A Key List of Search Engine Ranking Factors

If you conduct business online or own a website, acquiring high visibility in search engines can turn out to be the difference between success and failure. Identifying the correct ranking factors used by search engines, is the first SEO step required to rank high in search results and profit from the constant stream of customers.

Major search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo use complex ranking algorithms comprising multiple ranking signals, which makes it difficult for optimizers to manipulate search results. Google, for example, uses over 200 ranking signals, which are not only hard to detect but even harder to implement. Yet, knowledge of Google signals is the target of all optimizers.

Google possesses the highest market share by executing the majority of search queries every year, and thereby generating huge advertising revenues from paid traffic. Google's market share also indicates that it sends a huge volume of natural traffic to websites, which makes its search results the target for manipulation by SEO.

The list of key ranking factors are based on relevance, web page quality, and citations. If you apply SEO to these ranking factors, then you can benefit from increase in search engine rankings and traffic.

Factors Which Improve Relevance

Keyword Relevancy is the key to ranking high in search results. How do you improve the relevancy of a web page to a search query? Ask any SEO specialist this question and the universal answer is: "use relevant keywords". This is followed by increasing keyword repetition and using keyword emphasis to further improve relevancy.

The term "keyword" needs a bit of explanation. A keyword consists of a single word or a collection of words (also referred as key phrase). A keyword signifies the web search query, which leads an SEO specialist to select and optimize a web page. It's important to remember that a web page can be optimized for more than one keyword.

Adding relevant keywords to a web page is a way to increase relevance ranking points. SEO tools are used to compute values for a keyword's frequency, density, and popularity, which are supposed to influence the relevancy of a web page to a search query. But, is that really so? Let's explore these terms in detail.

Keyword Frequency is a count of the number of times a keyword is repeated on a web page. Does a high keyword frequency increase relevance ranking? The answer is not so simple. Often, it's sufficient to use the targeted keyword once in the Title tag and the Header tag. However, repeating with modifiers does improve relevance. Google also penalizes web pages for using a keyword too many times. This method of spamming Google is known as keyword stuffing. As long as keyword usage supports the topic, you need not worry about a Google penalty. Relevance improves, if you focus on the topic rather than counts and frequencies.

Keyword Density is keyword frequency divided by the total number of words on a web page. Again, it's a waste of time to either measure or aim for a specific percentage of keyword density. Focus more on writing about the keyword rather than using it in a fixed proportion to achieve a specific density.

Keyword Popularity is the number of times a keyword has been queried in a search engine over a certain period of time. Undoubtedly, keyword popularity is a very important ranking factor.
Keywords that have high search volumes not only bring maximum traffic, but also improve relevance. But, what is an optimal search volume? Do 1000 searches per day indicate sufficient popularity? There is no definite answer. Aspects like competition and ROI help in choosing popular keywords. Keyword competition is judged by counting the number web pages and determining the level of SEO work done on the top ranked pages. Keyword ROI involves comparing investments of time and effort with returns in sales and improvement in relevance ranking.
How many popular keywords should you target per web page? The number is determined by factors like topic relevance and user relevance.

Topic Relevance is a measure of the number of words on a page that are relevant to the main topic of the page. It's difficult to compute topic relevance because:
1. There is no comprehensive dictionary available to correctly relate all words to topics.
2. A web page is usually relevant to multiple topics because of the numerous words used in it.
Search engines use data from search query sessions and web content to determine topic relevance. An SEO lacks direct access to such massive data and therefore uses keyword tools to associate popular keywords to specific topics.

User Relevance is a measure of how useful and meaningful, the user finds the content of a web page. It's difficult to compute user relevance too. However, search engine algorithms can reasonably estimate a page's usefulness by comparing it with the user intent of the search query. Although, user relevance doesn't restrict a web page to a single topic, feedback provided by users may influence rankings after the initial results are sorted by topic relevance. If the content strays from the main topic, a negative user relevance feedback may hamper rankings.

Relevance based on keywords, topics, and user feedback information, is one major aspect of ranking web pages. Search engines also measure and use signals based on the quality of a web page for ranking.

Factors Which Improve Web Page Quality

Page quality is determined by how you organize and present content on a web page. The quality guidelines, classifying a web page into high quality or low quality, make up the bulk of the 200 odd factors that Google claims to use for ranking.

What are the guidelines for rating page quality?

Improve Page Layout - Divide the structure of a web page into headers, body, margins, and footers. Place navigation links to major sections of the website in the header . If the web page design includes a long list of navigation links, then group the navigation links into sections with appropriate headings. Label the headings and anchor text of navigation links with user friendly content. Divide the body content also into sections with appropriate headings. Don't place too much content or links in the footer.

Improve Page Markup - Use appropriate HTML tags to highlight the important points. Bold tags and italics tags emphasize content and therefore influence scannability. Quotation marks like single quotes and double quotes also emphasize content. LI tags, representing HTML lists, affect the semantic distance between words of a web page and therefore influence rankings.

Improve Page Content - What are the features of high quality content? High quality content is original (unique), fresh, useful, and interesting. High quality content avoids content duplication, factual errors, spelling mistakes, and grammatical errors.

These search engine quality factors play a major role in improving rankings. In addition, if web pages acquire citations, they can dominate search results.

Which Citations Influence Search Engine Rankings?

Citation analysis for SEO includes measurement of link popularity, reviews, and brand citations.

Link Popularity is a measure of the number and quality of external links (independent citations) pointing to the website. Citation building via links is a popular SEO method.

The quality of external links is of utmost importance. It's better to have a single high quality link rather than a high number of poor quality links.

The top two signals that determine the quality of a link are:
1. The quality of content on the linking page
2. The anchor text, which is the clickable text describing the link.

Reviews by users help to rate products and services, and thereby provide valuable citations about popularity and infamy. From Google to Amazon, many patents have been granted on the evaluation of consumer reviews.

Good user reviews are essential to rank high in search results, as they increase citation counts of popularity. This is especially true for performing well in local search.

Brand Citations - An important ranking factor based on citation is the "mention" of a website's brand name on an external website. The external website can be a social media site, a personal site, a company site, a web directory or any site. Brand name marketing on external websites is an important SEO technique.

A social media website is a high traffic website like Facebook or Twitter. Multiple mentions of brand name on social media websites is an important content marketing strategy. This is purely because of the high visibility of the brand amongst the large number of users of popular social media sites. Do you have any idea how it helps in SEO?

A personal website is created by an individual to contain personal information. Though a personal website has low traffic, brand name mentions on a large number of personal sites contributes significantly to brand popularity.

Frequent searches for brand names in search engines is a very important ranking factor.

Thus, citations like links, reviews, and brand name "mentions", play a major role in improving search engine rankings.