Search engines use many different factors in deciding how and where they're going to rank your website in their listings. Google Search uses an algorithm that takes into account hundreds of factors that change slightly from time to time. In order to deter abuse, Google does not publicize all of these factors. But Google does provide an overview of some of the most important
factors, and third party-companies have provided lots of research.
This list is a summary of some of the more important factors that Google Search considers in ranking websites, excluding factors that web designers have no control over and those that are overly technical. Some of these factors are more important than others, but you should strive to incorporate as many of these into your website as possible.
More information can be found in my blog entitled, "Is Your Website Search Engine Friendly?".
- Age: Older domain names and websites rank better than newer.
- Registration Length: Register your domain name for as many years as you can (5-10 years is better than 1-3 years, as it tells Google that the company is in it for the long haul).
- Length: Strive for shorter, more concise domains. For instance, for the company "Miller's Excavating LLC", the domain "millersexcavating.com" is better than "millersexcavatingllc.com".
- Keywords: Your domain name should contain your keyword(s). For instance, the domain "millersexcavating.com" is better than "millersllc.com".
- Exact Match: For the company "South Jersey Excavating", the domain "southjerseyexcavating.com" is better than "southjerseyexcavators.com".
Website Address (URL)
- Length: Strive for shorter, more concise page addresses. For instance, for the company "Miller's Excavating LLC", the URL "www.millersexcavating.com/excavating.html" is better than "www.millersexcavating.com/
- Keywords: The page address "millersexcavating.com/excavating.html" is better than "millersexcavating.com/ page1.html"
As of April 2015, Google made mobile friendliness a "major ranking factor". This means that all other things being equal, if your website is not mobile-friendly, it may get pushed to the bottom of search listings, especially on mobile devices.
NAP (Name, Address, Phone)
If your company name is associated with a different phone number in other online locations than the phone number on your website, or if the address doesn't match, or if the company name is different, Google may drop your website in its rankings. This is a very important search ranking factor.
Each page should have a title tag, and the title should contain your company name and/or keyword(s). So if the company name is "Miller's Excavating", a good title might be "Miller's Excavating - South Jersey" or even "South Jersey Excavating" (in which case the company name would go in the Description Tag). Search engines only show a maximum of around 65 characters of a title tag, and you shouldn't make the tag longer than that.
This is a summary sentence that describes your products and services and your geographical region, as well as important keywords. Search engines use a maximum of around 160 characters, so you shouldn't make this tag too much longer than that. Keywords in the description tag should also match some of the keywords throughout the web page, particularly those within the first few sentences of the page.
- Quality Content: Make sure the content on your site is helpful and of high quality, rather than just "marketing fluff".
- Amount of Text: The more text, the better, but to a point. Too much text can bore readers. And pages consisting of only images or Flash (no text) will not rank well.
- Original Content: Your content (text, images, etc.) should be original, not copied from someone else's website. In fact, search engines may remove pages with duplicate or plagiarized content from their listings entirely.
- Grammar and Spelling: Avoid misspellings and poor grammar.
- Reading Level: Wording should be at a basic reading level, rather than advanced, technical, or overly sophisticated.
Page Loading Speed
Pages that load faster rank better than slower loading pages (WordPress websites often load slowly).
Search engines prefer sites with recently updated content. And frequency of page updates is important. Search engines prefer sites that are updated monthly rather than annually, weekly rather than monthly, or daily rather than weekly.
Images and Videos
Sites with images and videos rank better than those without. Sites with embedded YouTube videos rank much better due to the media content, and the fact that Google owns YouTube.
Website Layout, Pages, and Coding
- User Friendly and Organized: Website layout should be user-friendly, organized, and easy to navigate.
- Number of Pages: The more pages on your site, the better, but to a point. A 4-page site may be better than a 3-page site, but a 20-page site is not necessarily better than a 15-page site.
- Coding Errors: Coding errors, code that strays too far from W3C coding standards, and proprietary coding (such as those used by free template sites and WordPress) may not rank well.
- Bulleted and Numbered Lists: Provide lists (such as list of services you provide) in bulleted or numbered format.
- Broken Links: Make sure links on your site are working, and that the content you're linking to is available.
- Image Alt Tags: Alt tags added to images help search engines determine what the image is about.
- H1 Tags: An H1 tag in the body of the page is considered a "secondary title tag". Styled H1 tags rank better than non-H1 text. H2 and H3 tags are also important.
Add your company's contact information (phone and address, or at least phone, city and state). If the contact info matches your whois info (the contact info for your domain name), that's even better.
- Company Social Media Profiles: Companies with social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) rank better than those without.
- Social Media Shares: The more shares, likes, posts, tweets, comments, etc. on social sites about your website, the better.
- Age and Rank: Shares and likes from high-ranking and older Twitter and Facebook accounts count more than those from newer or unpopular accounts.
- Facebook Shares vs. Likes: Facebook Shares of your page are better than Facebook Likes because they're more similar to a backlink.
A sitemap.xml file helps search engines effectively and accurately index your website, and it utilized by Google Webmaster Tools.
Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics
These two Google services can help your website rank better in Google.
Backlinks (Incoming Links from other sites)
- Quantity: The more incoming links your site has from other sites, the better. Very important factor.
- Quality: Links from high-ranking, popular, reputable sites are better than those from low-ranking sites, and backlinks from "link farms" or other spammy sites are bad.
- Relevance: Links from sites in a similar industry are better than those in a different industry.
- Age: Backlinks from older sites are better than those from newer sites.
- Quality: Adding links to high-ranking, reputable sites helps send trust signals to search engines (which is why social media links on your site are important).
- Relevance: Outbound links related to your industry is a search engine relevancy signal (i.e. links to Owens Corning, GAF, and CertainTeed if you're a roofer).
- Quantity: Too many outbound links are bad.
Reciprocal linking/link exchanging (I'll link to you if you link to me) used to be the best way to gain ranking, but now it's considered spammy.
Bounce rate measures how quickly a visitor "bounces" off your site. You can find your website's bounce rate through your Google Analytics service. A high bounce rate is bad. Bounce rate can be high if the site isn't displaying properly, is difficult to navigate, contains music that plays automatically, or contains uninteresting content. Interesting content, videos, images, many pages, and contact forms keep the user on the site longer, lowering the bounce rate. Bounce rate can also be high, however, if a lot of spammy websites visit your site, which is something you can't control, but can help counteract through some little known tricks that I share with my clients.
Domain Authority and Page Rank
These are scores that used to be meaningful in determining your website's popularity, but in the mid 2000's they fell out of favor and are no longer used to judge your website. Yet some website analysis reports still include them.
User Reviews and Site Reputation
Negative reviews on other sites can affect your website's ranking, especially if those reviews have been made on Google Places.