The Top Google Ranking Factors in 2021

Every year Google’s search algorithms continue to evolve with new ranking factors that change the approach to securing a prominent position on Google Page One SERPs (search engine page results). Here at OutReachFrog, we believe strongly in building a quality site with quality, natural links rather than trying to jump onto trends to provide short term gains in search placements.

The evolving sophistication of search algorithms keeps SEO specialists on their toes as they set an ever-higher bar for building an authoritative site to set you apart from competitors.

This article will discuss the important ranking factors that matter in 2021 and the amount of control an SEO expert or a webmaster might have over them. 

To make it easier, the top 2021 Google ranking factors have been divided into two segments – ‘on-page factors’ and ‘off-page factors’. 

What are the Top Google “On-Page” Ranking Factors in 2021?

These are the top on-page ranking factors that really matter in 2021 to rank in Google search result’s first page. All the factors except the last factor ‘trust and authority’ are within the control of the webmaster. 

Even factors like time spent by a visitor on your webpage or the bounce rate are within your control, to a major extent. 

For instance, you can ensure visitors spend more time on your webpage by grabbing their attention from the beginning with the help of high-quality relevant content punctuated with well-placed pictures and videos. The bounce rate automatically drops when visitors start spending more time on your website/page. This is a good thing for search engine optimization and your position in the SERPS.

Here are the \top on-page Google ranking factors in detail. 

  1. It’s all about backlinks

Yes, in 2021 what we have known for years still holds true. Backlinks are the most important factor that determines whether one site ranks above another. This is because backlinks are such an integral part of search engine algorithms that cannot easily be moved away from even if they want to. While that view holds some merit – we believe that backlinks are a strong ranking signal because they are so informative.

Think about it – the easiest way for a search engine to determine if someone is trying to ‘game the system’ is to simply look at the backlink profile and history of a site. If a site is engaging in a low-quality high volume link building strategy – that’s a sign that the site is trying to artificially rank higher in search. And it is a big no-no when it comes to how search engines would like sites to behave, and this causes a site to rank lower than had they not build these low-quality links.

On the flipside, quality backlinks are hard to come by. So sites with a healthy and regular amount of quality backlinks are generally the sites that people are interested in either because of their leadership in their field, the popularity of their products and services, or their share-worthy and informative content.

Most recently in a Moz survey of 150 top SEO’s – high-quality links were consistently rated the most important factor in any SEO strategy.

2. Content Still A Huge SEO Factor

Google is dedicated to making end-users experience result-oriented and unique. It is looking for high-quality content that is relevant to a user’s search query. 

The focus is on the general language used on a page, including particular words and phrases that make up the crux of a search query. These words or phrases can be better described as ‘theme words’. 

You can play around with this factor by modifying each page to sport high-quality content. Longer pages with relevant content tend to do better in Google search results. 

Try including video clips and photos as well. However, you need to take care of the other ranking factors, like page load time while developing content for your website. 

Pictures and videos go a long way in grabbing a visitor’s attention, which helps with ‘bounce rates’. The design of a page is important as well and Google scores websites on something called ‘above the fold’. This is the area visitors see when they land on a page, before scrolling down. 

This year is all about creating a good user experience and Google will not take kindly to a page where only a bunch of adverts and very little else is visible. A visitor landing on your page should be able to find the information they are looking for, at a glance. 

2. Bounce Rates More Important

Bounce refers to a visitor clicking on one of the links in the SERP and then returning to Google. There can be numerous reasons for a visitor to hit that back button, including irrelevant content and slow load time. 

Quick bounce rates are disastrous to your website’s ranking as it tells Google that your page was not effective in satisfying the visitor’s query. To understand bounce rates better, picture this scenario: 

A visitor on Google puts in a search for ‘probiotic benefits’ and clicks on the first link in the SERP. Not finding any relevant information, they click back to Google’s results after hitting the browser’s back button. They may click on the next SERP result or a link further down the page to find relevant information on ‘probiotic benefits’. 

Now, how does this scenario affect you?

Imagine the first link where the visitor clicked was your web page. The fact that the visitor returned to search results and looked for other links tells Google that the visitor did not find the information they wanted on your page. 

Google is confident about this because the visitor either repeated their search by clicking on another link or refined the keywords. 

Now, imagine there are lots of users from all around the world, searching for ‘probiotic benefits’ and visiting your web page because it is still ranked first in Google search results. What do you think Google will do if the majority of these visitors bounce back?

Obviously, Google will demote the page in the SERPs for the search phrase ‘probiotic benefits’ because lots of people are not finding it relevant to their search query. 

Bounce rate is just one side of the Google algorithm. It goes hand in hand with searcher intent. Visitors will stay longer on a page they find interesting or relevant to their purpose. 

They may even stay long enough and navigate to other pages within the site using internal links, delaying their bounce back. This makes Google happy in the knowledge that their recommendation was liked by the visitor and was of use to them. 

3. Greater Focus On Internal Links

These links are different from external links which point to a whole different website. Internal links are meant to help a user navigate through different pages of your website while looking for more information. The links allow a visitor to jump from one page on a website to a different page on the same site. 

Websites like Wikipedia have lots of internal links that allow visitors to navigate to other pages they might find relevant, useful, and informational. For instance, while reading a page on Wikipedia, there could be certain words, phrases, or names you are not familiar with and want to know more about. 

Wikipedia makes it easier to navigate around the site and find the information you are looking for quickly by ‘internally’ linking the particular phrase or keywords to other Wikipedia pages. 

You need to start linking keywords to other relevant pages on your website if you want this factor to be useful to you. This will allow visitors to enjoy a more streamlined experience which is taken very favorably by Google. Internal linking also makes it easier for Google to fully index your website. 

It’s useful to update your anchor text from time to time, read more here at Search Engine Journal.

4. Load Time More Crucial

When was the last time you spent more than 5 seconds waiting for a page to fully load? It is just so much easier to simply hit that back button and go to the next Google result. 

Nobody likes waiting around for a page to load, especially when they are on their cellphones or tablets. Visitors may not wait around if your web page takes more than 5 to 7 seconds to load. 

According to research, the average web user has the attention span of a goldfish, which does not go further than a few seconds. It is important for your pages to load quickly, or again your bounce rate will be hit. 

It is not the slow loading pages that are directly penalized by Google. It is how a visitor reacts to the page which concerns Google.  Page load speed is a top factor in SEO and becoming increasingly more relevant.

If you get a searcher from Google, who clicks on your page and then because of slow load speed or low-quality content, the visitor becomes unhappy and clicks the back button to Google, you will be hit on both ‘bounce’ and ‘exit’ rates. Google views unhappy visitors as a personal affront and will mark the page down as negative. 

Optimizing individual targeted pages for speed is critical to climbing the search ranks. Discuss with your developer to find out ways to improve page load speed, particularly on mobile sites. 

There are some great free SEO tools to check your page load time, we love check it out it’s free.

5. Visitor Behavior – Time Spent on Your Site

Google monitors visitor behavior, including the time spent on individual web pages. The Google Analytics platform is one of the ways it accomplishes this task. 

However, even if you don’t have Analytics installed, Google will be able to keep a track of visitor movements through its popular Chrome web browser.

Google Analytics is one of the best free premium web analytics service to help you track and report on your website traffic and its behavior. A lot of webmasters find Analytics a helpful tool and you would find the majority have already installed it on their sites and using it regularly.

This gives Google the ability to accurately track incoming website traffic and individual visitor movements. Recall, how internal links are a factor in ranking. 

Google Analytics provides information about the links clicked to visit other pages on your website and the time spent on individual pages, among a lot of other things. 

You can use Analytics to track things that can help you improve your SEO approach and get a better ranking in SERPs.

The tool allows to track lots of variables from the convenience of a single platform, like the number of visitors to your site, time spent by an individual visitor, the route taken by a visitor to land on a particular page, number of pages they visit, their device details, the operating system they are using, the screen resolution, and so on. 

It is better to install and use Google Analytics to monitor visitor behavior and make relevant changes to your site to improve its usability and experience, rather than hoping that your website passes below the Google radar (which in all likelihood, is not going to happen). 

6. Trust and Authority

While many webmasters will tell you that high trust and authority is an ‘off-page factor’ and not under your control, it is in fact an on-site property. Trust and authority became huge as a ranking factor in August 2018 with the introduction of the ‘Medic Update’, and has continued to rise in importance.

Many sites such as Ahrefs, Moz, and SEM rush aim to give a score to domain authority. However these tools are not Google – they try to estimate a score for authority based on metrics they have access to – usually a combination of what links are pointing to the site. However authority and trust go much further, it’s about positioning your site as a trusted resource in your niche above others.

However, it was vital to high ranking scores even before that, and more important now. Currently, health and financial niches place major ranking stock in trust and authority. However, the other niches are soon to follow with multiple Google updates lined up. 

Google places visitor experience at the forefront and it is going to take a lot of trust for them to rank a site that has information (or products) with the potential to hurt or damage a visitor’s financial well-being and health. 

The way Google monitors trust and authority is based on how other authoritative sites and people consider you and your website. Authority is passed on by votes or links from other sites. 

It is now more important than ever to shift your focus from the number of links and place it entirely on relevant, high-quality, and authoritative links that speak volumes about you and your website. 

In other words, Google wants websites that are similar to small ‘subject matter experts’ in relevance to a particular string of keywords. 

Trust and authority is still largely an off-page SEO factor, but you can control certain aspects. For instance, be vigilant with your link profile and focus only on quality backlinks from other authoritative and trusted sites. 

What are the Top Google Off-Page Ranking Factors in 2021?

Off-page ranking factors are wrongly labeled as out of a webmaster’s control. While these factors may not entirely be in your control, you can take adequate steps to ensure they work in your favor. Here are the top off-page ranking factors discussed in detail. 

1. Social Shares & SEO

Social signals are helpful for getting your website in the limelight for a short period of time. The effects are similar to if you were paying for your website to rank for a day or two in the top results, without actually paying a dime.

Social signals like Tweets, Pinterest pins, Facebook posts, Tumblr shares, and so on are used in a big way to boost ranking, even though they are not categorized as a major ranking factor. 

However, it is important you don’t completely disregard this ranking factor as unimportant, because even a short-lived ranking boost can get your website noticed and help with other ranking factors. Social signals are short-lived, primarily because of the transient nature of ‘social buzz’. 

For instance, any new piece of content published that is shared by thousands of people, stays viral for only a short period of time. People lose interest quickly and move on to newer things. 

Google takes notice of the interest, even if it is for a relatively short timeframe because it realizes that the content is something, people are looking for. In turn, Google gives the content piece a ranking boost. 

The ranking boost declines once social interest wanes and shares inevitably start to decline. It is important that you understand the nature of social sharing and use it to your advantage. 

Even so, don’t design your SEO strategy around social signals and expect the backlinks created from social channels to give you a big or long-lasting ranking boost, because they won’t. 

2. Click-Through Rates (CTR)

All webmasters have a certain level of indirect control over click-through rates where content is concerned. Imagine a scenario, where a webpage ranks #5 for a search term, but searchers like that listing because 15% of them click on it. 

Now, a page that his ranked at #5, typically gets around 5% clicks. Google will identify the anomaly and give the page a boost through the ranks when it sees more visitors clicking on that link. 

Even if the combined score puts the link at #5, Google may bring it to the first 3 results because apparently, that is what the searchers are looking for, and at the end of the day, Google is all about visitor experience and searcher intent. Therefore, the link will be given a higher slot on the first page. 

Now, imagine a spanner on the other side of the planet working his trade. A spammer is an official term used by Google to describe someone or something trying to manipulate rankings for one of their webpages. Spam is not good and not something anyone wants on the web.

Let’s say the spammer uses one of the many ‘loopholes’ and manages to ‘bypass’ Google’s algorithm to secure #1 slot for a particular search term. In the #1 position, a link is supposed to get 31% clicks. 

However, this spammer page is getting only 15% clicks because clearly, visitors are not impressed. They ignore the first listing to click on other lower links with better and more relevant link titles and descriptions. 

On top of this, more than 90% of the people who do click on the link bounce right back to Google within 30 seconds or less, because the page is rubbish and irrelevant to their search query. SSL helps as well with CTR as viewers see the padlock symbol as a sign of trust.

Google now has information that the #1 search result is not satisfying searcher intent and starts moving the page down, allowing other relevant links to take the higher slots. 

Today, Google keeps visitor behavior at the forefront and will keep moving a webpage down if they are not impressed. You can control this ranking factor with high-quality content that grabs user attention.  Another important point in SEO is getting the subject line right – as that has a big impact on CTR.

3. Backlinks – As Relevant As Ever In 2021

Backlinks are closely related to the factor ‘trust and authority’ and are an important part of any winning SEO strategy. When a site gets a backlink from another site, the other site is essentially voting for the first site.

There will be a link on the other site for the first site which is called a backlink. Earlier, it was understood that more the backlinks (or votes) your site gets from other sites, more valuable or important the content must be.  Additionally, the more links to your site, the more visitors will come to your site and engage with your content to make a purchase or other objectives you need visitors to take when visiting your site through an organic traffic channel.

A great way to attract additional traffic from visitors is to feature on other blogs, through a process known as article outreach, where high-quality blogs send you relevant traffic through to your site.

Even today and possibly for the foreseeable future, backlinks are one of the most important ranking factors in Google’s algorithm. However, quality is key over quantity in this year’s update. 

Take an example, a webpage even with only a few backlinks from authoritative sites, like CNN, BBC, and Forbes, among others, is clearly more important than a webpage that has thousands of backlinks from low-quality and spammy websites. 

Backlinks are a powerful indicator of a page’s value with high-quality links building authority and trust. The most important factor is the relevance and quality of the sites voting for your webpage and not just the number of those sites. That is what drives quality SEO.

The authority of each backlink is what search engines are is factoring in their algorithms this year, so aim for backlinks from high quality ‘authority’ webpages.