Your Google search rankings are a product of hundreds of ranking factors interacting with each other, and sometimes in complicated ways.
Because Google doesn’t explicitly publish its search ranking algorithms or document its evaluation criteria (beyond the basics outlined in its search quality rater guidelines), it’s on us to determine what the biggest ranking factors are, and how we can achieve them to rank higher. Usually, this is done through surveys of thousands (if not millions) of pages.
We have a good idea about the biggest and most important factors that affect your search rankings, but there is a diverse assortment of smaller, lesser-known factors that can also impact how you rank.
The Usual Suspects
When most people think about the factors that influence their search rankings, they gravitate toward these three major institutions:
· Content. The volume, quality, and relevance of your content has a major impact on how your site ranks (and which pages show up for which queries). Writing more and better content can increase your authority and provide more on-site relevance for your highest priority keywords and phrases.
· Structure. Your site’s overall structure, including its discoverability by search engines and technical factors related to its performance, also plays a significant role in how you rank — or even if you rank.
· Links. The quantity and quality of inbound links pointing to your site is the biggest factor in determining your site’s authority, which in turn influences how high your site will rank for queries relevant to your content.
But what about the other, smaller factors that contribute to your rankings?
There are literally hundreds of ranking factors, but these are just seven of the lesser-known determining factors I find the most interesting or noteworthy:
1. Domain age. Google has gone on record saying that the age of your domain has an impact on its search ranking. Domains with low-quality content or no appeal to users quickly die out, but the best domains keep going for years. Obviously, domain age isn’t a factor you can directly control; there aren’t any tweaks you can do to improve it, the way you can with site structure or content. Instead, you have to stay committed to your domain for the long-term if you want to be successful. There is evidence, however, that registering your domain for a long period of time as opposed to a single year can help boost its rankings since it shows trust and commitment.
2. Social signals. The evidence for “social signals” has been mixed, prompting a long-standing debate in the SEO world. However, some studies suggest that things like social shares, posts, and possibly even your in-platform authority could influence your site’s search rankings. These factors are still secondary to links in terms of evaluating content quality and, ultimately, increasing your rankings, but they’re worth enough that they shouldn’t be entirely ignored in your campaign.
3. Content updates. Ever since 2010 (the Caffeine update), Google has prioritized new content over older content. Accordingly, if you edit one of your on-site blog posts with some fresh content and a new date, it could rise in search rankings due to its revitalized “newness.” However, you might not know that bigger updates are prioritized over smaller ones; rewriting the entire article takes precedent, and can lead to higher rankings than just changing one line. If you’re interested in refreshing some of your site’s older content with updated information, this is a good factor to note.
4. Outbound links. You know that inbound links influence your rankings pretty strongly. But you might not realize that your outbound links might also play a role in your search rankings; Google looks at the types of sources you point to in your article to verify its credibility. For example, if you point to a handful of strong off-site authorities, it will make your work seem more credible than if you linked to spammy, low-authority sites.
5. Click-through rates (CTRs). CTRs are an incredibly complicated SEO variable, since your CTRs might affect your rankings, and your rankings might affect your CTRs. However, a detailed review suggests that having a higher-than-expected CTR can boost your search rankings, while having a lower-than-expected CTR can lower them (based on similar sites in your position).
6. Repeat visitors. In Google’s eyes, repeat visitors are a good thing. New visitors show that you can extend your brand reach and drive more people to your site, but repeat visitors are a clear indication that there’s something on your site worth seeing twice. Accordingly, if you have a high percentage of repeat visitors, you could get a significant boost in your authority (and eventually, search visibility).
7. Dwell time. Finally, Google considers a small factor called “dwell time,” the amount of time spent on a given page before returning to the main SERP. For example, if you click a link and spend 5 minutes on that page before returning, you’ll have a high dwell time. If you only spend 15 seconds, you’ll have a low dwell time. Sites with higher dwell time tend to have better, more thorough content, so Google tends to rank them higher than their low-dwell-time counterparts.
These lesser-known search ranking factors probably aren’t strong enough to take priority, or take resources from your other, bigger strategies, but they are interesting to consider, and if you have the extra time or budget flexibility, they’re worth pursuing. Think of these as supplementary ranking factors, designed to give you small boosts to complement your progress on content, structure, and links.
If you’re wrestling for control of a certain keyword, or if you have a close competitor who’s always at your throat, they could be just what you need to break the tie.
For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!