Sites at the top of Google search results typically score well in most, if not all, of these critical SEO success factors.
1. Content that Targets User Search Queries
In essence, this is the very heart of SEO. The magic that makes it work.
Instead of traditional marketing where you push your message upon a user (think television commercials), SEO allows you to deliver exactly the content the user is searching for, at exactly the moment they search for it.
To make this happen, you need data on what users are searching. This is why almost all SEO starts with Keyword Research. Keyword Research takes many forms, but it typically consists of 3 types of data:
- Query: What are people searching for?
- Volume: How many are searching for it?
- Difficulty: How competitive is it to rank for this term in Google?
Once you know what terms are worth pursuing, you can create content that targets those topics. We’ll cover this in later success factors.
How to Leverage
There are 100s of guides on getting started with keyword research. A few of the best include:
- Keywords and Keyword Research
- How to Do Keyword Research
- Keyword Research for SEO: The Definitive Guide
2. Crawlable + Accessible to Search Engines
All the keyword research in the world means nothing if search engines can’t crawl or understand your website.
Not surprisingly, technical crawling and accessibility issues often represent both the biggest SEO challenge and biggest opportunity for a majority of sites.
From making sure your robots.txt file doesn’t block important pages or resources, to providing machine-readable text, building machine accessible content is a critical SEO success factor.
A few technical areas that SEOs must master:
- Making sure search engines can discover + crawl all important URLs
- On page content is readable by search engines
- On-site signals the relative importance and uniqueness of each page
How to Leverage
Most Technical SEO Audits cover crawling and search engine accessibility as priority #1. One of the best resources is Benjamin’s Estes’ Technical SEO Audit Checklist for Human Beings and Annielytics Site Audit Checklist.
Most major SEO audit tools uncover a number of crawling issues very effectively. A few well-respected tools you can use/try for free:
- Google Search Console
3. Quality & Quantity of Links
When Googlers Larry Page and Sergey Brin wrote the original PageRank patent in 1996, they had a novel idea: Instead of ranking web pages based on human editors, why not rank pages based on the number of linkspointing at them from other web pages?
Links are votes.
Today’s Google goes far beyond simply counting the raw number of links a site receives. Factors that play into this popularity contest are believed to include factors like trust, relevancy, position, and many more.
And while internal links (links from your own website) may not be as powerful as links from trusted external sites, internal linking and site architecture play an outsized role in your SEO efforts.
Although many speculate that the power of links has declined, or that Google may someday drop them altogether, Google statements and manyexperiments continue to prove their value as one of the strongest SEO success factors that we know.
A link is more than a navigational element. Each individual link on the web conveys multiple signals that Google can interpret for ranking purposes. These include:
- The Authority + Trust of the Link
- The relevance of the Link
- Anchor Text
- … and Many More
How to Leverage
If you want to rank, you need good links—from both inside and outside of your site.
For external linking strategies, we highly recommend the resources by Jon Cooper, in particular, Link Building Strategies — The Complete List.
For insight into internal linking, check out the linking resources at Hobo Web.
4. Satisfies User Intent
The pieces are coming together. So far we’ve:
- Targeted content with relevant user search queries
- Made your site crawlable and accessible to search engines
- Obtained relevant links pointing to your content
But now, perhaps one of the biggest questions of all: Does this content satisfy user’s intent?
It’s not enough to target your content with keywords and phrases (more on this later). The important question Google wants to know is “does the content give the user the most satisfying answer they are looking for?”
Google doesn’t want to simply deliver answers to users; they want to deliver the best answers and experiences, ones that satisfy user intentwithout requiring additional searches.
SEOs refer to this in different ways: dwell time, the long click, return-to-SERP, and more. In essence, they all mean this: Does the user find the most satisfying answer to what they are looking for without searching further?
If the user has to click the back button, modify their search, or spend more time with results from other websites, this may be a sign that your content doesn’t deliver the best experience.
How to Leverage
Delivering content that satisfies user intent is one of the most challenging aspects of SEO, in part because it’s difficult to measure. That said, there are a number of practices that can improve your chances significantly.
- Deliver content with the format and features Google expects. E.g., if the top ranking sites for your keyword in Google all contain video results, it’s a good indication that users (and Google) are looking for videos to satisfy intent
- Answer the query as completely as possible, giving the user zero excuses to hit the back button. A good way to do this is to incorporate the answers to additional questions, i.e. “people also ask” into your content.
- Measure and work to improve your engagement rates, including:
- Bounce Rate
- Time on Site
- Pages per Visit
- Goal Conversion Rate
Rand Fishkin has covered the topic of user satisfaction in depth. For better understanding, check out his articles:
- Is the New, Most Powerful Ranking Factor “Searcher Task Accomplishment?”
- How to Beat Your Competitor’s Rankings with More *Comprehensive* Content
5. Uniqueness of Content
If your content is exactly the same as multiple other copies on the web, why should Google rank it above all the others?
Put another way—if your content isn’t uniquely valuable, it doesn’t mean Google will necessarily punish you for it, but it does make it much, much harder to rise to the top.
When your content isn’t unique, two things happen:
- Google has to filter out all the duplicate content to deliver the best result – and there’s a good chance your content will be in the filtered group.
- Duplicate content can’t target those unique topics and answersthat the competition isn’t targeting
Duplicate content issues generally take two forms. First is content that actually copies content from another site or page. The second is caused by duplicates of your own content when 2 or more URLs create the same (or very close) content.
Content that directly copies content from another site is obviously problematic. But also consider the problems created with your own original content when you have URLs like these:
In theory, both of these URLs may create the exact same page. Not only does Google need to crawl each one (which could waste precious crawl budget) but the two pages may split link equity and other ranking signals. This makes it very difficult for Google to decide which page—if any at all—to show in search results.
How to Leverage
- Make sure your content, including all text, offers unique value from all other sites and pages across the internet.
- Control duplicate content on your own site. Tools and techniques include canonical tags, parameter handling, robots.txt, redirects, and more. These guides should help:
- Duplicate Content (Search Console Help)
- Duplicate Content Advice from Hobo Web
- Duplicate Content Best Practices