There are over 200 indicators that Google looks at to determine the authority and value of a web page. I have combined some together that are very similar in nature. These indicators are ranked by importance into three categories: Critical (red), Moderate (yellow), and Low (blue). Focus on fixing critical issues first then work your way to non-critical issues. These search indicators are described below and placed into the following groups: Domain Level, Page Level, Site Level.
Domain Level Search Indicators
1. Domain Age / Time
A brand new domain does not rank as well as an established domain. A domain needs time to become established and trusted. A trustworthy site has two primary features:
– Large quantity of unique high quality content
– Large quantity of quality external backlinks to that content
Your strategies will differ depending on whether your domain and website are young, middle aged, or mature. Young sites should focus on developing quality content, branding and fast loading times. Middle aged sites have more things it needs to do than a young site. It needs to focus on navigation, organization, social media, and usability. A mature site ties all the pieces together into a cohesive package. Focus and flawless execution are of critical importance. It should strive to become a leader in its niche. Just remember that this takes time and consistent effort.
2. Google Sandbox
Websites that get a sudden influx of links, or experience other significant changes, are often put into the Google Sandbox. This is especially true for a domain that is less than a year old. Google Sandbox restricts search visibility and purposely lowers rankings. This is temporary situation which could last for up to one year.
3. Domain History
A domain with volatile ownership or several drops may have their site’s history and rankings reset by Google.
4. Penalized Domain Owner
If one domain owned by a specific person or business has been marked as “spam” by Google, other domains owned by the same entity could be downgraded. It would not be enough to just delete a bad website. If the owner has been tagged, the remaining domains may need to be transferred to a different owner with different mailing address and contact information.
5. Keyword in Domain / Keyword as First Word in Domain / Keyword in Subdomain
Having the right keywords in your domain can significantly help search engine rankings. Compare FoxNews.com to CNN.com. News is a keyword for both sites, but one has it in the domain and one does not. All things being equal, FoxNews.com would rank higher than CNN.com. The thing is these sites are not identical. There are a number of differences between the two sites that Google can identify and has given FoxNews.com a Pagerank of 8 and CNN.com a Pagerank of 9. Also, a domain or subdomain that starts with the target keyword has an edge over sites that either don’t have the keyword in their domain or have the keyword in the middle or end of their domain. A great website can overcome a poor domain name, but a great domain name can help significantly boost rankings. Buying the domain is one of the first things you will do toward marketing a website, so make sure you put thought into it.
6. Exact Match Domain (EMD)
An EMD can have a significant advantage in search, as long as it is not a low quality website. For example, you search for “auto repair new york.” A good quality website on autorepairnewyork.com has a significant advantage in search.
7. Country Code Top Level Domain (TLD) Extension
Having a Country Code Top Level Domain (.cn, .pt, .ca, .mx, etc) helps the website rank well in that particular country, but may limit the site’s ability to rank internationally.
8. Public v. Private Domain Registration
Private domain registration is when the person who owns the domain is not public, and therefore not searchable by Google. By itself, it is not considered good or bad. However, in combination with other questionable practices, private registration could harm website rankings.
9. Domain Registration Length
Google states: “Valuable (legitimate) domains are often paid for several years in advance, while doorway (illegitimate) domains rarely are used for more than a year. Therefore, the date when a domain expires in the future can be used as a factor in predicting the legitimacy of a domain.” The domain registration expiration date should be longer than one year, but its overall effects toward rankings are not as strong as many other indicators.
10. Parked Domains
Parked domains are typically not associated with any services, such as a website. If it is inactive and has no content associated with it, it will rank low.
Page Level Search Indicators
11. Keywords in Title Tag / Keywords in H1 Tag
The Title tag and H1 tag of a webpage are two of the most important SEO signals. Compare these two tags: “Welcome” v. “Fort Lauderdale Hurricane Shutters Installation.” It is obvious what the second tag describes. It is not so obvious what the first one describes. These two tags send a strong message to both the user and to Google what the webpage is about. The Title and H1 tags can be identical or similar. They should never be significantly different from each other, such as the Title tag describing laundry detergent and the H1 tag describing food at a restaurant. One of the major advantages of having a lot of quality content is that you have a lot of Title and H1 tags to submit to Google. The Title tag should be no more than 65 characters long. There is no real restriction on the length of the H1 tag, but it should remain short and descriptive. I recommend that an H1 tag be no longer than 75 characters.
12. Title Tag Starts with Keyword
Title tags that start with the keyword tend to perform better than title tags with the keyword near the end.
13. Content Length
Pages with more words cover more concepts. Also, people prefer articles that are detailed enough to answer their questions, but not overly detailed that they lose interest. Is there an exact optimal word count for a web page? Under most circumstances, the article should be between 300 and 800 words. Scholarly articles should be significantly longer.
14. Latent Semantic Indexing Keywords (LSI)
LSI keywords are synonyms or closely related words. A cluster of similar words helps provide context for ideas within the web page. If you were to use the word “Apple,” are you writing about the fruit or the computer company? By using other words such as apple, banana, and grapes, you state that this article is about fruit. On-page content should be relevant and appear natural. Mix up your keywords by using a variety of phrases, such as “car repair,” “auto repair,” “fix cars,” “automobile mechanic,” etc. They all basically mean the same thing and can help improve the overall rankings of a webpage. Use LSI keywords and context signals wherever possible, including: Title, Description, Image Alt Tags, and On-Page Content.
15. Page Load Speed
Page load speed is related to how fast a web page loads for the user. Pages that take a long time to load usually rank significantly lower than pages with a fast load time. Ask yourself how long you are willing to wait for a page to load. Response time is how long it takes a search engine to obtain content from a web page. A response time longer than 2 seconds can significantly reduce how many internal web pages the search engine crawls.
Modern websites are expected to do a lot and load fast. They need to be efficient. There are a number of techniques discussed on this page (http://uxodesign.com/gtmetrix-pagespeed-yslow/) that can substantially decrease load time. How fast should a web page load? The answer is the faster the better. More than 5 seconds is too long. Under 2 seconds is ideal.
16. Duplicate / Syndicated Content
A significant amount of identical or just slightly modified content can reduce rankings. Google loves unique content. Is the content on the page original? If it’s scraped or copied from an indexed page it won’t rank as well as the original or end up in their Supplemental Index.
17. Image Optimization
Images send search engines important relevancy signals through their file name, alt text, title and surrounding text. It is important that the image is properly sized for your use. If you need it to be 300 X 300, make sure you crop it to that size before you attach it to your web page. Also, add height=”300″ and width=”300″ to your image tag. Although it is not critical, it sends a message to the browser how large the image is before it loads.
18. Content Freshness
Google looks for how recent, how much and how often new and modified content has been added to the page. Significant changes indicate that the page and site are actively being worked on.
19. Keyword in URL
Keyword relevant urls (ex: http://www.weather.com/storms/hurricane-central) usually rank better than urls that lack keywords (ex: 123.com?id=10).
20. Keyword Prominence
Make sure the keyword you want to rank for appears in the first 100-words of a page’s content.
21. Keyword in H2, H3 Tags
Provide variations of your keyword within H2 and H3 tags. H2 tags should support the H1 tag, and H3 tags should support a specific H2 tag.
22. Number of Outbound Links (OBL)
Too many outbound links (OBLs) can hurt that page’s rankings. Pages with too many OBL, such as a “link farm”, are considered “spammy.” The total number of inbound and outbound links on a page should not exceed 100.
23. Supplemental Multimedia Content
Images, videos, social media feeds, forms, converters, calculators, etc. improve user experience and time on page, both of which have a positive impact on search engine rankings. Make sure you have more then text on a page. Also make sure that the supplemental content is relevant and functions properly.
24. Number and Quality of Internal Links Pointing to Page
The number of internal links pointing to a page indicates its importance relative to other pages on the site. Those with more internal links have more votes, and therefore are considered more important. The “Home” page usually has one of the largest number of internal links pointing to it. It is also usually the most visited page. Any page the home page links to (since it is considered one of the highest quality within the website) will therefore receive more page authority than those pages that are not. Also, as the website increases in size, so too do the number of internal links.
25. URL Path
The farther away a page is linked from a page of authority (such as the home page), the less authority that page has.
26. Broken Links
Having too many broken links within a website is often a sign of neglect, which could decrease rankings. Ensure that you keep the number of broken links within a website to as few as possible.
27. Schema.org Microformats
Pages that support microformats content may rank above pages without it. This structured content is usually more detailed and sends specific signals to search engines about what the page is about.
28. Keywords in Description Tag
The description tag is not visible on the webpage, but it is often used by Google to populate search results. This is a great place to use common abbreviations or synonyms. For example, the Title tag might say, “Fort Lauderdale Tax Preparation,” whereas the description tag might say, “We provide tax prep and e-filing services in South Florida near Hollywood, Plantation and Ft Lauderdale FL.”
29. Keyword Frequency / Keyword Density
The keyword phrase you want to rank for should appear in on-page content, and it should appear more than once. There is no rule to determine how often a keyword phrase should appear in the content. Too little and the page will not rank. Too much and the page might be demoted for being “spam.”
30. Keyword Order
An exact match of a searcher’s keyword in a page’s content will generally rank better than the same keyword phrase in a different order. For example: consider a search for: “fort lauderdale hurricane shutters”. A page optimized for the phrase “fort lauderdale hurricane shutters” will rank better than a page optimized for “hurricane storm shutters in fort lauderdale”.
31. Outbound Link Quality
You have much more control over what pages your website links to than which websites link back to you. Are you linking more to quality established government and university sites, or are you linking to poor quality directory, porn, gambling, and link farm sites? Linking to authority sites helps send trust signals to Google that you want to be a trustworthy site.
32. Outbound Link Theme
Content your website links to sends relevancy signals to search engines. If you are discussing Apple, for example, do you link to technology sites or grocery stores? Content and links provide context for what the page is about. This offers a secondary source of information to help determine authority and relevance.
33. Grammar and Spelling
Proper grammar and spelling sends a signal of quality. This is more of an indirect indicator of quality. Authority sites have more traffic and links. If it is a poorly written page, it may receive less links and less traffic. However, if the content is unique and relevant (such as an interview), grammar and spelling may be of less importance.
34. HTML Errors / W3C Validation
Too many HTML errors or sloppy coding may be a sign of a poor quality site. It may affect user experience by increasing page load time or incorrectly displaying content. Modern browsers are sophisticated enough to work with some bad coding, but it is always good to make sure that there are as few errors as possible.
35. URL Length
Excessively long URLs may hurt search visibility. Also, Google automatically shortens a url in search results if it is more than 50 or so characters long.
36. Bullets, Lists, Italics, and Bold Tags
Bullets, numbered lists, italics, bold, etc., break up your content, making it more user friendly. It also emphasizes which keywords are important within the page.
37. References and Sources
Citing references and sources, like research papers do, may be a sign of quality. Make sure these references are structured properly.
38. Page Age
Although Google prefers fresh content, an older page that’s regularly updated may outperform a newer page.
Using the rel=”canonical” link in your webpage tells search engines your preferred version of duplicate pages on the Internet. It is a page level meta tag that is placed in the header of a webpage. The following examples are the exact same page of content in that they all go to the home page of the website.
The use of this strategy is confusing and can be difficult to implement. Use other strategies first before you implement the use of this. In the case of the samples provided, modifying the .htaccess file to choose the primary domain preference within the website is a much better choice than trying to implement “rel=canonical” properly.
40. Reading Level
Reading level is a numerical description related to word choice and sentence structure. The most important thing to remember about reading level is to know your audience. University journals have a much higher reading level than Twitter feeds. This is not to say that one is better than the other. They have different purposes and different audiences.
41. Affiliate Links
Affiliate links by themselves probably won’t hurt your website rankings. If there are too many, or if there is not enough supporting content, Google may reduce the page’s rank.
42. Human Editors
Google may use human editors to verify and quantify user experience. Make sure your website is user friendly.
43. Quantity of Other Keywords Page Ranks For
If the page ranks for several other keywords it may give Google a sign of quality.
Site Level Search Indicators
44. Page Priority in Sitemap
A sitemap is a structured list of page urls that are available for indexing into search engines. Each page url is assigned a priority from 1.0 to 0.0 via the sitemap.xml. The sitemap improves the visibility of each page url listed, but its priority may or may not influence individual page rankings.
45. User Friendly Layout
A user friendly layout and design greatly improve user experience. Proper navigation, content structure, load speed, a call to action, etc, all influence user experience and ultimately website rankings.
46. Overall Content Value
As a whole, does the website provide unique descriptive content that people want to read, or does it contain thin syndicated content that people do not want to read.
47. Contact Page
Google prefers sites with an “appropriate amount of contact information”. Is the contact information listed on the site visible to search engines? Does it match whois and other directory sites, such as Yahoo Local, Yellow Pages, Yelp, etc?
48. Navigation and Site Architecture
Proper content and internal link organization improve user experience and provide quality search indicators. Content should be easy to find and easy to read. Support information (images, videos, other pages) should be available that adds value to the content currently being read.
49. Site Updates
New fresh content and software updates are both indicators that the site is actively being maintained.
50. Responsive / Mobile Optimized
Google’s official stance is that websites need to be responsive and mobile friendly. Responsive sites get a boost in rankings, and non-responsive sites lose search engine rankings.
51. Spyware / Malware / Excessive Popups / Distracting Ads
Sites with malware, spyware, excessive popups, or distracting ads are treated as either “spammy” or dangerous. User experience on these sites are poor, and therefore will be reduced in rankings and possibly de-listed in the search engines.
52. Reconsideration Request
A successful reconsideration request with Google can lift a penalty. However, this is not guaranteed, and can take some time to recover from. The best strategy is to not need one in the first place.
53. Number of Pages
The number of pages of quality content a website has is sign of authority. That being said a small site with highly valuable content is better that a large site composed of poor quality content.
54. Categories and Tags
Categories and tags group pages of content. Pages with the same categories or tags tell search engines that they are similar in nature. There are differing philosophies on how to best use them. Typically categories are used to group the site’s main concepts, such as uxo, crm, and cms. Tags are used to connect thoughts, such as people involved, event venues, etc.
55. Site Uptime
Site uptime is related to both server uptime and site maintenance downtime. Too many disruptions in uptime can harm search rankings and page indexing.
56. SSL Certificate
Google has confirmed that they use HTTPS as a ranking signal. It demonstrates that personal data is encrypted and that the company is actively maintaining the website. An SSL certificate by itself is not enough to increase rankings. It, with other factors, it a sign of quality and positive user experience.
These two pages provide search engines with trust signals.
58. Duplicate Meta Information
Too many internal pages with duplicate meta information is a sign of low quality and can decrease both page and overall website rankings.
59. Use of Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools
These two programs installed may improve page indexing and site visibility. It also provides more accurate data, such as backlinks, bounce rate and traffic.
60. Breadcrumb Navigation
This is a positive user experience website architecture that helps users (and search engines) know where they are on a site.
Page or site over-optimzation (such as keyword stuffing, excessive keyword decoration, link sculpturing, etc) are considered unnatural and inauthentic and may result in lower search engine rankings.
62. Server Location
The physical location of the website server could influence search rankings. If you primarily do business in Canada, your website should be on a server that is physically located in Canada.
Backlink Level Search Indicators
63. Number of Linking Root Domains
The number of referring domains pointed to a website is a critical ranking factor.
64. Authority of Linking Page
The authority of the referring page is an extremely important ranking factor. A link from a page with a lot of traffic can transfer more traffic to another web page than a web page with low traffic.
65. Backlink Diversity / Natural Link Profile
The best backlink strategy is to have incoming links from a large variety of sources. An “unnatural” link profile may be a search signal for “spam.”
66. Backlink Anchor Text
67. Link Velocity / In-Flux
A website with positive link velocity (or link growth) usually gets a boost in search engine rankings. A website with negative link velocity (or link reduction) usually gets lowered in search engine rankings. Google interprets link velocity as an increase or decrease in popularity. An unnatural in-flux of backlinks could be a sign of black hat techniques which could decrease search engine rankings.
68. Word Count and Quality of Linking Content
A backlink from a well-written 1000-word post is more valuable than a link from a 25-word post of syndicated content.
69. Linking Domain Age
Backlinks from older domains may be more powerful than new domains.
70. Number of Links from Separate C-Class IP Addresses
Backlinks from separate class-c IP addresses suggest a wider breadth of sites linking to you. Domains hosted in the same account will have the same or similar ip addresses. Below are a list of website IP addresses:
If another website has an IP address of 188.8.131.52, it would be on the same C-Class network as Amazon.
71. Links from .edu, .gov and High PageRank Domains
Backlinks from .edu and .gov sites can provide more link authority. This is not necessarily due to the type of domain it is. Here are some domains with their PageRank listed in brackets: FL.gov (PR 7), Harvard.edu (PR 8), OC.edu (PR 5), and Whitehouse.gov (PR 10). In these examples provided, a backlink from FoxNews.com (PR 8) is worth more than a backlink from FL.gov or OC.edu. Dofollow backlinks from high authority websites are what you want the most, regardless of the domain’s extension (.com, .edu, .gov, .info, etc.).
72. Backinks from Bad Neighborhoods
Backlinks from “bad neighborhood” sites like porn, gambling and low PR “spammy” sites may hurt the authority of your site.
73. Backlink Location
The location and visibility of a backlink may influence its value. A contextual backlink within the content has higher value than a backlink at the bottom of the page. Guest posts, comment backlinks, and profile backlinks all vary in value. The most important characteristic is that the more traffic a link transfers, the more value it is assigned.
74. Number of Linking Pages
The total number of pages linked to your website is a ranking factor, even if some are from the same domain. The number of quality links to your website should increase over time.
75. 301 Redirects to Page
Backlinks coming from 301 redirects dilute some (or even all) value. Avoid using url shortners that use 301 redirects.
76. Linking Domain / Page Relevancy
A backlink from website domain or page in a similar niche is significantly more powerful than a link from a completely unrelated site.
The words around backlinks help tell Google what that page is about. Make sure link and content are relevant to each other.
78. Reciprocal Link Exchange / Selling Links
Avoid excessive link exchange. Also, pay attention to the number of outbound links of the page you are linking to or being linked from. Stay away from websites with a high number (>100) of OBL. Also, buying or selling backlinks. These are generally of poor quality and can hurt you more than it can help you.
79. Subdomain Backlinks
A link from en.blog.wordpress.com has a different link authority than a link from 1040taxbiz.wordpress.com.
80. Sitewide Links
Sitewide links, or links that are on every page, are counted as a single link. Point the links to different pages and change the anchor text to increase diversity.
81. Links From Competitors
Backlinks from other pages that rank for the same keyword may add value and authority to your web page.
82. Nofollow Links
This is one of the most controversial issues related to backlinks and search engine rankings. A nonfollow link looks like “a rel=’nofollow'” in html code. It sends a message to Google to not transmit any link authority to the other website. Its original purpose was to tell Google that this was an advertisement and to give that link less value than other links on the page. In practice, however, almost every outbound link, especially those from high PR sites, are “nofollow.” Because of “nofollow,” it has become extremely difficult to get any link authority from high PR sites, and in order to gain authority a website must have a certain number of links from high PR sites. Also, there should be a certain mix of “dofollow” and “nofollow” links to indicate a natural link profile. Again, the issue is that most sites above PR 5 have a very small percentage of OBL that are dofollow, but for the website to rank well it needs a lot more links from high PR sites and less from very low PR sites.
83. “Sponsored Links” Or Other Words Around Link
Words like “sponsors”, “link partners” and “sponsored links” may decrease a link’s value.
84. Link Title
The link title is a weak relevancy signal.
85. Country TLD of Referring Domain
Backlinks from country-specific Top Level Domain extensions (.de, .cn, .uk, etc.) may help you rank better in that country.
86. Backlink Age / Temporary Link Schemes
Older links have more ranking power than new backlinks. They show stability. Avoid temporary backlink schemes where you create ten quickly remove links.
87. Backlink Disavow Tool
Use of the Disavow Tool may remove a manual or algorithmic penalty for websites with poor quality backlinks.
User Interaction / Social Media / Directory Level Search Indicators
88. Organic CTR for a Keyword
Pages that have a higher Click Through Rate (CTR) from organic search for a set of keywords get a boost in search engine rankings.
89. Dwell Time
Dwell time is based on how long people spend on your page when coming from a Google search. If people spend a lot of time on your site, that may be used as a quality signal. Increase dwell time by providing engaging content (content length, images, videos, calculators, etc.)
90. DMCA Complaints
Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) complaints about copyright infringement or violation will reduce the value of your website and decrease its search engine rankings.
YouTube is a critical part of search engine marketing. Create relevant videos, upload them to your branded account, create a description with a link back to your website, and embed those videos into your website. This increases user interaction, user experience, and so much more.
92. Bounce Rate
There is disagreement as to the importance of bounce rate, which is defined as the percentage of website visitors who navigate away after viewing only one page. If the bounce rate is too high (such as for irrelevant content, poor usability, long page load times, etc.) Google may lower the page’s rank.
93. High Traffic with Diversity
Rankings and traffic take time to build. Work towards gaining as much traffic as you can from as many relevant sources as you can. You want a lot of engaged users.
94. Chrome Bookmarks
Google collects Chrome browser usage data. Pages that get bookmarked in Chrome might get a boost in search rankings.
95. Number of Comments
Pages with a lot of comments may be a signal for user-interaction and content quality which may boost search engine rankings.
96. Personalized User Browsing History and Settings / Google Preferences
Google will modify search results for an individual person based on user location, user browser history, Google+ circles, safe search settings, etc. If you do business in multiple locations spread out into different regions, you will need to provide multiple geo targeting signals to indicate it. Google also modifies searches for specific types of searches, such as for brand names, shopping, or news.
97. Social Shares of Referring Page
The number of page-level social shares (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Digg, etc) of a referring page may influence the backlink’s value.
98. Social Likes / Followers of Website
The more followers / likes and engaged users your social media accounts that are linked to your website have (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Linkedin, Pinterest, etc), the more of an increase you can potentially received in search engine rankings. This is something that needs to be maintained on a regular basis.
99. Authority and Authenticity of Social Media User Accounts
Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Linkedin, Pinterest, etc) shares, links, and mentions from high-influence accounts (Presidents, celebrities, established business owners, etc) have more value than those from new or idle accounts. Links from high-profile social media accounts can increase your website’s search engine rankings.
100. User Reviews / Site Reputation
Reviews of your website on sites like BBB, Yelp, Google, etc. do influence search engine rankings in several ways. First, Google pays the most attention to reviews left on Google. A lot of positive reviews can increase search engine rankings, and a lot of negative reviews can decrease search engine rankings. Second, not all review sites are the same. Review sites that specialize in your niche and high authority review sites have the highest priority. Third, beware of extortion sites. There are many sites that will give priority to negative reviews in order to encourage you to pay them to “clean it up.” I will not name those specific sites, but some of them are high profile sites. Your best strategy is to focus on getting authentic positive reviews on Google, your personal website, and other sites that you can have success in removing malicious or fake bad reviews.
101. Social Signal Relevancy
Google probably uses relevancy and context information from the account sharing the content to calculate the value of that social signal.
102. Official Linkedin Company Page with Employees
Many real businesses have a Linkedin company page with listed employees who state they work or have worked for that company.
103. Number of RSS Subscribers
Google owns Feedburner RSS service. It makes sense that they would look at RSS Subscriber data as a popularity / brand signal.
104. Linked to as Wikipedia Source
Although the links are nofollow, a link from Wikipedia may give you a little added trust and authority. It may also increase traffic to your website. Wikipedia is selective as to what content is displayed and how it is displayed.
105. DMOZ Listed
A listing in DMOZ may or may not add trust signals to your website. Make sure you have something for the DMOZ editors to look at before you submit. Also, you submit once and forget about it.
Brand Level Search Indicators
106. Known Authorship
Although the Google+ authorship program has been shut down, they still look for content and brand authentication through Google+, Google Maps, and other Google applications. Authenticated and branded websites usually rank higher than “off-brand” competitors for searches related to brand names.
107. Brand Mentions on News Sites
Big brands are mentioned on Google News and other news sites on a regular basis. Brand mentions in the news increases awareness, and therefore can increase traffic, social mentions, and search engine rankings.
108. Website is Tax Paying Business
Google may look at whether or not a website is associated with a tax-paying business.