Ask anyone if they know what the search engines are looking for when they analyse a website, and 90% of the answers you’ll get will be a shrug of the shoulders. Those with a knowledge of SEO will give you better answers but they can vary between the oversimplified to the downright confusing, and everything in between.
Other than the search engines themselves, nobody can be 100% sure of every single element that the search engines look at, how it assesses them, and the importance it places upon them. To be fair to the search engines they do publish information that gives webmasters and businesses some of the core answers they need to ensure any website they are using is as SEO friendly as it can be.
There is also a lot of research that takes place, mainly by SEO agencies who create hundreds of websites, in order to analyse what happens to their ranking following specific changes which are made to that site. The information given out by the search engines plus the published research has established there are four basic elements which contribute to the ranking of any website.
The first is the authority of the site which is determined by factors such as its age, the quality of the links to and from the site and whether other sites refer to it as an authoritative source of information. The more high-quality links you have coming from other authoritative sites, the higher the authority your site will have in the eyes of the search engines.
Second, is the content on the site. This will determine what subject the site is focused on, and therefore whether or not the links coming into it are relevant or not. Content can be written text or media such as images, audio or video. For media content, you may need to use alt text within your website’s coding so that the search engines can identify what topic the videos etc are about.
Next, we have the user experience which is basically how easy your website is for anyone visiting to use it, and whether or not it is a good or bad experience. Factors which will determine this are how your site looks and whether the site is easy to navigate or not. The search engines will also take note of the ‘bounce rate’, which is a measure of how quickly visitors land on and then leave your website. If it seems there are a lot of people leaving your site immediately, it can negatively impact on your ranking.
The final factor is your website’s performance which is measured by elements such as any downtime the site has or how quickly it loads. If these are excessive then it’s unlikely to attract positive rankings from the search engines who want those visiting sites via searches to have a positive experience.