Expert Consensus on What Helps & What Hurts SEO

Best & Worst Ranking Factors

Expert Consensus on What Helps & What Hurts SEO

Revised February 14, 2018
Originally Published September 9, 2008

Search engine experts are constantly discussing which of the hundreds of factors Google uses to rank websites for search results, has the greatest positive and negative impact.

Since 2005, top experts in organic search optimization have continuously agreed on the top factors believed to have the greatest affect in determining website ranking.

With hundreds of different factors affecting website ranking to consider, many fluctuate in score on the positive and negative scale of affect.

While, the top five positive and negative factors have remained constant for over a decade, and while most still apply today--we're beginning to see a shift with two new factors rapidly gaining in importance.

Below are the Top 5 positive and negative factors, followed by a brief discussion of the two new factors vying for the Top 5, that everyone must pay attention to:

Top 5 Positive Factors According to the Experts

1. Keyword Use in Title Tag

  • All website pages have what is considered a Title Tag.
  • The Title Tag is used to tell both people and search engines what a particular website page is about.
  • As well, the Title Tag is normally used by browsers to display the page's title at the top of a browser window.
  • Experts agree that a good Title Tag will use important and relevant keywords directly related to the page and its specific content.
  • Experts also agree that a poorly written Title can hurt ranking as it makes it more difficult for Google to properly index the page and its associated content.

2. Anchor Text of Link

  • Anchor Text relates to the specific words used to create a hyperlink
  • Experts agree that a link's Anchor Text should be keyword rich and descriptive of the page being linked to.
  • Often "click here" is used for anchor text, and obviously is extremely general, vague, and very poor usage of anchor text.
  • Using keyword rich anchor text such as "learn more about [keyword/product/service]" is a better descriptive link

3. Global Link Popularity of Site

4. Age of Site

  • The age of a site refers to how old the indexable website content is, not how old the domain is.
  • Sites under a year old may not receive as high of a ranking as sites that have been around for awhile.
  • New sites can do well if linked to other well-established sites.
  • An important factor here is to make sure that the well-established sites link back to the new site.
  • New sites can supplement their rankings by using paid advertising such as Google's AdWords program, or social media marketing (SMM).

5. Link Popularity within the Site's Internal Link Structure

  • Thorough linking of all internal website pages is important.
  • Often website page content gets buried several levels deep within a website. This is often seen with large product catalog sites, or websites with lots of informational reference materials.
  • Linking to internal pages from the home page of a website can help increase an internal website page's link popularity.
  • Again, using appropriate Anchor Text in linking to internal pages is important.
  • An internal page of a website with no incoming links, might as well not exist.

Top 5 Negative Factors According to the Experts

1. Server is Often Inaccessible to Bots

  • If the server (hosting account) for a website is often down or unavailable, this will affect ranking.
  • Search engines such as Google want to point search customers to websites that are reliable, not unavailable.
  • A search engine's spiders/bots, must be able to access and index a website's content in order to be able to rank the site.

2. Content Very Similar or Duplicate of Existing Content in the Index

  • Similar or duplicate content is believed to be harmful to website ranking.
  • Experts believe that duplicate content is not retained by search engines, but instead dropped in an effort to reduce and minimize duplicate content.
  • If website content is dropped from a search engine's index, then that site will not appear in search results, thus losing traffic from search engines.

3. External Links to Low Quality/Spam Sites

  • It's believed that Google uses "neighborhoods" to help gauge a website and its appropriate ranking.
  • Neighborhoods are defined as similar websites linking amongst each other.
  • Low Quality Link sites (link farms or spam sites) are often defined as websites with nothing but spam links to other sites for the benefit of increasing link popularity instead of enhancing a website with additional important information and resources.
  • Low quality and spam sites are often considered bad "neighborhoods" and linking to such sites can give a site the same stereotype (hanging with the wrong crowd -- bad by association).

4. Duplicate Title/Meta Tags on Many Pages

  • Duplicate Title and Meta Tags do not allow a search engine to properly index a site and the related content of each page.
  • Duplicate tags for separate content is misleading to search engines and can affect ranking.
  • It is important to have a unique Title Tag for each page of unique content.

5. Overuse of Targeted Keywords (Stuffing/Spamming)

  • Experts agree that an extreme overuse of targeted keywords in website content can negatively affect ranking.
  • Website content should be descriptive with natural usage of keywords and phrases.
  • Keywords should not be used excessively over and over, but instead interchanged with similar words and phrases for a breadth of vocabulary.

Search Ranking Factors Are Constantly Evolving

There are a good deal more factors that affect search engines and ranking; these are only the Top 5 Positive and and Top 5 Negative Factors affecting website ranking as seen by organic search engine experts.

While they've remained constant, the web is always evolving, and change is here as we speak.

Two new factors that have gained significant importance are "mobile-friendly responsive" and "social signals".

1. Google's Gone Mobile-First (Includes User Experience)

One of the newly disputed SEO ranking factors (that perhaps should now be considered #1 of the Top 5), is Google's Mobile-Friendly requirements. Google has now stated that they are putting "mobile-first" in search results.

Google's new mobile-friendly requirements were first introduced back in 2014; as of Fall 2016 Google began putting mobile-friendly search results first.

As of early 2018, Google is expected to begin indexing mobile content first, and subsequently is suggesting that all site be responsive with the same content displayed, regardless of device or screen size. Hence, sites that are not mobile friendly will not be listed first.

This is a part of what Google considers a "positive user experience". User experience is a growing and important factor to take into account when analyzing successful aspects of a website.

2. Social Signals

Another huge trend and factor that has been growing and affecting ranking is social media sharing. Social posts are continuing to correlate very well with websites receiving better rankings in search results.

Posting on social media is of growing importance for SEO, and needs to be considered by all businesses. Sharing links to a company's products, services, and resources on social media is now a factor in determining the ranking of a website's position in search results.

Anyone serious about getting the most return from their website should review and read about all the search ranking factors.

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