What’s a top Google posi­tion made of? Here are the 8 ingre­di­ents that make all the dif­fer­ence.

It’s no secret that Google’s rank­ing algo­rithm is made up of over 200 com­po­nents, or “sig­nals.” And while the list is impres­sive, it can get daunt­ing if you’re a just reg­u­lar human with 24 hours in a day.

Luck­i­ly, SEO isn’t about get­ting every tiny thing right; it’s about get­ting your pri­or­i­ties right. Below, we’ve put up a list of top eight rank­ings fac­tors, based on the indus­try stud­ies by Search­Metrics, Back­linko and SEO Pow­er­Suite. Read on to find what they are, and how to opti­mize your site for each.


Sur­prise, sur­prise, right? In 2017, back­links con­tin­ue to be the strongest indi­ca­tion of author­i­ty to Google. Let’s look at the things that can make or break yours.

1. Link score

How does Google turn the abstract con­cept of “back­links” into a quan­tifi­able rank­ing sig­nal? In sev­er­al patents, Google explains that this is done by cal­cu­lat­ing a “link score.” The score is made up by every incom­ing link’s indi­vid­ual qual­i­ty score (aka PageR­ank) and the num­ber of links to the site.

So link quan­ti­ty is an impor­tant part of the score. How­ev­er, remem­ber that you can’t afford to have spam­my, low-qual­i­ty links in 2017. It’s also worth not­ing that links com­ing from the same domain car­ry lit­tle weight; Google will typ­i­cal­ly only count one of them when eval­u­at­ing your link pro­file. So in terms of quan­ti­ty, your pri­ma­ry fac­tor to focus on should be the num­ber of link­ing domains.

Mea­sur­ing qual­i­ty is less straight­for­ward. While we know that PageR­ank is still one of the key fac­tors in Google’s algo­rithm, its pub­lic ver­sion is no longer avail­able. Luck­i­ly, there are reli­able alter­na­tives that are based on PageRank’s orig­i­nal for­mu­la, includ­ing SEO PowerSuite’s recent­ly launched InLink Rank.

2. Anchor text relevance (but not too much of it)

Anchor text is anoth­er part of the “back­links” con­cept that mat­ters for rank­ings. Much like the con­tent on your pages, your back­links’ anchors tell Google what your page is about — and what it should rank for. Of course, you’ve got to remem­ber about Pen­guin and keep your anchors diverse and nat­ur­al; it’s all about strik­ing the right bal­ance.

But what is this “right bal­ance?” Alas, there’s no uni­ver­sal answer. Still, these anchor text aver­ages (across var­i­ous indus­tries) may give you a hint.

How to optimize:

Check­ing on your SEO com­peti­tors’ links is a good way to under­stand what kind of link scores you are com­pet­ing against, and how much work it’ll take to catch up. To do this, you’ll need a tool that lets you com­pare sev­er­al sites’ link pro­files against numer­ous cri­te­ria. SEO Spy­Glass with its Domain Com­par­i­son mod­ule does this bril­liant­ly. Fire up the tool and cre­ate a project for your site, then jump to Domain Com­par­i­son and add the domains of your major com­peti­tors, one by one. In a sec­ond, you’ll see how every aspect of your link pro­file com­pares to your rivals’.


All right, con­tent is king. But what is Google look­ing for in qual­i­ty con­tent, exact­ly? Here are the three things that make a dif­fer­ence.

1. Keyword usage

Your title remains the strongest rel­e­vance sig­nal to Google. Using key­words or vari­a­tions in the title tag is still impor­tant in 2017 (the clos­er to the begin­ning, the bet­ter). The meta descrip­tion can also boost rel­e­vance, although it car­ries less weight. Final­ly, don’t for­get about using key­words in the page’s body, remem­ber­ing that the H1 tag holds the most SEO weight out of all head­ings.

2. Length

In its search qual­i­ty guide­lines, Google men­tions that the amount of a page’s con­tent is impor­tant for its over­all qual­i­ty — and there­fore rank­ings. Clear­ly, there’s no ide­al con­tent length to aim for; as Google puts it, “the amount of con­tent nec­es­sary for the page to be sat­is­fy­ing depends on the top­ic and pur­pose of the page.”

For a real­is­tic ref­er­ence on the “sat­is­fy­ing amount” of con­tent, look at the pages that already rank well for your key­words, and learn from their strate­gies.

3. Comprehensiveness

RankBrain (launched in Octo­ber 2015) forms part of Google’s Hum­ming­bird algo­rithm and, accord­ing to Google, is involved in every query. One of RankBrain’s func­tions is ana­lyz­ing results with good user sat­is­fac­tion met­rics and iden­ti­fy­ing their com­mon fea­tures — fea­tures that make them good search results.

Because most of online con­tent is text, such fea­tures are often cer­tain terms and phras­es used on the page. Think about it: if you search for “things to see in new york,” it’s only log­i­cal that the com­pre­hen­sive results will men­tion “times square.” “cen­tral park,” “empire state build­ing” and so on.

How to optimize:

Web­Site Audi­tor is the tool that lets you check pages against numer­ous on-page fac­tors, includ­ing key­word usage and con­tent length. The tool will also ana­lyze your pages’ com­pre­hen­sive­ness using the TF-IDF algo­rithm and give you rec­om­men­da­tions based on your top com­peti­tors.

To start, launch Web­Site Audi­tor, cre­ate a project, and go to Con­tent Analy­sis. Spec­i­fy the page you’re opti­miz­ing and enter your tar­get key­words. Look through the on-page fac­tors for stats and rec­om­men­da­tions on key­word usage, and check with the Com­peti­tors tab to see how your top com­peti­tors han­dle any giv­en page ele­ment.

Final­ly, switch to the TF-IDF dash­board for a list of terms that many of your top com­peti­tors use (remem­ber RankBrain?) and spe­cif­ic usage advice for your con­tent. Use these insights as inspi­ra­tion to make your page more rel­e­vant and com­pre­hen­sive.

Now, it’s time to make changes to your page. Jump to Con­tent Edi­tor and opti­mize away! When you’re done, hit the save but­ton in the top right cor­ner to down­load the opti­mized HTML to your hard dri­ve, ready for upload to your site.

Technical SEO

The tech­ni­cal foun­da­tion of your site is cru­cial for SEO (and well beyond). Here are the top two fac­tors that mat­ter for rank­ings.

1. Page speed

Google expects pages to load in two sec­onds or less, and they’ve offi­cial­ly con­firmed that speed is a rank­ing sig­nal. Speed also has a mas­sive impact on UX: slow­er pages have high­er bounce rates and low­er con­ver­sion rates.

The most com­mon cul­prits for poor speed are uncom­pressed resources: scripts, images and CSS files.

2. Mobile-friendliness

If your pages aren’t opti­mized for smart­phones, they won’t rank in mobile search at all. With over half of Google queries com­ing from mobile devices, that’s not some­thing you can put up with in 2017.

The focus on mobile will like­ly con­tin­ue with Google’s com­mit­ment to switch to mobile-first index­ing soon.

How to optimize:

To check if your page pass­es Google’s mobile and speed tests, go to Con­tent Analy­sis > Page Audit in Web­Site Audi­tor and switch to Tech­ni­cal fac­tors. Exam­ine the Page usabil­i­ty (Mobile) and Page speed (Desk­top) sec­tions, and click on any fac­tors with Error or Warn­ing sta­tus­es for details and how-to-fix advice.

User experience

The debate around the use of behav­ioral fac­tors in rank­ing has been on for years. But in Google’s own words, “search­ing users are often the best judges of rel­e­vance, so that if they select a par­tic­u­lar search result, it is like­ly to be rel­e­vant, or at least more rel­e­vant than the pre­sent­ed alter­na­tives.”

1. Click-through rate

A SERP (search engine results page) click-through rate (CTR) is the ratio of the num­ber of times a search list­ing was clicked to the num­ber of times it was dis­played to searchers. Numer­ous patents filed by Google focus on CTR as a rank­ing sig­nal. Search­Metrics’ study even found that CTR has the high­est cor­re­la­tion with rank­ings out of all fac­tors exam­ined.

True, cor­re­la­tion doesn’t equal cau­sa­tion. But it’s hard to argue with real-life exper­i­ments show­ing that a CTR increase almost imme­di­ate­ly results in a rank­ing boost.

How to optimize:

The first thing to check is your cur­rent SERP CTR. In Google Search Con­sole, go to the Search Ana­lyt­ics report and select Clicks, Impres­sions, CTR and Posi­tion.

While CTR aver­ages vary depend­ing on the type of the query, as a rule of thumb, you can expect a 30 per­cent CTR for a #1 result, 15 per­cent for #2, and 10 per­cent for #3.

If some of your list­ings’ CTRs are seri­ous­ly below these aver­ages, these are the low-hang­ing fruit to focus on. Think of how you can make your snip­pets click-wor­thy and look into com­peti­tors’ list­ings for inspi­ra­tion. To edit and pre­view your Google snip­pet , open Web­Site Audi­tor, go to Con­tent Analy­sis > Con­tent Edi­tor, and switch to Title & Meta tags. Once you’re hap­py with it, hit the save but­ton to down­load the HTML file to your hard dri­ve.


SEO is a com­plex, mul­ti­di­men­sion­al, ever-evolv­ing sci­ence. It’s only nat­ur­al that you can’t afford to focus on every detail; and you don’t have to, either. If you pri­or­i­tize your efforts, focus on the eight fac­tors above, and remem­ber to watch com­peti­tors close­ly, you’re sure to come out ahead of them in the SERPs.