Let’s Talk SEO Ranking Factors: Real vs. Not vs. Maybe

Which SEO tactics are *actually* ranking factors!? 

Digital Marketing
Graphic representation of the facts and myths within SEO ranking systems.

We read Search Engine Journal's 550-page SEO fact or fiction report, so you don't have to! You're welcome. 

The below "Too long; didn't read" (TL;DR) version focuses on ranking factors by category and our top six "say-what!" surprises. 

88 hotly-debated Google ranking factors 

The categories are:

  • Absolutely a ranking factor
  • Possibly a ranking factor
  • Unlikely a ranking factor
  • Definitely not a ranking factor
  • [BONUS] Not a ranking factor anymore

What surprised our digital marketing pros? 

Spoiler alert: Here are the six things that surprised our in-house team. 

  1. The amount of things that fell under “definitely not a ranking factor.”
  2. Bounce rate being confirmed as “definitely not a ranking factor.”
  3. Click depth is “possibly being a ranking factor.”
  4. Co-citation is “possibly being a ranking factor.”
  5. Content length is “definitely not a ranking factor.”
  6. Domain authority is “definitely not a ranking factor.”

Absolutely a SEO ranking factor

The below SEO tactics are absolutely ranking factors for your website.

  • Alt text (especially for Google Image Search)
  • Anchor text (Google confirmed.)
  • Content (Duh. Google confirmed. Content is king, queen, omega.)
  • Core Web Vitals (CWV) (Google confirmed.)
  • Fresh content (if a query demands it, going back and updating/re-freshing content and re-dating it can help with rankings.)
  • H1 tags (Google confirmed. Headings are a ranking factor.)
  • H2-H6 tags (Google confirmed. Headings are a ranking factor.)
  • HTTPS (Google confirmed.)
  • Keyword prominence (Google confirmed. Using a keyword early on the page is important.)
  • Keyword stuffing (Confirmed negative ranking factor.)
  • Links (inbound – quality and relevance, not quantity.)
  • Links (internal.)
  • Mobile-friendliness (Google confirmed.)
  • Page speed (Google confirmed.) 
  • Physical proximity to searcher (local SEO – Google confirmed.)
  • RankBrain (Google confirmed. Here’s a guide to Google RankBrain.)
  • Relevance, distance, and prominence (Google Business Profile, Google confirmed ranking factor.)
  • Title tags (Google confirmed.)
  • URLs (Google confirmed.)
  • User search history (Google confirmed.)
  • User-generated content (UGC) (Google confirmed.)

"Fresh and relative content is the closest you can get to a silver bullet. What's done is never really done. Do not sleep on consistently reviewing your website."

- Lauren Splitt, Digital Marketing Analyst

Possibly a SEO ranking factor

These are tactics that play a supportive role to the above.

  • Breadcrumbs (inadvertently. Google confirmed that breadcrumbs are considered normal links in Google’s link analysis algorithm, PageRank. Weight of those links? Unknown.) 
  • Click depth (the most important thing here is considering UX and making your content as easily accessible as possible for everyone.)
  • Co-citation 
  • Contact information (local SEO.)
  • Domain history (do you history on how a domain was used before you acquired it.)
  • Language (offering your site in multiple languages for target audiences that require it.)
  • Links (Links used in context mean more than randomly placed on the page.) 
  • Links (sitewide)
  • Local citations (NAP)
  • MUM (Multitask Unified Model – not quite a confirmed ranking factor yet, but likely in the future.)
  • Spelling & grammar
  • Text formatting
  • Website quality score

Unlikely a SEO ranking factor

These don't effect ranking but are best practices for user experience.

  • 301 Redirects (but still important to implement correctly.)
  • 404 errors & Soft 404s (but still important to take care of.)
  • Authorship / Author authority (but still smart to follow Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines. Here’s more about the Search tests.)
  • Deep link ratio
  • HTML lists
  • Link stability
  • Links (outbound)
  • Subdomains & subdirectories
  • Syndicated content
  • Tabbed content
  • www vs non-www

Definitely Not a SEO Ranking Factor

Tactics too many people worry about but are not that important to influencing your rankings in the SERPs.

  • Google AdSense (Google confirmed.)
  • AMP (Google confirmed.)
  • BBB rating 
  • Bounce rate (Google confirmed.)
  • Canonicalization (rel =”canonical” tag is a suggestion, which Google may choose to follow or ignore. Nice.)
  • Chrome bookmarks
  • Click-Through-Rate (CTR) (still worth tracking to understand whether your content is successful or not.)
  • Code-to-text ratio (still should try to keep between 25%-70% ratio for optimal loading and UX.)
  • Content length
  • Crawl error & budget 
  • Direct traffic
  • Disavow tool (but cleaning up links pointing to the site is important.)
  • Domain age
  • Domain authority
  • Dwell time
  • E-A-T (this is a concept, not a ranking factor.)
  • .edu links (a link is a link, which is a ranking factor. However, .edu links are not more powerful.)
  • First link priority
  • Google Ads
  • Google Analytics (GA)
  • Google Search Console (GSC)
  • Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines
  • .gov links (a link is a link, which is a ranking factor. However, .gov links are not more powerful.)
  • Images (number of)
  • Keyword stemming
  • Link velocity
  • Links (nofollow)
  • Links (paid)
  • LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing)
  • Manual action
  • Meta keywords
  • Reading level
  • Reconsideration requests
  • Review sentiment
  • Schema markup
  • Social signals & shares
  • TF-IDF
  • WhoIs information
  • XML sitemaps

Not a SEO Ranking Factors (Anymore)

Inserting some shock and awe. 

  • Domain name (still important for UX and public image.)
  • IP address
  • Keyword density (STOP IT!)
  • Meta descriptions (but just because they aren’t a direct ranking factor doesn’t mean they’re still worth putting effort into having and optimizing!)

"Whoa, time-out. Meta-descriptions may not help you rank but they will be the reason a user clicks on your link. They are tiny advertisements that deserve time and finesse." 

- Staci Tischer, Agency Marketing Manager

Search engine optimization can be an undertaking. This is why we commonly recommend a maintenance and support agreement that includes ongoing SEO projects. This will never be a one and done activity.

If you are interested in conducting an SEO audit, or to learn more about the process, please reach out to one of our digital marketing pros to schedule a consultation.

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