Search Engine Ranking Factors Explained

Search Engine Ranking Factors ExplainedSEO can be considered a very complex form of marketing. A lot of people out there believe that SEO is some sort of dark art form that only select people are cut out for. No doubt you will have probably read out there that search engines have hundreds of different factors they take into account before ranking your site and you need to hit every single one of them with any chance of ranking but I’m going to explain how this can be broken down for someone who might have just begun their online marketing campaign.

Search Engine Ranking Factors

First things first, let me explain what this means. Search engine ranking factors is basically a list of different signals that search engines use to determine how high you are going to rank. Now before you worry about trying to make sure your site is ticking absolutely every single box you need to realise that not all factors are the same. Some are more important than others and some of them you can’t actually directly influence.

I’m going to list here the main ranking factors that you can control and I’ll tell you about a few less important factors. You can split the most important ones up into 3 different categories: on page, off page and site-wide:

On Page Ranking Factors

1. Keywords in your meta title and description

Your title tag is one of the most important factors that search engines use. This is the title that will appear on any result that they show and what is used to describe what the page is about. It’s crucial that your title tags are very clear about what kind of content is within the rest of the page. The other piece of information that appears on the search engine results is what’s called a meta description. This is just a little extra peice of information that will further elaborate on what the title suggests. Now this one is debated quite a bit in the SEO world in terms of how big a factor it is but nonetheless, it is still a factor so you should fill it out appropriately. You should also try and include your keyword in this as well as it will help both the search engine and the user understand what the page is about.

2. Including your keywords within the Content

Whenever you are writing content for your website it’s important to include your keywords a couple of times throughout. Back in the day, this was one of the best ways to get your website ranking, however there has been quite a few updates to the search engines since then. Again this is another debate with SEOs so there is no exact amount of keywords you should be using, you just need to make sure that it reads well and the content is very clearly based on the keyword.

3. Avoid Duplicate Content

Another factor that search engines take into consideration is Duplicate content. This is one that can harm a website’s rankings. Search engines will basically treat duplicate content as invalid and blacklist it from ranking high in results. Whenever you write any piece of content make sure that it’s unique to your website alone to avoid being penalised.

4. Writing longer content

Content is a massive factor in ranking a site. Nowadays the internet has become such an informative place that minimal content just won’t cut it. Try and give as much detail as possible when writing content for your website that leaves the reader knowing everything they need to. You don’t have to write pages and pages on absolutely every topic, just make sure that you cover as many aspects as possible for each of the them.

5. Optimising Images

Images can be optimised just like text. Whenever you add an image to a website, you have the options to add things like descriptions, captions and alternative text. Filling out this information can help the search engines understand their relevance which in turn will help the page rank.

6. Regular content and updating

What search engines look for are sites that are active. What I mean by this is they look for websites that regularly add new and update their existing content. Search engines are smart enough to understand that some aspects of your site don’t require change such as products and new designs. You also don’t have to be in changing your content every couple of weeks, the main thing that search engines like to see is regular new content on a website, this can be added in the form of a blog etc. and in terms of your existing content, you can change that on average once a year.

7. Outbound and Internal Links

First of all, I’ll explain what internal linking is. This is simply links within a website that link to other sections of the site. A good internal linking structure makes it a lot easier for search engines to crawl your website and it also helps the user have an easier time navigating as well.

So what’s different about an outbound link? An outbound link is a link on a website that directs the user to another website. Now linking outbound is a great way to send a user to further information about a certain topic which search engines will see as a form of trust. However, you need to make sure that you don’t overdo this. Having too many outbound links can diminish the power of your own site hurting your website’s rankings. It’s all about moderation to make outbound linking beneficial.

Site Wide and Domain Factors

1. Sitemap

A sitemap is essentially a map of all your sites links. For search engines to index all of the pages on your website, a sitemap is the best way to make it as easy as possible for them.

2. Domain Trust

The domain authority metric is quite important. There is a lot of articles out there that will tell you just how important trust has become in how search engine’s ranks your site. The next step in gaining more trust for your sites and so on. If you visit the website Majestic SEO, you can measure the trust flow of a domain. This is determined by how many trustworthy sites are linking to you.

3. Mobile optimisation

The mobile friendly debate has been going for quite a while now in the SEO world. Finally in april 2015 Google brought out an update that meant sites that aren’t optimised for mobile devices simply won’t rank. As the amount of search on mobile devices increase by the day, it’s really important that you don’t lose out on that area.

4. Google Search Console

If a website is integrated with google search console it is believed that it will help with getting your pages indexed by google. Whether this is the case or not, having the search console does help you understand more about your website.

5. Domain history

The domain name as a whole is a very important ranking factor. First of all, search engines trust domains that have been around for a while. A domain’s history takes into account all of the websites that have been on it previously. So if you’ve just bought a domain name make sure you can use a tool like wayback machine and you may be able to take some content or similar from a previous version of the website.

Another factor that search engines take into account is what top level domain (TLD) you are going to use. Search engines will consider your location when showing you search results. If you are a UK based company for example, ideally you will be using a domain name.

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Off-Page Ranking Factor

1. Backlinks

Backlinks are one of the most important factors to ranking your site along with content. Backlinks are links on external websites that link to yours. Backlinks play such a huge role in how search engines will view your site, which comes down to a few different factors such as how many, what types and how relevant the backlinks are.

2. Domain Authority

Domain authority is a metric that basically tells you how high search engines regard it. Gaining links from high authority websites is a great way to increase your relevancy on the search engines.

3. Relevant Links

Not just any backlink is good to have, one factor that search engines take into account is how relevant the link is to your website. For example, if you have a roofing company website and all of your links are coming from random forums and sites complety irrelvent to roofing and another roofing website has links coming in from lots of different tradesmen, the one that has relevant links will rank higher every time.

4. NoFollow/DoFollow links

A no follow link is a link that google won’t actually count as a backlink for your website. When getting links for your website, it’s always best to look for do follow opportunities as they will affect how your site ranks.

5. Anchor Text

Anchor text is the text where the link is placed. Search engines will take into account the different types of anchors that are directed at your site. They want to see a good balance of generic anchor text such as “click here” and “read more” and others such as exact and partial match.

Less Important Factors

Now that I’ve gone over the main factors that search engines consider, it’s time to look at some of the smaller factors:

Broken Links – A broken link is a link directing to a page that doesn’t exist. This can occur when the URL has been misspelled or if the linking page used to be there and has been changed or removed.

Page Age – Search engines will often prioritise older pages with updated content over new pages.

Number of Pages – If your site has more pages to it, then you will be seen to have more to your site that simple affiliate sites.

Uptime – It’s important to try and keep your site live as much as possible, if your site is down for maintenance for a substantial period of time, it will hurt your site’s rankings. Not only this but it could result in your pages being deindexed.

Sponsored Links – Links that begin with words like “sponsored links” or “sponsors” could potentially have a negative impact or you SEO.

Link Title Attribute – The link title attribute is the text that appears once you hover over the link, this can be seen as a less important relevancy signal but still one nonetheless.

Backlink Age – Similar to page age, search engines will favour older backlinks to fresh ones.

Bounce Rate – The bounce rate metric is calculated by a number of times people clicked back on your site. Due to the nature of a mobile device, most site’s will have a relatively high bounce rate. However, if your site has an unusually high bounce rate, it suggests that there is something wrong with your site and search engines may penalise you for it.

GEO Targeting – Search engines will often give priority to IP addresses that are local to the user. This also applies to sites that have local TLD extensions.

Linking To Spam Sites – When you are using any outbound links, you need to make sure that you stay away from linking out towards sites and areas that are considered spam such as “gambling” “payday loans” etc.

Pop Up Ads – Pop-up Ads or very large invasive ads are seen by search engines as a sign of low quality. When advertising on your site, try and place them on the sidebar or in a top bar of the site.

Computer Generated Content – Any content you add has to be your own and unique, If search engines suspect that you are using any sort of automated content then they will most likely de-index your site meaning you won’t rank at all.



So that’s me listed a few ranking factors for you to keep in mind when marketing your website. Search engines are forever evolving which makes ranking a website a never ending job. As of 2017, the main focus of a search engine has become strong content, relevant backlinks and a site’s compatibility with mobiles. So with this in mind and you use these factors as a guideline for your own website, then you won’t go far wrong in ranking above your competition.

Need help with your SEO campaign? Get in touch today to find out how we might be able to be of assistance!


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Craig Campbell

I am a Glasgow based SEO expert who has been doing SEO for 18 years.

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