Top 12 Search Engine Ranking Factors and How they Influence a Website’s Reach

Google determines the rank of a website by taking into account, 200+ factors including domain age, keywords, content quality, social media presence and many more.

As a webmaster, in charge of your site’s rankings, you’ve got a tough job on your hands. The challenge is keeping up to speed with Google’s ranking factors as there are changes happening to this ‘factor mix’ every year. It’s important to be a quick learner and adapt to ensure your website stays abreast the competition.

On-Page Ranking Factors

Here’s a list of on-page ranking factors that are of critical importance to your website’s ranking.

1.     Keyword Usage – in Title tag, Description tag and H1 tag

The placement of a keyword plays an integral role in helping Google, Bing and other search engines identify and index your website’s content. Your keyword terms also help determine site relevance vis-à-vis search phrases and ensuring the website matches user intent. The title “Meta” should include the keyword, preferably at the start of or in the middle of the title. Similarly, the keyword should also be found in the Meta description and in the H1 tag used in the body of the article.

2.     Length and Originality of Content

Remember the early days of SEO when content writers worked to stuff keywords into website content? Well those days are long gone.  These days your website’s ranking will also depend on the quality of its content. The content has to be authoritative, useful to the reader, and of sufficient length. Fluff or duplicate content can affect search engine ranking as Google’s algorithm will classify this content as worthless and of no help whatsoever to its intended audience.

3.     Inbound and Outbound Links

An authoritative website should always have multiple, high quality inbound links from trusted sites on the internet. This produces thought leadership which will increase website reputation, traffic and organic ranking.  

Creating outbound links that connect your domain to official websites and trustworthy pages creates greater visibility for your site. However, there is something known as overkill and you should avoid going overboard with your inbound and outbound links. *Although either form of linkage is beneficial to your site, optimal visibility and ranking is created through inbound links.

4.     Content Frequency

A website is termed active only when it is frequently updated with fresh content. Google and other search engines always consider such websites credible because they are properly updated, taking note of the current developments in the website’s target market.

Note: Don’t update for the heck of it, but do so because you have something new and important to say. Something that will help/benefit your target audience in one way or other.

5.     Image Optimization

Images are an important aspect of content (website pages, blog posts, etc.) looking more credible, authoritative, and explanatory. They can be optimized (compressed, yet clear high-quality images) to consume less bandwidth and when supported with proper alt tags/descriptions, it is much easier for bots (Google crawlers & spiders) to associate them with relevant keywords.  

Website and Domain Factors

6.     Domain Age & History

Domain age is the length of time which a domain name has been registered by a single owner. An expired domain, purchased again by a new owner is not brought into calculation by search engines; what they are looking for is uninterrupted domain ownership. Any domain that is one year or older is considered trustworthy by Google. Similarly, a domain name’s history and penalties will continue to affect its ranking in the present.

7.     Country TLD Extension

For website owners who are targeting a specific community of people or population in a respective region, it is mandatory to purchase a domain with the country’s TLD extension. A domain name with .uk or .au will rank better in the United Kingdom or Australia than one with a .com extension.

8.     Sitemap

A sitemap is mandatory because it allows search engines to readily recognize a website and index all its paginated content. A dynamic sitemap that can automatically update with newly added content will notify bots to visit the page and index them.

9.     Mobile Optimization

In the near future, analysts and users predict mobile optimization will be the top most search engine ranking factor for a website to reach its audience; Mobilegeddon. The user base on smartphones and tablets is rapidly increasing, which is why it is important to ensure your website is displayed properly on those smaller screens, not just desktops! Your website must not only render effectively on smartphones and tablets but its mobile presence must be optimized for mobile search.

10. Webmaster Tools

A new website should be registered on Google Webmaster tools in addition to those offered by Bing, Yahoo, AOL, etc. Google Webmaster tools expedites the process of indexing pages  while helping you evaluate the website on various data points. You can conduct an analysis based on this evaluation and further fine tune your SEO strategies. Webmaster tools will also help you understand any shortcomings on your website as Google duly notifies you of errors that it finds.

Off Page Factors

11. Social Media Presence

Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and every other social media platform has a role to play in a website’s search engine ranking. You must ensure your website’s online marketing activities include a social media campaign, ultimately linking each platform to the next. Post your content on social media and make sure it receives shares, re-tweets, and +1s. This activity not only helps your posts reach out to a wider audience, but also paves the way for more website traffic.

If done right, this also increases search rankings.

Note: Research conducted on your target market and social network can reveal peak times to release your original or repurposed content; there are a number of apps and services available to conduct this research.

12. Quality Links

High quality links from domains and pages to your website will increase its overall page ranking. The PR and authority of the linking domains will boost the overall credibility of your website. It is important to check if you have inbound or outbound links to sites containing spam, malware or other offensive content. Similar to a credit score, they can have a negative impact on your ranking than can take years to resolve.

Note: Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and a number of other web browsers offer Page Rank plug-ins in order to view how popular sites stack up; this tool can be used to study your competition as well.

Negative Search Engine Ranking Factors

  •         Duplicate content
  •         Spam links
  •         Canonical/ Duplicate pages (ex:
  •         Poorly optimized for mobile devices
  •         Lack of Social Media presence
  •         Improper focus on target audience
  •         Page design, Accessibility
  •         Low domain trust level
  •         Black hat SEO techniques

With hundreds of search engine ranking factors, it is not possible to precisely suggest a foolproof way to reach your audience. However, by taking these factors into account and properly optimizing your website it is easier to achieve a higher page ranking, visibility, and generate traffic. If nothing else, it’s just better to remain on Google’s good side.