The most important ranking factors for SEO

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How best to promote your business online in 2020

The most important ranking factors for SEO

Another year over and a new one just begun (or about to begin), so what can you do differently to get more bang for your online marketing buck?

In the past year or so, SEO has gotten a bit of a bad name for itself. In my opinion this is more down to the sheer volume of spam emails we all get from every corner of the globe promising untold success in Google search marketing rather than any inherent fault with the discipline and process itself. It’s also probably to do with a lot of misinformation about what optimisation techniques work and what don’t. And that brings me nicely to the point of this blog post.

What makes a website rank high?

As MD of a digital marketing agency, I get to see at first hand the results of projects we deliver for many clients. We have our share of the success stories and can monitor and change direction quickly when a tactic isn’t working so well.

We’re also well-read and reliably informed on the latest research that aims to better understand Google’s Search Engine Ranking Position (SERP) algorithm and why some sites fare much better in search than others.

SEMrush SEO report

Last month, digital marketing insights software firm SEMrush published one of the most extensive research papers that tackles the important question “what makes a website rank high?” and the key takeaways are summarised here.


  • The research looked at 3 main factors: the site’s backlink profile; on-page factors, such as the presence of keywords in the content; and Meta and traffic volume / site popularity.
  • The research covered a wide variety of sites and involved big data keyword analysis (600,000+ keywords assessed from low to high volume search queries).
  • Relative impact of ‘short head’ and ‘long tail’ phrases (4 or more words in the query).
  • The research outputs are essentially observations that show which ranking factors affect SERP most.

Follow this advice on how to make your website rank higher in Google

The research paper has a lot of fancy graphs and long words, but what you really need to know is this:

  1. The absolute number of visitors has a profound effect on where you rank, especially if you’re aiming to rank for high volume keywords. The more traffic you generate the better. But it needs to be good traffic from quality referring sites.

  2. The levels of engagement are highly important which means that you need to focus on providing high quality content to build and improve time spent on the site and the number of pages viewed.

  3. The more you write, the better. This is especially true for pages optimised for long tail phrases as users expect to read more in-depth content.

  4. Try to achieve a low ‘bounce rate’, this puts down a very good relevancy marker for Google.

  5. Backlinks are still very important, but not the be-all and end-all of SEO. All the top ranking sites for given keywords had significantly larger and better quality backlinks and referring domains.

  6. Direct visits are very important, which means building your brand and awareness by other means should be a key part of your integrated marketing strategy. Direct visits are a trust and authority signal and Google rewards you for this.

  7. Your website should be on a secure server (HTTPS). This is a relatively easy and quick win for any size of business and a differentiator for you.

  8. Content is important, but don’t overdo the keywords in the text.

  9. Keywords in text and Meta are becoming significantly less important in how your site ranks relative to other factors. Keywords in the page title are more important. Don’t repeat keywords over and over in the page content, but refer to the subject and find alternative ways of expressing and discussing your topic.

  10. Video content did not have any noticeable impact on overall SERP but can be very helpful for users and improve experience and future direct visits.

  11. Branded keywords have a disproportionate positive impact on SERP.

Of course, all the above is hugely simplified and in a digested format. Each business is unique to its local market characteristics and expert consultancy is always recommended to ensure your SEO efforts are properly directed.

Web Foundry can provide cost effective SEO consultancy, using SEMRush tools (and others) to deliver actionable insights for 2018. For more information about this article or discuss your own digital marketing requirements please contact the author:

Phil Holt
07717 723 733

One connected team. Endless possibilities.