There are hundreds of factors that determine if you’ll rank well in search results. But these three are the large rollup, “meta-factors”:
- Content – your website can’t rank without content. Content is a general term for articles, pages, blog posts, videos, graphics, everything on your site that is on a page. SEO is the process of optimizing and amplifying your best content to drive traffic that meets your goals.
- Backlinks and publicity – these go hand in hand. Backlinks are links from other sites to your website. You want to focus on quality links rather than pure volume. It’s better to have 10 links from 10 different top newspaper websites than 1,000 links from random Blogspot blogs of little substance. Publicity efforts generate mentions and links to your brand. There are many other tactics to get backlinks from a traditional SEO practitioners perspective as well.
- Technical SEO – the foundation for your site. Technical SEO is important from the beginning, and can make and break any site (ex: broken robots.txt), but it has the most substantial impact on large, important websites with tons of traffic and pages.
- Rankbrain – directly from Wikiped: “RankBrain is a machine learning-based search engine algorithm, the use of which was confirmed by Google on 26 October 2015.  It helps Google to process search results and provide more relevant search results for users. In a 2015 interview, Google commented that RankBrain was the third most important factor in the ranking algorithm along with links and content.” – in essence, Google tries to rewrite and interpret the many long-tail queries out there and match them with what they think the user is searching for.
These are broad categories, but it’s important to think of SEO as a subset of your overall marketing plan. It’s not an isolated field, but rather part of a larger strategy. In order to get the best scalability on SEO, you’ll want to create a flywheel effect that’s depending on other marketing best practices.
Sparktoro’s 2019 survey of SEOs highlights 26 important ranking factors, but keep in mind these are opinions based on a survey:
- How Search algorithms work (Google)
- 273 Google Ranking Factors (Northcutt)
- Do We Have the Math to Truly Decode Google’s Algorithms? (Search Engine Journal)