If you want to drive traffic to your website and increase conversions, it’s essential to rank highly on search engine results pages (SERPs). But how do you get your webpages to the top of Google’s rankings?
You’ll need to develop a sure-fire SEO strategy that takes into account major Google ranking factors. Remember – Google regularly updates it SEO ranking factors and algorithms, so it’s important to stay up to date. If you want to increase your online visibility and reach a bigger audience, take a look at the 50 most important SEO ranking factors in 2021:
Mobile device usage is increasing all the time, which is why mobile-friendliness has been a top priority for Google since 2019. Following the ‘mobile-first indexing’ update, all webpages are being ranked this way from September 2020 onwards, which means it’s a critical ranking factor. If your webpages don’t already fit the criteria, it’s essential to modify them. Responsive web design fits the bill, so you can optimize user experience (UX) as well as boosting your rankings.
Page Loading Speeds
Today’s users expect content to be available instantly, so long wait times are a thing of the past if you want to rank highly on SERPs. To maximize performance and meet Google’s expectations, you’ll want to ensure your webpages load in 2.5 seconds or less. Page loading speeds apply to all devices, so be sure to check how long it takes your content to load on cellphones, tablets, laptops, and desktops.
Users only want to engage with brands if they’re confident their data is being processed and held securely. Due to this, site security is fast becoming one of the most important SEO ranking factors. Users will expect to see SSL and HTTPS certificates on your site, especially if you feature ecommerce. To ensure your webpages make it to the top of Google’s first page, upgrade your security, and provide a safe space for users.
More than 3.6 billion people around the world use social media – which is just under half of the global population! Given its popularity and impact, it’s not surprising that ‘social signals’ are major Google ranking factors. Likes, shares, comments, and the visibility of your webpage on social media all affect your SEO rankings, which means a comprehensive social media strategy should be a critical part of your SEO plans.
Keywords have always been one of the most important SEO ranking factors, although the way we use them has changed over the years. Despite this, keywords remain extremely important. After all, how else is Google going to know what your content is about? Choose your keywords carefully, so that they match user search behavior, and weave them into your content seamlessly if you want to climb the rankings.
If your site features the same content twice (even if it’s been modified a little), it can have a negative impact on your rankings. Google values fresh, unique content, and so do users, so don’t risk your SEO efforts by publishing the same content more than once.
Core Web Vitals (CWV)
Scheduled to launch in 2021, Core Web Vitals is a new ranking factor you need to be aware of. CWV brings a ton of useful metrics together and assesses your webpages accordingly. Many of the individual SEO ranking factors you’re currently implementing, such as load times and interactivity, are represented under CWV, so it won’t feel completely new.
Google My Business
Google gives businesses a dedicated space to advertise important information, like your address, phone number, and email address. In addition to this, your Google My Business (GMB) space can also feature product information and reviews. Secure an owner verified GMB listing to maximize the impact it has on your SEO rankings and capture your local target audience at the same time.
Due to be released in May 2021, Page Experience signals are a new way for Google to put a value on your webpages. It brings together multiple SEO ranking factors, so, again, you might already be hitting seemingly new targets. Page Experience signals assess how users feel about their experience on your site and include metrics like security, mobile-friendliness, CWV, and intrusive interstitials (ads that negatively impact the UX).
Short for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness, E-A-T is a tricky one when it comes to SEO. Although it’s not technically one of Google’s ranking factors, your E-A-T does have an impact on your SEO standing. You won’t get an E-A-T score, but your Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness will affect where you end up on SERPs, even if Google uses slightly different algorithms to assess your E-A-T. Publish fact-checked content that’s verifiable and secure endorsements from respected sites to boost your E-A-T.
Users don’t typically want to see the same content again and again, which is one of the reasons Google favors content recency. Updating existing content and publishing fresh content is all you need to do to satisfy this ranking factor.
Closely connected to recency, but not quite the same, update frequency also has a bearing on where you’re placed on SERPs. If you published a blog post two years ago and updated it yesterday, you’ll score high for recency but low for frequency. In contrast, if you published a blog post two years ago and have updated it every other day (including yesterday), you’ll score highly for both recency and update frequency.
Range of Content
If your site is full of text, it probably won’t rank as highly as it could if it featured multimedia too, no matter how insightful or useful that text is. Using a wide range of content, such as images, videos, and animation, as well as text, can help to boost your rankings and improve your SEO performance.
Having links to your webpages on external sites is critical for SEO success. In fact, it’s commonly cited as one of the most important SEO ranking factors. However, quality is important when it comes to backlinks. They act as an endorsement, so a backlink from a reputable site can increase your legitimacy, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness in the eyes of search engines. Google’s Penguin algorithm update identifies weak or spam links, so don’t be tempted to try and beat the system. Instead, focus on getting good quality backlinks from sites with a high domain authority.
Links to and from external sites are important SEO ranking factors but internal links matter too. When a webpage has internal links pointing towards it, it indicates its level of importance relative to other pages on the site. For the most important pages on your website, be sure to place internal links to it on other areas of your website.
Domain Authority (DA)
Domain authority isn’t technically one of Google’s ranking factors, but it is widely used throughout the industry. Your domain authority is based on multiple metrics that Google does use, so maintaining a high DA is a good way to ensure your covering all your bases.
Whenever you publish new content, take a few seconds to look at the URL. If it’s a generic, lengthy URL, it could harm your rankings. By changing it to include your keywords, shortening the length, and ensuring the URL relates to the content, you can climb the rankings and drive more traffic to your site.
User behavior is predicted via search intent, so make sure your long-tail keywords take this into account. When a user searches, ‘buy laptop’, for example, they’re in active shopping mode, so Google will come back with ecommerce webpages on its SERPs. Conversely, if a user searches, ‘speed up laptop’, they’re in learning mode, so Google will return ‘How To’ articles and educational content. Optimize your content for search intent and you can increase your rankings, as well as increasing conversions.
Using HTML tags, like <h1> or <h3> adds titles and subtitles to your content which makes webpages easier to read and improves UX. The information you include in these tags also tells Google which parts of the page are most important. Make your titles meaningful and informative for users but ensure they contain critical keywords you want the page to rank highly for too.
When you click from a website home page to a blog and then to an article, you’re developing a URL string. It probably looks something like this: https://domain.com/blog/article-title. Google can analyze URL strings in order to identify the theme of a page. This means it’s worth making sure that every page title is probably represented in the URL and reflects the content accurately. Furthermore, URL strings that are excessive in length can indicate that your site is hard to navigate, so try to avoid this where possible.
The visual stability of a webpage is factored into the Core Web Vitals (CWV) ranking factor and it’s something you may not have paid much attention to before. When a page is loading, it’s not unusual for elements to ‘jump around’ or shift their placement. If you’ve ever clicked on something, only for the page to jump and end up you taking you somewhere else, you’ll know exactly what we mean. Technically known as Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS), your pages should have a CLS score of less than 0.1 to maintain good rankings.
It goes without saying that Google doesn’t want to promote malicious content, so it’s not surprising that safe-browsing is factored into the new Page Experience ranking factor. Google’s Security Issues report allows you to determine whether your webpages could be inadvertently flagged and tells you what you can do to ensure your content meets safe-browsing requirements.
Alt tags describe an image and tell users what an image was supposed to show if it doesn’t load for any reason. However, alt tags also give search engines a heads up on the content and theme of your webpage. Make them accurate, descriptive, and informative, and incorporate keywords when you can.
There has been a fair amount of debate as to whether user behavior is an official Google ranking factor but, this aside, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest user behavior metrics affect your placement on SERPs. To ensure you’ve got everything covered, it’s worth assuming that user behavior will affect your rankings.
If your webpages have a high bounce rate, for example, it indicates that the content isn’t interesting or useful to users based on the keywords they’ve used to search. As a result, you could drop down the rankings. By making sure your content genuinely links to your chosen keywords and optimizing UX, you can enhance user behavior metrics and potentially boost your SEO rankings.
According to the Google Quality Document, the search engine values sites with a decent amount of contact information. This is a simple way to boost your rankings, so make sure you don’t overlook it. Furthermore, ensure your content information is displayed in the same way every time it’s published online so that Google can recognize it.
Uptime vs Downtime
Fortunately, most servers guarantee minimal downtime, but you’ll still need to keep your site well-maintained if you want to avoid problems. Sites with a significant amount of downtime tend to slip down the rankings and can even be deindexed, which means you won’t show up on Google at all. Prioritize uptime and you’ll meet user demand, as well as safeguarding your rankings.
When users go directly to your site, rather than clicking on other, external, webpages first or being referred from other sites, it counts as direct traffic. Although there are numerous ways direct traffic can occur (e.g., a HTTPS page linking to a HTTP page), it can also indicate that users are going directly to your webpages because they rate them highly. As a result, direct traffic statistics can have a positive impact on your rankings.
If numerous users comment on your content, it can be indicative of a great quality webpage. A high level of user interaction on your site is beneficial, both for your business and in terms of how Google views your webpages. Based on this, genuine user-generated comments can have an impact on where your site ranks on SERPs.
We know Google pays attention to how long users spend on your site, so it makes sense that this could impact your rankings. If a user clicks through to your site from a SERP and spends 10 minutes engaging with your content, it’s better than if they spend 2 minutes on your site. As a result, their dwell time can reinforce the quality and relevancy of your site and boost your rankings.
Your Money or Your Life Keywords
Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) keywords refer to terms that are associated with content that can have an impact on a user’s life, including their well-being or finances. If a user wants to know if two medications are safe to take together, for example, the content they’re directed to has a major impact on their health. You don’t have to use YMYL keywords to rank highly but, if you do, be aware that Google has higher quality content standards for them.
If a user is searching for content related to a specific geographical area, Google will rank local content more highly on SERPs. If your business serves a particular location, it’s vital to use local SEO strategies to reflect this and increase your rankings.
Publishing long-form content can be an effective way to improve your SEO rankings, although whether it’s an official SEO ranking factor is up for debate. What we do know is that the average content length on webpages that rank in the top 10 results for any keyword on Google is 2,000 words. Providing your content hits all the other critical factors (such as relevancy, freshness, accuracy, etc.), posting long-form content could give you an edge over your competitors when it comes to rankings.
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) relates to the loading speed of your page and is part of the Core Web Vitals (CWV), so you know it’s going to be important. However, LCP doesn’t look at the loading speed for the entire page. Instead, it focuses on how long it takes for the main content on a page to load and be ready for users to interact with. LCP will typically assess the largest element on screen, so make sure that images, blocks of copy, or videos load in 2.5 seconds or less.
Understanding how users search for content is an important part of developing an effective SEO strategy. As the rate of voice searches increase, users are searching for content using long-tail keywords more frequently. Google’s AI system, RankBrain, is particularly effective in interpreting these keywords in order to ensure search results are relevant. You can stll rank highly for short keywords, but you may generate more traffic if you make the switch to long-tail keywords in 2021.
Keyword density was once seen as one of the most important SEO ranking factors. Although it’s not as relevant today, it is still important. Placing keywords in your content tells Google what your webpage is about and if it’s relevant to a user’s search. However, overusing them (also known as keyword stuffing) can have a negative impact and result in your webpages sliding down the rankings.
Quality of Content Updates
You already know that updating your webpages frequently can boost your rankings, but don’t assume you can switch a few words around to trick Google into placing your webpages higher up on SERPs. The quality of your content updates matters when it comes to rankings, as well as the recency and frequency of these updates. Making meaningful changes to your content is the best way to ensure any updates you make have a positive impact on your SEO rankings.
Supplementary content is one of the factors Google Raters look at to determine the quality of your webpage, so it’s fair to assume it has an impact on rankings. This type of content is related, but not necessarily directly linked, to the user’s search. A currency converter on a travel blog could be viewed as supplementary content, for example.
If your site contains multiple broken links, you can expect your SEO rankings to take a hit. Broken links indicate that a webpage isn’t well maintained, and Google doesn’t want to promote sites that aren’t accurate, relevant, and actively managed.
Your page layout should ensure that the main content is immediately visible and easy to engage with. Hiding the main content amidst irrelevant or unrelated elements will reduce the quality of the webpage and potentially have a negative impact on your rankings.
In 2021, you don’t have to submit a sitemap to Google in order to be indexed but it can help the search engine to index your webpages more accurately, which can help improve your rankings. Furthermore, where individual webpages feature on your sitemap tells Google how important they are in relation to the rest of your site.
This isn’t official just yet, but many SEO specialists maintain that your server location has an impact on your rankings. What’s more – server location can be even more important when users search for geo-specific content. If you want to get to the top of Google’s first SERP, it’s worth factoring in your server location to your SEO strategy.
It’s widely known that Google tends to ‘downrank’ webpages if they receive multiple DMCA complaints. To avoid this, make sure your content doesn’t infringe any copyrights and only publish content you own or have permission to publicize.
First Input Delay (FID)
Another aspect of Core Web Vitals (CWV) that you’ll need to pay attention to, First Input Delay refers to the time it takes for a browser to respond to a user’s command or interaction. To ensure FID isn’t harming your SEO rankings, aim to keep it below 100 milliseconds.
High Authority Social Signals
Social signals can make your webpages appear more authoritative, which is why they can subsequently impact your rankings. However, high authority social signals can be even more valuable. If your webpage is linked in a tweet from a verified account with 10 million followers, for example, it’s likely to have a bigger impact than a link from an unverified account with five followers.
Ads Above the Fold
Anything that can be seen on screen without scrolling down is ‘above the fold’. It’s what users will see as soon as they arrive on your webpage, so it’s arguably the most important area of each page. Placing large ads, leaving space empty, or featuring unrelated content above the fold has a negative impact on UX and can, therefore, negatively affect your SEO rankings.
Keywords in Subdomain
If your site has subdomains, try to incorporate your top keywords into them. Many sites use subdomains if they have an ecommerce feature, for example, but don’t simply leave it as ‘store.domain.com’ or shop.domain.com’. By using keywords in context within your subdomain, you can successfully boost your rankings.
Country TLD Extension
Having a geo-specific domain extension, such as .ca or .au, can help your webpages to rank more highly in these regions. However, choosing a geo-specific extension can make it harder to rank highly on a global scale. Deciding whether global or country-specific rankings are most important will depend on your business and your target audience.
Latent Semantic Indexing Keywords (LSI)
Latent semantic indexing keywords help Google to put your content into context and confirm its relevancy. Furthermore, LSI can help you to rank highly for keywords without using them too often in your content. Varying the terminology you use can help to improve the quality of your content and make it easier to rank highly for your chosen keywords.
Content in Tabs
If users need to click on a tab to view some or all of your content, it could be harming your rankings. In fact, Google has confirmed that this content may not be indexed at all. If you want to boost your rankings, make sure all content can be easily viewed by users and search engines.
Keywords are still a major SEO ranking factor and where they’re placed within your content really does matter. There is a correlation between first page Google rankings and having your main keyword within the first 100 words of your content, so factor this in the next time you’re creating new content for your site.
Increase your SEO Rankings in 2021
Google uses hundreds of factors to index and rank pages, and most of them are a closely guarded secret. However, between official confirmations and expert analysis, the most important SEO ranking factors have become widely known. With some new additions to look out for in 2021, updating your SEO strategy in accordance with Google’s most important ranking factors will help to boost your rankings and increase your online visibility.