SEO Ranking Defined: 6 Factors Influencing Your SEO Ranking

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Promoting your products or services to reach potential customers is essential—but marketing isn’t just about paying for ads. There are also ways to help customers find you naturally, such as through organic search results, where more than half of web traffic comes from.

SEO ranking—boosting your position in unpaid search engine results—increases the chances of users stumbling across your offerings when they look up terms related to your business. It’s a powerful and efficient way to meet potential customers where they are—and it’s not as expensive as other types of marketing. Still, climbing SEO rankings is one of the most misunderstood forms of marketing because it relies on various factors that change over time.

Here’s what you need to know about boosting your standing and organically driving clicks to your site.

✂️ Shortcuts

What is SEO ranking?

SEO ranking, or search engine optimization ranking, refers to a website or webpage’s position on search engine results pages (SERPs) in response to a search query. The higher the page’s link appears in the search results, the more likely it will be seen, leading to increased traffic and visibility. 

Several factors—including keyword relevance, website content, and backlinks—determine SEO ranking. Your goal is to optimize these factors to improve your site’s ranking and drive more organic traffic.

Search engines organize results into results pages. Here’s how:

  • Keywords. Keywords are the search terms you type into Google. As a business owner, you typically focus on specific or “target” keywords related to your products or services. These can be single words or phrases within a query. For example, Shopify may try to rank for terms like “ecommerce” or phrases like “start ecommerce business.”
  • Ranking positions. Your ranking refers to your position on SERPs relative to other search results. Although search results aren’t usually numbered on SERPs, they’re often referred to in numeric order in SEO. Results are organized according to relevancy, with the best (first) results appearing at the top of the page and less relevant results (10th) at the bottom. (These numbered results do not include ads, which usually appear in search results.)

What is the SERP?

SERP stands for search engine results page and refers to the page a search engine displays in response to a search query. In other words, it’s what you see after you type something into Google. It typically includes a list of relevant websites, images, videos, and other content. 

When talking about SEO, if you hear someone say, “We’re ranking number one in the SERP,” they’re saying they’re in the highest position (after ads) on the SERP for their target keyword—an ideal position for getting clicks and driving traffic to their page. SERP traffic is unequally distributed; on average, the top three rankings receive 55% of the clicks for the keyword in question.

Realistically, you can’t consistently rank first for your target keywords. The likelihood depends on the competitiveness of the keywords and how the search engine perceives the intent of your target keywords. Established websites with the means to optimize their content tend to occupy results for popular keywords, making it harder for other sites to win a higher position. 

Additionally, if the search engine perceives your keyword’s intent as informational—meaning it assumes the searcher is looking for long-form content to answer a question instead of a product or service—it’s harder for a business page to earn a high ranking. This is because a search engine’s primary goal is to provide the most relevant results for searchers and not cater to businesses trying to rank.

For any website, ranking anywhere in the top ten results of the first page for a keyword is considered good and shows that your website is up to the mark for the keyword in question. Ranking in the top three results is considered excellent.

Six factors influencing your SEO ranking (and how to improve them)

  1. Keyword selection
  2. Quality of content
  3. Experience, expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness (EEAT)
  4. Backlinks
  5. Site structure and design
  6. User experience

The goal of an SEO marketing strategy is to rank for keywords that can attract the right users and help grow your business. Understanding how search engines work and evaluate websites to achieve higher rankings is key.

Major search engines, including Google, want businesses engaging in SEO to follow their guidelines. Understanding their rules can improve your site’s SEO to benefit search results, your visitors, and your business. Focusing on these factors can help your business climb SERP rankings and improve your site’s overall experience:

1. Keyword selection

A search engine aims to serve the most relevant results for each query. Keyword usage helps determine this relevance.

For example, Google uses a complex algorithm to determine the relevance of a web page to a specific search query. One of the critical factors considered by the algorithm is the use of keywords on the page, including frequency and location and the relevance of surrounding text. This helps the search engine understand the context of keyword usage and determines the page’s relevance to the user’s query.

Keyword selection means identifying the most relevant words or phrases that describe each of your webpages. You typically want to select a single primary keyword (your main focus) and one to three secondary keywords. Advanced SEO specialists execute robust keyword research by looking up a keyword’s search volume, search intent, and difficulty. Modern SEO tools like Ahrefs and SEMRush can help non-SEO specialists access this data.

Once you’ve selected a primary keyword for your webpage, insert it naturally into title tags, meta descriptions, headings, and alt tags. As a rule of thumb, search engines look for the primary keyword in each of these areas and at least once in the body content. Some tools will also provide a list of related keywords to include in your body text. Try to work as many of these keywords in as you can organically—don’t force them or pack your copy with keywords (which is something Google penalizes).

2. Quality of content

Google explicitly states that it aims to serve reliable, quality content that’s “created to benefit people.” The company provides specific guidance to help you evaluate the caliber of your content. Ideally, your visitors would answer yes to the following questions:

  • Does the content provide original information, research, or analysis?
  • Does the content offer a substantial, complete, or comprehensive description of the topic or product?
  • Does the content provide interesting information beyond the obvious or a product different from its competitors?
  • Is this a page or product you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Would you expect to see this content or product in or referenced by a printed magazine, encyclopedia, or book?

3. Experience, expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness (EEAT)

With the rise in “black hat” SEO (spammy SEO that goes against Google’s guidelines) and automated content aggregation through tools such as ChatGPT, Google has placed an increased emphasis on the “trustworthiness” of content in its results. Other search engines have taken similar measures.

Google wants searchers to feel like the information they’re getting comes from real people with expertise in their field—not just experts in algorithms. The company, therefore, evaluates content based on its EEAT framework:

  • Experience. Does the page’s creator have first-hand experience in the subject? For example, did they try on the shoe they’re reviewing or just commenting on what they’ve read? Google and its search raters infer this from information about the author and the specificity of their descriptions.
  • Expertise. Does the page creator demonstrate credibility in their field through credentials or specific knowledge? What qualifies a page creator to talk about, say, the nuances of a great shoe? Are they an orthopedic physician or an amateur blogger?
  • Authoritativeness. Authoritativeness refers to whether the site is accurate or reliable in the area. For example, if a fitness website has been around for several years, has many high-quality backlinks (or links from other authoritative websites), plus well-researched and well-written content, it’s likely to be considered more authoritative.
  • Trustworthiness. Does the content seem unbiased or disclose biases through affiliate partnerships? If it’s an ecommerce store, does it have a secure checkout and reliable customer service?
  • Spot ways to improve your site’s credibility. You might add customer service guarantees, full author bios, and listed certifications. One of the best on-page SEO practices is to review each page of your site with these four factors in mind.

4. Backlinks

Academics founded Google. In academia, it’s not enough to publish research papers. You also want other scholars to cite your work in their publications that build on your research. The more researchers note your work, the more it’s considered credible. If highly reputable researchers—say, from a top school like Harvard—cite your research paper, even better.

The same principle applies to search engines. The more other websites cite—i.e., link to—your websites, the more credible your site is to a search engine. Backlinks—links from other websites— have been an integral part of Google’s algorithm for more than 20 years, ​​hence the industry term “off-page SEO” for improving them.

Backlinks can take many forms, and the nature of a link impacts how it affects your SEO rankings. For example, links from social media, sponsored content, or comment sections matter very little. However, links from industry leaders, reputable media organizations, and bloggers can make a significant difference. Although websites can naturally earn backlinks, most businesses need a link-building strategy ​​to grow their reach.

5. Site structure and design

Google and other search engines expect your website to have sections, like a restaurant’s menu. You read a menu in a certain way, understanding dishes are grouped and prioritized from appetizer to dessert. Search engine crawlers—bots designed to read and interpret websites across the internet, including yours—work similarly. They need to understand that product pages differ from blogs and that a site section for men’s underwear differs from women’s sweaters. 

When a search engine crawls your site, it’s looking for folders and subfolders (such as and an internal linking system that makes sense of your site. The more pages on your site, the more sections it needs.

To improve your SEO ranking with your internal link structure, don’t overthink it. Ensure users and crawlers can easily understand what section of your site they’re visiting based on your URLs (i.e., web addresses). Ensure every part of your site is accessible through internal links. For example, if your site has both men’s and women’s clothing, make sure it includes collection pages showcasing all your men’s and women’s clothing, respectively, then create specific subsections, if necessary. Shopify’s CMS can help you automatically apply these best practices. 

6. User experience

Search engines consider how long users spend on your site when arriving from their search results page and whether they hit the Back button in their browser to look at other results instead. Going back to the SERP indicates the searcher didn’t find what they were looking for on your site, the search engine’s primary concern.

The best way to address this is by making your site as easy to navigate as possible. A positive user experience includes responsive design, fast loading speeds, and straightforward navigation. So it’s easy to read and engage on your site whether using a smartphone or laptop. By comparison, online recipe sites are examples of poor user experience, because many bury the recipe at the bottom of the article, forcing users to scroll past strings of ads and irrelevant text to find what they need.

SEO ranking FAQ

How can I check how well my site is ranking?

Google provides a free tool for reviewing your rankings: Google Search Console. Once set up, the tool shows your rankings by page, keyword, device, and country.

What are the 6 key SEO rank factors?

There are over 200 factors, but the six key factors are:
  • Keyword selection
  • Quality of content
  • Experience, expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness (EEAT)
  • Backlinks
  • Site structure and design
  • User experience

How long does it take to start seeing rankings on Google?

For new sites, it can take six months to a year to see your site appear in the rankings. It takes about two to three months for existing sites to add new pages. You can speed up the process by submitting new pages in Google Search Console.