SEO Ranking factors: What really matters to Google to get higher rankings for your website

Posted by Murray Sye

on Wed, Sep 30, 2015 @ 11:17 AM


Are you familiar with how Google ranks your website and pages?

You may be curious to know what they are but how would anyone have the time to sift through (and adjust accordingly) all 200?

Well, most of us can't.

But, what we can do is look at which of the 200 have the biggest impact? Or more importantly, which factors should you focus on to get higher rankings for your site?

Well you're in luck because that's exactly what we're going to review with you in today's post.

So let's get to it.

With a little help from Brian Dean, whom I esteem, I've gathered this condensed checklist that reviews each of the 10 most important Google ranking factors. Dean is the founder of Backlinko and is an internationally recognized entrepreneur and SEO expert and he really knows his stuff.

1) Include your target keyword in the beginning of your title tag

A title tag defines the title of a document. Title tags are often used on search engine results pages to display preview snippets for a given page, and are important both for SEO (no kidding) and social sharing.

Title tags often show up in both the top of a browser's chrome and in tabs (as in the sample below).


Here's your first take away: Google gives more weight to keywords found in the beginning of a title tag. For example, let's say you wanted to rank for the keyword "on-page SEO" and you were deciding between two headlines:

Headline #1
On-Page SEO Tips: 12 Strategies for
a Perfectly Optimized Page
Headline #2
Create a Perfectly Optimized Page
With These 12 On-Page SEO Tips 

Google would see the headline #1 as more about the topic of "on-page SEO" than headline #2. So you'd want to go with headline #1.

2) Content length matters

Several industry studies have shown that longer content (1500+ words) ranks significantly higher in Google. Longer posts usually perform better on every level and that's supported in serpIQ's graph below. 
Higher word count typically results in more search traffic. Evidence suggests that the more content your page has, the better chance it has vying for a top spot in Google results. NOTE: all first page results (in the above graph) has content exceeding 2000 words. Write at least 1500 words for content that you're trying to rank for in Google.

3) Page loading speed

Page speed is a huge factor, in fact Google has stated that page loading speed is a SEO differentiator.


Page speed is often confused with "site speed," which is actually the page speed for a sample of page views on a site. Page speed can be described in either "page load time" (the time it takes to fully display the content on a specific page) or "time to first byte" (don't let the term scare you – measuring how long it takes for your bowser to receive the first byte of information from the web server).

No matter how you measure it, a faster page speed is one of the few ranking signals that Google has publicly confirmed. It's that important.

You can easily evaluate and improve your site's loading speed using Google's own PageSpeed Insight tool.

4) Keyword prominence and positioning

Keywords are still "key" to SEO and should be placed strategically to maximize your efforts.


To maximize SEO, your targeted keyword should appear in the first 100-150 words of your article. Including your target keyword in strategic places, like in your URL (point #1), your blog title, in the beginning of your article (as in the above example) and in H2 tags, sends a message to Google that your page is about that keyword.

5) Page authority/page rank

PageRank is what Google uses to determine the importance of a web page. The authority of your page – determined by the quality and quantity of inbound links – is by far the most important ranking signal that Google uses.


This makes sense, because people do tend to link to relevant content, and pages with more links to them are usually better resources than pages that nobody links.

However, PageRank doesn't stop there. It also looks at the importance of the page that contains the link. Pages with higher PageRank have more weight in "voting" with their links than pages with lower PageRank.

Incorporate white hat link building strategies to build your page's authority. Dean outlines his method in what he calls Guestographics – check it out.

6) Domain authority

Domain Authority (DA) is a score (on a 100-point scale) developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engines. It is one of the most important numbers known as SEOs. The greater your DA, the more likely you are to have strong traffic and high rank.

When ranking a page, Google also factors in the authority of the domain as a whole (that's why sites like Amazon and YouTube rank for almost everything). You can check your Domain Authority using Open Site Explorer.


So how do you improve your Domain Authority?  Create (and promote) your awesome content and Neil Patel of QuickSprout offers this advice: at the most basic level, to have a good link profile, you have to do two things:
  1. Get rid of bad links.
  2. Gain good links.

7) Link relevancy

As we already reviewed, a link's authority (as measured by the PR of the linking page) as very important.


But Google is paying more and more attention to the relevancy of the links pointing to your site. A former member of Matt Cutt's search quality team was quoted as saying: "...getting a link from a high PR page used to always be valuable. Today it's more the 'relevance' of the site's theme in regards to yours, relevance is the new PR."

So, if Google places more value on link relevancy, so should you. Make sure that most of your links come from sites that are on the same topic as yours. So if you ran a site that sold organic food, make sure you're getting links from other pet-related sites... not sites about trucks and tatoo's.

8) Dwell time

What tends to happen when a Google searcher lands on your page?


Your page is not very effective when a visitor searches and lands on your page - but clicks away. Conversely, if the page is extremely relevant and interesting, they spend time on it. Google pays very close attention to how people interact with your website. The amount of time they spend on your site – known as dwell time – is a super important ranking signal.

Dean offers this advice: make the 'above the fold' area of your pages compelling and clutter free. The more interesting that area is, the higher the dwell time – and rankings – will be.


9) Responsive design

More than half of the web's traffic now comes from a mobile device. Google's official stance is that they prefer Responsive Design vs. a separate mobile website.


With responsive design, the only thing that changes across devices is the styling. This configuration makes it easier for Google to crawl your pages and retrieve your content. To quote Google, "This improvement in crawling efficiency can indirectly help Google index more of the site's contents and keep it appropriately fresh."

Make sure your site loads quickly for mobile users and runs on a responsive design.


10) Thin or duplicate content

Google wants to rank sites that have robust, original content. Low-quality, or even duplicate pages on our sites may seem harmless, but it may just be harming your entire site's ranking potential. Google is going to look at content on a page by page basis, but they're also considering things domain wide.

Most often sites will unknowingly have accumulated 'junk' pages over the years, like archive and category pages. Junk pages are thin, duplicate or both – which can hold down your site's rankings.

Do a site audit and delete or 'non-index' thin pages or pages with duplicate content.


Now it's back to you

Forget about the additional 190 Google factors for now and focus on the ones that will have the biggest impact. At the very least use them as inspiration for best practices to follow. If you have additional tips and suggestions, don't be shy we'd love to hear from you.

So go to it, and here's to page #1 search success.

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Written by Murray Sye

Murray is the CEO and Creative Director with the award-winning
Toronto HubSpot agency partner, WhiteSpace. You can
connect with Murray on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.

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