2021, but link building should still be the main pillar in your off-site strategy. Be warned, we discourage all kinds of black hat SEO as they don’t work and they are against search engine’s terms of services.

Authority and reliability have already been proven to be quintessential to your SEO progress, and backlinks are a foundation of this. You’re not just after any old backlink so keep in mind the following:

  • The more domains that link to your website, the more authoritative you appear in the eyes of Google. Concentrate on quality, not quantity!
  • Google places specific value on older domains that link to your website as these tend to be the most trustworthy. It would look slightly dodgy if 10 relatively new sites started linking to your website all of a sudden…
  • The domain authority, also known as the DA score, also plays an important part. These will hold much more weight than lesser-known sites.

Keeping tabs on all of the ranking factors mentioned, as well as Google’s latest algorithms, will help you stay up to date with the latest SEO trends. If you’re slightly concerned about the intensity of it all, don’t sweat it. Here at upUgo, our digital marketing experts can help tailor an SEO plan to encompass all of the above and more. Get in touch to start your SEO journey.

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