Key Ranking Factors You Need to Know in 2018

Author Emma Knightley

Digital and content marketers need to understand all too well how important search rankings are to the success of a company's content. Any material you produce is only good if people are able to read it, so learning how to increase this ranking is an essential part of the job.

Organic traffic—users coming from a search engine—is the top inbound channel marketers strive to increase. If you take a look at the numbers, it's easy to see why. The first page of Google, considered to be holy grail by digital marketers, gets the lion's share of the search engine's clicks. Furthermore, there's a dramatic drop-off after the No. 5 ranking. Competition for those top spots is fierce, which makes search engine optimization a key part of production.

So how does Google's ranking process work? It's likely the search engine's algorithm includes hundreds of factors, but some are weighed more heavily than others. We've rounded up with a list of some that will help and others that will hurt you. Here are the key ranking factors for Google you need to know in 2018.

Factors That Help Your Search Ranking

Factors That Help Your Search Ranking

Let's start with the best ways to boost search engine rankings. Here are some of the things search engines take into account the most when developing rankings.

High-Quality Content

One of Google's aims has been to serve up the best, most relevant content for whatever users might be searching for. People want to read content that's practical and up to date. If they can't use the information they find, it's worthless to them and Google.

In that respect, content quality is one of the top factors that influence your ranking. It's about more than selecting a good keyword; you must consider a user's intent behind searching for that keyword. 

If both your content and the keyword match the user's intent, it's considered high-quality and relevant content by the search engine. Keeping this in mind while writing content will give you the best chance of rising up the rankings.

Being Mobile-Friendly

The number of searches on mobile devices in recent years has surpassed those on desktop computers. Google has paid attention to this trend and adjusted their algorithm accordingly. 

Sites that are mobile-friendly, either by design or which forward smartphone users to a different site optimized for the mobile experience, get better treatment from the search engine giant.

High-Quality Backlinks

Backlinks are created when another site references your own with a hyperlink, and are another important factor in search rankings. They basically act as a popularity signal. If other people appreciate your content enough to provide a link, so should Google. Even better if these links come from popular sites or other industry blogs.

Social media can help in a big way. Although performance on social networks doesn't affect your ranking, more shares mean more visibility. If somebody likes your content and writes about it, linking back to your article, that's a win. Make sure it's easy for readers to post your content on social media, including share buttons. Getting as many backlinks as possible might require some hustle, but Google will reward you.

Domain Authority

Domain authority is basically a reflection of the strength of your site's legacy. Google will favor you if you've been around the block a few times. Factors that influence your domain's authority include:

  • Age of your domain
  • Total number of links
  • Popularity of your domain
  • Size of your domain

It's a sign of credibility if your site is well-maintained and has been around for a while, which is valued by search engines.

On-Page SEO

This means how well your site's pages themselves are optimized for search engine rankings. Each page should consider the effectiveness of several crucial elements. 

Title tags, which are what we see on search engine results pages directly above the URL or as the title on the page's tab, need to be clear and reflective of the content. Same thing with header tags, which are what's used to emphasize headlines and subheadlines on pages, if you want to increase the readability and quality of a page's content. 

Search engines also prefer sites with URLs that are clean and includes keywords, which is why it might help if the content you generate automatically uses the title in the URL to strengthen your ranking. Alt image tags, which is the text displayed if an image fails to load, should also include keywords even if visitors won’t see them most of the time. 

There are many more on-page SEO ranking factors, but these are the key ones.

Factors That Hurt Your Search Ranking

Factors That Hurt Your Search Ranking

In addition to factors that can positively affect your search engine ranking, there are a number of practices that can cause your ranking to take a nosedive. Here are 6 things you should avoid doing while creating digital content.

1) Keyword Stuffing

During the early days of Google, sites would try to trick the search engine's algorithm into giving them high priority by filling their content with as many targeted keywords as they could manage. Back then, keyword stuffing, as it's known, was a huge factor in rankings. 

It's a practice Google now frowns upon and could result in a penalty. Keyword stuffing on one piece of a site's content can tank the ranking of every page on that site that uses the keyword.

Aside from incurring Google's wrath, keyword stuffing makes for writing that's difficult to read and feels forced. It's okay if a keyword is used a handful of times, which is something search engines actually reward, but overdoing it simply makes for bad content.

2) Duplicate Title Tags

It might be tempting to add your company's name in the title tag for every page on your site, but this can be detrimental. 

Title tags that are repetitive or even worse identical can hurt your SEO ranking. It's also bad for the user experience and could backfire because everybody wants to know exactly what they're reading about. The best thing you can do is create title tags that are both descriptive and feature targeted keywords. This will produce the best ranking.

3) Anchor Text

Internal links, which are links to other pages on your site you include in your own content, are important for SEO and indexing, but the anchor text, which is the hyperlinked text attached to the link, is also key. 

It's best if the anchor text is somewhat descriptive and matches up with the page you're linking to. Simple calls to action such as “click here” will, in fact, hurt you, not to mention make your site feel a little passé to a younger crowd.

4) Low-Quality Backlinks

The number of backlinks a site received was once the single most important determinant in search engine rankings, but no more. Google's algorithm now factors in the quality of backlinks into your ranking. 

If you receive backlinks from any link farms, which are low-quality sites dedicated to linking out to many pages, it can harm your SEO ranking in Google's eyes.

5) Slow Loading Speeds

Nobody wants to wait more than a few seconds for a site to load. You know it, and Google knows it as well. It's bad for user experience, which is something the search engine values in its rankings. 

Slow loading times can be critical to your SEO ranking. A fast page load speed for both mobile and desktop versions of a site will be looked upon favorably.

6) Lack of Internal Linking

We already mentioned internal linking, which is the practice of adding hyperlinks in your content that leads back to other pages on your site, but it's worth mentioning why they can be helpful. It helps the tools Google uses for finding high-quality content by showing them better content you're creating for your site. 

The most crucial internal links are found in your page navigation, but any relevant internal links in your digital marketing content can be helpful as well. On top of that, integrating more internal links in your content boosts the ranking potential for every one of your pages.

Consider These Factors When Creating New Content

Every time you publish a new piece of content, consider the factors mentioned in this article. Ask yourself if you've done everything you can to increase your chances of obtaining a good ranking. 

Have you used your targeted keyword enough times? Have you avoided keyword stuffing? Is the keyword relevant to the article's intent? Does the piece include a healthy amount of internal links?

Before hitting publish, make sure all the technical elements have been addressed. Does it include appropriate title tags? Alt image tags? What about reducing page load speeds? Have you done your best to optimize for mobile devices?

Taking into account all of these factors will help ensure you've done everything you can to write high-quality content recognized favorably by search engines.

Emma Knightley