Yes, there are about 200 different Google ranking factors, and no, we don’t expect you to have them all memorized. Many are encoded in SEO best practices as well – but the most influential factors tend to slowly shift over time as Google decides what’s good or bad for its search engine. That’s why it’s always useful to take a look at the top ranking factors and ask, “All right, what’s mattering the most these days?”
Thanks to research from SEMrush and other organizations, we can put together a pretty good picture of what Google cares about right now…and some of the top factors may surprise you!
1. Content Quality
If you’ve been reading some of our other posts or, indeed, anything written about Google’s algorithms in the past couple of years, this factor was probably easy to guess. Much of Google’s latest update work has been focused on promoting the use of good content: That means content that uses keywords sparingly, doesn’t fill pages with lots of meaningless text, and provides lots of good, solid data that isn’t repeated elsewhere on the website.
Note that this includes old content as well. If you have blog posts from several years ago still up on your site, you should probably check them out and make sure they don’t have any warning flags that could be decreasing your ranking.
2. Website Visits
SEMrush in particular rated direct website visits as one of the most important ranking factors. That means following a link all the way to the full website URL to catch a story or buy a product. Google really likes to see these direct visits because they are very difficult to replicate using bots, and they show genuine interest in site content over a period of time. So yes, more web traffic remains a very good thing, but it’s important to make it consistent.
3. How Visitors are Referred
Also called “referring domains,” this basically means that Google is very, very interested in who is linking to your content. A group of visitors from your Facebook post? Not bad. A batch of random visitors from cheap directories? You may be in trouble. A reference from a highly regarded news site? Now you have Google’s interest. If you can get highly rated domains to link to your content, page rankings are yours to claim, so start establishing those relationships early. Quantity also matters, so a wide variety of referring domains can help, too.
4. Website Security
Here’s an interesting factor: Google has said before that website security based on HTTPS implementation is nice but not much used as a ranking factor. However, website security does act as an energizer of sorts of other factors: Good security makes referrals, high traffic, quality links, and site uptime all more likely, which in turn increase your ranking. So pay attention to your security status as well and consider an upgrade!
5. Time Spent on Site
It’s not just about bounce rates – a high bounce is obviously bad for SEO, but Google also cares about time spent on site overall. If people linger to read several different articles or peruse a number of items before leaving, that indicates that the site is doing a really good job of making the internet a more useful place. A very closely connected metric is number of pages viewed, which indicates the same sort of positive content.
6. Content Length
There’s a lot of argument about how long content should be, but we’ll try to summarize. The average blog post should be between 500 to 700 words, on average. More in-depth or informative pieces should stretch toward 1,000 words. Whitepapers should be several times as long. Overall Google is currently favoring a “longer is better” attitude as long as other factors hold strong.
Yes, keywords still matter…but it’s hard to say how much. Google has shown it will punish those who have very high keyword densities and are using very simple pull-in-popular-keyword tactics. So while having keywords in your title and meta descriptions and content is a good idea, it’s more important to avoid going overboard here.
8. Outbound Link Quality
When you link to another site, make sure it’s a high-quality site with good content. This helps your SEO and theirs, so it’s an easy win all around.