The primary use of a search engine is to help users find what they are looking for. If you build something that doesn’t helps users, you won’t rank (not for long anyway, with search engines getting smarter). It’s time to decide whether you want to be an SEO Hero or an SEO villain.
Read the tips below on how to rank your website ethically on Google and contribute to a better online experience for everyone.
Have you ever searched for something on a search engine & come across a site which ranks high but has absolutely useless content? Why would you ever want to build something that is of no benefit to anyone? Websites should be built for users, not for internet bots.
Before I start with this post about the top 20 ranking signals used by Google, I would like to point out that in the long run, if you are looking to rank your website on Google, then there is really only one secret to it.
That is Content!
Yes, Content is the king. You can play around with sneaky tactics for some time & rank for a short period, but it won’t be long before users come to your site and find it ‘unhelpful.’ Eventually, your ranking will fade away or worse you might get a manual action from Google for using those ‘sneaky tactics.’
How to create a website like an SEO Hero
You have to ask yourself:
- How can I make my site the best of its kind?
- What else can I do to add value to the site?
- Will a user get what they want when they visit my site?
- Will Google as a search engine be proud to show my site to its users?
Find out the answers to these questions and implement them to create a great website.
Once you have a great website, people will start linking to your site on social media and other web pages and eventually, you will gain organic links. This brings us to the second most important ranking signal: Links pointing to your pages (dofollow)
On March 23, 2016, this was confirmed by Google’s Andrey Lipattsev during Webmaster Hangouts in the video below: (at 30 minutes 26 seconds)
This brings us to the conclusion that if you want to rank your website on Google and become an SEO Hero, the 2 most important factors are:
- Great useful content
- Organic quality links (dofollow) pointing to your website
There are probably more than 200 ranking signals that Google uses for ranking websites on mobiles & desktops. These signals are a part of constantly changing algorithms which decide rank. Not all of them apply to all websites and scenarios, and not all of them carry equal weight-age. Since not all of them are important, we will concentrate on the 20 most important Google ranking factors below.
Top 20 Google Ranking Signals for 2017
Except for the first two ranking signals, these are in no particular order.
Great Useful Content
This is the most important ranking signal. Directly or indirectly, your visitors are your customers. Impress them, help them, and give them what they’re looking for. That’s the whole point!
SEO Hero Tip: Write well edited comprehensive articles that provide value to the readers. Pay attention to detail & avoid spelling mistakes. Be original with your content, analysis, and research. Add trusted sources to support the information you provide. Write interesting topics targeted at readers, not search engines. Write what is beyond obvious.
Your landing page should bring an end to their search for that term. No one likes wasting time searching endlessly for something. See our ten stunning tips on how to write great content like an SEO Hero.
Organic quality links pointing to your website (Dofollow)
When other people find your web page useful or interesting, they link back to you. If the link is nofollow, it is not counted by Google to calculate your PageRank. If the link is dofollow, it helps your website gain authority. Links are supposed to come organically and there are webmaster guidelines which warn you against any kind of unethical indulgence.
SEO Hero Tip: Buying links can be injurious to your website. Google may penalize your site, and if there is a manual action taken on it, it will disappear from the search results altogether. You may have to visit the doctor. Google is also very strict on repeated violations. So don’t be a villain.
Mobile friendly site
On 21 April 2015, Google confirmed mobile friendly website as a ranking signal. With more than 56% of all traffic being from mobile devices, your web pages need to display well on mobile devices like smartphones & tablets. To check if your website is mobile friendly, check out Google’s latest tool here.
Secure website (HTTPS)
On 06 August 2014, Google confirmed HTTPS as a ranking signal. HTTPS protects the privacy and security of visitors and the integrity of the website. It not only prevents the users from intruders but also from ISPs and Wi-Fi providers from injecting ads into your web pages. You can easily get a free SSL certificate from providers like Let’s Encrypt and then install them on your hosting server or you can sign up with a web host like SiteGround which provides them for free.
In April 2010, Google confirmed Site Speed as a ranking signal. Your website should load in less than 3 seconds, ideally in less than 2 seconds. If a site takes long to load, users are most likely to abandon it. You can test your web pages on Google’s PageSpeed Insights here.
This website has a PageSpeed score of 89/100 & 95/100 on mobiles & desktops respectively. To check load times for a webpage, you can use Webpagetest.org. If you use WordPress and want to improve the speed of your website, see our guide on how to speed up WordPress.
The only way a site will rank well is if it has unique quality content. If you scrape other sites to create your web pages, they are just not going to rank. There are webmaster guidelines on duplicate content. A good habit is to check your pages on Copyscape after publishing them to make sure you have not added something unintentionally. Pages with content that provides real unique value, rank well.
A brand new website which has no old WHOIS history is hard to rank for the first 3 months. For high volume keywords, it can take 6 months or more. According to Matt Cutts in this video, you need to be around for at least 2-3 months. You shouldn’t expect to be on the first page in the first couple of months unless you create a website with exceptional content.
If you are buying a domain that has been owned previously, you might want to carry out your checks to make sure it hasn’t been in trouble with Google in the past. If it has received a manual action in the past, then it would be difficult for it to acquire a respectable rank. You could either do a site:domain.com search or check archive.org to make sure it was not spammy. Matt Cutts mentions these points in this video.
Keyword in H1, title tag, first paragraph, meta description & URL
By using your keyword once in each of the important places like the H1 heading tag, web page title tag, meta description, URL & in the first paragraph, you are telling the search engines and users what your content is focused on. Without them in the right places, it is generally difficult to gain rank and get clicks. You should ensure that you don’t end up stuffing keywords. These should be unique & descriptive.
Webmaster Guidelines state that keyword stuffing can harm your ranking. You should make sure that the keyword density is not too much & it doesn’t appear to Google that you are keyword stuffing even if that is not your intention. In my personal experience, as long as it’s not above 4%, you should be able to achieve a decent rank. There is no ideal keyword density; your content & its quality matters more. You can check keyword density here.
Optimized images on page with keyword in the alt text
Images on pages need to be optimized so that they don’t add to the site load time. If you use WordPress, you can use plugins like EWWW Image Optimizer or WP Smush to optimize images. Your web page needs to have a few images or infographics to help boost social shares and add to the content quality. Having an alt tag for an image is a part of the webmaster guidelines and sends a relevancy signal if the keyword is used as the alt tag.
One great website to check how well your web page follows Google webmaster guidelines is https://varvy.com/.
Length of the content
In April 2012, a survey of more than 20,000 keywords was carried out by serpIQ. They found that the average content length of the top ranking page on Google was 2416 words. Pages ranking at number 10 had an average content length of 2032 words. The conclusion is that Google likes pages which have well researched in-depth content so that the user gets all the possible information in one place on that topic.
If you have short articles or a page with less than 300 words, chances are you will not rank very high. So, anything more than 2000 words is great, as long as it is great useful content.
SEO Hero Tip: Information you provide should be extensive & provide considerable value compared to your competitors. Do not write shallow articles which lack in specifics.
For a query that deserves freshness (QDF), your website needs to have fresh content. For e.g. News, current topics, events, etc. Fresh content is not required for sites which have content meant for Non-QDF searches. For e.g. How to boil an egg, Inspirational Quotes, etc. Watch Matt Cutts in this video explaining how important freshness is for some websites.
User Experience Signals
Google has stated in the past that Click-through-rate (CTR) & bounce rate are not used as ranking signals. CTR can easily be manipulated and bounce rate does not always represent the real picture so they don’t use them to rank websites. They have also mentioned that they do not use data from Google Analytics because it can be manipulated and also because not all sites always have Google Analytics installed.
But the thing to keep in mind is that they can still look at data from Google Chrome & Android to monitor user experience signals like dwell-time. They also know when a user goes back to Google search results from a site which does not contain satisfying answers to their query.
So what’s the point here?
The point is: give the user what they are looking for. Create compelling and useful content so that the user stays on your page and does not press the back button. That is what creates a good user experience, irrespective of the metric used to determine a good user experience.
Data from Similar Web & Alexa suggests that sites with a lower bounce rate tend to perform better in SERPs. A high bounce rate is not always bad, but a lower bounce rate just indicates that your site is engaging & has useful content on other pages too. A high bounce rate is also associated with websites that have poor quality low-value content or if the site is hard to navigate.
If a particular page receives internal links from other pages on the same website, then that’s a sign that the page is more important than other pages.
A recent and a very good example of this can be seen in an article about Wix posted by Barry Schwartz on January 2, 2017. The article is about John Mueller of Google stating that Wix websites work just fine for SEO. Check the URL below:
Now look for the anchor text ‘SEO Hero’ in it which points to an older article on the same site which currently ranks very well for the term SEO Hero. The earlier article which ranks well is:
This way, the older article gets a good internal link and gives users more interesting content to read. Barry has killed 2 birds here with one stone. Sorry, PETA.
Linking to other relevant websites is good and sends a relevancy and trust signal. Though, you should not overdo it. Too many dofollow outbound links can leak PageRank, and you could lose rankings. All paid links should be nofollowed. A great WordPress add-on to nofollow links is Ultimate Nofollow.
Country specific TDL extension
If you just want to rank locally or within your country, then having a country specific TDL is great because it will help the site to rank well for that country. For e.g. .ca, .cn, .in. So, if you want to show-off that you are an SEO Hero locally, buy a country-specific TDL extension. However, this will also have an adverse effect on the site’s rank globally.
Site usability & architecture
A site with a good navigational structure and usability can help the user to quickly find what they are looking for. It can help reduce the bounce rate too. Also, the website should have short URLs which are easier to understand both by Google & users.
This ranking signal is out of webmaster’s control. RankBrain is a machine learning AI system used by Google to display search results. RankBrain interprets the searches & finds pages that might not have the exact words that were searched for by the user.
PageRank used to be a way of measuring the rank of a website. A site with a higher PageRank would usually rank higher than a site with lower PageRank. It was discontinued for the general public by Google in March 2016. It is still used internally by them for ranking search results, but due to widespread abuse, they discontinued publishing the PageRank. Again, this ranking factor cannot be controlled by webmasters.
As long as you create a great website with good useful content, it’s only a matter of time before it will start ranking. Remember to take into account, the above ranking signals, and you’ll be on your way to be a real SEO Hero.