Your college or university has a lot to offer: academic programs, social events, philanthropic activities, alumni achievements, breaking news, and much more. You want current and potential students, parents, and other stakeholders to learn all about these things, likely through your school’s website. The most effective way of reaching these stakeholders is through organic search.
- 81% of Internet users find desired online destinations through a search engine (source: Forrester)
- 76% of people use search engines to find local business information (source: MOZ)
- 53% of organic searches click on the website in the first position (source: Search Engine Watch)
This is why you need to understand how search engines work and how your site will rank on them. And when it comes to search rank, it’s like Ricky Bobby says: “If you’re not first, you’re last.”
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a methodology of strategies, techniques, and tactics used to increase the number of visitors to a website by obtaining a high search rank on a search engine result page (SERP).
Achieving a top search rank for your website is more like a marathon than a sprint. There are steps to be taken toward top ranking factors, and each step gets you closer to your goal. So it’s important to know what the most important ranking factors are.
Here are 24 top ranking factors for a high search rank with search engines.
Create relevance with your audience using keywords. Here are the places where they should be seen on a website.
- Keyword in domain name: Exact match domains tend to perform extremely well in the SERPs. But if the desired domain name is taken or, for branding purposes, if it is better to go for a brand name as your domain name, there are other ways to pursue keywords.
- Keywords in the URL: Every URL on a website is a place to put keywords. And search engines capture up to 115 characters. Keep them clean and user friendly. For example, http://www.wordtracker.com/academy/seo-clean-urls is a simple description of keywords in a URL title that describes what the webpage is about.
- Keywords in page titles: It’s much easier to stick your keywords in page titles. Make sure that your titles also look natural and appealing, because it’s people who are buying what you’re selling, not search bots.
- Keywords in H1 text: H1 is an HTML tag normally used to mark headings. When your keywords stand in H1 tags, they carry more weight.
- Keywords in image alt text: Image alt text is what gets displayed instead of your image when it cannot be loaded. If image alt texts reflect the rest of the keywords on your page, this sends the search engines a signal that your page is relevant to the search query, and they rank it higher.
- Keywords in anchor text: Internal linking is important for higher rankings. To attain the desired effect, use your keywords in the anchor texts on websites.
- Keyword density in copy: Keywords should be present in copy. The exact number of keywords to increase search rank depends on the industry. There is no ideal keyword density that’ll work for every site.
Links establish authority in your area of expertise. Here is how to use them effectively.
- Outbound links: Linking to authoritative pages sends trust signals to the search engine. It shows you want your audience to learn more of the subject. This is a huge trust factor for Google.
- Internal links: Interlinking pages on your site can pass their strength between them. It also makes it easier for your audience to get to specific areas of the website.
- Number of linking domains: The number of domains linking to you is one of the most important ranking factors.
- Authority of linking domains: Not all links are equal. The authority of the domain used is an influencing rank factor too.
Help search engines and your audience understand what your site is about using these site factors; the better their understanding, the higher your search rank.
- Indexed pages: These are the pages of your website that have been catalogued by a search engine and will appear its search results. More indexed pages is generally better.
- Sitemap: A sitemap helps search engines index all pages on your site. It is the simplest and most effective way for search engines to see what pages your website includes.
- Site loading speed: To search engines and your customers, site loading speed impacts search rank: 47% of Web users expect a website to load in under two seconds, and 51% of online shoppers in the United States claim that if a site is too slow, they will not complete a purchase (source: Search Engine Journal).
- Site errors: Numbers are often used to account for errors that may be occurring on a website: A 404 error occurs when a webpage is served to a user who tries to access a page that cannot be located at the URL provided. A 401 error happens when a website visitor tries to access a restricted page but isn’t authorized to do so, usually because of a failed login attempt. A 500 error is a general-purpose error message for when a Web server encounters some form of internal error, like when the server is overloaded. These are some of the most common site errors.
- Mobile-optimized site: Forty-six percent of Web searchers used mobile exclusively to research, and that number is only increasing. Having a mobile-optimized site will continue to have a bigger impact on search rank as time goes by (source: Positionly).
- Google (or Bing) Webmaster Tools integration: Having your site verified by Google Webmasters Tools helps with your site get indexed. Also, Webmaster Tools provide valuable data to better optimize your site.
Quality articles, blogs, videos, and images amplify your site’s relevance and authority. No website gets to a high search rank without good content.
- Content length: Searchers want to be educated. They won’t be satisfied with basic information. Having authoritative and informative content is very important.
- Duplicate content: Not all factors can influence your rankings in a positive way. Having similar content across various pages of your site can actually hurt your rankings. Avoid duplicating content and write original copy for each page.
- Content updates: Search engine algorithms prefer freshly updated or “dynamic” content. It is one reason blogs have such strong value for search rank. This does mean that you have to continually edit your site’s pages, but it does mean you should have a strategy for freshening up page content on an annual basis.
- Images and videos: Good content doesn’t have to always involve words. Images and videos are just as important. They provide opportunities for alt text with keywords and links.
Get additional sources of traffic, links, and Web pages through social media, another important contributor to a high search rank.
- Social reputation: Just as search engines don’t count all links equally, they don’t view all social accounts as being the same. Having your own social presence that is well regarded is important. You want to gain references from social accounts with good reputations. Participate on relevant social platforms in a real, authentic way.
- Social shares: Similar to links, getting quality social shares is helpful. Good things happen when more people see your site or brand. Nowhere is this more apparent than Google+.
- Social presence: Having more than one entry on a search page can only increase the chance of a click. Your social network includes additional Web pages that help people get to know you and drive traffic to your website. And people like to do business with people they know.
Do these ranking factors help you understand search rank? Does your institution need help getting to a top search rank? Are there top ranking factors you would include that we missed? Let us know – we would love to hear from you!