You may have heard “Google using over 200 SEO ranking factor” to determine which sites should show in search results.
But with Google making changes in their algorithm every now and then, it can be hard to implement and keep up with all the ever-changing factors.
So, the million-dollar question: Which Google ranking factors actually matters the most in 2021?
Well, to help you out, I have shortlisted and created the definitive list of most important Google ranking factors, each of which can make or break your search optimization strategy.
But before diving into the list, let’s start with a couple of common questions people ask about Google search engine rankings.
Most Important Google SEO Ranking Factors
Here is a list of 13 most important SEO ranking factors you should care about.
- An Accessible website
- Publish High-Quality Contents
- Master Your On-Page Optimization
- Focus on Search intent
- Backlinks play a big role
- Topical authority
- Domain Age, URL, and Authority
- Create a Secure Website (HTTPS)
- Optimize Your Page Speed
- Improve Your User Experience
- Schema Markup
- Brand reputation
Throughout this guide, I will not only tell you about ranking factors but also share strategies that you can use to optimize your site for #1st page ranking.
Let’s dive right in.
01. An Accessible website
If Google or other search engines cannot access your site & web pages properly, then you should not expect much from them in terms of ranking.
As we discussed in our previous post, Google working process can be divided into three main stages:
So, it should be your first job to make it as easy as possible for Google bots to crawl, index, and understand the type of content you provide.
Now the question is:
How to make it easy for search engine to crawl and index your site properly?
Well, here are few simple tips for you:
1 Use a well-coded website builder
Not all website builder or CMS (Content management system) are super SEO friendly from scratch.
I personally use and recommend self-hosted WordPress site for anyone who wants to create an SEO friendly blog & website.
WordPress CMS is designed with keeping SEO in mind. Plus the availability of thousands of plugin makes it super easy to optimize your site for search engine.
2 Create and Optimize your XML sitemap
A sitemap is nothing but a list of all pages of your website Google should know about.
It looks something like this:
For WordPress user, most of the SEO plugin (Including Yoast & Rank Math) provides a one-click option to create an XML sitemap.
3 Properly use robots.txt file
A robots.txt file tells Google crawler where they can and can’t go on your site.
Mainly, it lists all the pages/section of your site you want to lock away from search engine.
Here is an example of a basic robot.txt file:
User-agent: Googlebot Allow: /
If you are not familiar with the robot.txt file, read this guide on how to create and optimize robot.txt file?
4 Find and Fix Crawl Errors in Google Search Console
If your site has any crawling & indexing issue, Google will give you warnings in your Google Search Console (GSC) account.
Just open coverage report tab and check if there is any error appearing under the error tab.
For example: Currently, my site has no indexing error.
But if your site has any error, just open the report to check the issue and fix it as soon as possible.
02. Publish High-Quality Contents
Quality content is at the core of SEO success even in 2021.
No matter how optimized your site is for other factors, if your content is not of good quality, then you can’t expect a higher ranking.
So, What does Google consider to be high-quality content??
1 Original, Unique, and Valuable Content
Google give first preference to content that answers user’s questions, provide value and not a duplicate of what is already available on the internet.
This means that just copy-pasting an article from any popular website like BuzzFeed (even with proper citation), won’t help your website rank in Google.
Google machine learning algorithms know that the particular content first appeared on BuzzFeed, so it will just ignore yours.
So, when you are creating new content, make sure it is different and better than other websites already ranking for the same topic.
2 Up to Date and Fresh Content
Google has clearly said that ‘Freshness’ is a search query dependent factor.
That means, it is more important for some search queries than others.
For example – All the search result for “Corona Vaccine” is super fresh. In fact, Google is also showing a ‘Top Stories’ section featuring news from the past few hours.
This happens because Google understands that people want the latest information when they search for “corona vaccine.”
For other types of search queries, freshness still plays a role – but a less important one.
For example – here is the results I received when searched for “Best laptop under $1000”
Because computer manufacturers release new laptops few time a year, a good recommendation from last month is still a good recommendation for today.
And Google understands this, so they are happy to show results that were published or updated a few months ago.
Now take another search query “how to tie a scarf” as an example:
Freshness hardly matters for this query because the normal process of tying a scarf never changes.
So, a 5-10 years old step by step tutorial can be easily as good as one published last month.
That is why Google happily rank both old and new websites in the top position:
3 Not content length, Content depth matters!
As I mentioned earlier, Google wants to rank the most useful result for the query, so covering everything a searcher wants to know about a topic is the key.
However, this has nothing to do with the content length.
Yes, I agree that many research suggests that pages with over 2500 words get more top 10 positions in the search result.
But that doesn’t mean, you should write more words just to stretch out the length.
It is all about creating content that has depth and covers everything that is important to searchers.
4 Content Design, Structure and Organization
It is not just about how well written and valuable your content is for readers; how you present that content also MATTERS!
Google wants you to make it easier for your site visitors to read your content and easily find solutions to their problems.
Here are a few key tips for you to improve your content’s design, structure, and organization:
By working on your content design and structure, you will increase its readability.
As a result, you will improve the user experience of your page, which indirectly improves the ranking of your page in Google (More on this later.)
03. Master Your On-Page Optimization
Besides creating unique, original and valuable content, you also need to give search engines right signals to help them understand the meaning and context of your content.
This is what ‘on-page SEO‘ is all about.
With proper on-page optimization, you ensure that Google or other search engines easily understand the meaning of your content and rank it for the relevant terms in SERP.
So, How do you do that?
Well, here are some of the most effective on-page optimization technique you can use on your blog:
1 Write a good page title that matches with your content topic
The page title meta tag is one of the most important on-page SEO factor.
This is what the user sees in the search result and used by Google (or other search engines) to get an idea of what your page is all about.
To optimize your page title tag for both Google and actual users, you need to ensure that it includes your target SEO keyword.
SEO keywords are basically the “search terms” users type in the search box to find your content.
By including that keyword in your title, Google can associate your content with that specific search term, and this will increase your chances for ranking for those terms.
For example – If you look at the above screenshot, almost all result on the first page for the search term “How to start dropshipping” includes the same keyword in title.
2 Use relevant heading and subheading in your content
A well-optimized web page makes use of headings and subheadings. It makes the page easier to read by both search engine crawlers and actual users.
Your page should have one H1 heading and multiple subheadings (H2, H3 & H4). Plus they should be laid out in a hierarchical structure i.e. H1 -> H2 > H3.
One more thing, make sure to use topically relevant keywords in your heading and subheadings.
Example: Have a look at the outline of one of our recent post about “Breadcrumb SEO“.
All the headings and subheading are not only structured in hierarchical order, but also include topically relevant keywords.
3 Create short and keyword-rich page’s URL
There are two simple rule for SEO friendly URL:
- It should be short (50-60 characters) and having a simple structure.
- It should contain a keyword that describes your page’s content.
Example of Good and Bad URL for a page about “Pancake recipes”:
4 Add semantically related keywords in your content
Besides adding your primary keyword in page title, heading, and URL, you should also use semantically related words throughout your content.
Semantically related words are keywords that are related to the topic you are covering on your page.
For example – If you are writing an article about “How to make cold brew coffee” using topically related words like Filter, Coffee, Recipe, grind, Temperature, will give more signals to Google about the context of your article.
5 Optimize your image for SEO
It’s not only text content that can be optimized for Google, but other media too.
For instance, Image can send the Google relevancy signals through their alt text, caption and description.
04. Focus on Search intent
Google does not rank the same type of content for every search query.
This is why you need to create content that aligns with search intent.
So, what do I mean by “Search intent”?
Search intent is basically “WHY” behind the search query.
In other words, why did the person typed the query in Google search box!
Are they looking to learn something? Are they looking to make a purchase? Or maybe they are looking to find a particular site.
As mentioned in Ahref’s Search intent guide, analyzing top search result for the “four C’s of search intent” is an excellent way to understand the basic of how to optimize for a query.
The four C’s are:
1 Content Style
Content style is basically the dominant style of content in the top search results.
It’s not necessary that Google always ranks text-based content for every type of search terms.
Depending on the search query, Google can rank only videos and infographics in the top results.
For example, if you search for “iPhone 12 unboxing”, most of the top results are video of unboxing iPhone 12.
So, if you want to rank for this query, you will also need to create and optimize a video instead of writing an article about the same.
2 Content Type
Content-type usually fall under one of these five categories.
- Blog post
- Product page
- Category page
- Landing page
For example, take a look at the top search result for “How to learn driving”.
You can tell from the titles alone that they are all blog posts.
Now take a look at results for “buy iPhone.”
Here all the top results are product category page listing all the version of the iPhone available for purchase.
3 Content Format
This refers to the dominant format of the content in the search result.
How-tos, list post, opinion piece, news articles, and step by step guide are examples of common content formats.
For instance, most of the top results for the search term “chocolate cake recipe” are How-to guides.
On the other hand, most of the results for “Personal finance tips” are list posts:
While planning your content, just follow the crowd.
If most of the top results are list posts — create a list post, if they are opinion pieces — you also create an opinion piece.
4 Content Angle
This refers to the main selling point of the top-ranking posts and pages.
For example, if we look at the search results for “how to swim,” we can clearly see most of the blog posts are aimed at “beginners.”
So, if you are writing a blog post on the same topic, you should also write & optimize your blog post for beginners.Bottom line: The best way to know the search intent of a keyword is to analyze the first page of Google for the same search term. Click To Tweet
05. Backlinks still plays a big role
Backlinks (or inbound links) will continue to be one of the leading SEO factor if you want to rank well in 2021.
I know you have heard many SEO’s saying you can achieve success without any backlinks. While some sites absolutely can and have, it would be very hard for most of the sites (especially in competitive niche) to rank well without links.
However, unlike the old days, today not all backlinks have equal value.
There are lots of factors that contribute to a backlinks’ ability to boost linking website ranking. And the two of the most important factor are relevancy and authority:
The relevancy of links plays a big role in how valuable that link will be for you.
Assuming two websites are equal in terms of authority and quality — a link from a website related to your niche or target topic will have more value.
You might have heard people saying “The more and more links you’ll get, higher you’ll rank in Google.”
However, this is slightly untrue in 2021.
Quality of backlinks certainly wins over pure volume, and that is not going to change in near future.
So, rather than focusing on creating hundreds of links from low-quality sites, focus on getting high-quality links from authoritative websites in your niche.
For example: If you have a fitness site, one backlink from Healthline, NerdFitness, Mens’Health or Very Well fit will have hundred times more value than low-quality sites.
06. Topical authority is Important in 2021
Topical authority can be defined as a website’s perceived expertise or authority over a particular niche or subject.
It signals to Google that you have a deeper understanding of subject matter and therefore can be trusted more for content related to the niche.
So, which website do you think has more topical authority for the keyword “best golf clubs”?
A website that publishes top 10 reviews of every product, or a site solely focused on the subject of golf?
The answer is the “GOLF” site of course.
And this makes perfect sense.
As a reader, you will also want to hear the opinion of a golf expert about ‘best golf club’ rather than a person who claims to know about everything.
This is why Google also rank those sites that have the true topical authority on the subject matter.
For example, look at the top result for “best golf clubs”:
Notice that Golferlogic.com and Golfinfluence.com is ranking higher even though it’s backlinks, domain authority and page authority is less than TripSavvy and Business Insider.
The reason is the content depth and topical authority.
What does this mean for you?
When you establish yourself and site as an authority in a particular topic/subject, ranking for keywords related to your niche will become much easy.
07. Make Your Site Mobile-Friendly
Another factor that is known to influence search engine ranking is mobile-friendliness.
Mobile-friendliness refers to how a website & blog looks and performs when someone visits it from mobile devices.
Nearly two-thirds of Google searches take place on mobile devices, so it’s no surprise why Google moved to mobile-first indexing in 2019.
What does this mean for you?
Google will now only use the mobile version of your site’s content for indexing and ranking rather than the desktop version.
So, if you want your site to have any chance of ranking in Google, you have to make sure that it is designed & optimized for mobile users.
Here are some best practices to ensure your site is mobile-friendly:
To check your site responsiveness, submit your web page URL to Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool.
If the page is mobile-friendly, you’ll get a green light, and if it’s not, you’ll get some suggestions on what to improve.
08. Domain Age, URL & Authority
Did you know that nearly 60% of the websites that ranks in the top 10 positions of Google SERPs are three years old or more?
A study of two million web pages by Ahrefs suggest that very few web pages created in less than a year achieve first-page ranking.
While this does not mean that new sites cannot rank on the first page but if you’ve had an active site for a while, that can be an advantage.
In some cases, the domain name matters too.
Though Google introduced an update to penalize Exact match domain (website’s URL containing exact target keyword, example -“buybluejeans.com.”)
However, that penalty was especially for spammy EMD sites with thin contents.
Various research in 2021 shows that domain having a topically related keyword that is deemed to be relevant and high quality can see a ranking boost because of it.
However, if you have already an established blog or website, you don’t need to look for an EMD, better stick to your current one and improve its authority.
Your site authority is usually a combination of great content and off page SEO signals like high-quality backlinks and social share.
09. Create a Secure Website (HTTPS)
Notice the “HTTPS“ at the beginning of our website URL?
This is how Google identifies a secure site from a non-secure one.
Google first announced HTTPS as a ranking signal back in 2014.
Three years later (in 2017), Google announced that its Chrome browser (used by 63% internet users) will flag sites as “not secure” in the URL bar when they aren’t HTTPS.
So, what is HTTPS?
HTTPS stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure. Sites with HTTPS encryption adds an extra layer of security that protect information exchanged between users and the website.
To secure your website domain with HTTPS, you will need what’s called an SSL certificate.
If your domain registrar has not provided SSL, you can get one for yourself from Namecheap.
10. Optimize Your Page Speed (both Desktop and Mobile)
Page speed has been a confirmed google ranking factors for years.
Google knows that people want to find information as fast as possible, so they prefer to show those sites in the search results which load quickly for users.
This is even truer for mobile sites, as Google announced an algorithm update focused on mobile page speed that will penalize sites which were loading very slow.
1 How fast your site should be?
In general, web page that load in less than 3 Seconds are considered fast for their visitors.
However, this can vary based on the type of website your own and visitors you attract.
For example, e-commerce sites are recommended to be a bit faster — fully loading in as less as 2 Seconds (according to Google.)
2 How to make your website fast?
3 How to check how fast your web page is right now?
To check your web page speed, enter your web page URL in a speed testing tool like Pingdom and within a second it will tell you how fast your web page is.
11. Schema Markup
Structured data or Schema markup is a type of back-end microdata that tells Google how to classify and interpret a webpage.
This data gives Google a better understanding of the type of content appearing on a web page.
For example, if you have published a recipe on your blog — you can use a schema that is relevant to recipe and provides Google with every important info of your recipe like – time required, ingredients, nutrients, etc.
These backend info will not only help Google in understanding your content but Google will also reward you with rich result in SERP which can insanely boost your CTR.
12. Improve Your User Experience
I believe user experience (UX) has been one of the most underrated factors in Search engine optimization.
Using various SEO strategy might get you to the top of SERPs, but all the effort will go to waste if potential visitors are not provided with a quality page experience.
Google upcoming page experience update (rolling in May 2021) is also focused on the same thing.
Therefore, it’s high time you should focus on creating the best possible browsing experience as your first priority.
But how does Google measure user experience?
Google uses an artificial intelligence program called RankBrain to assess user engagement..
RankBrain looks at elements like:
1 Click-through Rate (CTR)
CTR is the percentage of people who click on a search result that shows in the SERPs.
If the system spots a pattern where a lower-ranking page is getting more clicks than a top-ranking page, the algorithm may push that lower-ranking page higher in the SERP.
2 Bounce rate
If a high number of people click on your site in SERP and then hit the back button without interacting with your site, Google will think your page is not relevant to the search.
Pogosticking is also a type of bounce rate.
When people click on your site link in SERPs, but immediately leave your site and come back to search result, then this indicates that they are not happy with the result they clicked on.
Therefore, results that people Pogostick from may get a ranking drop.
4 Time on site (Dwell Time)
Dwell Time is the amount of time someone spends on your page after finding it in the search result.
If people click through to your page and spend some time, it gives Google a positive signal that your content is relevant to the search.
5 Direct Traffic
Google has already confirmed that it uses data from Google Chrome to determine how many people visit a site and how often.
Websites with lots of direct traffic are likely to be considered as high quality sites vs sites that get very little direct traffic.
Also, a recent study by SEMRush found a significant correlation between direct traffic and Google rankings.
How to optimize your site for good user experience?
I have done a pretty decent job at giving the best possible experience to my site visitors.
From a simple but attractive page design to custom made graphics, visually appealing elements, good use of subheadings, internal linking, ads-free and more.
I would love to know your opinion on this in the comment section below.
13. Brand reputation
We have already discussed about how links from reputed sites can be valuable for your search engine ranking.
But this search engine ranking factor does not have to do with backlinks.
Here, brand reputation refers to having a community of people talking and mentioning your brand (you & your website) in the online world.
Mentioning does not necessarily mean adding a link back to your site but simply discussing your brand in the different forum and groups. In fact, Google likely looks at non-linked brand mentions as a brand signal.
Also, people directly searching for your brand (like ‘NerdBlogging‘) or a specific keyword along with your brand (for example: “How to start a blog NerdBlogging” or “NerdBlogging SEO guide”), this shows Google that your site is a real brand.
Social media is another important factor that plays big role in building your brand reputation.
If you have a legitimate social media account (Facebook & Twitter) with good interaction and engagement, it will give a positive signal to Google about your brand."If people talk and search for your brand on the internet, this will eventually provide a strong signal to Google ranking algorithms" Click To Tweet
Google Ranking Factors Summary
No matter how many changes Google makes into their algorithms and SEOs introduce new buzzwords — the basic search engine ranking factor remained the same since the beginning of Google.
Everything mentioned in this guide can be boiled down to 10 steps:
1. Make your website accessible to search engines.
2. Publish great content that satisfies the user intent.
3. Regularly update and keep your content fresh (when required)
4. Simple on-page optimization (like Meta title, description, internal linking) is important.
5. Build expertise in one topic; don’t focus on each and multiple niches.
6. Get links from high-quality relevant sites naturally; no need for buying links or spamming.
7. Make sure your site looks good on all the device (Desktop, mobile & tablet.)
8. Build a fast and secure website.
9. Make sure your target audience enjoys being on your site; Give them seamless user experience.
10. Treat your website/blog as a real brand; Make people talk & search about your brand in the online world.
That’s it… No need to trick the algorithm or take any shortcuts — just create contents that your ideal audience is looking for — provide them best possible user experience — and prove to Google that it is the best result for your target search term.
If you follow the above advice, you’ll enjoy high search engine rankings and survive the competition for years to come.
Now I’d like to hear from you:
Which other SEO ranking factor you thinks is very important in 2021?
Let me know by leaving a comment below…