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Google ranking factor signals for SEO

Updated: Mar 27

If you are trying to climb to the top of the ladder on Google, you will be aware that there are a number of criteria that you must hit. You might not be aware, though, that Google has, in fact, over 200 ranking factors signals that they use to rank a single website. Yes, you read that correctly: 200! However, just what even are they? Do they work? Do you need to use all of them?

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Google ranking factor signals. These are:

  • Domain Factors

  • Page-Level Factors

  • Site-Level Factors

  • Backlink Factors

Let’s jump straight in. Domain Factors The first major section we are going to look at it is Domain Factors and all the elements that make up this that Google will be looking for.

Domain Age Google does look at domain age, but in retrospect to many other elements of the domain, this isn’t as important. So whether your website is 6 months, a year, or 10 years old, there isn’t much difference. However, some may believe that an older domain performs better, as this has had a longer period of time to attract more traffic. It has been known that a domain that has been around for much longer has more trust with search engines, including Google, but it isn’t that much of a worry to new domains.

If a keyword appears in your domain Keywords are crucial in your content as it ensures that Google finds you; however, what happens when you use a keyword in your domain? Unfortunately, it won’t give you the same SEO boost that it would have done a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean to say that it is completely irrelevant. Having the keyword in your domain name still is a relevant signal in Google’s eyes, and where you place it can have the biggest impact. For instance, if you were to use the keyword as the first word in the domain, then you have an edge over your competitors. Those who use it in the middle, or the end, or don’t use it at all, won’t reap any benefit at all in comparison to you.

Top Tip: A keyword that appears in the subdomain has been known to boost rankings.

If it is an exact match URL Google won’t just look out for keywords; they will also look to see if it is an exact match URL, such as, and doing this could give you the edge that you need to beat your competitors and gain one of those top spots. However, there is a catch. If your exact match domain, or EMD, is a low-quality site, then you can be left vulnerable to the EMD updates that Google occasionally does. This can leave you in a worse position than before. So ensure that is you use exact match URLs that this is for a high-quality site.

Your domain history One element of the domain factors will see Google looking at whether the domain has been opened by one person for its entire history or if it has been owned by multiple people, dropped, and then sold on auction. A site that has a volatile ownership history, being sold multiple times, could lead to negative results. Google may reset the site, rendering any links as null and void, or they could simply pass on the penalised domain to the next owner, who will need to deal with the penalty to recover. Therefore, a domain that has a very good history, has maintained ownership, or has only been sold on once would seek to do better in terms of ranking.

Country TLD extension Lastly, having a Country TLD (Top Level Domain) extension, such as .uk, .au, .ca, etc., could help a site to rank for that particular country. However, again there is a catch. After all, there is always a catch! Having the country TLD can restrict your site’s ability to rank globally, even if you rank highly in your own country. Therefore, for those who have goals of reaching global status, this will be next to impossible to do if you have a .uk extension. If you want to reach out globally, your domain will have to reflect that.

Page-Level Factors In this next section, we are taking a look at what Google might view on a single landing page and count in their ranking signal factors.

Keyword optimisation Any keywords that you want to rank for within the Google search are optimised in the:

  1. Title tag – Although this is not as important as it used to be, including the keyword in the title tag still remains a crucial on-page SEO signal, so it shouldn’t be missed out. Any title tags that use the keyword at the start tend to perform better, too.

  2. Description tag – Doing this doesn’t directly boost your ranking. What it does do, however, is increase your chances of a click-through-rate, which is a big signal in Google Ranking.

  3. H1 tag – Also known as your second title tag, your H1 tag should include your ranking keyword if you want to increase your chances of ranking higher.

  4. Content – Lastly, any keywords that you rank for should be used within the content to increase your chances of ranking.

Keyword prominence Google won’t just look to see if you have optimised your titles and content with keywords. They will also look at where it is too. Is it at the top of the page, within the top 100 words, or is the lower half? If the keyword can be found within the first 100 words, then your chances of reaching the first search engine page are increased.

Content length Google loves content, but they love it even more when you can answer in detail and provide an exceptional answer to its user. Therefore, producing words that go beyond 500, upwards into the 1000’s, ensures you can cover a much wider breadth of the topic, putting in small details that you would have left out in a shorter version of the same piece. You can be sure that longer content compared to shorter is preferable in the algorithm Google uses.

Latent semantic indexing keywords Plenty of words are spelt the same but have different meanings. Take the example of “apple.” There is the fruit, but there is also the computer company. Having LSI keywords can help Google to distinguish the difference between the two and extract the meaning from the words. The presence of these acts as a content quality signal.

Page load speed How fast your pages load is a crucial ranking factor signal to not just Google. Bing also uses page speed as a ranking factor. Your page speeds can be estimated based on your HTML code. The faster your website loads, however, the more you will be rewarded. A slow website will see the opposite results.

Tip: Use PageSpeed Insights Mobile friendly

More than 50% of all search engine traffic now comes from mobile rather than desktop. For those websites that can produce a mobile-friendly version, they can find themselves at an advantage over their competitors in Google’s mobile-first index. When Google had an update, those who had already jumped ahead earned the reward of ranking higher.

Duplicate content As we mentioned, Google loves content. However, what they don’t like is duplicated content. Any site that has this will find that this will negatively impact their site’s visibility and knock them down the search rankings. You need to ensure that every page has unique content if you want to maintain or progress your position so that Google doesn’t rank it as duplicate. So even if you have very similar products or services, this must be completely different.

REL = Canonical If you have no choice but to have very similar content or even duplicated, while we don’t recommend that, REL+ Canonical can help you as long as it is used correctly. With the use of this tag, you can ensure that if Google comes across your content, that it doesn’t penalise your site for thinking that you have duplicated content on there.

Image optimisation It is not just your text that needs to be optimised, but also your images. Why? Well, images send search engines relevant signals that tell them exactly what they are. This is through the file name, alt text, title, description, and caption. Content freshness Producing content is a must (we don’t want to bore you by keep saying it, but content is king in SEO, so never forget the importance of your content), but producing content on a regular basis and consistently can reward you. You should aim to add new content every month to ensure that your site is fresh and updated.

The number of internal links point to a page All this content on your page is the perfect opportunity to help Google more. By including internal links, you can help Google understand how important that page you are linking to is. The more links you have, the more important Google will deem it.

Broken links However, don’t just add these links here, there, and everywhere. You need to ensure that these are high quality and, more importantly, not broken. A site that has too many broken links on a single page or throughout your website can signal to Google that this might be an abandoned or neglected site, even if it’s not. It can even affect the relationship with the users. A user that continually comes across broken links won’t likely come back to the site again. Therefore, you need to check that all of your links are working regularly. A site that Google deems as neglected or abandoned could face serious consequences in terms of being knocked down the rankings.

Domain authority Domain authority plays a huge part in the Page Level factors that Google looks at. A page that is on an authoritative domain will find that it will rank higher than a page that has less domain authority. For example, a DA50 VS. a DA30 will rank very differently. Therefore, if you rank higher, you should aim to do everything possible to increase your domain authority. However, the points above will help you do that (optimising your on-page content, improving your internal linking, and having a good domain name).

What is Domain Authority? Domain Authority (DA) is a search engine ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERPs). A Domain Authority score ranges from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank. Domain Authority is calculated by evaluating multiple factors, including linking root domains and the number of total links, into a single DA score. This score can then be used when comparing websites or tracking the “ranking strength” of a website over time. Domain Authority is not a metric used by Google in determining search rankings and has no effect on the SERPs.

Site-Level Factors Next on our list of 4 factors, we are going to take a look at Site-Level Factors. Domain Trust The Domain Trust is a hugely important factor that SEO experts, including ourselves, believe makes a difference in your ranking efforts. Google will rank according to a measure of trust associated with the entities that you have provided in the form of your domain labelling.

Site architecture A site that is well put together doesn’t just help your users with navigating, but it also helps Google properly index all your pages. The more pages that you have indexed, the more chance you have to rank for them. Therefore, a well-put-together site architecture (we recommend a silo structure) will help Google to organise your content. A silo structure is a type of deep site architecture that I find to be very logically organized. The hierarchical groupings are determined by topics and subtopics; topically relevant content should be structurally close to other topically relevant content.

Site updates It was thought that updates to your website, such as adding new content and refreshing the site, and giving the site a whole new freshness factor would aid in moving up the ranks. However, Google has denied that they use “publishing frequency” in their algorithm. Don’t let this stop you from producing content and updating your site, however. Content still provides value and unique insights. Google has even stated that they will be more than happy to penalise any sites that don’t bring anything new or even useful to their site. So for thin affiliate sites, this means a lot of hard work. Understanding that adding content will help you is essential. But also understanding that every time you update your website, it is not going to massively impact your ranking is important.

HTML/XML set up In addition to great site architecture, Google is looking for the presence of a sitemap, whether this is an HTML or XML setup. This helps Google index your pages easier and more thoroughly, meaning your pages are less likely to be missed but also improves your visibility. However, Google did announce that HTML sitemaps are necessarily useful for SEO purposes. So while they are great at helping Google find your pages, it won’t necessarily be enough to boost your SEO ranking on its own.

Server location Closely linked to the country TLD extension, Google will rank according to your server location, such as whether your website is hosted in the UK, US, France, etc. This will influence where your site ranks in different geographical locations but is incredibly important for location-specific searches, such as “digital marketing Cheltenham.” SSL certificate This now officially a ranking signal! Google announced that they do use HTTPS as a ranking signal now. However, the HTTPS only acts as a tie-breaker. When quality signals of two search results are equal, the HTTPS will act as the tie-breaker. The site that uses the HTTPS could see themselves taking the top spot, for not doing a lot really!

Breadcrumb navigation If you want to rank well, then you simply have to have a great breadcrumb navigation trail. It is incredibly crucial in your SEO efforts. Google uses the breadcrumb markup in the body of the webpage. Why? The answer is simple: To categorise the information from the page.

Site usability While this one won’t necessarily boost you, it will help you remain steady. Any site that Google deems too complicated or difficult to navigate will see their ranking drop because of bounce rates, reduced time of the site, and the lack of pages viewed. It is as simple as that. So how do you ensure that doesn’t happen? You have a site that is completely useable.

Backlink Factors The last major Google Ranking factor we are going to look at today in this guide is backlink factors. Backlinks are those links that lead to your website from third-party sites. However, there is plenty you can do that can help your position in the search results of Google.

Linking domain age It has been suggested that backlinks from older domains have more power than newer ones. This is because they have had longer to grow a loyal audience and have the trust with Google firmly planted. It might be that they have also managed to build a great reputation for themselves over the years. Having a backlink of a site such as this means more people might click on the link and head to your site.

Number of linking root domain The number of referring domains has a distinct correlation between a ranking position on Google and is viewed as one of the most important ranking factors in the algorithm that Google uses. The more referring domains someone has, the better the position on Google. It is as simple as that.

Number of links from separate C-class IPs It is also suggested that the number of links that you have from separate C-class IPs addresses, the more it can help with your ranking position. Each C-class IP address will have its own C number and are perfect for small businesses or blogs. Having multiple C class hosting allows you to build up your backlinks easily.

Links for .edu or .gov domains As we mentioned above, Google prefers domains that have a better authority, and it is why many SEO experts believe that there is still a place for .edu and .gov sites for link building. However, Google has said in the past that they do ignore .edu links, so having multiple backlinks on websites with these particular domains shouldn’t make that much difference. This is not to say that they will take this view forever, though, and while putting links on sites such as this won’t do any harm, it won’t benefit you directly, either.

Tip: Use tools like the find your competitors referring domains, once you have gathered a list of domains you wish to gain a backlink from start an outreach campaign. Authority of linking page and domain

This has and likely always will have a deep routed spot in the Google ranking factors signal, having been around since its early days. The authority is otherwise known as the PageRank, and Google will look at this and determine what level of authority it is. The same applies to the domain page. If the link is included on a domain that is of higher authority, it will be rewarded a higher spot in the SERP.

Links from bad neighbourhoods While links are good to an extent, there are links that can adversely affect your ranking and are something to avoid. Links from bad neighbourhoods, for example, may hurt your site. This is why it always better to reach out to experts to deal with your link-building campaign, as they will know exactly how to avoid these bad neighbourhoods.

Diversity of link types You want to make sure that you have a diverse range of link types, as this is a sign that you have a natural link profile. However, you have to ensure that these aren’t all coming from a single source, such as in blog comments. The reasons why is simple enough to understand: It may be a sign of webspam. Contextual links It is time to put all that content to good use! This is because where you include your link actually matters. Including your link within your content is considered a top solution to ranking better. So don’t leave your link on a blank page with a URL or within the footer or sidebar.

Link location in the content Google will then look at where this link is within your content. Is it is the top, middle, or bottom? A link that is included in the upper half or beginning of the content can be known to produce better results in a higher ranking than those that used the link further down.

Country TLD or referring domain Having a range of backlinks from various websites is great, but if you can get links from country-specific top-level domain extensions, then you can find yourself ranking better in that country. This helps you overcome our earlier problem with not being able to rank globally because you have a .uk domain rather than a .au.

Excessive 301 redirects to pages If there is one thing more annoying than coming across broken links, it is coming across countless 301 redirects, and it could be a huge problem for you. 301 redirects will and have knocked people lower of the rankings. Therefore, you need to ensure this isn’t a problem.

Backlink age Just like their domains can hold more power than newer ones, the age of your backlinks can hold more ranking power than you might think. Older backlinks have been suggested to boost websites’ ranking.

Natural link profile Finally, to end this very long list, a site that comes across as a natural link profile is going to rank above those that aren’t seen as one. They are generally more durable to any updates that occur on Google (some websites never recover from updates) than any site that has chosen to stay into the black hat strategies as a way to build links. Never attempt to do a shortcut when it comes to building links. Instead, focus on building up links organically, and you will be rewarded, not penalised.

There we go. These are 4 of the major Google Ranking Factors of 2020 broken down. You can watch our video that looks at this in a condensed form here. If you have any questions or would like to find out how you can get started on these above strategies, then get in touch with us today.

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