What Ranking Factors is Google Looking for in 2021?
Google | Search Engine Optimisation | SEO | March 4th, 2019
Contributor Dallen Clark. Copywriter & Marketing
*Updated May 2021 for 2021 Ranking factors
With literally billions of searches done each day, Google is doing pretty well for itself. And with approximately 85% of the search engine market, other search engines are dwarves against the GIANT. It’s no surprise that the slang for finding information online is to Google it (Yahoo It! Nope, sorry Yahoo). In fact, Google has become such a big deal that there are Search Engine Optimisation companies dedicated solely to getting you to rank well on the search engine, some of which use… Unscrupulous means to force results–that almost always turn out to be short-term.
As full-service marketers, we understand that digital and other forms of marketing should work together in order to cover as much ground as possible. A lot of people understand the importance of traditional marketing–a good logo, proper signage, print advertising, that sort of thing–and also understand that being found on the 1st page of Google for competitive search terms is the Holy Grail of Digital Marketing. However, getting that coveted spot takes more work than simply putting up a quick page with a few blurbs and maybe a picture. There are actually around 200 different factors Google looks at to determine who goes at which place! With so many factors, and literally billions of websites, how can you possibly push your way to the top?
Core Web Vitals
The newest change to happen in 2021 that’s currently in the works is Core Web Vitals. This is taking website design and usability to the next level by rewarding good designs and user experience. It’s not just about having a workable site anymore; now, your site needs to be good in order to score high for Core Web Vitals.
This is where those “Get top spot on Google” companies that manipulate the algorithm will start to hurt. Sites that don’t have a solid structure, easy usability, and informative, useful content will start to drop in the rankings. Google says you should start expecting these to be a factor starting May 2021. Find out more about Core Web Vitals in our article, Google’s May Algorithm Update is a Game Changer!
Knowing is half the battle
Google is notorious for being secretive about how its algorithm works. Over time, people have run tests to understand some of the factors they look for and came up with that 200 number, with various degrees of confidence for specific variables. Of course, some factors are more important than others, and it’s these elements that we address first as an experienced digital marketing team.
Getting your website architecture set up the right way is important for more reasons than being found in the search results. Websites should follow a clear and easy-to-understand hierarchy that’s intuitive to anyone visiting the site. An example is to have a navigation bar with your Home page, About Page, Contact Page, and Services, with Services having its own set of subdirectories. This makes it so that once you’re successful having individual pages found in search results, users can navigate to other parts of your website that catch their interest with ease.
Topics are the things you post about on your website. And the more you post about a specific topic, the more Google gets the hint that you know about that topic… Or at least, that you talk about it often. So if you have a site talking about Pizza Styles of the World and talk about Chicago-style Deep Dish pizza in 50 different articles, Google will start to recognise you as an authority on the topic and you’ll likely see rankings increases.
On the contrary, you won’t get that boost if your Pizza Styles of the World site talks about Xbox Series X vs PS5, Little known facts of the All Blacks, and How to Run your Car on Milk Instead of Petrol with one or two pizza articles mixed in. Try to stick to specific topics and you’re more likely to see positive results in Google.
In 2021, keywords are still among the most important ranking factors that Google searches for. As the algorithm has gotten more advanced, keyword match is much broader than it used to be even a few years ago, unless people “use quotes” for an exact keyword match. Keywords range from broad–Pizza, for instance–to very specific and local–Best Giant Pizza Invercargill–and one or the other might be better for you depending on the type and scale of your business. Now, Google can understand prepositions too. So the results for “Move to New Zealand” and “Move from New Zealand” will be more accurate instead of mixing in some showing the opposite of what you want.
Keywords are still the way that people search on Google, so it’s very unlikely that the day will come when they aren’t crucial to getting your site to rank. Using a combination of your target keyword–Best Giant Pizza Invercargill–and LSI terms which are other variations of your keyword–XXL Pizza Invercargill–naturally throughout the page shows that you’ve done your research and gives you the opportunity to rank for multiple related terms at once.
Google My Business
Another newcomer for the year that holds a lot of weight is Google My Business. If your company doesn’t have a Google Business Listing, you should get one right away. Not only do hundreds of people be exposed to your business every month, your connected website will also get a boost in Google’s rankings. It’s worth the time to set up your profile properly! Since this is a Google product, it’s not surprising they want to push it more. You can learn more about these listings and how to optimise them in our article, Why should you have a Google My Business Listing?
Page Load Speed
Loading speed seems to get more important to Google with each major change. In these days when the average internet speed of the Top 50 countries with the fastest internet exceeds 10 Mbps, people don’t want to wait long for pages to load anymore. In fact, now that the majority of internet users prefer to use mobile devices over desktops, over half of users claim that they will leave a site if it takes over 3 seconds to load. Optimising your site for mobile and prioritising fast page load times is essential for a good user experience, and can impact search results as well.
Links to your page
If a lot of other sites are linking to your site, Google takes that as a sign that you wrote something interesting and useful to other people. These inbound links or “backlinks” are links from other sites to your website. Sometimes, these links come naturally, other times, you have to work for them, such as writing a guest post on someone else’s blog so you can link back to your own site. If you’re able to get a backlink from an authority site such as a government agency, you may even get a massive boost to your rankings!
What about the other 190+ factors?
While the five factors above are critical to your SEO rankings, they also incorporate some of the other 190-some-odd elements that Google looks for to decide search result rankings. Other factors include things like Age of your Site, Content Rank, Keyword Density, Page Tags, Duplicate Content, Site Usability and many, many more. If you want to take a look at the list, check out this Entrepreneur.com article and scroll down to the Infographic.
I got an email claiming a company can guarantee me the top spot on Google
Since Google itself is coy and never openly confirms how it ranks sites, be careful of any company that can guarantee a top spot in Google. No reputable agency can make such a guarantee, but will simply do their best to adhere to as many ranking factors as possible for your website.
Some companies use what’s known as black hat techniques to try and trick Google for short term gains. Sometimes, these are successful, but inevitably, Google will find out, leaving you with a penalty and dropping you off the first page deep into the abyss where you’ll have to work hard and long to find your way back up again.
How can I ever make a site worrying about 200 different things?
Fortunately, few, if any of the billions of websites are perfectly optimised for ALL of the things Google is looking for. Even major corporations who have been around for decades have elements they can improve on; it’s the reason websites need updates so often.
So then what should you focus on for your site? Have an intuitive site structure that’s easy to navigate. Write useful, relevant content about specific topics. Make sure to optimise your site for mobile devices and that it loads quickly. And get quality backlinks when possible. Sound like a lot of work? It is, and is the reason why an effective new website can’t be built in a day. Learning to build and maintain a quality website can be a full-time job itself, which is why many businesses work with marketing teams with proven success, so everyone can focus on what they do best.Back