17 Google Search Ranking Factors That Go Beyond Keywords

google search ranking factors

In the past, SEO was as simple as picking a keyword and creating content for it.

Today, such a single-minded focus on keywords won’t get you very far. It may even result in a penalty from Google.

If keywords aren’t the be-all, end-all of SEO anymore, what else do you need to pay attention to? There’s plenty of choices. Google’s algorithm famously uses more than 200 factors to decide on SEO search ranking.

Focusing on all 200+ Google search ranking factors is a difficult, if not impossible, task. Instead of stretching yourself thin, pay attention to these 17 factors and watch your SEO soar.

1. Accessibility is Climbing the Ranks

The movement to make the Web more accessible gained a major win in a case against the University of California, Berkeley. The university was ordered to make sure their site was accessible.

In the judgment, the court recommended the World Wide Web Consortium’s accessibility guidelines. Accessibility may soon be a legal concern for more website owners.

In the meantime, it pays to make your site more accessible for a different reason. Google measures a site’s accessibility when determining its search ranking.

Why? The answer is simple. A more accessible website delivers a better user experience for more people.

Since Google is in the business of helping more people find better answers, it only makes sense they’d focus on accessible sites.

2. Content is Still King of Google Search Ranking Factors

Accessibility is a relatively new player in Google’s ranking algorithm. Content has always been a cornerstone of any good SEO strategy.

That said, the way Google evaluates content has evolved by leaps and bounds. For example, Google measures how long your content is and tries to determine how in-depth your discussion of a given topic is.

Google favors longer content since it’s more likely to cover a topic in-depth. Likewise, it prioritizes in-depth content.

Longer, in-depth content is more likely to answer a user’s question.

3. Gain Points for Site Security

Google wants to ensure its users have a good experience when they click search results. To that end, the search engine giant doesn’t want to send anyone to a shady site.

Security features have become more important in Google’s algorithm as a result. Chrome recently stopped allowing access to sites that don’t use SSL encryption.

Adding an SSL certificate is just the first step to improving site security. Updates and other strategies can help you protect your users and your SEO rankings.

4. Speed up Your Page

Much like users demand secure sites, they also want sites to load quickly. Google stresses page loading speed as one of its SEO search ranking factors.

Just how quickly does a site need to load? Users will navigate away in a matter of seconds, so it’s important to load as fast as possible.

Most sites are still too slow. Google reported the average loading speed was seven seconds in 2018. That’s still a far cry from its preference for two seconds or less.

That’s still good news, though. The average has been halved from a few years ago when pages took an average of 14 seconds to load.

5. Optimize Your Images

Speeding up your site is clearly important. If you want your site to load faster, you should take a look at your images and videos.

Google’s looking at them too. Optimized images and videos play a role in determining your SEO ranking as a result. Compressed images will load faster.

Alt-descriptions and other factors also help with image optimization. They may also help improve your site’s accessibility.

6. Linking Strategies Are so Important to SEO

The subject of linking for SEO purposes is complex. Companies develop entire linking strategies to improve this aspect of SEO.

There are three major components you need to pay attention to:

  • Internal links
  • External links
  • Backlinks

Most people are familiar with backlinks. When another site links back to your page, that’s a backlink.

Backlinks connect your site to other domains. They may have greater authority, and your site becomes more trustworthy by proxy. If Buzzfeed News links to you, Google will give your site more credibility.

Backlinking can hurt your site if you don’t do it correctly. If sites in “bad neighborhoods” are linking to you, Google may penalize you. Some linking schemes, such as buying or trading links, can also land you in SEO jail.

Internal links are a measure of how many other pages on your own site point to a particular asset. The more links, the easier the page is to index. Google may also consider it more important.

External links are outbound links you place that direct to another domain. If you link to high-quality content, Google is more likely to see your site as offering trustworthy information.

7. Building Authority and Trust for Your Domain

There’s a running theme in many of the Google search ranking factors. Google wants reasons to trust your site. It’s not going to direct users to a site it doesn’t think is trustworthy.

Domain authority and trust play into this. Domain authority can be tricky to build. It relies somewhat on factors like how long you’ve had the domain and where your servers are located.

8. Show Google How to Get Around

If you haven’t added a sitemap, it’s time to do so. Your users may not care so much about the sitemap, but Google does.


A sitemap helps Google’s crawlers index your site with ease. Using the sitemap, they can see where content is and how it connects to other pages.

9. Catering to Mobile Users

The importance of catering to the mobile experience cannot be understated. Google started rolling out mobile-first indexing a while ago. Some sites still don’t offer a great mobile experience.

Why is it so important? First, more of your audience is browsing on mobile. That number is only going to continue to rise.

In turn, Google will continue to focus on the mobile experience. If you’re not delivering a great mobile experience, your site will continue to struggle.

More important is how many other factors the “mobile experience” actually includes. Accessibility is one. Page speed and image optimization are others.

In short, by thinking about the mobile experience, you can boost a whole host of Google’s search ranking factors.

10. Think about Freshness

Google says it doesn’t use “publishing frequency” as a factor in ranking pages. Others speculate that there’s a certain “freshness” factor.

The thought is that publishing new content acts as a refresher for the site. It invites Google’s crawlers back to the site to index the new content. In turn, Google may put more emphasis on pages that are publishing regularly.

If the user experience is the concern, this might make sense. Sites that publish new content regularly are likely to have more up-to-date information, and they’re more likely to be secure. In short, they may deliver a better user experience.

11. Content Formatting and Reading Level

You know that content length, depth, and relevancy are important factors in determining your SEO ranking. Other aspects of content sometimes get overlooked.

Formatting and reading level are two of those. Reading level measures the ease with which a reader can understand your content. A very high reading level may mean the content isn’t easily understood by most people.

That, in turn, can hurt your ranking.

Formatting often goes hand in hand with reading levels. Breaking up large chunks of text with headings can help make content easier to read. Special formatting, such as bulleted and numbered lists, can also make content easier to understand.

12. Using Other Google Products Can Influence SEO

Google’s algorithm isn’t entirely neutral. It’s not surprising that integrating other Google products with your site can give your SEO a boost.

Chances are you want to use products like Google Analytics anyway. This tool is freely available and gives you key insights about your site and traffic.

More surprising, you can use YouTube videos to improve your SEO. Since Google owns YouTube, it tends to favor videos from this source. Integrate videos from your YouTube channel to your site.

13. Reviews and Reputation

As mentioned, Google puts a good deal of emphasis on trustworthiness. Sometimes, though, a link from another site isn’t the kind of “proof” the search engine wants.

Reviews and recommendations are also important for anyone hoping to improve their SEO. Reviews act as a kind of social proof, allowing customers to tell other people about a site or business.

Reviews are important to your customers. They want to know if your service is good or a product really does what you say it will. By considering reviews, Google can address users’ concerns and make better recommendations.

14. Bounce Rate Could Influence Rankings

Another controversial factor is the bounce rate. This metric measures how many people leave your site immediately after landing on a page.

Why would Google care about that? A low bounce rate is a sign that the algorithm is working. When people spend time on a site after clicking the link, it means the content was likely helpful to them.

By contrast, a high bounce rate indicates an irrelevant search result.

Of course, people leave sites quickly for other reasons. Poor design and bad user experiences are some of the most common factors. You can reduce your bounce rate by improving relevancy, design, and the quality of your copy.

15. Increase Dwell Time to Improve Ranking

Dwell time is somewhat like a bounce rate. Instead of measuring how many people leave quickly, dwell time measures how long a user spends on a page or site after clicking the link.

Like the bounce rate, this signals to Google that the algorithm worked. If you click a link, then spend several minutes reading the content, it was likely relevant to your search. With luck, it answered your initial question and several more.

Unlike bounce rate, Google has confirmed it does indeed measure dwell time. The tactics used to decrease bounce rates can also be used to increase dwell time.

16. Send Some Social Signals

There’s some debate about just how much Google cares about social shares and comments when it comes to ranking factors. The answer seems to be somewhere between “not at all” and “a lot.”

Social signals, such as the number of comments, likes, and shares, do seem to influence SEO. Even good social media seems to play a role in boosting SEO.

Even if they didn’t add much to your SEO, creating shareable content and encouraging your audience to interact with your content are still great goals.

17. Direct Traffic Plays a Role in SEO

It’s almost counter-intuitive, but you want to focus on driving direct traffic to your site to boost your SEO.

You might be wondering how that works. Aren’t you supposed to be using SEO to boost your traffic? When most people start their Internet browsing sessions with a search query, you might wonder how they’re supposed to find your site if not through Google.

Google keeps track of your direct traffic as well as repeat visitors. Once someone has visited your site once, they may return directly.

Sites that people visit directly are often authoritative. That’s why Google takes direct traffic as a sign of trustworthiness.

To boost your SEO ranking, then, you’ll need to look beyond search engine traffic. Make sure you get the word out about your website, by putting it on receipts, flyers, and more.

Rise through the Rankings

Obviously, this isn’t the full list of Google search ranking factors. These 17 factors are important, and they do overlap with many of the other factors in the algorithm. By focusing on them, you can improve your SEO.

Not sure where to start? Get in touch with the experts. With the right help and advice, a better SEO strategy is just a few clicks away.