Cincy SEO

The Ultimate Guide to Ranking Factors

Whether you’re new to SEO and haven’t heard of a ranking factor, or you’re an experienced SEO looking for a refresher, knowing how the search engines work and what they use to rank can help you quickly become more sophisticated in SEO.

As a disclaimer, there is some speculation about what exactly search engines use for ranking factors.  

Much like KFC, Google has their “13 herbs and spices” hidden under lock and key.

 However, that’s not to say there are also proven factors that will help your website rank.  That’s what we’ll be discussing today.

In this article, we’ll be talking about:

Table of Contents

Main SEO Ranking Factors

Before we get into the article, I wanted to make it known that Google uses hundreds of ranking factors.  Some more crucial than others.

The 10 ranking factors are either essential, or growing in importance for websites. 

We’re going to start with  three core ranking factors: keywords, content, and backlinks.


Keywords are the bread and butter of SEO.

Without keywords, search engines (like Google) would have a hard time determining what your website is about.

If you don’t specify what your website’s keywords are, you’re going to have a tougher 

Google will do their best to read between the lines, but most likely this results in ranking lower than you could, or not showing up at all. 

Fortunately, adding keywords to your site is easy!

First, read up on the basics for keyword research .

There are plenty of resources online that can help you get a quick, easy understanding of keyword research.

Check out:

Now that you have an understanding of keywords and how to find the right keywords, now it’s time to put them to good use.

With your new keywords, you will need to update your website to include those keywords.

You need to optimize the following for your keywords:

– Title tag tag

– Meta description tag

– Header tag (H1, H2, H3)

– Image alt text

– Content

Don’t be discouraged if you’re not sure how to update your website’s title tag, or meta description.

Download Yoast SEO plugin, or RankMath.  They’re user-friendly, and make it easy to get your site ranking.


Content is quintessential for SEO.  Arguably just as important, if not more important than keywords.

Once you’ve selected your keywords and have optimized your site for those keywords, it’s important to come up with a content strategy that you can use to easily create, share, and analyze your content.

Google likes to see websites that routinely update their site with fresh, new content.  It shows Google that a website is committed to providing value to their users.  And in the end, isn’t that what Google serves?

Now that you know content is important to your site, let’s talk about quality.

It’s one thing to just write up a quickly thought-out blog post, share it on Facebook and call it a day.

But that checks the box on a long list when it comes to content.

Repeat after me: quality.

When you’re creating a piece of content, think:

“how can I make this article more useful and informative?”

“how can I make this piece more credible?”

“how can I make this blog post more valuable?”

Truth be told, there’s no magic bullet to creating highly engaging, highly ranking content.

However, there are methods you can create more value out of your content.  Which will then increase your chances of ranking.

But before we move on to the good stuff, I’ll reiterate the two most important things to keep in mind when it comes to content:

1. There’s no magic bullet

2. Create value


With that out of the way, here’s a list of ways you can add value to your content:


Backlinks are the last SEO ranking factor that is essential for ranking.

After you’ve optimized your website for your desired keywords, routinely created informative content, the next big hurdle is to get backlinks to your site.

I use the word hurdle as acquiring backlinks is one of the hardest, most daunting tasks of any SEO.

Fortunately, if you’ve created awesome content/infographics/videos, you may have already been discovered and have received links!

However, most of the time this isn’t the case.  You will need to seek out opportunities for other websites to reach out to you.

You can use just about any SEO tool nowadays to do some backlink research and identify some backlinks to work towards.

A great way of finding backlinks is by doing some competitive research.

Again, most SEO tools have this feature.  My favorite is SEMRush.

Do a Google search for your main keyword, identify the top websites ranking, plug them into your tool of choice, and jot down any and all backlinks that you can also seek.


In 2019, Google made a big shift in the way they’re looking at websites.

Since then, Google crawls and indexes how a website looks to the users on a mobile device over desktop.

And for good reason.  I’m not sure if you heard, but mobile searches have been on the rise.

See below this chart by Statista, over half of all web traffic comes from mobile devices.

And that was back in 2018, mobile has still seen growth since then.

Now that we know the importance of mobile-responsive design, here are some tips to get you started with mobile-responsive design:

1. Choose a responsive theme

First and foremost, if your website is running on an outdated theme, that can be the culprit to your problems.

Choosing a theme that is mobile-responsive will take out most of the headaches when it comes to making your site mobile-friendly.

2. Reduce lengthy, blocks of text and images

Much like on desktop, you don’t want gargantuan blocks of texts or images taking up most of the space.

You’ll probably want to do a manual check to see how your web pages look on mobile.  Especially when it comes to your content and images.

3. Use a hamburger menu

We’re not talking Big Macs and Whoppers here.  A hamburger menu looks like this:

Hamburger menus can be helpful as they save you some retail on smaller screens, and users are accustom to the design.

4. Make your CTAs clear

It might sound obvious, but you want the main action you want users to take clear and noticeable.  Especially on mobile.

As everything gets comprised down on a mobile screen, you still want your CTA to take the spotlight.

By using contrasting colors, actionable language, and providing a value incentive, you’re on your way to an effective CTA.

Site Speed

Have you ever landed on a website and it took forever to load?  A pretty bad experience, right?

I would bet you didn’t stick around long either.

No one likes a slow website.  Realistically in today’s world, if a website takes long enough to load, people bounce.

You know this, I know this, and Google knows it.  That’s why it’s a direct ranking factor.

According to Unbounce, “a 100-millisecond delay in load time can cause conversion rates to drop by 7%”

Also, 46% of people think that waiting for pages to load is the worst part of browsing the web.

So site speed is a big deal, what can we do to help fix it?

Fortunately for us, there are a number of tools to check your site’s speed, as well as give helpful insights into how you can improve it.

Lo and behold Google’s PageSpeed Insights.  You can easily check your site’s speed, see specific issues bogging your site down, and get helpful tips on how to fix major issues.

Word of warning, nobody’s website is perfect.  Google tends to grade pretty harshly on their tool.

My personal favorite tool to check site speed is called Gtmetrix.

An additional feature that this tool has is the waterfall tab.

This lets you take a look at how your files and loaded chronologically.

Take a look:

Hmm, I might want to check to see what that big grey bar is that could be slowing my site down.  

Nevertheless, this is a great feature to have when you’re conducting a site speed audit of a website!


In the world of SEO, there aren’t many things you can check the box off indefinitely and never have to worry about ever again.

And then there’s HTTPS!

Seriously, there’s so many options today to get your site up and running with an SSL.

Check to see if your hosting can provide you with a free SSL.  If you’re running a website on WordPress, you can download plugins to get a free SSL.

Or you can use a 3rd party provider and get a cheap SSL.

Let’s Encrypt has issued over 225 million SSLs, and can hook you up with a relatively cheap one!

Getting your site to HTTPS might be one of those “whenever I get a minute, I’ll do it” type of tasks, but if you can get it done, you shouldn’t ever have to worry about it in the future.

Local Signals

Local signals play a big part of SEO for local businesses.

It can put you on the map, literally.

Check out the example below:

This is local SEO, and it can not only place you in the ‘3 map local pack’, but can serve as another indicator to Google that you’re a trustworthy, legitimate business.

Google uses signals from your website, your Google My Business, and across the web to verify and gain insight into your business.

Speaking of Google My Business, it’s a great place to start for your local SEO.

If you haven’t already, create an account at

You’ll want to update your business profile with the most accurate recent information such as the name of your business, your address, phone number, info about your business, and any photos you might have on hand showcasing your business.

Over time, you’ll want to receive reviews for your business, as well respond to reviews.

It’s also best practice to create posts on GMB.  Create posts about offers, new features, or share your website’s articles.

These are positive signs Google looks for when determing not only who to rank for in the local pack, but also in the organic listings.

User Signals

User signals can either play to your advantage, or disadvantage when it comes to your search result rankings.

Click through rate, bounce rate, and time on page can give Google an indication of how well your serving searcher’s needs.

For example, if you’re ranked #3 for your keyword, and more people click to your site than spot #2, Google might consider bumping you up from position #3 to #2.

In the same example, if users are clicking to position #2, bouncing soon after, and clicking to your site and spending more time on your site, Google receives that as a positive signal for your site and will also consider bumping up your site.

Optimizing for user signals can be tricky, and requires more of a test and learn approach, but some ways you can optimize for a better CTR and user signals are:

– Crafting new title tags and meta descriptions

– Implement structured data

– Use short, descriptive URLs

– Use list posts!

Domain Signals

While Google does look at domain signals as a ranking factor, over the years they have been less effective.

Keywords in your domain name has shown to slightly give you an edge.

There are also TLD (Top Level Domains) that Google seems to favor compared to others as the trust of a .com outweighs the trust of a .biz.

With that being said, Google seems to favor .com, .gov, .edu as the best TLDs to use.

Whereas .biz, .net, and .info are less effective.

Domain age can also play as a ranking factor, but in terms of months, Google does not seem to favor a website that’s 6 months old as compared to a domain that’s 3 months old.

Social Signals

Finally, one of the more controversial ranking factors on the list is whether or not social media can benefit your SEO.

The short to whether or not social helps your SEO is no.

However, you can still leverage social media to your advantage and should still look to do so for your digital strategy.

Social media can help:

– Increase your site traffic

– Provide higher visibility

– Improve brand recognition

– Increase your authority (Google’s EAT)


And that’s it! I hope that you found this article helpful and learned something new about SEO.

Remember that keywords, content, and backlinks are quintessential for SEO, but all 10 of these ranking factors are also very important when it comes to ranking higher in the search engines.

Leave a comment below what you think, or if I missed any other ranking factors!  Thanks!


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