5 Key Search Engine Ranking Factors

So, how can a business reach the first page of Google? Five of the search engine ranking factors that are most important at the moment include content, responsive design, backlinks, local factors and a wide range of technical factors.

1. Content

Content is one of the most important Google ranking factors, according to Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google. And while it’s always been valued by search engines, the methods by which it ranks have changed over the past few years. Instead of focusing primarily on ranking keyword-focused content, Google is now highlighting relevant content that’s written in natural language and helps users answer their questions.

A recent study by SearchMetrics found that only 53 percent of the top 20 search engine queries have keywords in their title tag, and fewer than 40 percent of landing pages include keywords in their H1 tag. These numbers continue to drop each year, demonstrating that Google is evaluating content by its relevance over how many keywords it contains. Relevance equals comprehensiveness. Brands looking to rank at the top for key terms and phrases need to have the most complete answer possible. Take this example search for “miniature dachshund,” performed in a private window. 

Take this example search for “miniature dachshund,” performed in a private window.

Google assumes we want to see cute videos or photos or find a dachshund puppy for sale as top priorities, and it’s probably right! But the second text result is where it gets interesting. The “Facts About the Miniature Dachshund Dog Breed” article covers just about every question the casual searcher would care to ask about miniature dachshunds, including “traits,” “things you should know,” “what they are like to live with” and more.

This example supports what search expert Backlinko found in its recent survey: semantic search is at the top of Google’s list. Algorithm updates such as RankBrain and Hummingbird place value on semantic optimization and relevance. This means that an in-depth explanation of one topic will always win over keyword-dense content that doesn’t make much sense.

The Backlinko survey also found that long-form content ranks better than short-form content. This is likely the case because longer content is typically more comprehensive; however, SearchMetrics uncovered that mobile content is usually only 2/3 the length of desktop content, yet it continues to perform well for an increasing number of users. 

How to Optimize Your Content

Content influences many other search ranking factors, including click through and bounce rates. To ensure your content is search-engine friendly, follow these steps:

  1. Find and fix “thin” content that doesn’t comprehensively answer questions or cover topics.
  2. Make sure you’re focusing on only one topic when possible.
  3. Improve your Topical Authority in your niche. 

2. Mobile Responsive

Optimizing your website and its content for mobile is no longer an option, but a necessity. In 2016, Google shifted towards mobile-first indexing. This means that Google’s index will primarily crawl mobile versions of websites instead of their desktops versions. Currently, all of the top 100 most visible domains have mobile-friendly solutions, says SearchMetrics. In fact, 85% of all websites are now considered mobile-friendly by Google.

According to Google, you shouldn’t launch your desktop website if you are still in the process of building its mobile version. Releasing an incomplete mobile version may result in poor Google rankings.

Mobile page speed is also an important ranking factor. Mobile websites should load in two seconds or less, while desktop sites should load in fewer than three seconds. (in general, one second faster is best practice for mobile sites over desktop ones). Use PageSpeed Insights to test your page load times the Structured Data Testing Tool to make sure you have the same structured markup on both your desktop and your mobile site.

3. Backlinks

Brian Barwig of AttorneySync explains that “more than anything...links are playing a huge role in ranking — both organically and in local SEO.” Over the last several years, Google has learned to separate bad links from good over the years. Though more links will continue to result in a higher score, this only works if they’re from many different authoritative domains.

Creating a link building campaign is all about creating great content and then shamelessly promoting it. When individuals or brands like your content, they’ll link back to you, and Google will see your website as more relevant. 

Creating a link building campaign is all about creating great content and then shamelessly promoting it. Image via MoreVisibility.

There are a variety of ways to approach link building, but content marketing continues to be the best. View this article on important link building strategies to get started. 

4. Local Factors

In recent years, Google has placed an increasing amount of emphasis on locality. Local stores, brands and restaurants take top spot in the rankings - even if their content isn’t that great; however, it’s still a good idea to follow SEO best practices. As Dan Leibson of Local SEO Guide explains, “I think it’s important to recognize that local SEO is becoming more and more like traditional, technical SEO + local stuff.” Foundational ranking factors for mobile include: 

  • Site crawlability
  • Avoiding duplicate content
  • Content-targeted keywords
  • Consistent contact information

If you don’t focus on these items, you aren’t going to rank well unless you’re in a non-competitive vertical or geography - even if your customers are just down the street.

After you achieve a solid local ranking, it’s about out-SERPing your competitors with better reviews and content. Source: Moz.

5. Other Technical Factors

There are many technical factors that could impact how well your website ranks. These may include: 

  • Encryption: There continues to be a strong correlation between HTTPS websites and first page rankings. SearchMetrics notes that 45% of the top-ranking websites use encryption. Google confirmed back in 2014 that websites with a strong HTTPS encryption rank better than those without, and websites that have not switched to HTTPS are now marked as unsafe in the Google Chrome browser.
  • Anchor Text: Diverse anchor text can help your rankings, but beware of a Penguin penalty if they appear spammy.
  • H1 and H2 Headings: H1 and H2 continue to be important year after year.

What to Watch Out For

Now that you know which technical attributes can help your ranking, here are a few that can hurt it: 

  • Interstitial Pop-Ups: Google is cracking down on intrusive interstitial pop-ups. Any page with a CTA or ad that blocks the main content or sends users immediately to another page may face a penalty. Exceptions include small boxes and banners that are easy to close, logins and age verification.
  • Site Indexation: Improper indexation can lead to your brand not even ranking for its own name! And you certainly won’t any traffic. Find out the reason behind your issues and resubmit your sitemap to Webmaster Tools to start over.
  • Broken Backlinks: We’ve already talked about how backlinks can be great for your ranking, but they can also be harmful. If some of your pages are no longer in use and include backlinks, these links will break. Use Google Search Console to find any broken links and use a 301 to direct users to the most relevant content.
  • Text in Images: Tell your designers not to put text in your images. Google’s bots won’t see it!
  • Updated Robots.txt File: Some pages of your website don’t need to be indexed (seen by a search engine), such as the “thank you” page that shows up right after a download or purchase. Use the disallow command to create a Robots.txt file for these pages so that search engines will know they don’t require crawling. 
Use the disallow command to create a Robots.txt file for these pages so that search engines will know they don’t require crawling. Source: HubSpot.

Embracing Usability

Creating a smooth experience for the user is important for every search marketer, and it will help your website perform better in Google if users want to stick around for longer periods of time. Here are some technical tips to ensure that your website experience is top-notch. 

  • Site Navigation: Navigation should be clear, logical and easy to use, with the more important pages highlighted in your design.
  • Internal Linking: Make sure users can easily navigate from one page of your site to another. This allows users to find relevant information quickly.
  • Visual Elements: Visual content is more engaging that copy. Videos, infographics and even stock photos help build your user experience and search credibility.
  • Call to Action Buttons: CTA buttons are an easy, attractive way to nudge your users into taking action. They can be used in a variety of ways, from buying a product to subscribing to a newsletter or blog. 


Not all ranking factors are created equal, so focusing on even two or three of these top five can make a huge difference to your rankings. Transform your career by learning how to create, manage and implement advanced search marketing strategies using AdWords, PPC marketing, display marketing & remarketing techniques with our Professional Diploma in Search Marketing.

Learn and progress along a digital marketing career path with our cornerstone certification in Digital Marketing.

Download Course Brochure
You may also be interested in
3 Ways to Create Mobile-Friendly Content
Why Content Curation Rules Social