Top 35 Search Engine Optimization Factors | White Whale Web Design
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Top 35 Search Engine Optimization Factors

Published: June 29, 2018

There are over 200 factors that Google and other search engines around the world take into consideration when ranking any given web page. At White Whale Web Design, we have analyzed the 200 ranking factors discovered by SEO professionals and ranked by what we believe are the top 35 search engine optimization ranking factors that will affect small businesses either in a positive way or a negative way.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can be broken down into 3 main categories: On-Page SEO, Off-Page SEO and Violations.

On-Page SEO are factors that business owners and web developers can have a direct influence on: how the website is developed, content used in the website and website speed.

Off-Page SEO are factors that business owners and web developers can have an indirect influence on, but not a directly, include: backlinks, page authority and user engagement.

Violations are factors that can hurt the SEO score of websites that purposely attempt to deceive the search engines algorithm. Some examples of violations include: spam, keyword stuffing and shallow content.

To make this guide more beneficial to you, we have broken the Top 35 Search Engine Optimization factors out into these three categories and ranked them from what we consider to be the most important factor to the least.

The violations we have included in this article are ranked from the violation with the highest punishment from the search engines to the factor that carries the least punishment. However, Google does not disclose the punishment factor of any particular violation, so the rankings we have given are entirely based from our own experience and the experience of other SEO professionals.

On-Page SEO

Factor #1: Quality Content

Website content is one of the most important factors when trying to raise a websites SEO score, but many website owners overlook the important concepts of having quality and informative content.

What sets you apart from your competition?

Why should someone choose your product/service instead of choosing somebody else who offers the same product/service at a similar price?

Quality content sets your website apart from your less-content-savvy competitors and is one of the most important success factors of search engine optimization.

We will talk more about how quality content contributes to the overall success of your website later in this article.

Factor #2: Keyword Research

Have you ever wondered how Google knows when to show your website link in the search engine results versus when to the show another websites link? It’s all down to keywords.

If you type into Google the name of your business, your website should be the first link to pop-up on the search engine results page. If its not, then you may be missing out on the fundamentals of search engine optimization.

Before writing your next blog or web page, first determine how you want prospective readers to find it. What types of words or phrases will they type into the search engine? Once you have a list, include those words and phrases in your article to increase the chances of it being found.

Factor #3: Crawlability

So how does your website get included in Google’s giant book of search results? The answer is crawlability. Everyday Google and other search engines crawl your website for new and relevant content. Each website gets what Google calls a “crawl budget”. A crawl budget is an allotted time the “crawl-bots” will use to “crawl” your websites content.

Websites with crawlability issues are at risk for not being indexed or only being partially indexed by the search engines. JavaScript and Flash coding can cause crawlability issues, template websites can slow crawl-bots down and websites without robot.txt and sitemaps can suffer as well.

Factor #4: Mobile Friendliness

Bing and Google have started giving websites with mobile-friendly platforms a boost on the results pages because more people in the world search via their mobile device rather than a desktop device.

So, get your website mobile-friendly! By having a mobile-friendly website, you have the ability to reach more people and jump higher on the search engines.

Factor #5: Titles

A title of a website, like a title of a novel, is the first piece of content readers see before diving deeper into the story. Google uses this same method when indexing and organizing links. For example, you would be surprised to read a news article titled “Local Cat Gets Rescued by Fire Department” when the article content describing the new budget for a local school district.

The title of your website, your web pages and your articles have to align with the content and the overall purpose of the website and the brand.

It is also equally important to not give your webpage titles duplicate names. This confuses the search engines and can lead to certain pages not being indexed for the correct audience. Use Keyword Research from factor #2 to align your titles with the keywords you want to be found for.

Factor #6: Page Speed

With most search engine users now using mobile devices to access search results on the web, search engines such as Google have started to put an emphasis on website speed.

Although having the fastest website on the web does not guarantee your website will receive the top spot on search engines, Google has stated that they do take website speed into consideration when ranking websites. To boost your SEO by speeding your website up, your website needs to load in less than a second on desktops and less than 3 seconds on mobile devices.

Factor #7: Description Tags

The meta description tag is used to give further detail to what the webpage is all about. You may have wondered how search engines get the short website description that is placed underneath the link in the search engine results pages. This is derived from the description meta tag and is one of the oldest ways search engines have gained insights into a particular webpage.

So how does having a meta description tag effect your SEO score? Well, to be honest, it doesn’t have any ranking or SEO power. But the keywords within this description tag do. The meta description tag is great place for the website owner to sell the website link to the search engine user, so use it!

Like the Title tag, do not duplicate description tags and avoid using long complete sentences. The description tag needs to be less than 300 characters,so include as much relevant information about your webpage as possible.

Factor #8: Words

After completing you Keyword Research, its time to put the list you have created to work. There is no set number of times you should use a particular word on a webpage, but common sense should do the trick.

As you are writing your next blog or web page, think about the words you want that page to be recognized for. For example, a blog about dog houses, should include the words “dog” and “house” distinctively.

If you have already written several blogs without doing keyword research, then now is the time to go back a do some editing.

Factor #9: Fresh Content

So, what is “fresh content” anyway and why is it relevant to SEO? Google loves new and updated content, especially when there is an increase in the amount of traffic searching for that specific topic.

For example, imagine it's March and you are publishing your new blog containing facts and history of the upcoming Masters Golf Tournament. Because more people are likely to search the Masters in March and April, your new content will get a boost during this time.

Factor #10: Duplicate Content

Sometimes it is necessary to include the same information or almost duplicate web pages within your website. For instance, if your business has multiple locations and you would like a web page dedicated to each location for the purposes of local SEO, then some duplication will be necessary. Content duplication can also occur if you have not directly defined whether your website should be accessed via www- or without.

However, duplicate content seen by Google is given a lower SEO score than others, because the content is not as unique.

To get around this, it is important to never directly plagiarize content from another website without giving credit. If you have multiple web pages with duplicate content, you should canonicalize these by adding a simple line of code to your web pages.

Factor #11: Structured Data Markup

You may have heard of structured data markup in past from various SEO professionals, but you may be unfamiliar with the effect it has on your SEO score.

Imagine you're meeting someone for the first time who speaks a different language than you. Instead of stumbling through the words you both may be familiar with, wouldn’t it be easier to get an interpreter?

This is what structured data markup is all about. Structured data is the language of the search engines and by using structured data markup, you have the opportunity to talk directly to the search engine in its own language about your website and services.

Factor #12: Vertical Content

Search Engines such as Google use strategies such a vertical search to find more in-depth information about a specific query.

For example, search “Nike shoes” in Google. You will see several types of information appear. First you will see the regular search engine result links, but you will also see pictures of shoes in the Google Shopping section, a map displaying the closest physical shops where you can try on and buy Nike Shoes and a Knowledge Box dedicated to Nike. This is vertical search information.

This is why it is always important to include and optimize images, videos and structured data markup on your website, as well as, have a Google Business and Search Console accounts.

Factor #13: They Ask, You Answer

Providing direct answers for those searching specific questions within you niche could get your website into one of Google’s featured snippets. For example, search the question “How to reset AC” in the Google search engine. At the top of the search engine results page, you will most likely see a step-by-step guide to resetting your AC unit.

By answering frequently asked questions within your niche through “how-to” or “step-by-step” guides. You increase your chances of getting featured by Google and having the opportunity to attract more traffic to your website.

Factor #14: URL Lengths & Content

Most website owners or publishers forget that the URL of a website is a powerful tool. Not only does is signify the name of your brand, but it also provides a description to search engines crawling your content.

For example, the URL “” is the URL to this blog. When reading this URL, you expect that it links to blog called “Top 35 Search Engine Optimization Factors” and you would be correct.

What if the URL was “”? This would be far harder to decipher as to what the URL was linking to. Avoid using random words or numbers to name webpages as it confuses the search engines and can lead to certain pages not being indexed for the correct audience.

Factor #15: Headers

Header tags are used tp put emphasis on titles of pages and articles. Header tags are ordered according to importance and can be seen in raw code as H1 – H6 tags. In the case of this blog page “Top 35 Search Engine Optimization Factors” is written as an H1 tag because of its importance to describing the article. The sub-headers are written as H2, H3 and H4 tags accordingly.

Google and other search engines use header tags to identify important sections of a webpage. To optimize these headers, try to include important keywords in these tags to reflect their importance to the overall article or website.

Factor #16: HTTPS & Security

HTTPS is not a new concept, but Google encourages website owners to use HTTPS servers. Google and other search engines use HTTPS to verify website relevance and security on the web.

You can run your website on HTTPS servers by purchasing an SSL certificate from a credible web security store like GoDaddy. If your website is an ecommerce store, then it is absolutely essential for you to run on HTTPS servers to protect your customers credit card information from malicious hackers.

Having an SSL certificate, like site speed, does not guarantee top result spots, but Google has confirmed that having one will boost your SEO.

Off-Page SEO

Factor #17: Trust Authority

The goal of any website should not be to strictly make profits from website visitors. Making a profit is the result of a much bigger and valuable goal. The goal of every website should be to create an authority website; a website that is a recognized leader and resource in the industry or location of the business.

For example, a local home improvement company has a website but is not receiving the profits they expected to get out of the custom build website. Their website speed is lightning fast and the website design is inviting and easy to navigate, but they still cannot get the phones to ring. Although the website is fundamentally optimized for the search engines, this company has failed to become a local leader and resource for residences who seek their services.

By creating “how-to” videos, blogs, podcasts, question & answer pages you can build a reputation in an industry or location for being a resource. When more people seek your guidance via these created resources, your website builds authority with the search engines and then your website generates profit.

Factor #18: Link Quality

Imagine your in market to buy a new house and before purchasing you hire a home inspector to make sure everything from the foundation to the roof is in good condition. Now imagine you also allow 20 random people to also inspect your home.

Who do you trust more? The 20 random people or the 1 professionally qualified home inspector? Unless you have recently had a bad experience with home inspectors, you are more likely to trust the 1 home inspector over the 20 random people because he is an expert.

In the same way, search engines count the links pointing to your website. These are called “backlinks”. The higher quality backlinks your website has, the higher your SEO score. Search engines use these measurements to determine how valuable and relevant your website is to the market.

Factor #19: Country

This may seem pretty obvious, but when Google and other search engines index your website, they take into account the words and dialect of your website as well.

For example, the word “football” is used to describe a different sport depending on what country you live in. In America “football” is used to talk about American Football, where the rest of the world uses “football” to describe the sport frequently referred to by Americans as “soccer.”

To optimize your website for location-based SEO, start with the language your website uses and the words and phrases your target market is familiar with.

Factor #20: Locality

Google and other search engines also take into account “local SEO”. Local Search Engine Optimization consists of specific words or phrases that target a city or region.

For example, a local Atlanta based roofing company can increase their local SEO by using the term Atlanta or a suburb of Atlanta in the header, description and title tags within their website.

A company with multiple locations can benefit from local SEO by creating location specific landing pages within their website.

Factor #21: Engagement

Does your website have a lot of visitors entering your website but leaving within a minute of landing on your webpage? In the marketing world, we say these websites have “high bounce rates”. Your website bounce rate can be found in your Google Analytics account at the top of the main dashboard. Websites with bounce rates of 50% or greater as considered high bounce rate websites, meaning over half of the users visiting your website left the website before engaging with any other pages in your website.

So how do you make your bounce go down, its easy, just make your webpages more engaging to visitors. Your headers may not be attracting the right market (think back to your keyword research) or your website may be too complicated for users to navigate through. Many factors can effect engagement and it is advised to talk to website and marketing professional to find out the root cause of your engagement problems.

Factor #22: Link Anchor Text

How websites reference you when linking to you is almost as important as the quality of those websites. For example, a local book store may write blogs about local authors and events. Another website linking to the bookstores may link the text “the top 10 best children’s books”. By using this anchor text as a link to your article, this website is now telling the search engines that the bookstore is an expert in children’s books, and the book store will receive a healthy boost in SEO for the keyword phrase “children’s books”.

Avoid using the terms “click here” when linking to another web page in your website or to another website you are referencing. These vague terms don’t tell the search engines why you linked to them, or what you are linking to.

Factor #23: Personal History

A company’s history is important to the search engines because history inspires brand loyalty and relationship. Search engines regularly monitor user interactions with the search engine results pages to determine the history and the loyalty to a particular website or brand.

History also establishes relevance and authenticity. Websites that have a longer history get an SEO boost from the search engines because search engines such as Google are able to establish as sense of trust with the website.

Domain registration can also play a factor in how search engines trust your brand or website. A website who just recently purchased a domain name and hosting account are considered low trust because they are new to the market, same goes for websites whose domain name is expiring within a year. To continue to develop trust between your website and the search engines, consider purchasing a domain name for 2-3 years at a time; regulations allow you to purchase a domain name for up to 10 years.

Factor #24: Number of Links

If getting quality links seems overwhelming for you, then perhaps getting many links from various different types of websites is a stepping stone to quality link-building. Fortunately, Google takes into account the number of backlinks your website has as well as their quality. Unfortunately, Google and other search engines are giving websites less of an SEO boost then in previous years.

There are many strategies to generating backlinks to your website, but the best and most organic way is to create content that other websites want to link to! Creating blogs, articles, “how-to” guides, and informative quality videos are great ways to attract websites who want to link to quality sources of information.

Factor #25: Trust History

Just like in business, the track record you can create, the more people will trust you with their business. For example, a landscaper with consistent poor Google Reviews and a history of cutting corners is less likely to get referral business. In the same sense, a website that consistently breaks Google’s SEO standards, and receives penalties will find it harder to rank on Google.

For this reason, it is important to hire the right professional who has a good overall track record with other businesses. Marketing agencies with Google Certified Professionals are more likely to follow Google’s SEO best practices. These services may be slightly more expensive, but once Google recognizes you as a “bad website” or a “consistent offender” it is difficult to build your SEO back up to Googles nice list.

Factor #26: Social Media Reputation

A company’s reputation on and off the web can make or break the businesses ability to generate profit. Search engines equally care about your reputation, because their algorithms are established to help the end user find the best possible information for their search query.

Although Google has said that they do not take social media links or followers as a way of establishing page rank, a company’s reputation on social media will have an indirect link to how Google views your brand.

A website with many high rated reviews on both Google Reviews and Facebook is a clear indicator that the business is highly regarded amongst the market.

Factor #27: Social Media Shares

Like your website, your social media account is an influential part of your overall marketing success. When people follow your Facebook Business Page, share your LinkedIn page, like your Instagram posts and retweet your twitter content you have the ability to reach tens of thousands of potential buyer without doing any of the work.

Google and other search engines pay attention to social media accounts linked to your website because shared content establishes trust and validity for the brand. If you are new to social media, uncomfortable with owning an account or you simply don’t have the time to manage multiple accounts, we suggest seeking out a professional who can guide you through the process and answer all of your questions.


Factor #28: Cloaking

Cloaking is a deliberate action to attempt to deceive the search engines. Cloaking is when the code of your website shows the search engines one thing and the human another.

Cloaking is not something that can be done on accident and that’s why Google gives out huge penalties to those who get caught. Cloaking is high risk, low reward and should never be done.

When choosing a web designer, developer or manger it is advised to ask if these types of methods are used.

Factor #29: Paid Links

So, you are faced with getting other quality websites to link to your content and you come across an ad that says “500 high-quality links for only $300!”. You would be stupid not to check this deal out, right!?

Wrong! Google has a strict policy against purchasing links for the sake of improving your SEO. Google has been known to penalize large corporations such as Overstock, JC Penny and even Google Japan for purchasing links to improve SEO.

However, there is a caveat to this policy and that is although you cannot “buy” links for the sake of SEO, it is not against policy to hire a link-builder (as long as they follow good practices). Link builders, find websites that link to other articles similar to your industry. They seek out “broken-links”, links that no longer link to the website they were intended to link to. Then the link-builder sends a nice email to the owner of the website, asking them if they would link your webpage instead since the link is already broken.

A word of warning, some “link-builders” do break the rules and purchase links so if this is a route you want to take then make sure the link-builder is reputable. Link-builders who follow good practices work at a premium price of about $1,000 - $5,000 for a few high-quality links.

Our advice is to save your money and do this yourself organically.

Factor #30: Spam

Spam is where you or your marketing company uses software to drop links into comment boxes and forums with high quality anchor text in hopes that with enough links the search engines will give you an SEO boost.

This is sadly not the case and Google is starting to penalize these websites with a harsher punishment. If you do not use software to drop links, then you will most likely never face this kind of penalty, but there are plenty of online software companies that will try to tempt you into thinking it’s safe.

Like everything else in SEO, use common sense and do a little bit of research and you will have what it takes to avoid these violations and improve your SEO.

Factor #31: Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing has been done by websites over and over again for years and is most likely one of the oldest tricks companies try to play on Google. Unfortunately, Google is getting smarter and can now recognize when keyword stuffing is occurring.

Most likely, unless you are purposely repeating a word hundreds of times deliberately in an article with no purpose or reason you will not get a penalty for keyword stuffing. However, it is important to use targeted keywords in blogs, articles and web pages but to only use them naturally.

Factor #32: Thin and Shallow Content

There are many positive things you should do to market your website and your brand strategically and effectively in the online webspace. However there are several things you should not do and putting “thin” and “shallow” content on your website is one of them.

So, let's start with “thin” content. Web pages with thin content simply lack enough content for the reader to get anything out of it. It is suggested that every webpage should at least have 200 words on it, but Google has not confirmed the specific number they are looking for. Google’s response to this question is to write the correct amount of content that fully answers the question or explains the subject in which you are writing about.

Shallow content, is content without substance. Do you remember back in high school when your teacher gave the class a writing assignment? The teacher may have put a minimum word count to motivate the students to write enough to explain the subject of the paper.

You may have been one of the students who wrote beautiful papers, but you may have also been the student who came up a few hundred words short. To ensure you met the required word count, you added a few sentences here and few there and voilà, you met your assignment requirements.

This is where a lot of poorly researched blog content is created and Google in particular has started to take a stance against websites writing content that meets the word requirements but doesn’t provide enough substance to the reader.

If this sounds like you, contact us today and we would be happy to show you some tips to writing better, longer and more wholistic content.

Factor #33: Piracy

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a copyright law that penalizes companies and individuals who infringe on copyrighted material on the internet.

This violation will not affect most businesses, but it is worth saying that if you are using copyrighted material that you do not have permission to use and your website receives a DMCA takedown request, Google will start to penalize you.

Factor #34: Hidden Code

Don’t hide text from the user’s eyes to purposely deceive the search engines. This will get you a penalty and it's really unnecessary. Hiding words by either making the font size really, really small or making the color blend-in to the background to enable keyword stuffing is a lazy and ultimately unethical.

A good website ranks for keywords because of a combination of SEO factors mentioned in this article and thorough keyword and market research. SEO is not rocket science or some secret unattainable code waiting to be cracked. Become a leader in your industry and reflect that in your website and the SEO will start to climb.

Factor #35: Overusing Ads

Ads have an important place on the internet. Many businesses use Google AdWords to increase the profitability of their business by reaching new and existing customers. However, websites that have an over abundance of ads can make it hard for users to find the information they were looking for and, in some instances, can make it hard for users to navigate through the website.

Google finally improved their algorithm to check for theses types of website layouts and has started to penalize websites with too many ads.

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