SEO Ranking Factors: What You Need to Know Before Starting SEO

  • July 22, 2016
  • SEO
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SEO Ranking Factors - What You Need to Know Before Starting SEO

We will be discussing the important matters in helping you rank your website and achieve first-page result in Google and other search engines. Please subscribe to get the latest tips in the digital marketing industry.

If we’re going to weigh and ask each digital marketing expert to give just one piece of advice on what really matters in SEO, chances are we’re going to get different responses based on what they believe and what have actually worked for them in the past.

It might be a long, endless debate as one advice simply won’t cut it. Each type of content is necessary if you want to achieve success in ranking your website. Now that SEO is fast becoming widely accepted, and at the same time competition becomes tougher and tougher; you’ll be having a hard time solidifying your position if you will just stick to one factor.

You won’t find any groundbreaking strategies in this article. Instead, I’ll be discussing the three major ranking factors where SEO experts should focus on: User Experience, Content, and Backlinks. For easier understanding, I’ll be using the website-person analogy as this best represents this topic.

User experience is like a person’s behavior, specifically on how you carry yourself in front of other people. Just like websites, you have to make some improvements on yourself every now and then so people will start to understand you better.

On the other hand, content may be compared to your intellect. It shows exactly the things you’re capable of and what you can offer to the public. This also acts like a barometer of a person’s value. The higher the qualities of your contributions are, the more valuable you become.

Lastly, backlink can be compared to your friends and colleagues, you need it to survive. No one will notice you until you have made some good connections. You may be the most likable and smartest person out there, but if you don’t know anyone to show it to, then those qualities amount to nothing.

SEO Ranking Factors

What Really Matters in SEO?

1. User Experience

Don Norman & Jakob Nielsen of Nielsen Norman Group came up with the most straightforward definition of the term:

“User Experience (UX) encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”

They say it only takes 7 seconds to make a good first impression. If that’s the case, then everyone should make the most out of it and try to stand out among the rest in that little span of time.

In fact, this principle holds true and may also be applied to websites. There are so many factors to help you raise your site from the rest of its competitors. By being familiar with the specific needs of the users, then you can effectively enhance your site on how they perceive you online.

UX covers so many areas that it overlaps with the other important ranking factor, content. Technically, it falls under UX; however, the topics that are covered by content are so extensive that it deserves to have its own category. This only shows how interconnected each factors are, and no factor can be taken for granted when you’re doing SEO.

Responsive Web Design

Another area that should be taken into consideration is Responsive Web Design (RWD), which is simply the ability of your website’s layout to adjust according to the screen resolution of the user’s device. Webmasters must ensure that the site is designed to make the transition of textual and visual contents from desktop to mobile devices as fluid as possible.

With the rise of RWD, it clearly indicates that internet usage through mobile devices is expected to increase in the years to come. According to a study conducted by Mary Meeker of KPCB Venture Capital Firm, it was in 2014 when mobile users have already surpassed the desktop/laptop users in the United States. By 2015, the disparity becomes significantly higher. According to the data, 51% of adult users spent 51% of their time in digital media using mobile devices, while only 42% on desktop and 7% on other devices.

KPCB Report - Time Spent per Adult User per Day with Digital Media

With the rise of smartphones as the primary device for internet usage, converting your website to become responsive has become necessity rather than a luxury. Although almost all websites have already adapted to RWD, there are few who still haven’t incorporated it, or maybe just haven’t done it right.

If your site happens to be one of those, just imagine that you’re sacrificing a lot of potential visitors, which can turn into customers; and since they’re having a hard time figuring out your website through their mobile phone, they will just leave and probably choose another website that have adapted RWD.

As a matter of fact, RWD is a prerequisite of SEO. If you haven’t applied web responsiveness to your site before optimizing it, then you’re probably just wasting your hard earned money if they won’t be able to access it properly from other devices other than desktops & laptops. Since 21st of April 2015, Google has tweaked their algorithm to give more weight to mobile-friendly sites in terms of search engine results.

Website Speed

Aside from responsiveness, website speed also plays a vital role in the area of UX. People do not want to waste their time waiting for a page to load. If this happens on a normal basis on your website, then chances are you’ll never see it at the top of the search rankings.

All of us have already visited a website that contains really good, high-quality content, but loading time takes forever. I don’t know about you, but I don’t care how highly informative or beautiful the website is; as long as the loading time takes too long, there’s a good chance that I will never visit that site again.

As early as 9th of April 2010, Google announced that site speed has become a ranking factor. Now, fast-forward to May 2016, Google’s Gary Illyes hinted that they’re still in the process of developing mobile ranking factors to be used for mobile search engine results. Some say that it won’t take long before this starts to be implemented.

Currently, there is no way Google can differentiate a website’s speed when used under mobile devices, as all ranking signals are based on desktop web pages. Therefore, as long as your website loads fast under its desktop version, then your mobile ranking will not be affected or even get penalized. But as soon as the mobile algorithm gets an update through the mobile ranking signals, then every webmaster should pay attention to the mobile site speed, independent of desktop site speed.

“Website is the business’s most effective salesperson.”

If you consider your website as your biggest lead generator, then it’s only necessary to invest on your website in the terms of user experience. For SMEs, start-ups, and even sales agents; website is arguably the most powerful tool to establish their online presence.  As most of their sales will comes directly from site visits of potential customers, your website, or should I say “digital salesperson” have to look sharp and presentable all the time.

2. Content

I decided to start with content, for which it defines the very reason why your website exists. It’s a fact that Google becomes smarter and smarter as time goes by, but one thing might not change in the foreseeable future; and that is producing unique, high-quality content for the users will remain as the foundation of a successful, top-ranking website.

By combining textual and visual content (or even audio), you’re improving your website’s chances of attracting casual web visitors into becoming regular visitors, or even subscribers. The key here is to give your visitors plenty of options to do once they are already inside your website. As we all know, bounce rate also plays an important role in SEO.

Textual Content

Nobody can deny the reliability of textual content in terms of its effect in SEO. With all the advances that are happening to Google search algorithm, it still remains as one of the biggest – if not the biggest – deciding factor of your website’s fate in search engine results.

Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines,” this simple, yet helpful advice from Google Webmasters should always be kept in mind whenever you prepare for your website’s content. I believe that this basic principle should be the golden rule whenever you decide what to put inside your website.

But aside from this general advice, SEO experts will always try to find a way on what really works in terms of textual content. One common observation is creating long-form content, which interestingly ranks better compared to short-form contents.

With long-form content, you will be able to put emphasis to the necessary details on the topic that you’re trying to discuss; and as a result, providing users with high-quality content will be much easier. This will also lessen the chances of web visitors bouncing from one page to another as you already have their attention.

Instinctively, opinionated readers will tend to throw in their two cents on the comments section or share it on their preferred social media account. This strategy will help you promote your site for free, while patiently building your online visibility as well.

How about visitors who don’t have much time to read long-form contents?

Another option for web content writers will be the conventional short-from content. Some might consider this as not highly informative compared to long-form content, but at the end of the day, it still gets the job done.

In addition, it is better than not having any content at all. If you’ve just recently started as a content writer, this will help you get the necessary confidence and momentum needed before you can be able to write long articles.

Short-form content, which we usually see on blog posts, doesn’t always translate into low-quality content. As we all know, not all topics are created equal, especially news related articles. As long as you can convey your message clearly, then you’ve successfully made a high-quality content regardless of the numbers of words.

As mentioned earlier about the golden rule in content management, if we’re going to write contents specifically for users, and not for search engines, then why do we even care about the length of our content? Instead of focusing on the number of words, you should give more importance on how your content impacts the users. Regardless of its length, quality should not be sacrificed.

Visual Content

Now more than ever, you cannot ignore the value of visual content and its growing importance in the SEO industry. Whether it’s incorporated within the articles or it has its own section on your website, it will help you effectively convey your message much easier to the intended users.

Also, with the ever decreasing attention span of humans that is now estimated to be only 8 seconds, it is the responsibility of the webmasters and SEO experts to bridge the gap between this depressing matter and feeding them the information that they need to know.

Attention Span & Internet Browsing Statistics from Statistic Brain:


Aside from the traditional articles and blog posts, you may also want to expand the variety of your contents by experiment with photos, videos, infographics, memes, GIFs, and other types of visual content to your website that would help your visitors effectively understand the information that you’re trying to provide.

Let’s say you’re standing in line or just simply waiting for something, and just like everybody else, your way of burning your time is by using smartphone. Clearly, the size of the screen is not conducive to long reading. Therefore, the best way for you to reach the users in this scenario is to have visual contents on your website.

It’s also ideal for those people who don’t prefer long readings – or maybe reading in general. If, by any chance your website happens to encounter visitors who have the attention span of a goldfish, then it would be better if you could offer something to them that will make them stay longer; and there’s no better way to do it other than having content that will satisfy their visual cravings.

On a side note, it also opens the door to another online marketing opportunity – Social Media Marketing (SMM). With so many social networking sites mainly focusing on visual contents such as YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, and Vine to name a few; there is no better time to start including some visual contents on your website than now.

You’ll definitely be killing two birds with one stone by applying this strategy. Also, by doing this, you’re consciously setting up your website to become more social media friendly, which makes sharing much fun and easier. No wonder some websites are so popular in social media. By looking at the big picture – no pun intended – you’re setting up your website for its long-term success.

“Being an industry authority should be the ultimate goal of every website owner, whether it’s personal or business-driven.” 

For you to be able to become an industry authority, you have to slowly establish your online presence. Make your site becomes more noticeable, but in the most positive way. Once you’ve done this, venturing into audio content (audiobook & podcast) will be much easier as you already have regular visitors.

Also, once you already have enough materials, you can compile all your content and publish your own ebook. You can do it for free as a way of giving back to your loyal visitors, or even ask a fee out of it if you’re confident that the contents are good enough and will be helpful in your chosen industry.

3. Backlinks

By now, all of you must be familiar with backlinks. If not, here’s a definition from Searchmetrics:

Backlinks (incoming links) refer to all links on other websites that refer to the website in question. Search engines are geared towards sorting search results according to real life concept recommendations.

As mentioned earlier, each factor works as a prerequisite of the other. In this case, it is advisable that your website already contains some unique, high-quality contents before doing link building. Also, if you consider link building as a way of promoting your website, then what good is a link if they cannot find anything of value on your site?

“Producing content is one thing, promoting it is another thing.”

There are so many ways to implement link building, but not all of it holds the same weight in terms of page ranking. Some of the conventional strategies still work up until now; like web directories, blog commenting, guest posting, and link baiting. But like in everything you do, there’s a right & wrong way to do it. Be sure that you’re doing it properly to avoid being penalized by Google.

If the thought of being penalized hinders you from implementing link building, then you should try to take a look at the study conducted by Moz between the correlation between links and Google rankings. According to the study, 99.2% of all top 50 websites have at least one backlink pointing to their main page, and 77.8% of top results have at least one external link directed to the page.

The Relationship Between Google Rankings and Links

Traditional Link Building Strategies

In terms of link building through web directory submission, you should focus on submitting to directories that have industry categories, much better if there are sub-classifications to help web directory users to easily find you. It’s also a good way to distinguish link farm sites from real web directories.

With regards blog commenting and guest posting, the key here is to make it look organic as much as possible. Be careful when using anchor texts in your backlinks, if not, Google will sense that you’re trying to abuse your keywords and will start to penalize your site. Also, do not be afraid of nofollow links. As long as your contributions to other websites are deemed valuable by users, then there’s a good chance that they will find a way to visit the website that you’re promoting.

Social Media Link Building

Another traditional way of link building every SEO professional needs to explore is link baiting. Now, great content will surely benefit from this strategy, especially with the increase in usage of different social media platforms. If someone creates a buzz-worthy content, and site visitors starts sharing it to their fans or followers, then you’ve most likely accomplished your objective as a content manager.

Getting hundreds or thousands of likes and retweets from social media is a good thing, but the bottom line is, it all came from one or two domains – Facebook and Twitter in this scenario. Definitely, it will be highly beneficial for your site, but maybe not as powerful and effective if other websites under the same industry will start to use your link-worthy article. The bottom line is that the best backlinks that your website can get is through mentions by industry authority sites, which can only be accomplished by providing unique, high-quality contents. With backlinks from industry authorities, your site’s chance of improving its page rank increases.

To put it simply, backlink acts as your online connections. If you’re going to associate yourself with reliable, reputable industry authority sites, then Google will also see your site as someone who’s also reputable. But if you start aligning your site with low-quality websites, or someone who practices black hat SEO, then there’s a good chance that Google will start to categorize you at the same level as them. At all cost, you should always practice white hat SEO. Doing black hat may only be beneficial at the start of your website’s life, but it’s only a matter of time before Google starts to penalize your site.

Gone are the days that the more links you have, regardless of quality, the better you’ll rank in search engine results. SEO experts should be careful to where they associate their sites. Right now, what matters most is quality over quantity. A dozen backlinks from unreliable sites amounts to nothing, compared to a single backlink from an industry authority site.

With that being said, you can’t just focus all your link building efforts under one high-quality website. Variation should also be considered, as one website, no matter how reputable it is, simply won’t cut it. Do not put all your eggs under one basket; because as at the end of the day, other sites will try to outrank you by simply having more links than you.

What are your thoughts on our SEO ranking factors? Do you have any comment you would like to add particularly in what really matters in SEO? Feel free to share your opinion below.

Featured image courtesy of BigOakFlickr on Flickr.

Co-founder of ExaWeb Solutions Co., The company provides SEO services to small and medium enterprises to help them gain online visibility at the most affordable price.

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