7 Google Ranking Factors

Ranking FactorsI was recently asked “what kind of SEO is best?”

I thought, there are only two kinds of SEO and immediately went off into my standard speech about on page and off page SEO.  Half way through I realised this question may be coming from a local business, therefore, there was a third  “kind” of SEO, Local SEO.

So the best kind of SEO depends on where your target market is, if your target market is global you can not rely on Local SEO, also how competitive your keywords are, the more competitive, the more off page SEO is required.

This got me thinking a bit more as to what are the most important factors to get top rankings for your site.  Google keeps their algorithms secret so no one knows exactly what is required for top rankings. Google uses over 200 factors in ranking your website and they will never tell you these factors or their relative importance. The reason for this is that Google changes their algorithms over 500 times per year. The top SEO professionals are surveyed about this and the results they get from their extensive testing, these results are about as accurate as you are going to get.

So when I decided to write this post I thought I would read through the latest survey results and present you with an easy to read summary.  But, I then found out that the survey is only done every 2 years and the last one was June 2011!  As we all know there has been a lot of changes in the Google camp this year so how actuate are these survey results?

All I can do for you is to present these results and add my own research to bring you what I consider the most import ranking factors in 2012.

1: On-Page (Keyword-Specific) Ranking Factors

The top 6 most import places to put your keyword is as follows:

  • Title tag
  • URL
  • H1 tag
  • Internal link anchor text
  • External link anchor text
  • First 50-100 words of HTML (body text)

I was surprised when I first read this as my own research indicates that the meta description tag should be in the top 5. But the research from the survey shows that meta description is down at 21 of 24 on page keyword factors in order of importance. It doesn’t take much to add your keyword into the description tag so why not do this as well.

Exact match domains: The recent Google EMD update has made SEOs a bit wary about having keywords as a domain name but there are other ways to get your keyword in the URL.  Simply use the page URL as your keyword. (e.g. http://www.yourdomain.name.com/yourkeyword.html)

2: On-Page (Non-Keyword) Ranking Factors
Other factors you should consider are:

  • Existence of Substantive Unique Content on the Page.  Make sure all of your content is unique. Read my post about duplicate content.
  • Recency (freshness) of Page Creation.  Google loves fresh content so update your website regularly.
  • Ad placement.  Another Google Algorithm update this year is the page layout update.  If you have too may ads above the fold your rankings will suffer.

3: Top Link Popularity Ranking Factors  (Backlinks)

  • Keyword-Focused Anchor Text from External Links.  This must now not be over optimised, use generic as well as a diverse selection of keywords for anchor text.
  • External Link Popularity (quality of external links)
  • Diversity of Link Sources (links from many unique root domains)
  • Page-Specific TrustRank (page has earned links from trusted sources)
  • Sitewide – Trustworthiness Based on Link Distance from Trusted Domains

4: Authority / Trust   (Age/Time signals)
There are many factors involved in working out domain authority.  Some tools have put a number on this.  You can use Open Site Explorer to find out domain authority and page authority which are numbers between 0-100.

Domain trust is can be measured and is based on the links to your website and the links to the sites that link to yours.  Basically the further away from a trusted domain the less trust you have.  You can compare a trust ranking called mozTrust at Open Site Explorer.

5: Registration/Hosting Data
It is best to host your website and domain in the country where your target market is.  If you have a global market then a .com is the best choice.

Geo Targeting factors: TLD, Language, links from domains in target area, location of IP address are all taken into consideration.

6: Social Metrics (Social Proof)
Getting likes from Facebook and other social sites will help your rankings but this is only a small part of the big picture so you will need to work on other factors as well.

7: Usage Data  – Traffic, bounce rate, load times (User Metrics)
High traffic sites will get a better ranking and also sites that give the user a good experience.  Time on site and bounce rate are taken into consideration.

Some of the above factors have more effect on your rankings than others but I believe that if you cover as many angles as possible you have a better chance of out ranking your competition.

SEO isn’t just meta tags and backlinks, as you can see there are many factors you have to consider.

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Roger Weavers

Roger has been working in the telecomms and IT industry since 1973 working for international companies such as BT and Honeywell. Roger founded Sytec Computers Ltd in 1996 and provided consultancy services to a variety of UK companies. In 2001 Sytec diversified into web design, marketing and hosting and now Roger specialises in SEO.

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  • Roger,
    Excellent article – many insightful details and excellent points. Knowing the target audience is so important to finding the right keywords. Ranking a site for a global keyword vs a local keyword is something to always keep in mind. Appreciate your summary of the important factors. Meta tag being the 21st most important ranking factor is eye opening. Looking forward to your future insights.
    sylvia recently posted..ManageFlitter Review – Finding Targeted Twitter FollowersMy Profile

  • Hi Sylvia, glad you enjoyed my post. Just to save confusion, the 21st most important keyword factor is the meta description tag. According to the survey.

  • Helpful post Roger.

    If the Pareto principle is true and 80% of results come from 20% of our efforts this information is really useful. Now we know where to concentrate our SEO efforts.

  • Hi David,

    The 80/20 rule (or sometimes 90/10) seems to apply to most things and I’m sure SEO is no exception. I think my advice is to check everything is in place on page and then analyse your competition to see exactly how much work is needed off page. An hour of planning can save you many hours of unnecessary work.


  • Hi Roger,

    WOW! You certainly are the go to man for anything SEO.

    Great article, especially for me as I didn’t know a great deal of what you’ve mentioned here.

    I do think that Google can be the school bully at times. People can work hard to get their sites ranked only for Google to move the goalposts and they have to start all over again.

    After reading all about the recent Google changes, I wish they’d give more consideration to the people who try and make a genuine, honest living from their online businesses.

    Dean Thompson recently posted..Dedicating Time to your BusinessMy Profile

  • Hi Dean,

    Thanks for your comment. Yep, never a dull moment in the SEO world, always something new to learn. Most people are really just stabbing in the dark when it comes to SEO, with hundreds of factors to consider you just need to get into the Google mindset, what does Google like, what are they trying to achieve. Does your website belong on page one? I think competitor analysis is a very important part of SEO, see what the other sites on page one are doing.
    Hmmm….. another idea for a post :).
    Oh!, I’ve already posted about this a few months ago. Check this out Competition Analysis


  • Roger,
    You certainly have a way of making SEO (a topic that confounds me) seem do-able and almost simple! Thanks very much for the tips. I’ll implement them on my own site and see what kind of results I get!
    Jen Eick, “the ADHDpreneur” recently posted..10 Reasons I’m Thankful for Internet MarketingMy Profile

  • Hi Jen,

    Thanks for your comment, I’m glad I make it all sound do-able. As you are using WordPress I recommend you install Yoast WordPress SEO plugin, this will really help you with your title tags and other on page stuff and its free.

  • Hi Roger,

    In my opinion, you dealt with the SEO issue with great dept.

    I have been doing SEO adopting the three types naturally without any special attention to why I was doing it the way i did.

    I can now see that it is very important to understand what you intend to achieve at all times so that you can do it right even without having to consult some book first as long as you know the basics.

    Great post you have here and it is inspiring too.

    Duncan Abel recently posted..Get Internet Business Ideas OnlineMy Profile

  • Hi Ducan,

    Thanks for your comments. I do try and keep things as simple as possible within this complicated subject.


  • Hi Roger

    Excellent article! Enjoyed it very much!

    For me the secret behind effective SEO is not a trick or a mystery software program, but rather the simple KNOWLEDGE that most website marketers have fallen into the vicious circle of thinking they have to follow the latest and greatest SEO strategy in order to achieve decent search engine rankings.

    The secret of effective, efficient SEO is to LEARN and USE THE BASICS. Taking action, even if it is very basic and simple, is always better than taking no action at all.
    Helena Zwarts recently posted..Small Businesses: How to Claim your Facebook Page UsernameMy Profile

  • Hi Helena,

    Thanks for your comments. Yes I believe in keeping things simple, and SEO should start with good quality content, which does make things easier all round. Then, as you say, start with the basics, and don’t try and cheat Google, they are smarter than you.


  • Hi Roger,
    I admire how you are able to keep on top of the Google moving target, LOL.
    One thing that Google mentioned that I’m not clear on is “providing the user a good experience” (to paraphrase). I’m a little unclear on what that means. Of course we should provide quality information in an easily navigational layout, but is there more? Are they talking about providing some kind of entertainment, or simply avoiding negative things such as long load times or broken links? Does Google provide any examples of what they mean by “good experience”? Sorry if my question seems stupid.

  • Hi Karl,

    Thanks for your comments. As for providing a good user experience, you need to think how Google is going to measure this. They may peek through your computer camera and see how much you are smiling but I don’t think they are doing this… yet!
    What they can measure, is things like load times, how long visitors stay on your site, how many pages they look at and how often they return. So to improve your rankings you should increase these factors. You can do this buy putting lots of quality content on your site, add some videos, make sure you have some “calls to action” that make visitors click through to other pages and use email marketing and social media to make sure they come back.
    I hope this answers your question.

  • Thanks Roger, I have to agree with you and Helena. Keep it simple and build from the basic fundamentals. My learninng in SEO has been fairly organic (my assumption would be this is not unique!) so your website is a great resource. I be back.
    Scott Stembridge recently posted..Niche Websites – Still a pillar of “passive” incomeMy Profile

  • Hi Scott,

    Thanks for your comment. Basic SEO is pretty simple, create a good quality site, build natural looking links from authority sites, do things slowly and don’t try and cheat. Just follow the guidelines


  • Don

    Hi Roger, This info on SEO is great but I do not really understand enough to really use it. I have a friend that put my website up that does understand the things you are talking about. I will get him to read your blog and see if he can impliment your suggestions. I do not know anyone locally that has a website an trying to get targeted traffic. It would be nice if I knew a person in my area that was successful getting traffic to their website. After 5 years I have not met anyone involved in IM. I just want to drive traffic to my site that live here in Texas at least for now. I appreciate your help


  • Hi Don,

    I took a quick look at your website and I could not find any mention of where you are or the area you cover. Initially I thought you where in Ireland as your domain is Irish Golf Pro School. If you want to rank well on the search engines for keywords like “golf pro Texas” or “golf lessons in Texas” These phrases need to be in prominent places on your website for the search engines and visitors to find.
    If you are based in Texas and your provide lessons in Texas the best way to rank well is to create a Google+ places page with your name, address and telephone number (NAT) and details about your services. You also need to have your NAT on your website on your home page and also register your details on local directories with the same NAT. Even if the directories do not link back to your website this will still help with SEO as Google sees these directory listings as citations.
    Take a look through my blog sign up for my free ecourse, “7 steps to top search engine rankings” and let me know if you have any questions.