How Google Ranks Pages
In order to understand what the best organic ranking factors are, you need to understand what Google looks for when deciding how to rank pages.
Well… sort of.
When ranking pages, Google tries to find the best answers to a given query. A recent Optimonster post boiled down Google’s criteria in determining the best answers:
“According to Google’s own search quality ratings, when it indexes the main content of each page, it checks factors like:
- The expertise, authority and trustworthiness of content
- The quality and amount of content
- Information about the site and who’s responsible for it
- The reputation of the website
These go into its ranking algorithm and help to determine SEO ranking.”
Using this information as a rubric, we can determine what the most important ranking factors would be, right?
Why Ranking Factors can be Misleading
Lists of Top Ten Organic Ranking Factors are the SEO equivalent to fad diets.
The hard truth for anyone trying to lost weight is that there’s no easy way to do it and no one-size-fits-all approach that works, and just like in the world of nutrition, the digital marketing landscape is fraught with conflicting information.
Eggs are bad for you. Just kidding, they’re not.
Fats are the enemy, no wait, carbs are.
1.5% keyword density is best. Well, not all the time.
Any good nutritionist will explain to you that there is no ideal diet. Dietary needs vary greatly from person to person, and every nutrition label comes with the disclaimer, “Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.” The same can be said for SEO. The importance of ranking factors may differ depending on your website’s needs.
For example, website security is often mentioned in ranking factor lists. Security may be important, but most SEOs already know this. Enabling SSL security on your site will improve your rankings, but certainly won’t take you to the No. 1 slot by itself, since everybody’s done it already.
Similarly, SEO bloggers often talk about keyword density.
Keyword density is actually listed on Backlinko’s list of 200 Ranking Factors for 2019.
A lot of SEOs will swear by 1-3%, but there are some exceptions to this rule.
For informational queries, one website tends to rank above others: Wikipedia. Wikipedia contributors don’t necessarily focus on SEO when creating content for the site. The site holds high rankings across millions of queries because of its reputation and expertise. Writers don’t need to worry about LSI or keyword density because Wikipedia lends to answer questions more thoroughly than other web pages.
LSI and keyword density are not important in and of themselves, they are important because Google assumes that in a thorough answer to a given query, the keyword will be mentioned naturally a certain amount of times. Keyword density should not be a goal in and of itself, but rather a consequence of quality content.
A “perfectly optimized webpage” is not going to be an amalgamation of these factors. These factors should be side-effects of quality pages.
Lists of important ranking factors can be helpful to find ways to improve your SEO, but you shouldn’t rely on these articles. Like nutrition labels, they’re a good jumping-off point if you’re just starting out.
Look at your competition. Who’s ranking higher than you? What are they doing different than you, and how might that affect the four criteria mentioned earlier?
TL;DR: Rather than looking for a checklist of most important ranking factors, consider Google’s criteria for page quality and ask yourself, “How do my actions improve my website based on these criteria?”