On Google specifically, organic (SEO) search results are sorted via a complex algorithm made up with over 200 ranking factors. Paid search results are sorted via a completely different set of values, jointly known as Ad Rank.
SEO ranking factors don’t follow a checklist format. Some ranking signals, like those related to demonstrating expertise and authority, can be hard to understand at first glance, because they relate more to how the content is understood by Google’s AI rather than what you can do to improve your content for search. How exactly Google is evaluating these signals is not laid out in a step-by-step process.
There is also not one single official resource in which all of Google’s ranking factors are laid out. The most comprehensive documentation for understanding Google’s organic rankings are likely Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines – a quick-reference handbook made for Google’s employees that will be manually reviewing search results.
Google’s AI is then learning from the decisions made by the human Quality Evaluator team to perfect its own algorithm.
In turn, there is also no single action that can be taken to significantly improve the quality of your page on search results – search engines like Google are deliberately making their algorithm more and more nuanced with the end goal of creating an algorithm that can’t be manipulated.
That said, most SEO experts break down ranking factors into three areas:
- Technical SEO – how your site performs
- On-Site SEO – how good the quality of your content is
- Off-Site SEO – how other websites are talking about you
Each of the three areas have their own respective set of guidelines and ranking factors.
In comparison to organic search, Ad rank has much more understandable guidelines. Ad rank is is mostly influenced by three main things:
- Your bid, aka which actions you’re bidding on – and how much
- The relevance of your ad and landing page to the keywords you’re bidding on
- Ad performance – higher click-through rates result in higher positioning and lower CPC
Both Ad Rank and Organic Search Rankings are also affected by competition. With paid ads, competition refers to the number of other websites bidding for the same keywords in the present moment. With organic SEO, the competition is greater because it refers to all-time competition – in other words, you’re competing with every piece of content that has ever been produced for a certain keyword.
The main difference when it comes to rankings is that PPC rankings are instant. With a good, tactical bid – your ad will appear on the first page of SERPs immediately. On organic search, even if you have a great piece of content that you’re certain will eventually rank first – it can take months before your rankings actually pick up. Google is evaluating your site against all currently-ranking results, as well as any newly-emerging content, so the process is slower. However, organic SEO rankings last longer. If the content is high-quality, Google will push it further up in rankings as time goes on, even if you don’t do anything to further optimize it. PPC rankings drop off as soon as you end a PPC campaign.