Top 10 Search Engine Ranking Factors

The most important factors that help improve search engine rankings

Search engine ranking factors are some of the most closely guarded secrets in online business. Google and other search engines don't publish exactly how they rank webpages in search results, because that would lead to massive gaming of the system and produce non-useful results.

Fortunately, you don't have to figure out how Google determines search engine rankings all by yourself. There's an entire industry of professionals who have a good handle on how search engine placement works based on their cumulative experiences.

Better still, their collective wisdom has been collected and published by SEOmoz, a SEO consultancy and website. The top 37 search engine optimization (SEO) professionals were asked to sort the 50+ factors that affect a website's search engine placement.

Here are the top 10 factors that positively affect your search engine rankings: (We go over each one in detail below.)

  1. Keyword Use in Title Tag
  2. Anchor Text of Inbound Links
  3. Global Link Popularity of Site
  4. Age of Site
  5. Link Popularity within the Site's Internal Link Structure
  6. Topical Relevance of Inbound Links to Site
  7. Link Popularity of Site in Topical Community
  8. Keyword Use in Body Text
  9. Global Link Popularity of Linking Site
  10. Topical Relationship of Linking Page

Here's each of the top 10 search engine ranking factors, with easy-to-understand explanations and actionable tasks you can apply today.

1. Keyword Use in Title Tag

In Laymen's Terms: Include the search keywords you are targeting in your webpage's title tag.

If you have time to do only one SEO action on your site, take the time to create good titles.
- Christine Churchill

The title tag (or "meta title") is the text that appears at the top of your browser window. Think of it as the title for the webpage. The meta title is also what is displayed as a link in search results.

In the HTML code, the meta title is the text between the <title> tags. For example, the meta title of this article looks like this in the HTML code:

<title>Improve Search Engine Rankings - Top 10 Tips to Improve Search Engine Rankings</title>

Your Action: Use the search keywords you're targeting in every webpage's title tag. Have a customized title for each page; don't be lazy and use the same title for every page on your site.

If you have a brochureware website designed by a Web designer, when you give the designer your text copy for each page, you should also provide a custom title for each page.

For WordPress users, you can install the All-in-One SEO Pack plugin. It lets you modify the title tag of each blog posts.

2. Anchor Text of Inbound Links

In Laymen's Terms: When other sites link to your webpages, how do they describe the link?

Anchor text of the inbound link is one of the most concise assessments another person can make about what your site/page is 'about'.
- Mike McDonald

The anchor text is the visible, clickable text of a link. (In the last sentence, the words "anchor text" is the anchor text of the link.)

Looking at how other websites link to you (ie., what they use for the anchor text) tells Google how people are describing your content.

Your Action: When you email other websites to promote your content, mention your preferred anchor text if they choose to link to your site. You won't always get what you ask for, but it never hurts to ask. And there's a big payoff if you can get other sites to use the search keywords you're targeting when they link to you.

Choose anchor text that helps your website/page rank better for your targeted keywords. For example, if I were to ask for a link to this article, I would ask for anchor text that says something like "Top 10 Search Engine Ranking Factors". That anchor text tells search engines that the link goes to a page about "search engine ranking" -- the search keywords that I would love to have this article rank prominently.

That anchor text is better than "the most awesome article ever written".

While it would be interesting to see which anchor text generates more clicks from human surfers, there is no doubt that the keyword-rich version of the anchor text would help this article's ranking in search results much more than the keyword-less version.

3. Global Link Popularity of Site

In Laymen's Terms: How many other websites are linking to your site?

I am a strong believer that a sites overall link popularity drastically effect rankings.
- Neil Patel

In general, the more inbound links to your website, the better it is for you. Every inbound link is a "vote" for your site. If lots of other websites link to you, search engines conclude that lots of people find your content useful or interesting. That makes your webpage rank higher than a similar page with fewer inbound links.

But remember that quantity is not the whole game. As we continue to look at the top 10 search ranking factors, note that the quality and relevance of those inbound links matter greatly.

Your Action: Make link building -- the practice of getting more inbound links to your site -- a central part of your online marketing strategy.

4. Age of Site

In Laymen's Terms: The older your website, the better.

I believe it's always had some importance and within the past two years, aging has taken on more significance in the ranking factors.
- Scottie Claiborne

Older sites have more weight than newer sites. The age of a website is hard to fake. Plus, search engines figure that if your site has been around for so long, it's probably better than a brand new site.

Your Action: Start today. Be patient. The hard work you put in now to optimize your website may not payoff until next year. The good news is that after next year, you'll have a leg up on new competition.

5. Link Popularity within the Site's Internal Link Structure

In Laymen's Terms: How prominent is the webpage within your own site?

Without the proper linking structure, certain pages may not get enough emphasis. For example, ... links directly from the homepage usually do really well.
- Neil Patel

The more prominently you feature a particular page on your site, the more weight search engines will give it.

Your Action: Showcase your best content or the webpage you most want to highlight. Put it in your main navigation menu or link to it from your homepage.

6. Topical Relevance of Inbound Links to Site

In Laymen's Terms: Are the sites linking to you related to your topic (and targeted keywords)? The more relevant, the more weight those links are given.

I think, in a perfect algorythm, relevance matters. Whether Google has figured out how to pull it off yet or not, I don't know but I do believe that is the ultimate goal. Whether they get more "weight" or not, relevant links are good business and help with rankings as well.
- Scottie Claiborne
All of your neighbours have a wide variety of thematic inbound link text from a wide variety of topical sites. You have the same anchor text from your unrelated porn/pills/casino link farm. Chances are a search engine can instantly spot you as a 'deviant' from the norm and flag you as having an unnatural inbound linking pattern.
- Lucas Ng (aka shor)
This factor is similar to #2 (anchor text of inbound links). How other sites link to you matter. For example, if you have a site about chess

Your Action: Relevance matters. Focus your link building efforts on sites within your topical niche.

7. Link Popularity of Site in Topical Community

In Laymen's Terms: How popular is the site that is linking to you?

Especially withing your niche.

A niche site may not have a high quantity of links but a few links from the 'authorities' in the neighbourhood is often enough to rank the site above the authorities for niche-related keywords. The authoritative sites are telling the search engines "Hey, we're voting for this site for these niche (anchor text) keywords".
- Lucas Ng (aka shor)

Your Action: Relevance and authority matter. For #6, we said you should focus your link building efforts on sites within your topical niche. This factor says you should prioritize your link building on getting links from the biggest of the relevant sites.

8. Keyword Use in Body Text

In Laymen's Terms: Within the webpage/article, how often and what keywords being used? How relevant is your article to target keywords?

It is important to use the keyword phrase throughout the page where it makes sense. As engines get more sophisticated, it's not just the targeted keyword phrase that counts, but the mix of all the words on the page that help to determine what the page is about.
- Scottie Claiborne

Your Action: Use the search keywords and phrases you're targeting throughout your page or article.... when it makes sense. Don't cram so many keywords in the article that Google penalizes you for keyword stuffing.

9. Global Link Popularity of Linking Site

In Laymen's Terms: Links from big websites (ie., sites that have lots of inbound links) are worth more than links from smaller sites.

I like links that are linked to by many sites. I think there's a big difference between a PR 6 site with 20,000 links and a PR 6 with 500 inbounds.
- Roger Montti aka martinibuster

Your Action: Focus your marketing efforts on the biggest, most authoritative sites. Think of it this way -- it's better to get one link from a big site (like About.com) than to get 10 links from 10 small sites (like personal blogs).

10. Topical Relationship of Linking Page

In Laymen's Terms: Relevance matters. Links from a webpage that is related to your page's content are worth more than links from random, unrelated sites.

All links help - on topic helps a lot more overall.
- Todd Malicoat

Your Action: Relevance matters (again). Focus your link building efforts on sites within your niche. And if you can help it somehow, try to get links on specific webpages within a site that's even more relevant.

Analyze the Full Survey

Google Search Engine Ranking Factors Survey - SEOMoz

The results of the full survey are very interesting. We've only scratched the surface with our discussion of the top 10 most influential search ranking factors. This survey represents the most authoritative and comprehensive collection of knowledge about Google's search algorithm. (Outside the company, of course.)

Rand Fishkin, CEO of SEOmoz:

This document represents the collective wisdom of 37 leaders in the world of organic search engine optimization. Together, they have voted on the various factors that are estimated to comprise Google's ranking algorithm (the method by which the search engine orders results). The result is a resource of incredible value - although not every one of the estimated 200+ ranking elements are included, it is my opinion that 90-95% of the knowledge required about Google's algorithm is contained below.