The SERP for the keyword phrase "dentist toronto".

An Introduction To Search Engine Ranking Factors

Active Business Growth SEO

This article is going to take a look at the ranking factors that affect where your website shows up for any given Google search.

If you haven’t already, we recommend you first read our article that describes what SEO is and why it is so incredibly important for local businesses by clicking here.

Assuming you’re caught up to speed, let’s begin.

We know that SEO describes the methods and tactics used to ensure your site appears at the top of a Google search; now let’s dig a little deeper and explore the various techniques we can implement to give your website the highest chance of appearing as one of the results on the ever-so-lucrative first page.

First, we must realize that Google is a machine that uses advanced algorithms, deep learning, and artificial intelligence to analyze a wide variety of signals from each website on the internet that determines where said websites should be placed on a Google search result for a specific keyword phrase.

These “signals” come in many different shapes and sizes, such as: how long the average visitor stays on your site, how fast your website is, how many broken links (404s) are found on your site, and so on.

There are over 200+ of these different signals.

However, not all signals are created equal.

For example: the domain age of your website (how long ago your website domain was registered) is one of the factors that go into the algorithm, but it is not nearly as heavily weighted as the amount of relevant content you put on your site.

Even Matt Cutts, a software engineer and former head of webspam at Google, stated:

Matt Cutts talking about a website's domain age.

So it’s a factor, but not a heavily-weighted one.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll be touching on 13 of the most heavily-weighted factors that are absolutely critical for a local business’s website to take advantage of.

By optimizing your website to take advantage of these factors, you will dramatically increase your chances of “ranking” on the first page of Google for the keyword searches that you want.

Let’s discuss what 13 of these factors are.

13 Search Engine Ranking Factors You MUST Take Advantage Of In 2018

As stated above: not all ranking factors/ signals are created the same.

Although these are indeed some of the 13 most important SEO factors to watch for in order to rank your site on Google, there are some factors listed below that are just SO important that we had to continue to elaborate on in another article in order to fully explain their importance.

These first 3 factors – relevant quality content, authority link building, and website code structure – are touched on below, but have their own dedicated article written about them that you can read here.

After reading this page, we highly encourage you to visit the mentioned article to fully understand how to implement these first 3 factors on your website.

They are that important.

With that said, let’s jump into 13 of Google’s major local business ranking factors.

1) Relevant Quality Content

Have you ever heard of the saying “content is king“?

Well, never is that more apparent than in SEO.

A crown with the words "content is king".

In SEO, relevant quality content is the foundation upon which your website is built.

It is what Google uses to determine what your website is about and if it is of high enough quality to put it in front of its users.

This is why you must be extremely aware of the content you put on your website and how it implements the keywords you want your site to rank for.

For example, if you wanted to have your website show up on google for the keyword phrase “orthopedic shoes”, you would have to have relevant quality content on your site based around this phrase.

These two concepts are worth repeating:

Relevant and quality.

If your content isn’t relevant to your keywords, your site isn’t going to show up for these words.

In this case, if you had a website that was all about dog breeding yet you wanted it to rank for “orthopedic shoes” – good luck.

It’s just not going to happen.

And on the other hand, if you actually had a site about orthopedic shoes but the site itself only had 2 pages on it with 150 words each – guess what?

That’s not going to rank either.

You NEED a site that is FULL of relevant quality content that is more robust than your competitors.

This includes having pages that are dedicated to explaining everything about orthotics, orthopedic shoes, orthopedic services, etc.

To increase the quality, these pages should include multimedia – a combination of pictures, videos, etc. – that engages readers and answers all the possible questions they may have about what it is that you provide.

This content should also be long-form and comprehensive, which only helps to signal quality.

Combine all of this together to create a highly relevant site chalk-full of helpful content.

To understand more about this factor, click here to read about it in-depth.

2) Authority Link Building

Link building is simply the process of getting quality links to point to your site.

This factor is much more behind-the-scenes for business owners, and so it is often overlooked.

But it is extremely important.

Google is full of spammy sites that provide no value to users whatsoever, and so one of the quality-control features of Google is to take into account how many links each site has pointing to it.

When we say “pointing to it”, we simply mean that a link to your site is present on someone else’s site, as seen below:

Example of a backlink with relevant anchor text.

In the above example, a link to the Globe and Mail’s website is shown on the University of Toronto’s website.

This is significant because by linking to the Globe and Mail, this shows that UofT is putting its reputation on the line by associating itself with this site.

By doing this, it signals to Google that the Globe and Mail probably isn’t a spam site since a reputable website like UofT is referring its readers to it.

And if you extrapolate this further, this means that the more links you get from quality sites, the more your site is going to establish its trust, credibility, and reputation with Google.

And the more your site does this, the higher it will rank in search engines.

To understand more about this factor, click here to read about it in-depth.

3) Website Code Structure

This is another massive factor to take into consideration.

Since Google uses an algorithm to read your website, you have to construct your website in such a way that makes it as easily understandable as possible.

This is why you must have a logical heading structure on each of your pages.

Websites use heading tags such as H1’s, H2’s, H3’s, etc., that describe what each page is about and how it is broken down.

You can think of it like the Chapter and subheadings in a book.

 The headings and chapters of an open book.

The “H1” is the most important heading, which is essentially the name of a specific chapter of a book.

The “H2″ would be the second most important heading, which would describe each section of that specific chapter in the book.

The” H3″ would break down each of these sections further, and so on.

In terms of the pages on a website, we can use the page you’re currently on as an example:

H1: An Introduction To Search Engine Ranking Factors

H2: 13 Search Engine Ranking Factors You MUST Take Advantage Of In 2018

H3: Relevant Quality Content, Authority Link Building, Website Code Structure, etc.

These heading tags clearly show a logical flow for the content of this page.

And in the eyes of Google, you NEED to do this in order to help it understand what each page is about and how it is relevant to your readers’ search terms.

There are many more other factors that fall under “website code structure” such as advanced meta information and schema.

To understand more about website code structure, click here to read about it in-depth.

4) Website Loading Speed

This factor may not seem too obvious to the naked eye, but website loading speed is very much a critical ranking factor.

This is because it greatly affects a user’s experience on your site.

Nowadays, people have extremely low attention spans.

Extremely low attention spans to the point where people won’t even wait a couple of extra seconds for a site to fully load.

And when it comes to loading speed, every second counts:

Screenshot of a 10% visitor loss due to a 4 second page loading speed.

Screenshot of Google's mobile page speed test.

As you can see, if your site takes 4 seconds to load, you would have already lost 10% of people who have clicked to go to your site.

And this is considered “good”.

The loss gets worse with every loading second.

And it’s easy to understand why.

Sometimes when you search for something on Google, if the page takes a few seconds too long to load, you’ll simply click back to the Google search results page and click another result that loads faster instead.

And Google notices this.

Understand that Google wants their users to have the best experience on their platform as possible so that they keep coming back to use their service, instead of a competitor’s service like Yahoo or Bing.

Because of this, if Google sees that a large percentage of users clicking to your website are immediately clicking back because your website doesn’t load fast enough, you can bet big money that your website will quickly be pushed down the search results page until you are no longer seen on the first page.

This is why you must ensure your website loads as fast as possible.

5) Dead Links And 404 Errors

Dead links and 404 errors are simply pages on your site that don’t exist.

Like website loading speed, they are another factor that affects user experience.

They look a little something like this:

A dead 404 page.

404 errors can be caused by changing the URL of a page or by taking down a page that used to exist (like if you had an old promotion for your business that you no longer offer).

Google doesn’t like this because it knows that users HATE dead pages.

If you think of it from your own search perspective, if you were looking for cheap website design services and saw a link on a website stating “50% off premium web design services”, you wouldn’t be too thrilled if you clicked on it and received the above error.

Essentially, you were click-baited to a page that doesn’t exist.

And that’s a big no-no.

6) Mobile Responsiveness

In late 2016, for the first time ever, mobile users surpassed desktop users on the internet:

A graph showing mobile users surpassing desktop users in 2016.

This means that more people are surfing the web on their phone rather than their computer.

But business owners haven’t been able to keep up.

Most business owners have a website that looks great on a computer, but terrible on a mobile phone.

This is a problem because if their site isn’t optimized to be user-friendly for people using their phone, these mobile users will leave the business owner’s site rather quickly.

And since more than 50% of people are now using their phone, this will negatively affect a website’s user metrics.

7) User Metrics

The longer a user stays on your website and the more pages they visit, the better.

This is obvious because it shows that the user is highly engaged with your page.

And engagement is HUGE.

A graph showing increasing website user engagement.

It signals that your website’s content is HIGHLY relevant to the user and that they potentially found what they were looking for when they searched a particular keyword.

The better the user metrics are for people visiting your site, the more Google is going to want to place your website in that highly-sought-after first position.

This is why you need to optimize your site in every way possible to ensure your users will stay on your site for as long as possible.

8) Image Optimization

Taking advantage of the optimizations you can make to your images are crucial.

First, you should compress your images.

The larger the images, the slower the website – and we now know why this is important.

Second, you should change the file name of each image to a relevant keyword or phrase.

Leaving an image with a sloppy file name such as “34FD4Er6T.png” will not help your rankings, whereas changing it to something relevant will.

Third, you should add alternative text (“alt text”) to your images.

Google can’t see what an image looks like, so you have to spell it out for them by describing what the image is in plain language.

This also helps visually impaired people navigate your site, as Google will describe each image to them based on what you describe it as in each image’s alt text.

For example, in the “mobile responsiveness” section, we named the picture of the graph’s file name and alt text as:

 An example of an image's file name.

An example of an image's alt text.

This is important because if you want to have the highest chance of ranking your site for your target keywords, you need to optimize your images.

9) Internal Linking

In section 2, we discussed the importance of links pointing to your site.

But there is also a ranking factor called internal linking (or, interlinking) – which is where YOU link to other pages on YOUR site.

An example of interlinking is: click here to contact us.

If you click the red words above, they will take you to our contact page.

The number of internal links you have pointing to a specific page on your site will indicate to Google the importance of this specific page relative to others.

A long connected chain representing a website's internal linking.

For example, if I have a page with 3 internal links coming from other pages on my site, and another page with 20 internal links coming from other pages on my site, Google will assume that I think that the page with 20 internal links coming to it is more important than the page with only 3 internal links coming to it.

The “anchor text” – the words in which are hyperlinked – will also signify to Google what the page you go to when you click on the link is about.

In this example, Google can assume that the page you go to when you click “click here to contact us” is our contact page.

Which, obviously, it is.

This helps Google understand what every page on your site is about.

10) Citations

A citation is simply a mention of the name, address, and/or phone number (NAP) of your business anywhere on the internet.

For local businesses, this is extremely important.

This is because for local searches – searches that include local terms such as “near me“, “city name“, etc. – Google will try to show users the best local result.

And to signify to Google that you are indeed a local result, you have to show that you are local.

You can do this by having your business’s NAP all over the internet as many times are possible (without being spammy):

A dental office's name, address, and phone number (NAP).

The more Google sees your address show up on the web, the better it can trust that you are indeed located where you say you are and that you are a relevant website to show a user for their specific local search.

In fact, there are certain ways you can supercharge your citations and make them even more powerful than your competitors’.

We wrote exactly how to do this here.

11) Website Trustworthiness

You can probably tell by now that trust is a huge factor for your website’s ranking.

To combat spammy websites and provide a top-notch user experience, Google needs to verify that your website is trustworthy.

By acquiring links from trusted sites – like educational institutions such as the University of Toronto – having great user metrics, quality content, and more, Google will slowly start to trust your website.

Shaking hands to establish trust.

This will allow Google to start putting down its barriers and show your website in front of more people.

And if your site truly is trustworthy – everyone will benefit.

You will benefit from more traffic to your site, users will benefit from a great user experience, and Google will benefit from people coming back to use their search engine instead of Yahoo’s.

And at the end of the day, this triple-win is how you consistently get your website to rank.

12) SSL Certificate

A secure sockets layer (SSL) is a security technology that ensures your website is safe for users to visit.

It is imperative that your site has this.

We just talked about trust, and this is a key identifier of it.

An SSL encryption is simply the green secure padlock and green “https:” in your URL:

An example of an SSL green padlock.

This means that a user’s phone, tablet, or computer shouldn’t be harmed by visiting your site.

The last thing Google wants to do is to direct its users to a site that could harm them.

Because of this, if you don’t have an SSL certificate, you should get one immediately.

13) Domain Authority

To top it all off is domain authority.

The domain authority (DA) of your website is a score out of 100 that judges how powerful your site is in the eyes of search engines – 100 being the highest.

For example, YouTube and Facebook have a DA of 100/100, which explains why whenever you search something in Google, a lot of the times you will see either a YouTube video or a Facebook profile as one of the results.

YouTube's logo.Facebook's logo.

Because their DA is so high, it’s VERY easy for these sites to rank for just about anything.

In terms of SEO for local businesses, a DA anywhere between 20-30 out of 100 is where your site will really start ranking locally for your target keywords.

Most clients that we get usually have a DA score under 15.

This is why one of the goals of every campaign that we do is to raise a website’s DA as fast as possible.

It is important to note that domain authority is not Google’s own creation, so it is not 100% representative of a site’s ability to rank.

However, it is the most accurate, comprehensive number available for any SEO campaign.

It takes all 200+ ranking factors into account and breaks it down into one clean number.

Because of this, it is used in some way, shape, or form in 99% of the SEO industry.

Google Ranking Factors – Final Thoughts

We’ve discovered that there are over 200+ different ranking factors that Google uses to decide what websites will show up in the search results for specifics keywords.

We have listed 13 of what we believe to be some of the most important factors for you to implement on your site to ensure it appears for the phrases you want it to.

SEO goes much deeper than many business owners can imagine, and it is important that you hire a professional if you are serious about your website’s search engine rankings.

We here at Active Business Growth work tirelessly to ensure our clients’ websites get as much organic Google traffic as possible.

Our goal is to make you money and increase the amount of leads, sales, and revenue generated for your business.

If you are interested in having the best of the best work on your website and achieve your goals, please visit our contact page and reach out to us.

And please click here if you’re looking for search engine optimization services in Alberta or here if you’re looking for a Toronto SEO expert.

We also service clients in the United States, too. If this is the case, please visit our Sacramento SEO company page.

We look forward to working with you.