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What is search ranking?

Search ranking or SEO ranking refers to the position a website or webpage holds within a specific search engine results page.

SEO Ranking: What is Search Ranking?

Search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Ask.com function largely by returning webpages and/or websites that best respond to a searcher's query. When you type a question into a search engine, these results will be displayed one at a time in a certain order. This ordering of results is what determines the ranking of a page, and where a given result ranks among the other results is determined by a number of factors.

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an array of methods and techniques used to help a given page organically appear higher in the search engine results pages (SERP) of Google or other search engines. This does not include promoted results, or paid results at the top of a page that have an “ad” box next to the URL.

What Is SEO Ranking?

Rankings refer to where a website or webpage falls positionally on a SERP. For example, if your webpage is about insurance and you appear third in line on a SERP, you are ranked third. Effective SEO is important for ranking, because nearly 92% of internet traffic is generated by sites listed on page one of the SERP, and almost 33% of traffic is received by the first search result (excluding paid traffic). 

SEO occurs on two levels; for human searchers, and for search engine bots. In order to optimize web pages best for bots, you need to take technical SEO and keyword placement into consideration. For any given search, Google’s ranking results could incorporate features such as image results, video, smart snippets (a piece of the page being displayed directly on the SERP), as well as answer boxes (where information from multiple pages is automatically cobbled together to create a quick, easy resource for searchers). It becomes increasingly necessary to think like a bot, because any of the items listed above can account for high or low ranking.

Page rankings are updated in real-time. In order for a website to maintain a particular ranking, or improve in ranking, the web page must be a constant work in progress that is adapted to new search queries in order to display notably higher in the SERPs. What ranks well today, may rank terribly tomorrow if you’re not invested in good SEO.

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What Are the Most Important SEO Ranking Factors?

There are a variety of factors that influence search engine rankings. Search engines calculate search results via intricate, patented algorithms. Google does have general guidelines pertaining to how they calculate rankings, but, because Google’s algorithm is a closely guarded secret, it’s impossible to know everything about ranking factors. That being said, there are certain elements that have been observed to generally contribute to higher rankings: 

  • User-Friendly Websites: A website that ranks high in the SERPs is usually considered user-friendly. Factors that encompass user-friendliness include easy navigation, mobile phone inclusive/friendly, and ADA-accessibility.
  • Page Speed: Google prioritizes how quickly a website loads when taking rankings into account. How well sites load on mobile phones and other devices are also taken into account, so use Google’s mobile-friendly test to view how well your website loads.
  • Webpage Content Quality: Webpages must be easily digestible through complete coverage of a topic, correct grammatically, parallel in writing/tenses as well as free from spelling errors. If Google crawls a website and it is strewn with inaccuracy and general errors, it is less likely to appear high in the SERPs.
  • Website Age: Although it is not the sole reason, an older website is more likely to have earned a strong backlink profile, to have a greater breadth and depth of content, and will have a record in search engine indexes showing how it is updated and maintained — all of which are important ranking factors.
  • Satisfying Search Intent: Google's purpose is to find the most relevant information for a specific query. If you have an article titled “How to Get Out of Debt” but your content is about taking out loans, Google will probably not rank you for getting out of debt because the content does not align. Satisfying the intent behind a query is largely based on an understanding of search intent and keyword research to find terms that searchers are using in order to define the question being asked.
  • Backlinks: Backlinks are hyperlinks pointing from one web page to another web page. They are assessed through quantity and quality, and more links may potentially lead to more authority; however, not all sites have equal authority. Nevertheless, highly relevant links from sites with lower authority can be just as valuable as higher authority links with less relevancy. By and large, it is important to have a relevant, yet diverse backlink profile.
  • Technical SEO: There are small techniques that make big differences in technical SEO:
    • Use headers (i.e. H1, H2, and H3) to show pecking order;
    • Place keywords and keyword phrases in headers;
    • Design a brief meta description (between 140-160 characters) that grabs the reader's attention and also includes keywords and keyword phrases;
    • Avoid cramming as many keywords or keyword phrases as possible into the domain. This is also known as keyword stuffing.

Ways to Improve SEO Ranking

Although the algorithms that establish rankings are widely unknown, there are techniques in SEO that have been proven to help achieve a higher ranking in the SERPs:

  • Keyword Research: Tools like SEMrush help us understand what an audience is searching for as well as to understand the specific language used when searching. Use this knowledge to tailor your content to the queries of the audience and to satisfy searcher intent.
  • Design Engaging and Direct Content: Find the balance between producing educational and entertaining content. While longer content gives the ability to place more links throughout, readers want concise, accurate information that is easy to find and understand.
  • Create Accurate Content: Aside from grammatical and spelling errors, avoid using the information without evidence or backing. When using statistics, cite the source and use reputable sources that are not direct competitors in order to build authority. In some cases, a direct competitor may be an authority on the subject, so it is okay to link to a competitor in this instance.
  • Relevant Internal/External Links: While it is important to create a web of links to internal and external sources, the information needs to be relevant. Building authority is directly affected while you build links. If you are writing about taxes and include an internal link to an article about sports injuries, Google will likely decide that your page shouldn’t rank for either topic — not both. To help with placement and execution of links that are built to meet your site’s specific needs, there are custom link building services available.
  • Domain Authority (DA): Domain authority (DA) is a metric, developed by Moz, to score a page from 1-100 using root domains and backlinks. While DA is not a direct factor that Google takes into account when determining a SERP, it does give users a prediction of how well a website is intended to rank in the SERP.
  • Check Technical SEO: Technical inadequacies such as broken links, keyword cramming, and mislabeled headings deter from how high on a SERP you will rank. When Google crawls an error-prone webpage, it questions the credibility of the rest of the content. When dealing with technical SEO, it is important to consider SEO auditing services that help uncover and fix technical issues that are holding a site back.
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