Way back in 2009, Google’s Matt Cutts mentioned offhandedly that Google used over 200 variables to determine SERPs. While this number might very well have been accurate at the time, and it’s impossible to know for certain, it’s likely that it’s an exaggeration. Don’t chase 200 phantoms. Instead look at these 11 factors we know for certain impact SEO.
Google’s fundamental purpose is to provide the best possible result for a customer’s search. The most reliable way to do this is by pointing searchers at the best content out there. You’re probably wondering how Google’s algorithm can separate good content from the bad—is this thing already passing the Turing test?
Don’t worry. We’re not looking at an all-seeing AI. Google assesses things that would presumably be present in good content, and if yours ticks enough boxes, that counts. What’s it looking for? Good spelling and grammar for one, how relevant it is to the search terms, as well as other factors that will come up later in the countdown like backlinks. Create good content for your site, and Google will reward you.
2. Core Web Vitals
I feel like I discuss Google’s Core Web Vitals every week. The truth is, they are just that important. The Core Web Vitals are Google’s attempt to create a virtual benchmark for user experience by quantifying three of the most common annoyances encountered while browsing. Those are:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): How long it takes for the largest item on your page (most often an image) to load
- First Input Delay (FID): How quickly a page responds to being clicked on
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): How much the on-page content moves around as the page is loading
Your site should be optimized to address all three of these.
The old truism that a site has to load in 3 seconds or you’re dead in the water might be a bit of an exaggeration, but remains a good benchmark. You’ll notice that all three of the Core Web Vitals sort of circle around this point, so it gives you a good idea of how important it is.
More and more web browsing is done on mobile devices, Google has responded accordingly. Modern sites have to be mobile-friendly.
Create good content for your site, and Google will reward you.
5. Title Tags
Google looks for title tags when putting together rankings. Tags make a site easier to read, goes the reasoning, so sites that use them should be higher ranked.
This is a tough one to accept, because it’s the factor you have the least control over. Check the archives for tips on how to build a library of good backlinks.
7. Anchor Text
Anchor text are the words inside a clickable link. Most often, this comes in the form of something generic like “click here.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly the opposite of what Google looks for. Google would rather anchor text give users a good idea of what’s on the linked page.
8. User Intent
Google’s goal is to deliver to a user the site they want even if the user doesn’t know what site that might be. A big part of achieving this goal is involved in their attempts to anticipate user behavior and divine user intent. One example are the autocomplete ideas that pop up with every search.
This is helpful to you. Let’s say a middle school kid has a history report due on cars. If they Google “cars,” you wouldn’t necessarily need them to find your page. The traffic you want consists of potential customers for what you have for sale.
This is another useful one. If your dealership is in Arizona, you don’t really care if someone in Vermont finds you on their hunt for a new car. It’s highly unlikely that any customer is willing to make a drive quite that far. Google looks at your store’s location(s) when attempting to match customer and query.
This isn’t a big one, but Google has confirmed that it’s a factor. While HTTPS doesn’t mean a site is completely safe, it’s much better than nothing. Besides, you’re handling customer data on your site; you should want it as secure as possible.
11. Domain Authority
Domain authority measures how likely a domain is to appear in SERPs versus its competitors. Google has been cagey about whether or not domain authority is actually a ranking factor, and many sites will tell you unequivocally that Google does not. Google has even denied using domain authority. So what’s it doing here?
Google has dropped some hints that they do use it. More importantly, they have a demonstrable history of rewarding sites that have an establish track record of producing good and useful content. It might not be exactly domain authority, but it’s close enough for government work.
Look at these rankings as a rough approximation for how important they are for your site. All of them will help, but some will help more than others.