Google is the world’s most popular and powerful search engine, bar none, with around 84% of the search market share in North America. When we talk about improving our ranking through SEO, we’re generally referring to Google’s ranking factors as opposed to Bing, Yahoo, or other alternative search engines.
That’s why it’s so important to learn how help your content appear at the top of Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) when your target audience searches for keywords relating to your products or services.
But that’s easier said than done, especially considering the fact that there are over 200 ranking factors Google considers when deciding who gets the top spot.
However, some ranking factors are more important than others. They are the factors that have persisted through Google’s many broad core algorithm updates over the last decade, some even gaining more importance now than ever before.
Read on to discover the top Google ranking factors to prioritize in 2023.
Top Page-Level Ranking Factors
1. Content Quality
By far one of the most important Google ranking factors to prioritize is content quality.
In a nutshell, content quality is a comprehensive metric that measures how fresh, unique, helpful a webpage is in relation to a query. The more hypothetical value a target searcher might get from your content, the higher Google will rank it on its SERPs.
Google measures quality by looking for uniqueness and originality, which is one of the defenses against copied content and why you should be careful using AI content writing tools. However, it also checks for up-to-date, fresh content to ensure that searchers receive real, relevant information for their needs rather than outdated details.
Prioritize content quality by writing excellent content or hiring knowledgeable copywriters to do so for you, and regularly update older content. It doesn’t matter how well-optimized your page is if the content isn’t helpful for searchers!
2. Content Relevance
The more relevant your content is to a query, the better it is in the eyes of Google’s algorithms. This is similar to content quality, as broken down above.
The best way to make sure your content is relevant is to look at other high-ranking pages for the same keywords or topics. For instance, if you want to make a page for cyber security lessons learned throughout 2022, you’ll note that most of the top articles are listicles that break down some basic lessons or tips for searchers.
You’ll want to make content that directly competes against those pages by offering better information and a fresh POV in the same format (i.e. a listicle). This ensures that your content is relevant to searcher intent, so it’ll be ranked highly.
3. User Experience
Google further measures the on-page experience of users by looking at several subsidiary factors, like:
- The CTR or click-through rate, which is how often users click on your website’s primary link in Google search engine results
- The dwell time, or how long a visitor stays on your site after arriving there from Google
- “Pogo-sticking”, or how many people click to your site and hit the back button without interacting with it because it didn’t load well or satisfy their query
The better on-page experience you provide through quality content, strong structure, and an engaging design, the higher Google will rank your website overall.
4. Keyword Optimization
Good old-fashioned SEO through keyword research and usage is still a great way to help your content rank highly on Google. There are several ways to do this, including:
- Writing compelling meta-descriptions
- Using latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords, which help Google determine what your content is about
- Using good anchor text for internal links and backlinks
- Using target keywords in headers
- Using keywords in the URL
- Avoiding keyword stuffing, which is the negative practice of repeating primary search terms instead of writing naturally
Top Site-Level and Off-Site Ranking Factors
5. Technical SEO Health
Site-level ranking factors look at the state of your website as a whole, rather than one piece of content.
Run regular audits using an SEO tool to report on your site’s technical SEO health. The audits will bring to light any issues with your site’s technical SEO, which could be small warnings or big errors that need to be fixed immediately.
Examples of issues that a thorough SEO audit can help identify include:
- Redirect loops or chains
- Broken pages
- Broken internal or external links
- Broken images
- Duplicate content
- Thin content
- Sitemap issues
- Orphaned pages
- Pages blocked from crawling
6. Mobile Usability
More than half of all Internet traffic comes from mobile devices, which means your web content needs to be navigable by mobile users. Google has factored mobile usability into ranking for several years now.
You don’t need a mobile-first web design, but your website and its content do need to be responsive and easy to navigate through on any size of screen. Learn about web design principles and test out your content by visiting it on your own mobile device to ensure page load speeds are fast, everything is legible and readable, and all the buttons and links (even within text) are easily tappable by fingers.
If you feel out of your element, you can hire a consultant or web design agency.
Google’s algorithm is so advanced that it can analyze and detect the quality of your website structure. With that in mind, you need to understand what makes a strong website structure and user experience (UX) for your visitors.
Go through your website and ask yourself whether a new visitor can find all the content or products they might be looking for. Are menus and CTAs easily found and accessed to move around the site? Is it easy for them to contact you, find a specific page, or check out your blog or knowledge base?
If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, you need to redesign your website so it is structured well and provides a better user experience for every visitor.
8. Page Load Speed
Page load speed is also an important ranking factor. The faster your pages load, the higher Google will rank them. That’s partially because many users won’t stay on a page if it takes longer than half a second or so to appear.
Google also prioritizes this because the page load speed is a part of the user experience. You don’t necessarily need to worry about your pages being a few milliseconds faster than competing pages. The goal is instead to meet minimum page loading time standards (typically faster than 500 milliseconds or so).
You can easily test your pages using free tools like GTmetrix.
9. Website Security
Don’t forget to prioritize website security, specifically by ensuring your site uses the HTTPS protocol. This means that the website encrypts data between users and your website all the time, preventing the theft of personal information.
This can easily be achieved by applying for and purchasing SSL certification for your website. Once you have SSL certification, visitors will see a padlock symbol in the address bar and be more likely to trust your website overall. It’s also a good idea to make sure that your external links point to secure sites – Google crawls your links, and doesn’t want you pointing users to potentially unsafe sites.
Website security is a big part of the user experience, and thus a critical ranking factor.
10. Backlink Quality
Backlinks live off-site, but they definitely impact your site’s ranking.
Odds are your online content has backlinks from other websites pointing to yours. This can be anything from a link in your company bio on social media to Google Maps, partner websites, or profiles in online media.
Not all backlinks are equal. The higher quality the referring site, the better SEO value you get from the link. Take any opportunity you can to seek or configure links on relevant, quality websites like business directories, review sites, map listings, and more.
Furthermore, run periodic audits of your backlinks to make sure none are pointing to deleted pages. If you change the URL of a page that you know has great backlinks, be sure to set up proper redirects and even consider contacting the other websites to ask them to change the link.
You can also try to optimize backlinks by asking the referring site’s owner to place them on relevant anchor text.
These 10 Google ranking factors are the most important to consider when putting together a new webpage or improving your web content for your target audience. If you focus on these factors when planning, creating, and publishing content, your pages will be more likely to appear at the top of SERPs.