17 Powerful SEO Ranking Factors You Might Not Know About

If you have a website then you’re probably familiar with the basics of SEO.

You know that without it, you’ll be hard-pressed to rank high in the searches.

One thing you might not know is this:

There are a lot of factors that can affect your search engine rankings.

Obtaining a top position is not as simple as putting a few keywords on your pages and submitting your site to Google.

If it were that simple, wouldn’t everyone be great at it?

Make sure you address the 17 items on this list and you’ll be on your way to better rankings, more traffic and ultimately more conversions.

1. Responsive Web Design

Having a responsive website means that your site adjusts to different screen sizes based on the device from which a user accesses it.

Responsive design is recommended by Google, so if your site still looks like something out of the 90’s, it’s time for a redesign.

If you aren’t sure whether or not your site is mobile-friendly, you can test it out here with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool.

2. Unique Title Tags on Every Page

The title tag of a page holds a significant amount of weight with the search engines, so you’ll want to include pertinent keywords in your page titles. For a quick tip on optimizing your title tags, check out our post on 3 Quick SEO Tips.

Be sure to limit your page titles to 60 characters. As you can see, this one is too long and gets truncated:

Title tag example

3. Engaging Meta Descriptions on Every Page

A meta description is another piece of code within a web page that gives an overview of the page content. Use a unique description on every page of your site, make sure it relates to what’s on the page, and try to entice users to click. This is a good place to insert a couple of keywords, but keep it natural-sounding.

Meta descriptions are limited to 160 characters (the rest will get cut off), so keep this in mind while crafting your snippet.

Meta description example

If you’re a WordPress user, I recommend installing the Yoast plugin for implementing SEO. This will allow you to easily add title tags and meta descriptions without having to mess around with any code.

However, if your site is built on another technology and you need to manually update the code, you may want to ask a web developer for assistance.

4. Text Navigation on Your Site

If your site uses several levels of dropdown navigation (when you hover over a link, more links expand beneath it), the search engines may not be able to crawl through and index all of your pages. According to Google, this may cause an issue if you want your listing to include custom sitelinks, like this one:

Google SERP listing example

No need to change or remove your dropdown navigation. Just make sure to include text links to all the important pages within the footer, like this:

Text navigation in footer

5. Long-Tail Keywords in URLs

When naming your web pages, be sure the URLs reflect the content on the page. Do research on your industry’s long-tail keywords and try to incorporate them in your page names. Try not to worry too much about length, just use dashes in between each word.

For example, our post about essential home page elements is titled “essential-elements-every-homepage-should-have”. This mirrors the title of the post and gives the search engines some information about the page’s subject matter.

Use descriptive page names

If you’re using WordPress, the page name defaults to whatever you type in as the page title, but you can easily edit it by clicking on the page name within the admin panel.

6. Sitemap File

A sitemap file is essentially a page that clues the search engines in on the structure of your site, allowing all the pages to be easily indexed.

Again, if you’re using WordPress and happen to have the Yoast SEO plugin installed, this is a cinch as the plugin will create and upload the sitemap for you. If not, you may need to have your web developer code a page for you and upload it to your web hosting server.

7. Robots.txt File

The robots.txt file resides within the root directory of your website’s server. This file instructs the search engines on which pages should and should not be indexed. This is important so that your admin pages and/or test pages don’t get indexed in the search engine results.

8. Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools

If you don’t have a Google account yet, it’s time to get one in order to gain access to all the vital website tools, including Analytics and Search Console.

Same thing goes with a Microsoft account. The Bing search engine, although less popular than Google, still deserves some attention.

Both of these tools will help you analyze your search traffic and find out where you need to make adjustments to improve your SEO. Be sure to submit your sitemap file to both.

9. Google Analytics

This one may not directly affect your rankings, but it can help you make improvements to your SEO strategy.

An extraordinary amount of information can be gleaned from Google Analytics about your users and how well your SEO is performing. Find out what your top accessed pages are, the search queries that people used to find your site, where your users are coming from (social media, Google search, organic, etc.) and much, much more. This is a free tool, so there’s really no reason not to be using it!

10. Backlinks From Other Sites

The more sites that provide links to your site (known as backlinks), the more authority Google assigns to your site, thus increasing its ranking.

Getting backlinks can be tricky, but some methods are guest blogging or providing useful comments on industry-related blog sites (typically they’ll include a backlink to your site), affiliate marketing, and posting to social media.

11. Local Listings

All businesses – particularly brick-and-mortar businesses – need to make sure their locations show up within as many local online listings as possible. This can be a bit time-consuming but, at the very least, make sure to create a Google Business Profile. This will give your business an enhanced listing when someone searches on your company name in Google. You can also include important information here  such as contact information, hours of operations, photos, and more.

Google My Business Listing SwordsNet Designs

See our post, How to Get Your Business Listed for Better Search Engine Rankings for info on where and how to get your business listed online.

12. Keywords in Header Tags

The content within header tags (h1, h2, h3, etc.) not only appears larger on the screen, but also alerts the search engines of the important topics covered on the page.

Think about the terms that a potential customer might type into Google if they were interested in your products or services. While planning your site’s content, come up with a list of key terms and phrases, then be sure to use them in your page’s header tags.

13. Alt Tags on Images

An alt tag is the code that provides the search engines with a description of your image. Never leave this field blank as this can help get your images indexed within Google and provide yet another link to your site.

Alt tag example

14. Internal Links

Internal hyperlinks (links within your page content to other pages on your site), help the search engine crawlers find and index all the pages on your site. Plus, it engages your users to spend more time on your site, thus increasing the likelihood that they’ll want to do business with you. This practice is very common within blogs where you might see “related content” links.

15. Useful Content

You’ve probably heard of content marketing. But just in case you’re not familiar, here’s the definition from Wikipedia:

“Content marketing is any marketing that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire and retain customers.”

The reason there are so many blogs these days is because content marketing works.

The basic theory is this: If you provide useful, relevant content on your site, people are more likely to find you in a search, see you as a trusted source in your industry and want to do business with you.

16. Links to Trusted Resources

Providing great content on your site is one thing, but proving the validity of what you’re claiming can make a big difference.

For example, if you’re writing an article on a medical topic, it makes sense to quote and link to the American Medical Association. The more trusted you are, the more people will view you as a valuable resource.

17. Social Media Promotions

Even if you don’t have a blog with articles to promote, being active on social media can increase brand awareness and also, your site traffic.

There are some great time-saving tools which will help streamline your social media postings. Check out Hootsuite or Buffer – both have free plans available and are simple to set up.


Powerful SEO can take time – both to implement and to reap results. It may take a little trial and error but, with a little patience, your efforts are sure to pay off.

Laura Swords | SwordsNet Designs
Written by: Laura Swords
Laura Swords is the founder of SwordsNet Designs, which provides web and graphic design solutions for small to mid-sized businesses. With over 20 years of corporate experience in both the IT and marketing arenas, she possesses the unique combination of technical and creative skills.

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