10 Key SEO Ranking Factors

To rank on page 1 ( or even better position 1), your article has to be better than the thousands, often millions of other results.

You can write the most in-depth article which answers every possible question and contains beautiful imagery and video and still not gain that coveted position 1 ranking.

Disheartening, I know, but it is a reality.

When ranking a page; search engines, such as our favoured Google, do not just consider the “body text” (the main written content on the page) – Oh no! They look to other factors…

200+ ranking factors to be precise-ish. 

The good news is, you don’t have to worry about all 200 ranking factors.

For your site to perform well in Google, for not just for 1 term but for any search term you wish to rank for, it is essential to optimise your online presence to cater to these factors.

Ranking Factors

10 ranking factors you cannot ignore (in no particular order):

  1. HTTPS
  2. Crawlability
  3. Mobile-friendliness
  4. Backlinks
  5. Page speed
  6. Optimised content
  7. User-experience
  8. Topical authority
  9. Business listings
  10. Social media
  1. HTTPS

If using Chrome, you may have noticed a “Not Secure” warning on certain sites. This means the page you are on is unencrypted. HTTPS improves security for visitors by encrypting data between browser and server.

The technicality of this aside, from a user-perspective, seeing “Not Secure” on a website does not instil confidence in the brand and visitors may bounce.

ranking factor - https secure

While it may not be considered a key ranking factor by Google when indexing pages, having an HTTPS secure site is great for users.

  1. Crawlability

Search engines can’t rank a site if they can’t find it. Crawlability allows search engines to scan a site and review its content to determine what the page is about and how it should rank.

What to do:

  • Submit a sitemap to Google Search Console (GSC)
  • Check your index status in GSC to review the number of pages Google has crawled
  • Use robots.txt to tell search engines which pages they should access & which to ignore

That is all quite technical and you may need the help of your web developer to carry out these checks.

One method you can use, without any technical expertise, is to go to google.com type in your website URL and type “site:” before the URL and you will see what pages are indexed on Google. If you see your key pages displayed then that is a very good indication that your site’s pages are being crawled successfully.

site check index - ranking factors

  1. Mobile-friendliness

Nearly two-thirds of searches take place on mobile. That is why in July 2019, when Google moved to mobile-first indexing, they made it a ranking factor for desktop searches too.

Therefore, it is paramount your website is mobile-friendly.

You can test to see if your site is mobile-friendly using this tool by Google. If it isn’t mobile-friendly speak to your developer to fix any errors or consider getting a new (mobile-friendly) website.

mobile friendly - ranking factor

Another thing you can do is visit your website from your phone. Navigate the site and determine; is it easy-to-use? Does it look good? Are buttons easily clickable? Is there missing content?

If you aren’t happy with the user experience of your site on mobile, chances are visitors won’t be either.

  1. Backlinks

Backlinks are extremely important, arguably the most important ranking factor. Links are powerful, the more you have from relevant and authoritative domains the more authoritative your website becomes and the better it will rank in search engines.

Here’s a fun metaphor to explain how links work…

Website A links to website B because website A thinks website B  is the bee’s knees. So good that website A wants their visitors to visit website B.

One day Google is crawling the web, visits website A, spots website A’s link to website B and thinks huh’ maybe website B is pretty great and we should tell more people about how great website B is by ranking website B higher in our search engine.

And voila, backlinks explained. Not quite but we don’t need to overcomplicate it. 

A website needs links from other sites to rank well in Google. The key thing though is relevance and authority.

Relevance: backlinks from websites relevant to your niche hold the most value. For a travel site, a backlink from a travel publication is more valuable than a backlink from a DIY blog.

Authority: backlinks from strong pages on strong domains have the most value. A backlink from www.nationalgeographic.com would be more valuable than a backlink from www.timstotaltravel.com.

To find the authority of a domain you can use tools such as Ahrefs Site Explorer or Moz Link Explorer.

domain authority - ranking factors

  1. Page Speed

Google has used page speed as a ranking factor since 2010.

Google said in 2018 that mobile pages should display content to users in under three seconds and that the TTFB (Time to First Byte) should be under 1.3 seconds.

The longer a page takes to load the likelihood of a bounce (a visitor leaving without entering another page) increases.

page load timeSource: Think with Google

Therefore, you want to ensure your website pages load under 3 seconds.

There are several different tools out there to taste page speed. My favourites are:

See how they perform, if your site gets a bad score then look to improve the page speed with the help of a developer or SEO. If you understand what is required then give it a go yourself!


  1. Optimised content

To enhance the likelihood of your web page or article ranking it must be optimised for search engines.

There are a lot of elements that go into a well-optimised page. Like all of these topics, optimised content warrants its own in-depth blog post. But, for the purpose of this post, we will concentrate on the key elements.

Title tag: Title tags are displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs) as the clickable headline for a given result. It informs both users and search engines about the content found on a page.

There is a limit to how much of a title tag is displayed on SERPs. A best practice is to keep it under 60 characters otherwise it will truncate in search results.

Truncated title tag - seo ranking factors
When writing a title tag you want to include the subject (keyword) but keep in mind the purpose of the title tag; to give an accurate and concise description of a page’s content.

Another thing to remember when writing title tags is; never assign the same keyword to more than one page on your site as this can confuse search engines and cause keyword cannibalization.

Meta description: The meta description is displayed in search results. It’s best to keep meta descriptions long enough that they’re sufficiently descriptive, so we recommend descriptions between 50–160 characters.

It is necessary to write a compelling meta description to encourage website users to click on your result. While Meta descriptions are not a Google ranking factor they do have a huge impact on a page’s CTR (click-through-rage) which in turn impacts a page’s ability to rank.

URL: URL structure is important because it helps the search engines to understand relative importance and adds a helpful relevancy metric to the given page.

The following is a good URL:

  • example.com/city-tours/cape-town

The following is a bad URL:

  • example.com/citytours/234

Unlike the first example, this URL does not reflect the information hierarchy of the website. Search engines can see that the given page relates to tours (/citytours/) and is on the example domain but cannot determine what the page is about.

Furthermore, hyphens (-) should be used to replace the spaces between words.

Content of page: The content is crucial in having an optimised web page. The content, as well as the title tag and URL, are crawled by search engines bots and inform them about the page. This information helps search engines decide what search queries a page should be ranked for.

An ideal web page should do all of the following:

  • Be relevant to a specific topic
  • Specify topic throughout the text content
  • Include topic in the title tag
  • Include topic in meta description & encourage clicks
  • Include topic in URL
  • Include topic in the image alt text
  1. User-experience

Content needs to provide a positive experience for the end-user.

Google has made it very clear that user experience is a key ranking factor. Their SEO Starter Guide states:

“You should build a website to benefit your users, and any optimization should be geared toward making the user experience better.” 

But what makes a user-experience good?

Well, here are some suggestions from Google:

  • Easy-to-read content
  • Well-organised site
  • Interesting and useful content
  • Responsive design (on mobile, different screen sizes, & other devices)
  • No intrusive ads
  • Site designed around users’ needs

The bottom line of delivering good user-experience for your website visitors is to make your site user-friendly, logically organise content, remove distractions, write for readability and do everything you can to be the best result for your target keyword.

  1. Topical authority

Google wants to give the best answer to a search query. Therefore, all other factors considered equal they will rank an Africa travel specific website, discussing the best safari destinations higher than a music blog discussing the same topic.

The takeaway here is to not publish content about anything & everything. Stick to your lane. You want to make your business the authority on your specialism, build a reputation in one area by creating content around the content your target audience seeks.

  1. Business listings

Consistent business listings across the web affirm your brand’s credibility, authority and trustworthiness.

The more established a brand appears online, the more likely it is that search engines will increase their search visibility.

How to do this online?

• Claim your Google My Business account and optimise the page
• Optimise your businesses Facebook page
• Seek reviews on those platforms
• Add your business to all relevant directories and associations you are a member of
• Ensure your NAPW (business name, address, phone number and website) is used consistently across your business profiles.

Inconsistent data will make your business appear less trustworthy – so keep it consistent and up to date.

  1. Social Media

For your business to be successful online it is necessary to have a strong social media presence.

Social signals are another means of showing a brands credibility, authority and trustworthiness.

Social shares and likes (engagement) displays social proof which leads to increased brand awareness, website traffic and backlinks.

Additionally, research shows if a person is a fan of a page they are more likely to buy from them.

“Eighty-nine percent of consumers say they will buy from a brand they follow on social media and 84% will choose that brand over a competitor. Additionally, 75% of consumers say they’ll increase their spending with brands they follow on social.”

Sprout Social 2020 Index.

Which of these ranking factors are you on top of? Let us know below!

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