Have you often wondered what's true and false when it comes to ranking higher in Google?
Now we'll talk about the complete list of ranking factors and I'll also point out factors that have been proven and some that have been tested but not proven to work. If you're still having issues with ranking, go through this list and make sure you have a lot of these techniques implemented.
Overview of Ranking Signals
The complete list includes domain signals, page signals, website signals, backlink signals, and user signals. There are about 200 ranking factors or signals, so I'll go through these somewhat quickly.
Let's start with domain signals. These are the signals that Google is looking for from your domain and these could impact your ranking.
Keyword appears in the domain- This is why we write our URLs the way we do, but it can be more helpful to get your main keyword in the domain.
Domain registration- It has been speculated that a longer domain registration will result in more trust from Google. So registering a domain for 1 year doesn't seem as trustworthy as registering it for 5 or 10 years. That's a business that seems like they're here to stay, while a lot of scammers will open a website for a year for about $5, and scam people until it gets shut down.
I can understand the thinking, but I haven't had any problems registering a domain for 1 year.
Domain history- If the domain was used previously and the owner bought backlinks or used other spammy, blackhat SEO techniques, those will hurt your rankings if you just purchased that domain name.
Also, if you buy a brand new domain name, you may experience a sandbox period of about 3 months while Google is trying to better index and understand your website. Sandbox period just means your site isn’t ranking as well as it should be.
Exact match domain- Also, called EMD. This technique used to be more helpful in the past, but now I would advise against using it because it gives you another hoop to jump through. Many scammers used exact match domains previously, so now Google will put you through an extra layer of verification to be sure your exact match domain is in fact legit.
An example of an EMD is divorcelawyer.com or dallasplumber.com.
Public vs private whois- This hasn't exactly been proven, but there is speculation that a private whois isn’t as good as a public whois. I wouldn't worry about this one.
All of my sites are private whois registration and they rank just fine. I hate having a public whois because you get tons of junk mail. So, I would advise against using a public whois registration.
Penalized whois owner- If you do have a public whois registration and your site gets a manual action or gets penalized, it apparently can impact other sites that you register.
I have not tested this personally, because I've never got a penalty. I wouldn't worry about this one though because you should be registering a private whois as I previously suggested.
Country top-level domain extension- This is more helpful if they are in another country. For example, if you live in France you might want to use the .fr TLD. Or if you're in Europe maybe use the .eu TLD.
I’ve seen case studies say this can help, but I would recommend using TLD that match your country if your website is in a language other than English. Otherwise, just use the .com TLD.
That's it for domain signals not too many now let's move on to page-level signals.
Webpage signals are going to be the factors directly related to that specific web page you're trying to rank. We do have a lot of page signals to cover, so I'm going to run through these even quicker let's get started.
Keyword in the title tag- This is why we put our keyword in the title tag, pretty obvious.
Title tag starts with keyword- This is why we put the keyword at the beginning of our title tag and our brand at the end, not the other way around.
Keyword in the description- I believe this helps less with ranking higher and more with people clicking on your listing since its highlighted in the description. If your description includes the keywords the user searched, then those keywords are highlighted within your description.
This is good for increasing click-through-rate, which can increase your ranking. We’ll cover that when we get to user signals.
Keyword in H1- This is obviously helpful because H1 is the highest header you can have on the page. Also, you should only have one H1 per page.
TF-IDF- This is very important and I went through how to increase TF-IDF here.
Content length- You typically want to have a minimum of 800 words on the page. 1200 words is usually a good guideline, but it also depends on your industry. Some industries may require more or less to be competitive.
Take a look at your competitors and see how many words their content contains and aim to produce more content.
Thin content usually doesn't rank very well, so anything under 500 words should be expanded to better cover the topic.
Table of contents- This is something you can try if you have a very long page. You can make a table of contents with anchors throughout the page, that way users can easily jump to sections they want to read.
Keyword density- This isn't as important as it used to be and I would even say it has been replaced with TF-IDF. I wouldn’t be worried about keyword density too much, but the rule of thumb is about 3%. No more than 3%.
Of course, you want to use your keyword several times throughout your content, but I would focus more on TF-IDF.
LSI keywords- We covered these earlier and like I said, these are your related keywords. Google's going to see these keywords are included and hopefully think this page covers the topic in-depth.
Topic in-depth- We just talked about some strategies to cover the topic more in-depth. If you use the strategies that I pointed out, you’ll have good in-depth pages. Google only wants to bring the user the most in-depth pages about the topic searched.
Page loading speed- This is more for the person clicking on your listing. But, if your page is taking too long to load, and they exit back to the search results, this is called a bounce.
Bounces could negatively impact your ranking because they'll click someone else's listing and that'll move your listing down, eventually.
AMP or accelerated mobile pages- This is just Google's way of trying to get people's pages to load faster so you can use it if you want or not.
The only time you have to absolutely use AMP is if you have some kind of news coverage website because they all use AMP and you won't be able to compete without it.
Google updates- These happen pretty regularly and basically they try to eliminate thin quality content pages from the search results. So just be aware of those Google updates but if you follow what I do, you should be fine.
Just know that Google is looking for low-quality, thin content pages and they don't want those in search results.
Duplicate content- You don't want duplicate content on your site because then Google doesn't know which page to rank, and you definitely don't want to duplicate content from someone else's page because that's plagiarism.
Also, they'll still get ranked higher than you because Google knows you copied off their page, usually. You should also stay away from content farms and spun content. Google can tell if you're spinning content so don't do it.
Canonical tags- This means you have similar pages on your site and the canonical tag tells search engines which page you want to be the original page. The similar pages won’t be counted and that’s a good thing. This doesn't hurt you when being used on your own site with your own content.
You can implement these using the Yoast plugin and applying the canonical tag on each page.
Image optimization- This refers to compressing the images as well as adding alt tags because Google also has an image search, so this can help you rank not only in the regular results but also in the Google Images results.
Content updated- You want to keep your content up to date. The more you update your content, the more the search engine crawlers will visit your website.
If you only produce one post a year, they're not going to visit your site very often. If you post every day, they're going to visit a lot more often.
The sweet spot is between once a day and once a week depending on your industry. I wouldn't post more than once a day unless you're some kind of news coverage site, and I wouldn't post less than once a week.
Historical page updates- This is going through some of your old web pages and updating them every so often. Maybe twice a year, or at least once a year.
Like we discussed earlier, using Google Search Console to go through your old pages and trying to update those with more in-depth content to rank better.
Definitely, one of my favorite strategies.
Keyword prominence- You should use your keyword in the title tags, headers, and in the content. H1 is the highest header. H2 and H3 subheaders are also good places to include your keyword. Use it as anchor text for internal links and in alt tags.
Your keyword should be prominent on the page otherwise it's not going to seem that important to the search engine crawlers.
But, you don't want to overoptimize, so I would usually use a variation or maybe one of the TF-IDF or LSI keywords in H2 and H3 subheaders to avoid over-optimizing or keyword stuffing.
Outbound link quality- It's good to insert a link to a source because that shows you're citing a source for your webpage. You want that to be a high-quality source, usually within your industry.
Don't link to some spammy site because that will hurt the credibility of your site.
Grammar and spelling- You obviously want your grammar to be pretty good and you want to avoid misspelled words. A decent tool to use for this is a Chrome extension called Grammarly. It's not correct 100% of the time, but it works well for small mistakes.
Syndicated content- It's okay to have syndicated content on your website, mainly in the news coverage industry, but there are some other reasons that you would syndicate content on your website. Just make sure you include citations.
Mobile usability- Of course this is a very crucial factor because many people use their cell phones or mobile devices to browse the internet. You can check in Google Search Console to see if your site is mobile-friendly.
You can also test your site using the mobile-friendliness tester. It will test things like clickable elements too close together, larger-sized text that can be read on a phone and more.
I would suggest just using a responsive site and you’ll be fine on all these factors.
Complementary content- This applies when covering one topic and how helpfully you can cover related things that could produce additional value for your audience.
Multimedia- You should include pictures on your pages, and it's great to include videos if you can. It doesn't even have to be your video, but if it helps make your point, then it helps your audience understand.
Internal links- We talked about these earlier and how they spread link juice around your entire website. They also help other pages rank for keywords, so make sure you're using the right anchor text for your internal links.
Broken links- You don't want too many broken links on your site. None if possible, because that leads to bad user experience.
Reading level- You typically want to write your content at a sixth-grade reading level. The Yoast plugin shows an average reading level for your content.
Sometimes, writing at a lower reading level is unavoidable as you have to use jargon or other technical terms depending on your industry.
Affiliate links- Google is not a fan of affiliate links, obviously, because affiliates just want to make money. So, don't want to put up a ton of affiliate links on your page because it could negatively affect your rankings.
W3C validation- This refers to your website HTML code and basically tests if your page uses regular code. Unless you’re doing some crazy things with your pages, that's not anything you should have to worry about.
Keyword in the URL- This is why we write our URLs the way I explained earlier and changed our permalink structure.
Category- Also, the earlier discussion about using a category helps along with siloed content or products. Start with a popular category and the category should get more specific at each level until you reach each product page.
Bullets and numbered lists- These are helpful for the user and make it easier for them to consume the content. This is also helpful for trying to obtain an answer box in the search engine results pages.
That’s it for the webpage level signals, next are website level signals.
Website-level signals apply to your whole website and somewhat blend with page-level signals since a website is made of many web pages. Let’s get started.
Valuable and unique content- You want to write helpful content for your audience and you obviously want that content to be unique. Again, you don't want to use content farms or spun content. Google can figure these out.
About, contact us, terms, and privacy pages- These are four pages you always want to have on your website because they drive the point home that you run a credible website. You should have an about page that talks about you and your company.
A contact us page for someone to easily contact you if they want.
The terms and conditions page can be a generic terms and conditions policy that basically states, “if you use this website, you agree to these terms.”
Trust- This is a little more arbitrary and you want your website to look professional on desktop and mobile. Obviously, if you have Russian casino links on your site and your site is not a Russian site, that looks untrustworthy. Anything that looks spammy doesn't look trustworthy.
Site updates- Your site should be updated regularly as I mentioned during the page-level signals. We usually want to update it at least, once a week.
Sitemap- We went over creating these earlier and how they make it easier for a search engine to crawl your site.
Site uptime- You don't want your site going down frequently. This usually happens because of hosting, so if you have a reliable hosting provider, that shouldn't be a problem. But, if your site is going down a lot, it will hurt your rankings at some point, so stay away from those cheap, unreliable holsters.
SSL- This is an extra security layer that you must have because Google Chrome will give the visitor a warning if your site is not secure with the SSL. They won't even be able to view your site without clicking, “continue with risk.” You can get a free SSL if you use Siteground hosting. I would advise against paying for any kind of SSL because those tend to be scams. After paying for the SSL, you could find out later it's not a genuine SSL. The user still gets a warning, but a smaller warning up by the URL. The only thing that should be in the URL bar is a lock if it’s a trustworthy SSL certificate.
Breadcrumbs- These help with siloing and categories. I would always advise using breadcrumbs.
Mobile-optimized- Your entire site should be mobile-optimized, not just each page for obvious reasons. Again, just go with a responsive website.
YouTube- Google owns YouTube so you want to create a YouTube channel for your website and insert your URL in the profile. This just makes you look more legit and trustworthy.
Search console- You need to add your website to search console so Google can better index your website and get all of the search analytics.
Reputation- If your site has a bad reputation, looks like a scam site, or has been reported numerous times, that's going to hurt your rankings.
Schema markup- I covered this earlier, but this is just code that helps the search engines understand your site. That’s all of the site-level signals next we'll go to backlink signals.
Backlink signals are factors within your backlink profile or websites that are linking to your website. These are not backlinks of sites that you're linking to, but sites that are linking to you. Think about a backlink like a vote or recommendation for your website. They said, "We like your site so we're going to put your website URL on our website."
Link domain age- If many of your links are coming from newly created domains, that doesn't look very trustworthy to Google. The domain ages should vary between websites. This is something you can’t control, but if you’re acquiring links the correct way, this won’t be a problem.
Number of root domains- You want to have links from different domains. You don't want to have one hundred links from just one domain, that's not as helpful as having one link from 10 different domains.
Anchor text- This is the text used for the backlinks. You should have a mix of keyword anchor text, branded anchor text, and naked URLs. Naked URLs mean they used only the www.yourwebsite.com. You should have a good mix of those three anchor texts. If you have way too many keyword anchor texts, that looks bad. If you have nothing but brand links, that looks bad and not like you’ve been organically building links. A credible backlink profile will have an even mix of these anchor texts.
Authority of linking domain- A domain linking to you with a higher authority gives more link juice than a website with less authority.
Links from relevant sites- You want to have links from sites that are relevant to yours or in the same industry. These links carry more weight than a website that has nothing to do with your niche or not related.
Links from bad neighborhoods- Simply having links from spammy sites or hosting providers that usually host spammy sites is not good for your backlink profile.
Diversity of link types- You want to have a mix of nofollow and dofollow links because if you only have dofollow links, that looks suspicious. Any credible site will have a mix of both. Many people wonder if they should acquire nofollow links, and you should.
Nofollow and dofollow links- These basically state if linkjuice is passed through the link or not. Nofollow is usually a social media profile or a blog comment link. A dofollow link would usually be a link within the content that passes linkjuice. That’s what makes the dofollow link more valuable and harder to acquire. But, make sure to keep a balanced backlink profile.
Guest posts- It's good to guest post on other websites and include your link, but you don't want to overdo this because a lot of SEO people only look for guest post opportunities. You want to have a good mix of links like we discussed earlier.
Contextual links- These are links that are actually written within the content or within a blog post. These carry more weight than backlinks in the footer or a backlink in the sidebar. Those are not as valuable.
Forum links- These are links within a forum that can be used when you’re answering questions, or someone else answered a question and dropped your link for more information.
Blog comment links- Very similar to forum links except these are in a blog comment. You usually don't have to include this in the actual comment because you'll be given an area to provide your website URL.
Social signals- These are social media profiles with your link in them and many trustworthy sites would include a few of these. Other social factors are posts and pages being shared on social media. This shows search engines how popular your content is on social media. Good, valuable content tends to get shared more.
Excessive redirects- Avoid having many redirects with your links. This shouldn’t be a problem for most, but some people will buy old expired domains and redirect those to their website using a 301 redirect. You shouldn’t have too many of these for a healthy backlink profile.
Also, avoid having too many of these redirects within your site from deleted or moved pages.
Link location- We discussed earlier that links within the content are much more important than links in the footer or in the sidebar.
Link velocity- This is the speed by which your website acquires links. If your website is getting say, one link a month, or two links a month, that’s steady link velocity. That’s better than having five links one month, then none for the next two months. You want to try to maintain a steady backlink velocity, but this is difficult to control so I wouldn’t worry about it. You should be continually trying to build backlinks, but you can’t control how many you actually acquire.
Backlink age of links- Backlinks that were acquired many years ago, usually carries more weight than newly-acquired backlinks. This is a theory that hasn't been proven and I wouldn't worry about it.
Quality of linking content- You want links from high-quality content. Usually, very helpful, unique, content of at least one-thousand words. A link from a post with only one-hundred words isn't going to be as helpful as a link from a post with one-thousand words because it’ll be viewed as lower-quality content. That's all of the backlink signals. Next, let's talk about user signals.
User signals involve user’s interaction with your website and Google has been making a big push to satisfy the user. People return to Google because they believe this is the quickest way to access the most valuable information, so Google is working to improve the accuracy of this information with every update. We only have a few of these, but they’re huge signals, so let’s get started.
Click-through-rate- I've mentioned a few times throughout the lesson, if a listing below yours gets more clicks, then that listing can move up higher than yours. Click-through-rate is very important and of course, Google provides this information through search console and that's how you can view it.
Bounce rate- If many people are bouncing from your website, that's going to impact your rankings negatively, because that usually means they didn't find what they were looking for on your website.
Direct traffic- If many people are typing your URL into the address bar or going straight to your website, that will positively affect your ranks because that means they are looking for your website and going directly to it.
Repeat traffic- If a person visits your website and they come back to visit, repeatedly, that can positively affect your rank.
Bookmarks- Google owns the Chrome browser, so they know when people are bookmarking your site. Apparently, more people bookmarking your site can positively affect your rankings, but I haven’t tested this personally. I can see this as being a positive user signal though.
Number of comments- If your blog posts are getting a ton of comments, this will help you rank higher because it means people are actively engaging with your content. This can also work to extend word count for an additional boost to the page signal.
Average session duration- If people are spending more time on your website, this will positively affect your rankings as well because that means they're getting the information they searched.
That wraps up all of the ranking signals that we know or can speculate. Make sure you come back to this list to check if your website is satisfying most of these factors.