Introducing: The Periodic Table Of SEO Ranking Factors

SEO — search engine optimization — is one of the most important marketing activities available to companies and publishers, but it’s too often considered some murky “dark art” or a sinful practice that should be avoided. It’s not. To help clear away some of the mystery and fear for those new to SEO, and provide a “reset” for those who are experienced, we’ve created “The Periodic Table Of SEO Ranking Factors.”

Clicking on the image above will take you to where we’ve permanently housed the table, along with information on how to download it for yourself. We’ve also created a new Search Engine Land Guide To SEO, based on the table and explaining what it means in more depth.

As for this introduction to the table that you’re now reading, it’s meant to explain more about the “why have a table” rather than the “what does it the table mean.”

SEO: It’s A Good Thing!

As a reminder, SEO is not a crime, a harmful act nor something that only “bad” people do, despite what you may have seen on The Good Wife. It is, in fact, a helpful activity that even the search engines, including Google, recommend.

If you want to understand more about some of the myths of SEO being “bad,” I’d recommend the further reading below. Seriously, take some time to educate yourself:

SEO’s Fundamental Factors

SEO can be confusing to both new people and experienced folks alike. For new people, it can seem like rocket science, because you might get overwhelmed with all the details and miss the relatively easy general principles. For experienced people, chasing down which particular hot new SEO “tree” to climb can blind you to the overall forest that you should be considering.

The Periodic Table Of SEO is designed to visually present the major factors, the biggest and most important things that can help you in gaining traffic from search engines. It’s focused on traffic from web search results, though down the line, we might produce similar ones for more focused search engines such as video or local. By the way, the Local Search Ranking Factors survey from David Mihm has just been updated.

There are the “On The Page” factors, the things that a publisher can control directly. “Off The Page” factors, which are things you can influence indirectly about how others can help, or harm, your chances of search engine visibility. “Violations” are the things you should avoid, sometimes common mistakes that developers or others might not even realize shouldn’t be done. And “Blocked” covers a new class of not-violations but still things that can be harmful.

Focus On Most Important Factors

Within each of these major groups are individual factors. There could be many more individual factors than we show. However, we’ve made a deliberate decision to show only those we think are most important, most consistently seen used by search engines, or verified by SEO data or commonly accepted and easily implementable.

For example, in HTML factors, we recommend paying attention to:

  • Title Tags
  • Description Tags
  • Header Tags

We don’t try to get into whether a word you hope to be found for comes first or last in the HTML title tag. Or whether an H1 header tag carries more weight than an H2 header tag. We don’t suggest that you need to use bold text.

We avoid all that, because we feel it goes too much into unnecessary and possibly confusing depth for many people. Instead, if you know that your pages should have good, unique titles, that they should have structure that can be reflected by header tags, and that you should use the easily implemented description tag, you’ve probably covered 90% of the most important HTML-related factors.

In addition, some of the factors we list are more general goals to reach rather than specific factors that can be implemented. For example, our social factors include attaining a good social reputations and good social shares. A good social reputation on Facebook? Or Twitter? And social shares on both, or only one — and what about Google +1?

All of the above. Rather than getting lost on if Facebook or Twitter is better, or has more SEO juice, we want you to understand that social activity is increasingly having an influence on search rankings. So you want a good social reputation in a variety of networks. You want to be shared on a variety of networks. Those are among the most important general social goals you can go after.

An Overview Teaching Guide

If you want a deep-dive into those types of specifics, SEOmoz does a biannual survey of search engine ranking factors you should certainly read (it’s due to be updated very shortly). Our ranking factors table isn’t a replacement for that or others. Instead, we view it as a complementary guide.

In particular, I personally hope that it’s the type of thing that anyone versed in SEO can use to help someone else get up to speed on the fundamental building blocks. Have you done Cr, research into keywords? Here are some tools to help. Or that As — site speed — is important factor.

The factors are weighted on a scale of one to three, with three being deemed more important, though anything listed is deemed a fundamental. Not everyone may agree with how we’ve scaled things, but it’s a start. And everything’s relative. No single factor guarantees success, but having several of them increases the odds.

Blast From The Past

From a nostalgia perspective, I started writing about SEO over 15 years ago, with my first article going up in April 1996. It had an SEO ranking factor chart as part of it, which looked like this:

This grew rapidly by the following year, to cover issues such as whether frames posed a barrier to being crawled. Here’s only part of the successor to my original chart, from November 1997:

Here’s a version from July 2001, which makes me smile as I remember that for a short period of time, how a site performed in Direct Hit’s clickthrough measurements could have a ranking impact:

I stopped maintaining this type of chart in 2003. In part, it was because a lot of the major “signals” or factors used by the different search engines were becoming more and more the same. The world also became fixated just on Google, which in term was largely driven by rewarding those with the best links.

I found it nice to come back years later and think afresh about how I’d organize the factors. It was fun to put back on my graphics reporter hat, which I haven’t worn since I used to do infographics work in my pre-search engine life.

Of course, I’m not an artist. Turning the periodic table into a great visual concept was the work of the good folks over at Column Five Media, which has a wonderful portfolio of infographics. It was a pleasure to work with them. Special thanks to Jason Lankow and Josh Ritchie.

Also thanks to our technical director Michelle Robbins, who did a ton of last minute work to get the chart ready to go online here.

If you enjoy the chart, find it useful — please, reward our Cq with some Ln, Lt and especially Lq. Also appreciated is any Ss. Give us some Ce, too. Comments are more than welcome. And the best with your SEO!

Related Posts

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: General | Infographics | SEO: General | Top News

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://www.imageMEDIA.com Jeff Kingsford

    One small typo
    The description for Paid links is the same as cloaking. (bottom right)

    Otherwise thank you. Love it!

  • http://www.onlinelab.dk Magnus Högfeldt

    Wow, this is one of the most usable infographics I’ve seen in a long time :-)

  • http://www.frankoli.de/ Frank Zimper

    Good Stuff. I guess I’ll print it and pin it next to the periodic system generated by German SEO Martin Missfeldt.

  • http://www.soundviewgroup.com Seth Baum

    Truly fantastic – I can’t thank you enough for the effort you continually put into your posts!

  • http://www.m5i.com James

    Love this. I’ll print out a copy for everyone I work with/for :)

  • http://www.yoursearchadvisor.com/ Andrew Miller

    I did this poster-sized Periodic Table of SEO a few years ago, but as far as I know the only copy is hanging in my office. I got busy with other stuff before I had a chance to promote it. It’s probably a little outdated but it’s on my list of things to revise.

    http://www.cafepress.com/elementalseo.398929505

  • http://www.tinyurl.com/ivan-temelkov Ivan Temelkov

    This is the first time I think in a while that I’ve come across something as detailed. Quite frankly i’m amazed at all the elements and factors required to take place and still yet nobody really knows the exact algorithm itself. The breakdown of older search engines is also truly fascinating just to see the evolvement and how Google changed SEO forever.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Thanks, Jeff — we’re getting that fixed shortly.

    Frank, Andrew — figured there were other ones floating around out there, though I hadn’t come across any. It’s nice to see the different takes.

  • http://www.audettemedia.com Adam Audette

    Fantastic Danny! Great job.

  • http://www.planetc1.com/ Michael Dorausch

    I love it!
    Like the nostalgic info too.
    Still remember the one Bruce Clay put out 1999ish with the logos and interconnections, had that posted on my wall.

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-5202-San-Jose-Fitness-Examiner Amy Rabinovitz

    A great guide and organized way to keep track of SEO. I love this!

  • http://www.seobythesea.com/ Bill Slawski

    Hi Danny,

    While I appreciate the effort and the information shared, sometimes I dispair when I see infographics like this one, which present a simplified and unified theory of how a search engine might rank a page, but inadvertently and unintentionally may mislead people because of that simplicity.

    Take for instance the concept of freshness. While some topics may be percieved as bursty (in the manner in which Jon Kleinberg defines burstiness), and Google may temporarily boost some results because they contain fresh content, there have been a number of places in documents from Google where they’ve stated that things such as the relative age of results for a specific query may determine whether or not Google may boost or reduce rankings for specific pages based upon how old they might perceive a page to be (a document inception date, to use one relevant Google term).

    Without the pages that you want indexed on your site each being linked to by a href attribute or a src attribute, those pages could potentially be included in a search engines index if they are discovered via something like an XML file, but they will have difficulties ranking for most terms without those links. But, the major problem I often see on sites these days isn’t that they aren’t crawlable, but rather they create the possibility of infinite amounts of duplicate content at different URLs because of endless loops from poorly implemented relative URLs. The problem often isn’t the lack of crawlability (though that is a problem), but rather significant technical problems in crawlable site architectures.

    There’s a possibility that keywords in URLs may help with the rankings of pages, but there’s actually very little documentation from the search engines themselves that states this is true. Keywords in URLs are useful for designers and developers when organizing the content of a site, and maintaining and updating its pages. Keywords in URLs are helpful to site visitors when they try to reverse hack URLs to discover pages on a site, and may increase the confidence of a potential visitor that they are going where they want to when they see that URL in search results or elsewhere. A Yahoo patent from a few years ago suggested that keywords in folder and file names may help the search engine understand the taxonomy of pages of a site, and aid in classification of those pages. A Google whitepaper from about two years ago suggested that keywords in URLs could help in creating a quick and dirty classification of pages as well. Matt Cutts has stated more than once that Google likes keywords in URLs because they prefer to display pretty URLs, and that may increase the “quality” of a page. Chances are though that the actual words that appear upon pages themselves are much more important than the keywords that someone might select to include in a URL (and what do you do as the owner of that page when you decide that you want to emphasize different keywords).

    As I wrote above, I appreciate the attempts at simplicity that infographics like this one provide, as well as the search engine ranking factor opinion surveys that have come out in recent years, but attempts to reduce the complexity of what search engines actually do can mask the complexity of what they actually do. Two examples:

    1. Microsoft started publishing whitepapers about Visual Segmentation of pages in 2003, and since then have published more than a dozen papers and patents that describe how those processes might be used to distinquish boilerplate from the main content on a page, give more weight to some links over others, segment different topics that may appear on pages that cover more than one subject, and more. Yahoo has published similar papers and patents, and Google was granted a patent on Page Segmentation processes earlier this year. It’s also one of a number of features that likely plays a role in how Google may distribute PageRank to links on a page.

    2. The search engines have made serious inroads to understanding phrases or concepts as they find them on pages, understanding when a specific term or phrase might indicate a named entity (specific person, place, or thing), and using information extraction techniquess to build associations between entities and business locations, concepts, and queries. This type of entity association results in authoritative pages being selected at the top result for navigational queries, local search or place pages being returned for queries that might have an “implied geographical intent,” more than two results (or a “see more results from this site” link) to a domain when a search engine associates a query with a specific site, and more.

    I appreciate the infographic, but wish it could contain more of the complexities of SEO. I hope it doesn’t mislead people into not considering some important aspects of SEO that it doesn’t cover.

  • http://thehjspot.blogspot.com Henry Johnston

    Interesting dichotomy between Danny Sullivan’s article/info graphic and Bill Slawski’s learned comment above. In a way it reminds me a bit of tax law. There are the EZ forms that make it so people can get started and functional with their own taxes. Then of course there are the volumes of complex tax codes that highly educated professionals have to stay firmly and constantly on top of to minimize more intricate enterprises’ tax exposure. Those are both ends of a wide spectrum that serve equally important purposes.

    Slawski slips into the complexity that keeps true SEO pros employed. Sullivan certainly acknowledges this complexity, and I readily thank and praise him for at least shining a light to the SEO mystery and sharing it widely so that everyone can join the conversation at what ever level is appropriate to their station.

  • http://justaboutev3rything.blogspot.com Ranjana Jha

    Hi Danny

    I absolutely loved going through this article!
    Very well explained. I quite liked the way you have presented the Periodic table of SEO.

    There are varied views about SEO and how it is practiced ….but what matters end of the day is that our business exists for, by and of the people, we need to deliver on our promises and provide content that is relevant to them.

    Thanks,
    Ranjana

  • http://www.fwdmarketinginc.com F.M.

    This is a great Tool for explaining to clients all the factors that go into SEO. The visual is great. Thanks.

  • http://alanbleiweiss.com alanbleiweiss

    Danny,

    This is an awesome resource – one that should be given out to any clients who even THINK about uttering words like “but” or “how”. And it’s an excellent way to introduce n00bs to the industry as well.

    Very well thought out! #Bookmarked

  • http://www.trondlyngbo.no Trond Lyngbø

    Excellent PDF, Danny!

    Now, let’s hope Rand Fishkin @SEOmoz reads this, and speeds up the launch of the Search Engine Factors (the new version) :-)

  • http://blog.webpro.in Bharati

    Thanks for such a wonderful presentation of the SEO ranking factors. These kind of articles and such scientific representations of the ranking factors surely add value to the whole SEO process and gives credibility and boosts the reputation of the SEO industry .

    This is going to help each and every SEO during the SEO discussions with clients . The infographic clearly lists each and every element of the on page and off page ranking factors making it easy to understand and explain.

    Bharati Ahuja

  • http://boydbutler.tumblr.com/ Boyd Butler

    When you give you get. I hope you get what it is you want. Thank you.

  • http://michael-bredahl.dk Michael Bredahl

    Hi Danny

    This is a fun way to say that you got to do things the right way, with some decent content, this is really cool.

    Michael Bredahl

  • http://www.desperatelyseekingwp.com Cathy

    This may be good for today – if it is – but aren’t the algorithms used by search engines to rank pages always changing? And aren’t they a well hidden secret? How useful can this be – really? I dont understand how this fits with the dynamic nature of search engine algorithms?

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    Somewhere Bruce Clay is kicking himself :) The old Search Engine Relationship chart in printable PDF was the first SEO centric viral linkbait content. But this, Danny, is utter genius. I’d love to see some stats on downloads of the various bits and pieces as time goes by. Thank you for taking the time to make this available. I now have a new consulting option: Explaining the charts :)

  • http://www.clickablemarketing.com Michael

    Loved this too much but hated myself for not thinking about it first . Great job

  • http://cz.linkedin.com/in/ondrejslamama.cz Ondřej Sláma

    Nice one Danny, but didn’t you switch “Bt” and “Bp” values by mistake..?

  • http://SonicSEO.com Daniel M

    Excellent article! Love a well researched and designed infographic to illustrate a point and truly teach information.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Thanks for the comments, Bill. It does indeed intentionally provide a simple overview of the most important factors that can influence how pages might rank better or worse. That was the goal, because as explained, getting into some of the deep dive specifics can be confusing. Indeed, they can be perhaps more misleading than being general, because some of the specifics aren’t really knowns.

    On the issue of freshness, that’s indeed a factor with Google in the way described on the chart. It’s easily seen, and we worked to make it clear we were talking about the query deserved freshness type of fresh. The longer guide that goes with the chart explains this in more depth.

    Duplicate content is indeed an issue, but that relates back to the bigger concept of crawability. We had considered using duplicate content as a separate factor, but it seems to fit into that bigger concept. We link to info about this in the longer guide.

    Keywords in URLs have been recommended repeatedly by Google and Bing. In fact, Google’s own SEO guide says:

    “URLs with words that are relevant to your site’s content and structure are friendlier for visitors navigating your site. Visitors remember them better and might be more willing to link to them.”

    The longer guide makes clear this is a minor factor but among the many things you’re considering for SEO from a site architecture perspective, we’re pretty confident that having short, descriptive URLs is an excellent recommendations.

    I’d really suggest you look through the entire guide to the table, that anyone look through the entire guide. There’s a huge amount of information that explains exactly what the table covers and to document why a factor was determined to be important enough to include. You’ll find it here:

    http://searchengineland.com/seotable/overview-seo-ranking-factors

  • http://www.theonlinemarketingguy.com duane forrester

    Looking forward to the session tomorrow at #smx. :)

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Trond, I know SEOmoz has been working very hard to compile the results of the latest survey, which had already been completed before our chart went up. I’d expect those results to be out at any moment.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Cathy, algorithms do indeed constantly change. But there are many factors and concepts that stay the same. Title tags, for example, continue to be an important factor. Search engines also do reveal some important factors that they think are important for publishers to understand.

    This chart is designed to show the most important things that have worked and can be expected to continue to work over the next year or so, or longer. Nothing made the chart unless it has some longevity to it.

    We expect to update it each year. Perhaps a factor might come off if necessary. In fact, an earlier version of this chart had a little “Death Of A Ranking Factor” section that explained how the meta keywords tag is no longer used, to illustrate how change does happen. But there was no room for that, in the end.

    But as changes do happen, we hope the table presents and easy framework for expanding to reflect those changes.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Ondřej, the longer guide to the chart explains this. But Bp is a personalized factor that’s more powerful. Block something from your personal results and boom, that’s gone. It’s not coming back. If enough people do Bp, then eventually a site might suffer from an overall trust loss and get blocked, Bt — but a few people doing Bp won’t cause this. So Bt is a relatively weaker factor, to us.

  • Anthony Moore

    Amazing!

    I’ve been waiting for something like this to come around for some time. In my personal everyday SEO life, there tends to be a lot of focus on the visual aesthetics of a site. Content, for example, is not universally considered “visually pleasing” and it can be a tough sell for a client who may not know any better.

    Having this table handy and being able to educate clients at the onset about what to consider for the engines , will be a huge asset. I look forward to incorporating it into my routine and thank you for putting it all together.

  • http://www.vervesearch.com Lisa Myers

    brilliant, thats geekilicious Danny :)

  • http://www.cicadamania.com/cicadas/ C.M.

    I don’t know why little things like this bother me, but they’re Headings, not Headers, assuming “Hh” = h1…h6 tags.

    http://dev.w3.org/html5/spec/Overview.html#headings-and-sections

    A header is (under html 5) something different:

    http://dev.w3.org/html5/spec/Overview.html#the-header-element

  • http://www.tecnoad.com T.A.

    thanks, I just print it to put on the wall.

    cheers

  • http://www.ryanmjones.com Ryan Jones

    Danny, can I make 2 suggestions for the next version?

    1.) You’ve got Speed listed above URLS. I’d argue that since speed only affects 1% of queries (cutts) that it should have less weight than URLS. If you count exact match domains as a “url” then I’d bump that up to 2 and put it above speed.

    2.) Does description really have more impact than headers – which are actual on page text? I think those should be flipped too.

    I might also downplay freshness to a 1 too, since freshness doesn’t really apply to all types of sites.

  • seorgy

    cool stuff, but what about 1024 character limit on meta tags? or alt tags? surely they need inclusion too?

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    CM, yeah, heading is the correct usage, even though most people will know what’s meant. We’ll update that in the future.

    Ryan, site speed and URLs are weighted exactly the same at 1 — look and you’ll see this. One above the other doesn’t mean one is more important. That just happens to be however we listed them, more coincidence than anything else.

    I didn’t think URLs should go up to 2 because I still don’t think they are that important of a factor. Not everyone will agree, of course.

    Description as the guide gets into isn’t a ranking factor and yet has an impact on clickthrough, which does contribute to engagement, many believe. So if you were prioritizing, I’d say descriptions (easy to do, easy to understand) over headings (easy to do, but easy sometimes to get lost in).

    Freshness is a huge factor for the right type of queries and content. Again, see the full guide. But it has a dramatic impact to put new content into the top results for “bursty” topics, which is why it got a higher weight.

    Seogy, I’m guessing you’re making a joke :)

  • http://www.cyandigital.com C.D.

    Just wanted to take time to give you some feedback. Fab, excellent, great communication, job well done, best simple summary of what we all do that I have ever seen. My Graduates have it taped up at their work station. I have also used it to help me convince one of our shopping clients to invest in on going SEO.

  • http://seolixir.com Bstrong

    Way to make SEO appear even more nerdy. :) I like this infographic chart and it makes a great add-on to follow with rand’s list of ranking factors that just came out.

  • http://humanwebsite.com.my Kent

    Truly fantastic. We now even have clearer picture of search engine ranking, thanks Danny! :)

  • http://www.internetbeacon.com I.B.

    This is a great resource, awesome way to to present SEO, thank you!

  • mike327

    this. is. awesome. thank you so much. Putting the different elements, even the site infrastructure elements and some of the negatives into such a clear and familiar table is such a boon to your average corporate SEO, who has to battle these concepts to people who are not so familiar with the basics. Printed, posted on my wall, and already receiving compliments.

  • http://www.barnettwebsites.com B.W.

    This is wonderful for us visual learners. Thanks for all the energy and effort. I agree that it is a great visual to show off to clients as well. Much appreciated!

  • http://justanordinaryjoe.com Ordinary Joe

    Apart from laying it out clearly, greatly helps dispel the myth that there is a ‘black art’ to SEO. There is alot to it – but the basics are fairly straight forward – and the clear underlying principle is that search engines will want to separate the wheat from the chaff. If a site is original, well structured, and does add information or entertainment value it will attract visitors, and its SE rankings will grow. Paid links and re-churned material will be negatively rated by search engines. SEO is not quite as simple as that, but almost.

  • http://CloudBloomers.com Julie

    As a baby boomer who is just getting started in the web design and internet marketing business, I found this article to be very valuable. Thank you for sharing it and thank you to my friend Jake who sent it to me!

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