Introducing SEO Ranking Factors
What will make me top? Or more precisely “What are the factors that determine my position in the natural listings for a specific key phrase and what is their relative importance?”
Wow! Those are the questions that everyone involved in SEO, from clients to agencies, wants and needs to know. So let’s work through some answers.
Unfortunately, the number of people who can definitively answer these questions by concisely explaining the hundreds of factors, and the way they work with one another, is strictly limited to the engineers who work for the search engines.
However, through combining the experience of the authors, the review team and disclosure from the search engines and expert commentators, we have compiled a comprehensive list of the most important factors which determine position in the listings.
What determines ranking position in the natural listings?
The position or ranking in the natural listings for a particular key phrase is dependent on a search engine’s ranking algorithm.
For the search query entered into the search engine, the algorithm uses rules or heuristics to identify the most relevant pages, based on the page’s text content and its context (which can be indicated by links from other pages and sites).
Each search engine has a different set of algorithms created by engineers who strive to produce the best relevance for its users.
However, the ranking of natural listings has evolved as a science over the past ten years, based on an even longer history of document indexing and retrieval history. As with all sciences, there are fundamental principles which apply. So to deliver relevance search engines tend to use common search engine ranking factors.
Enough with the science: get with the ranking factors…
We will soon enough. But before we do here’s a word to the wise: understanding some of the most common ranking factors is straightforward. Keyword: ‘straightforward’.
Over the past few years many bedroom cowboys and unethical agencies have raked in fees by pretending that SEO is about wearing a black hat, doing the search voodoo, etc. But there is no need for any smoke or mirrors. If your agency refuses to reveal its techniques to you then our advice would be to move on. Immediately!
Despite the mystique perpetuated about SEO it really isn’t terribly difficult to grasp the concepts. The difficulty lies in managing your keywords and optimization over the long term. Not in understanding the ranking factors.
Who in my organization needs to know about this stuff?
It is essential for your technology team / agencies to understand these ranking factors. It is also imperative that all content owners / authors / stakeholders understand how good quality content can improve search rankings. Authors need to know which key phrases to use, otherwise you won’t have a joined up strategy.
Applying simple ‘house style’ rules can help generate visits from qualified visitors. In fact let’s coin a phrase: ‘house strategy’. You need to develop a ‘house strategy guide’ for your authors and editors.
So I can ditch my SEO agency, right?
It depends, is the honest answer. You might be able to, but it is more likely that this guide will inform your search strategy, with you making the calls. But you will still need somebody to manage it (either in-house or outsourced). Ultimately this guide to search marketing is about increasing ROI and maximising rankings, not about saving costs.
There remains a great need for solid, ethical SEO agencies. Management and optimization is an ongoing task. The bigger your company / market / website, the bigger that task is going to be. High volume search-terms and intense competition means that applying specific optimization techniques is required to rank well. Ethical SEO agencies can help you with this.
The holy grail of SEO is to achieve a high, stable and long-term presence at the top of the SERPs for phrases which have both high volume and which convert well.
Agencies can also help by putting the brakes on your own enthusiasm, as over-optimization is a leading cause of search engine penalties. Equally, after reading this guide, you should be able to determine if your existing agency is over-egging the SEO cake, or feeding you unsound advice.
Remember that search engines also use ranking penalties for websites / pages. They employ filters within their algorithms that penalize websites for search engine spamming (such as over-optimization of a phrase or non-natural links from other sites ).
Now for the six key ranking factors…
1. Planning and strategy including setting performance targets.
2. Index inclusion and coverage.
3. On-page optimization.
4. Link-building (internal and external).
5. SEO process.
6. Conversion efficiency.
Of these six areas, those at the heart of search engine ranking are success factors 2, 3 and 4. Why? Well, if your pages are not included within the index then you cannot expect to gain any search engine referrals. Once included, results are dependent on the combination of on-page optimization and link-building.
When we talk about link-building we’re mainly considering third party links, but a solid internal linking structure should be adopted within your own website/s. There are proven benefits.
The hundreds of factors used by the search engines to determine relevance can be simplified into the two most important factors which are essential for good ranking positions:
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