The 10 Most Important Search Engine Ranking Factors That Affect Google SERP’s
1. Quality Content
The quality, and completeness of the content on your site is the ultimate ranking factor., If your content isn’t up to snuff, it doesn’t matter how perfectly optimized your website is. You aren’t going to rank anywhere near the top spots on page one.
So what exactly is ‘quality content’ in Google’s eyes?
Your Content Needs To Be Thorough (and Complete)
Google’s algorithm is designed to deliver content that completely answers a searcher’s question. Look at the top two or three sites in the search results for any informational query. You’ll see that sites with more content (higher word count) tend to outrank sites with less content.
An in-depth study on the correlation between content length and search engine rankings conducted by Brian Dean of Backlinko confirmed that sites with more content usually outrank their competitors that have lower word counts. Most web pages that rank at or near the top of search results have about 2,000 words on the page. In more competitive niches, you might need twice that amount of content on your page to rank in the top spots.
Make Sure Your Content Is Useful
Thank about how well your content satisfies what a searcher was looking for when they entered their search phrase into Google.
Here’s an example: Let’s say someone searches Google for ‘divorce.’
Most people would find a post that details what you need to know before getting a divorce A LOT more useful than an article on the definition of the word divorce (Wikipedia).
Structure Your Content Logically
You’ll want to organize your content in a logical way to make it both SEO-friendly, and reader-friendly. Organized content is much easier for people to read, and allows your website visitors to find the information they’re after quickly and easily.
People don’t like having to hunt to find the information they want. Neither do search engine crawlers. Create an outline, and organize your content into sections. That structure will make it easier for search engines to understand what the content on your page is about.
2. Match Search Intent
It’s natural to assume you know what people are looking for when they conduct a search for one of your targeted keywords. But even if the intent behind a search seems obvious… it’s a BIG mistake not to analyze the intent behind any search to make sure the content on your page is closely aligned with what Google thinks users are actually looking for.
How Do We Analyze Search Intent?
The best way to evaluate the user intent behind any search to look at the top 2 or 3 sites in the search results for that query. You might be surprised by what you see.
Here’s an interesting example from our own website:
What would you assume the intent would be behind a Google search for ‘law firm seo expert?’
Most people would think that someone searching for that term was looking for information about companies that specialize in search engine optimization for lawyers.
That would make sense, right?
NOTE: A few months after we launched our site, we examined the content on the ranking pages from sites that held the top two positions for that search term. We were quite surprised at what we found.
The content on the pages that were ranking number one and two at the time contained several thousands words of content related to search engine optimization in the form of SEO Guides. There was very little ‘commercial’ information on either of the ranking pages about the companies themselves.
So what did we learn from examining the content on these two high-ranking pages? Google apparently believes people searching for ‘law firm SEO’ are actually looking for in-depth ‘how-to’ content on search engine optimization.
If we hadn’t taken the time to analyze those other sites, we wouldn’t have known how to match up the content on our home page to the intent of that search in Google’s eyes. This example illustrates why you should examine the intent behind any search before you begin developing content for the page you intend to rank for any search term.
Why Search Intent Matters
Google is in the user experience business. That means they have to make sure they deliver the best, most relevant results to user queries, or risk losing market share to other search engines.
Your job is to help Google deliver the best result for the keywords you want to rank for. In order to do that, you need to make sure that when people land on your page for a certain query, they find the info they want right there on that single page.
What Google doesn’t want to see is searchers landing on a page, and then clicking the back button because they didn’t find the answers they were looking for. This is referred to as ’pogosticking,’ and it signals a bad user experience to Google.
Google knows people want to find answers to their questions quickly, and easily, without having to hunt around to find the information they’re looking for. Do that, and Google will reward your site with higher rankings.
How Important Is Matching Search Intent?
A recent report published by Google, ‘How Search Intent Is Redefining The Marketing Funnel’ provides excellent insight into the importance of satisfying Search Intent if you want your site to rank.
3. Mobile Optimized Site
Your firms’ website needs to be optimized to provide a good user experience (UX) on all devices. Desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile phones. Everything
Google’s message on mobile: “Mobile pages that provide a poor searcher experience can be demoted in rankings or displayed with a warning in mobile search results.”
Luckily you find out quickly and easily if Google thinks your site is mobile-friendly by using their free tool at Mobile Friendly Test.
Google’s Mobile Friendly Test will tell you:
- whether your web page is mobile-friendly
- what issues you need to fix or improve
4. Number of Backlinks
Backlinks are a lot like a popularity content. Earning a backlink that points to your website from another site is like getting a vote. The stronger (or more popular) the site linking to you is, the more weight the ‘vote’ you get from them carries.
Search engine algorithms tally these ‘votes,’ and factor in the strength of each backlink to determine which sites should rank at the top for a given search.
At the time I’m writing this, our website LawFirmSeo.com is less than a year old. As of now, the site has 327 backlinks from 107 Referring Domains (websites that link to our site).
While our site is still very young in Google’s eyes, the backlinks and Referring Domains we have helped us climb to the #1 ranking for the keyword ‘law firm seo expert.’
The more votes (backlinks) your website accumulates, the better you will rank in search results.
Assuming of course, that the backlinks you get are from quality websites.
Getting links from questionable or spammy sites can actually harm your rankings.
5. Domain Authority
Backlinks that point to your site not only help boost your rankings, they also contribute to increasing the domain authority of your site. Domain authority is a measure of the authority of your overall site.
The most important thing to know about domain authority is that the higher it is, the better all the pages on your website will rank.
6. Anchor Text
Anchor text is the visible, clickable part of a hyperlink. It’s the text you see in blue. The profile of the anchor text in the links to your website plays a major role in helping Google understand what your site is all about.
Here’s an example… someone recently linked to the Monopolists website using the anchor text ‘SEO for law firms.’
When Google crawlers read this link, they sees that people are linking to our home page with this anchor text, so this page must be about SEO for law firms.
Anchor Text Profile Ratio
While you need some links with descriptive anchor text, most of your backlinks should contain natural anchor text. Natural anchor text includes the URL of your website, your company name, visit our website, etc.
If the ratio of links with exact match keywords in the anchor text is too high, you run the risk of over-optimization, which can lead to being penalized by Google.
7. Site Loading Speed
How quickly your website loads is a BIG factor in whether your site ranks well or not. How quickly your page loads on mobile devices is especially important.
There are several tools available to check the page loading speed of your website. One of the most popular is Google’s own PageSpeed Insights.
Another popular site speed testing tool is GTmetrix.com
8. Keyword Usage
Including keywords in the content of a webpage is probably the most widely used and abused SEO ‘ranking strategy’ of all time. Yes, you do have to include keywords that are relevant to your site, and your business.
However, you don’t need to use as many, or use them as often as most people think. Stuffing an excessive number of keywords in your content can definitely hurt your rankings.
It’s actually better to under-optimize the volume of keywords in your content than it is to over-optimize your keyword in content ratios. Use variations of your keyword, and LSI keywords in your content instead of just repeating the exact keywords over and over throughout the text.
PRO TIP: Use your primary keyword in your h1 tag, preferably at the start of your h1 tag. This is what an h1 tag looks like in HTML code: <h1>.
Here’s a real-world example…
A couple months after we first launched the Monopolists website, we were ranking on the 7th page of search results for the keyword ‘law firm SEO.’
That’s pretty normal for a brand new website, but we decided to test reducing the number of times we had that keyword in h tags.
So we left ‘law firm SEO’ in our h1 tag at the top of the home page, but changed several instance of it in other header tags (h2 or h3 tags) to reduce the number of times we had ‘law firm SEO’ in header tags.
The Results: Our site jumped 60 spots to land on page 2 of search results for that keyword just five days later. That’s not a typo. We climbed 60 places, as in S-I-X-T-Y.
9. Google RankBrain
RankBrain is the artifice intelligence (AI) component of Google’s algorithm. RankBrain’s job is to ‘learn’ what people actually want from a particular search, and make targeted adjustments in the algorithm to serve up the best results for that search in the future.
RankBrain is a machine-learning algorithm, which means it is constantly evolving. An algorithm that is essentially a moving target is difficultly to optimize for.
However, you can help RankBrain show your site plenty of love by doing these two things:
First… Analyze the content of the pages that rank in the top couple of spots for the search(es) you want to rank for.
Second… Outdo them, and create the absolute best content you possibly can. Make sure you answer the question(s) people have that led them to search in the first place.
They’ll be happy, RankBrain will be happy, and you’ll be happy.
Google released updated Search Quality Guidelines that read: “… the amount of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) is very important.”
What that means is that Google favors content that’s written by knowledgable, credible experts on a given topic.
E = expertise
A = auhtoritativeness
T = trustworthiness
Here are a 2 tips to help you satisfy Google’s E-A-T guidelines:
Tip #1 – Identify The Authors Of Content On Your Site
You want to make it easy for Google to understand who wrote a piece of content for your site.
NOTE ABOUT AUTHOR BIO’s: Yes, it’s insanely annoying to talk about yourself in the third person, but that’s how author bio’s are supposed to be written.
Try to either partner with respected experts in your field to produce content for your site, or work on becoming a respected expert on topics related to your field yourself.
Tip #2 – Be Transparent With Readers (and Google)
Make it very easy for website visitors to contact you through your site. Whether that’s through a contact form, or an email address. Make one or more contact elements on your pages insanely visible, and user-friendly.
While there are a number of other ranking factors that are worth delving into, the ones above are the Top 10 most important, because they have the biggest impact on a law firm website’s rankings.
Up Next: Chapter 2 – SEO Audits For Lawyer Websites