SEO changes all the time.

Google makes hundreds of adjustments to their algorithm every year and understanding the most important ranking factors can represent the difference between online success or failure. Yet how can you ascertain the most important ranking factors without the capacity to crawl and analyze millions of data points?

SEMrush performed this analysis, Ranking Factors 2.0, and has made the data publicly available. Analyzing and understanding this data can help you understand how to adjust your digital marketing strategy, and which changes you can implement to improve your visibility.

Ready to get optimized? Here are the 7 most important ranking factors to pay attention to.

As always, for more details refer to the full article.

1) Direct Website Traffic

Direct traffic comes from users typing in your exact website URL or accessing your site from a bookmark. Direct traffic is important, since it significantly impacts the top 10 positions on Google.


In a way, direct traffic signals that users know your brand and visit your site often to find information, products, services, or to log in to a member portal. It’s an indication of trust and brand awareness by consumers.

How To Increase Direct Traffic

One of the best ways to increase direct traffic is to offer a powerful user experience. Users are more apt to revisit a site that is easy to navigate and answers their questions in an easily digestible way.

2) Time on Site

Once you get your audience to visit your site, you want to keep them around for as long as possible. Time on site is another big ranking factor Google algorithms are actively analyzing, and so should you.


Why is time on site important? Google wants to know that the content and information on the page is valuable to searchers.

For example, if your time on site is less than 30 seconds, this signals to search engines that the content you are providing may not be fulfilling a user’s needs. This can lead to a decrease in ranking.

The average time on site is about three minutes. If your time on site is below two minutes, it may be best to make increasing time on site a priority.

How to Improve Time On Site

It is a delicate balance between providing easy-to-digest content while still giving a user what they are looking for.

Time on site tips include:

  • Engaging introduction to keep users reading
  • Breaking up large paragraphs to make content easier to read
  • Lots of section headings and bullet points
  • A mobile-friendly website
  • Highly visual assets like images, gifs, and videos
  • Delivering answers to questions in an actionable way
  • Never use (annoying) email opt-in pop-ups

3) Pages per Session

The average number of pages per session that users access while visiting your site is another powerful ranking factor in 2018. Pages per session looks like this in Google Analytics:


The average pages per session signals how compelling users find your content and how easy it is to access. The average pages per session across most industries are two pages. Anything over two pages per session is good to aim for.

How to Increase Pages per Session

Increasing pages per session is about the quality of content you’re serving to users as well as your site’s navigation. You want to lead your users in a specific direction to net more pages per session.

Provide links to other related content, interconnect all your article to provide context.

4) Bounce Rate

Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who leave your site after viewing only one page. It should be measured against time on page and pages per session. If the stars align for all three, you will see an increase in ranking. Bounce rate percentage looks like this:


The percentage of single-page visits is your bounce rate. Essentially it is a user engagement signal to search engines.

If your bounce rate is high, it tells Google that users are not willing to explore your website and will abandon it pretty quickly. Perhaps your content was irrelevant or low quality, or it simply didn’t deliver what visitors were looking for. Poor page load time, content, and navigation can all negatively affect your site’s bounce rate.

Average bounce rates can range from 35-65%. The average across a few top industries hovers around 40%.

If you have a new site, expect your bounce rate to be a bit higher, around 62% on average. But generally, anything under 50% is a good indicator of user engagement.

How To Decrease Bounce Rate

  • Deeper Linking: Linking to relevant pages within your content (pages per session example) can keep users engaged.
  • More Relevant Pages: Develop supportive pages that can add value. For example, relevant product pages like guides, manuals, reviews, and case studies.
  • Use Side Bars: Side bars are widgets you can employ that link to popular pages within your website.
  • Engage Users Visually: Videos are a great way to improve user engagement. For instance, you can combine your content with a video on the same topic.
  • Examine High Bounce Rate Pages: Identify pages with a high bounce rate and tweak them.

5) Number of Referring Domains

The number of referring domains that point to your site via backlinks continues to be an important ranking factor in 2018. For instance, the top link in Google’s search results has double the referring domains as the content in position 10.

A referring domain is simply the number of websites that are essentially vouching for the quality of your site, the content, or the products and services you offer.

How to Increase the Number of Referring Domains

One of the best ways to build your link portfolio is to create high-quality content that is shareable.

For websites that offer products and services, you can employ an influencer marketing campaign to grow your number of referring domains. Why? Influencers get more content shared! Blogger influencers can be great for this, especially if they write for high-quality publications.

6) Amount of Backlinks

Not only do you need a high number of referring domains, you also need a large volume of backlinks.

Backlinks are still one of the most powerful ranking strategies. This was proved in a recent study after analyzing the top 100 results for over 600,000 keywords.

How to Increase Backlinks

  • Broken Link Building: Using this strategy, you hunt down broken links in other sites’ content with the intent of replacing it with your own. You can use the Google Chrome plugin Check My Links to identify broken links and then send outreach emails pitching your link as a replacement.
  • Find Relevant Resource Pages: One of the easiest ways to earn backlinks is to find relevant resource pages you can get your website listed on. You can find resource pages by typing in “Keyword” + “helpful resources” or “keyword”+ “useful links” into Google’s search bar. Identify the most relevant and send outreach emails.
  • Brand Mentions: You may be surprised how many websites mention your brand without linking back to you. Using BuzzSumo, you can identify shares of your content and ask for a backlink.

7) Content Development

In many ways, the ranking factors that matter the most in 2018 hinge on content development. From increasing direct traffic to increasing user interaction with your site, content is still king.

Creating high-quality content is important, and there are a few requirements for powerful content that increases ranking. Content length is one! In fact, longer content ranks better.


Another important ranking factor to consider when it comes to content is unordered lists. In fact, 70% of content in the top 10 Google positions use the power of unordered lists.

Lastly, add an H1 tag to your content. Over 75% of pages with high volume keywords contain an H1 tag.


By improving on the above top-ranking factors, you can serve up quality content, improve key analytics, boost traffic, and build a robust link portfolio. In many ways, by improving just one or two of these points, the others will also improve. Like many things about SEO, the correlation between ranking factors are indeed powerful.

The 7 Most Important Ranking Factors in 2018

PS. I remember the good old times of just stuffing keywords in <meta name=“keywords”> and <meta name=“description”>. Those were much simpler times.