10 Most Decisive Google (SEO) Ranking Factors in 2021
It’s finally 2021, the perfect time to share the most decisive Google organic ranking factors and how to use them to craft better SEO strategies for this year.
I am sure you know already that Googles uses over 200 ranking signals in their algorithm to determine organic search result page positions….
And it’s algorithm gets updated and enhanced over 3000 times a year.
But which ranking signals actually matter?
What SEO tactics should you focus on in 2021?
Well, together with my team I have collected all the crucial data, used industry-leading SEO tools such as SEMrush, Majestic SEO, Deep Crawl and Similar Web, as well as looked at our own propriety data sets and analysed top ranking sites (top 3) from 10 industries in 3 different markets to help determine the latest Google ranking factors.
Some are confirmed.
Some are controversial.
I’ve updated & narrowed down the list of all the key components which are decisive as well as created the following chart to provide a clear overview of all relevant ranking factors and each of their category weighting.
1. Mobile First (Not Friendly)
Google’s mobile-first index is now in full swing, which means results from mobile-optimized sites are prioritized, rather than a sites desktop version. Hence developing and optimising your sites mobile experience should be one of your main priorities in 2021 and beyond.
This is the result of a change in global user behaviour as more and more people are accessing the web via mobile devices. In order to guarantee top ranking results businesses, have to apply a mobile first (not friendly) approach to web design, user experience and conversion optimization.
Considerations: Before adding AMP to the mobile version of your website assess the impact it might have on the overall page user experience, design and branding.
2. Zero Click Search Dilemma
A recent study by marketing analytics firm Jumpshot, showed that 49% of all Google searches are no-click. Which means almost half of all searches don’t leave the SERPs anymore. (see graph below)
Google has become extremely sophisticated in answering search queries with a variety of featured snippets such as Google’s answer box which is a unique SERP result that is powered by the knowledge graph or scraped from a page that provides the best possible answer.
The answer box is usually positioned above both the first organic result and paid ad listings. Getting your content featured in this spot offers some amazing benefits:
- Increased brand visibility, traffic and conversions
- Lower Google Ads spend
- Dominate your search niche and ranking competitors
The benefits from having your content listed inside a Google answer box are impressive.
But how do you get your content to appear in Google answer boxes?
Here is our approach to featured snippet optimisation:
- Identify pages where featured snippets are critical to answer user search intent
- Add 40- 60 word of block content also referred to as Snippet Bait specifically designed to rank in the featured snippet spot
- Add questions! 5-10 popular questions designed to rank in the featured question spot
3. Rank Brain means relevance
Google started implementing its artificial intelligence (RankBrain) back in 2015 to better rank pages but back then it wasn’t considered a key ranking component. Now with all the SEO data analyzed we can see a clear correlation with sites who are answering search queries, providing great user engagement and top organic ranking positions.
RankBrain evaluates pages in “real time” by matching the most suitable content with a user’s search intent, this could be as simple as answering a question that is typed into Google.
As engagement provides correlation to relevanceRankBrain might be also looking at the following:
- Click through rate (percentage of users who click to visit a site from the SERPs)
- Bounce rate (users who bounce back to SERPs as they haven’t been served most relevant content)
- Dwell time (how long someone stayed on your site after they’ve arrived)
4. 10x Content is King
We have reached the point of endless index competition; content has become either non-discoverable (due to an endless amount of relevant content indexed by Google) or user behaviour has matured to such levels that ordinary content has very little to no engagement.
Gone are the days of boring, basic and repetitive content. If you want to achieve meaningful user engagements in 2021 and beyond then you need to create 10x Content.
But what is 10x content?
10x content is content that is 10 times better than the highest ranking result for a given keyword.(see graph below)
Google has already prioritized user experience as a key component for top organic search rankings so it’s only logical to connect the two. 10x content means developing the most informative, user-friendly, readable and engaging information on a particular subject. Considering search demand, content length, format, design and structure as well as A/B testing different versions are key for user engagement success.
Here are some great 10x content examples:
Tip: The easiest way to find popular & engaging content is via a simple Google search, type in your targeted search queries and analyze top ranking pages and their content to inform future content strategies.
5. Superb Backlinks
Backlinks are still a major factor to ranking success however the focus this year should be in obtaining relevant contextual links from reputable high authority domains.
Think about it this way if I can spot spammy or irrelevant external backlinks, imagen what Google’s artificial intelligent and algorithms can do. Don’t risk a site penalization for a couple of low-quality links as the possible ranking/traffic loss and time to regain top result page positions will outweigh initial visibility gains.
While guest posting and influencer marketing have been proven link gaining strategies it is crucial to think outside the box and add real value to any outreach activities. You can always use link tools such as Majestic SEO or Ahrefs to analyses competitor link profiles and find outreach opportunities.
Tip: Increase the number of unique root domain links, links to specific landing pages (deep links) and diversification of your anchor text distribution to a highly targeted set of keyword campaigns.
6. Capitalize on Visual Search
Google continues to add different search features to its range and probably the most exciting one is Google Lens which lets you search what you see using just your camera or a photo.
The implication of these visual search feature is that inherently brands will have new opportunities to interact with relevant audiences via search— especially retail brands.
Tip : Adding images to XML site maps and applying structured data will help capitalize on visual search.
7. Rich Snippets (It’s about time)
I am still surprised how little web masters utilize the power of schema mark-ups.
Anything that makes it easier for Google to understand the information on your site and help your content to appear as rich snippets in SERP’s should be considered a vital optimization component
And if you didn’t know by now… Adding structured data can improve click-through-rates (CTR) by 30 percent which means additional visits and leads at almost zero cost. There are now more then 600 different types of schema markups which sites can choose from so there isn’t any excuse to ignore this very simple but effective organic ranking and conversion component any longer.
8. Off the Charts Title Tag Copy
Having your page ranked at the top of the SERPs is great unless nobody clicks on your result.
And it’s no secret why: Google has started to crowd out the search result page with ads, carousels, answer boxes and other featured snippets which resulted in the rise of zero click searches and a decline of organic CTRs.
To stand out in the SERPs, your title & meta copy needs to scream “click here” or else your listing will be ignored.
Check out the following example.
Consider the following when optimising your titles & meta descriptions:
- Write Emotional Titles (people are motivated by feelings)
- Use a Unique Title Separator Character (stand out from the crowd)
- Include Emojis & Special Characters (visual elements grab attention)
- Include Numbers/Dates
- Include Positive Sentiment
- Create Unicode Titles (eye-catching feature)
- Leave People Wanting More
- Include Primary Keywords
- Use Active Voice and Action Verbs
9. Authentic Business Information
Local SEO requires its very own strategy that is distinct from other optimization efforts but on a more general level adding authentic business information on Google My Business, Facebook and other relevant local citations are crucial local ranking factors. Local SEO optimization efforts should include:
- Correct NAP – name, address and phone number
- Authenticated business listings on relevant resources
- Reviews from reputable sites
- Content that fulfils local search demand
10. Master Search Demand & Intent
This part might not directly correlate with organic search rankings however proper keyword search demand mapping as well as planning out content by classifying and understanding user search intent is crucial for any site’s ranking success.
Keyword search demand mapping should be seen as a core strategic framework to site planning and optimization. It provides a clear overview of a sites search market share vs. key ranking/direct competitors, helps to inform on a site’s information architecture and what pages need to be optimized or developed to attract more traffic.
If you want an easy-to-use keyword research tool that brings comprehensive search features I’d go with Keyword Finder.
Search intent is also crucial when planning out content as you need to understand what people are actually looking for and at what buying stage they are in.
For example, if someone uses “compare” as part of their search query, they’re likely investigating a product or particular service. And if they use “buy”, they’re probably looking to make a purchase.
Search queries will change depending on the stage of a user’s buying journey:
- Searching for an answer to a question (informational& navigational)
- Searching for more specific information (research & discovery)
- Making a purchase (transactional)
Now that you know all the decisive Google ranking factors you’ll be able to eliminate strategies that didn’t work and optimize your bottom line.