How to get a top ranking on Google
When we hold seminars on search engine optimisation, there's one question we're always guaranteed to get: "What does it take to get a top ranking on Google?". It's a difficult question to answer because it depends on a wide range of factors related to the website, audience, market and keywords on which the question is based. We can point to some general trends, but an accurate answer requires a series of in-depth analyses.
In an attempt to shed light on the general factors that influence a website's rankings on Google, Matthew Barby has conducted an analysis of 1 million top 10 ranked websites on Google. Although the study does not provide a full picture of the factors that influence a website's rankings, and although the results of the study are very general, it is an interesting and data-rich study.
Below is a brief summary of the main findings. Read also our guide on SEO here.
Characteristics of top-ranked web pages on Google
- The top two ranked websites on Google have a significantly higher number of inbound links (links from other websites to those pages) than lower ranked websites. So: The more inbound links your web pages (your sub-pages on your website) have, the better they rank. Read more about linkbuilding.
- Web pages ranking #1 on Google have on average more inbound links from 168% domains than web pages ranking #5. So: it is important that there are many different domainsthat link to your web pages.
- Each domain that links to a web page with a top 10 ranking links to the web page on average 37 times (from different sub-pages on the domain). So: it is an advantage if the domains that link to your web pages link many times to the web pages.
- 5.5 % of all inbound links to top-ranked web pages have the keyword on which the web page is ranked at the top as part of the text link (i.e. as anchor text). The same is true for only 3.5% of the links to web pages with a #10 ranking. So: it is advantageous if the keyword you want to be found on is part of several (but not all) of the inbound text links.
- The highest ranked web pages generally have shorter page titles (so-called Title Tags) than web pages with a lower ranking. According to the study, the optimal length is eight words. So: try to write page titles that are around eight words long. Read more about Title Tags.
- A web page is more likely to rank higher for a keyword if the keyword is part of the web page's URL (web address). In other words, you can include the keyword you want the website to be found on in the URL. Read more about URLs.
- The best ranked web pages have a shorter URL than web pages with a worse ranking. The web pages with a ranking of No. 1 have an average URL length of 59 characters. So: avoid very long URLs for your web pages.
- 33.5% of all websites with a top 3 ranking use HTTPS instead of HTTP. The same is true for 29.5% of all websites with a ranking of 10. Thus: If you use HTTPS, it has a small, positive impact on your rankings. Read more about HTTPS.
One characteristic that has unfortunately not been analysed in the study is the quantity and quality of text content on the web pages that rank high on Google. Text is crucial for Google to understand what a web page is about and therefore also crucial for achieving a high ranking in search results. Read more about content optimization.
Methodology of the study
The survey is based on a random sample of 100,000 keywords with at least 100 monthly searches each. For each of the 100,000 keywords, the top ten ranked web pages on Google (i.e. all web pages on page 1) were analysed using various automated analysis tools.
The full study can be read here (in English).