40 SEO Ranking Factors Explained

written by Janet L Bartoli | Business of SEO

July 2, 2021

How Do You Read the SEO Periodic Table of Elements?

Way back in 2011 SearchEngineLand developed the Periodic Table of Elements, a globally recognized tool that search professionals have relied on to help them understand the elements essential to a winning SEO strategy. 

In the video below, I walk you through what the SEO Periodic Table is, and the best way to read it. 

I've geeked out on this thing ever since. 

But, I never shared with anyone outside of my own clients and the many developers I work with. So, I decided that this year, I will break it all down for you. Group by group, element by element. 

Rather than forcing it all into one post, I'm going to spread it out over the next several weeks because .... it's a lot! 

The Story

I can remember back in 2011 when the Periodic Table of Elements first rolled out. There were a few others like Moz's "Cheat Sheet" for developers, and other similar infographics to help visually show what we, as SEOs look at, and how to orient yourself to what you should or should NOT focus on from an SEO standpoint. 

I've used this periodic table in my SEO 101 presentations so often for some of the largest well known brands. Anytime I have to present any SEO education, I will usually always turn to this table of elements. 

SEO is indeed an art, it's also a science - it's a little bit of marketing, and a little bit technical. It's never one thing, but is comprised of many. This table is one of the best ways to educate anyone on SEO. 

The Groups

There are six (6) Positive Groups, where specific elements lives within. 

  • Content
  • Architecture
  • HTML
  • Reputation
  • Links
  • User

The SEO Table

The table itself is organized into six positive groups (see above) and one toxin group. The "toxin group" represents any practice that can serve to harm your SEO, even and including getting penalized.

This year three niches were also included: Local SEO, Publishing, and Ecommerce.  Each group consists of elements. Each element is broken down by the following:

Weight Ranking: An element with a weight of +1, for example, wouldn't have as much of an impact as one weighted at +5. Negative numbers are associated with Toxins. A -5 weighting could clue you into something that could pose the most damage to your SEO efforts, while a -1 could be harmful, it isn't as dangerous as a -4 or -5. 

seo periodic table elements

The SEO Periodic Table Element Groups Explained

The way the table is organized is in groups. There are six positive groups, and one toxic group. As I mentioned above there are now three niches: Local, Publishing, and Ecommerce. While all the elements in the table applies to these niches and many others, the reason they added these specific niches, is because there are additional other aspects to those groups that also matter. 

So while, all the elements outlined in the table all apply to your SEO efforts, if you have a business that falls into one of those niches, then you should be sure to apply those elements as well. 


If I had a dime for every time I heard "Content is King" I would have enough to buy my favorite major league baseball team. Content matters in much of what we do in our website, and how the search engines, particularly Google, sees our pages. The Google update, Panda, weeded out thin content. Quality, Keyword Research, and Freshness all matters. 


How your website is constructed does matter. In this group, some of the more critical elements have to do with how the search engines crawl a site. The Mobile experience, page speed, and how the site is structured also matter quite a bit. 

One of the biggest. ones I see so often missed in many of my clients sites is the need to include an SSL (Secure Socket Layer or SSL Certificate to ensure your site is secure)


The HTML elements focus on those tags that matter like the Titles, Headings, and Meta Descriptions. Schema markup also very key to what to include in your site. Image Alt - the HTML that you include in your images, and CLS, or Content Shift are both new to this table this year. 

These elements are all part of the "basics of SEO" so it's good that we spend some time learning about each of these elements in greater detail. 


If you've ever heard of E.A.T. (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trust) which is a method Google uses to gauge the value and relevance of sites. 

Expertise and Trust both fits in well as signals that tells Google how authoritative you are in your niche. The "go to person" for whatever your subject matter expertise is very important. No more hiring a writer who knows zip about the topic - that just won't fly with Google and if I'm honest, it won't resonate with your audience either - they will see right through the BS.


I understand Google, is a link based algorithm, however, in the links group, there's not nearly as many elements here as there are for say, content or architecture. This is not to say Links are not important, they are, but I've easily increased site's performance without having to bother with any links. The MOST important thing to understand here is VALUE, which translates into Quality of the links. It's NOT the quantity or total links, but the Quantity of GOOD links. If you're content is really great, you'll. naturally acquire a set of high quality links. 


Over the years there has been a number of questionable tactics that many scammer SEOs deploy to try to spike up a client's rankings. This is usually short lived as quickly they may rank a site to page 1, they'll find that page lowered, and ultimately in some cases, de-listed based on the variety of harmful schemes including Cloaking - aka showing something completely different to a search engine than to a user. Or Stuffing and Hiding keywords. I recall a few times a client asking me if it was "OK to use the same color text on a page to "hide" the keywords so that only the search engine would see" That's considered to be tricking the search engines and a waste of time. 


User specific factors will impact how you rank overall. If you're website is positioned to French speaking people in Belgium, make sure to include the Href Language tag to indicate that. Think about the ways users interact with your site. User Experience is very important. So often many would consider UX separate outside of the SEO program. User Experience, Intent and Engagement are all part of a comprehensive SEO program and as such matter when it comes to improving the rankings in your site. 

Now that you have a good grasp on what the SEO Periodic Table is and each of the groups. Now, I'll speak specifically to the three Niches. I was personally glad to see the addition of these niches. Too often SEO is grouped into one thing, either Links or Keywords.  As you can see just from this table, there's a lot more to it than just that.

Apply all the basic best practices in the above groups and if you are optimizing for location, are a publisher, or an ecommerce site, you'll want to also make sure to apply the elements from each of those to your site. 


There's quite a bit that's new to optimizing a site for location. Making sure your Citations are setup correctly, and that your Name, Address and Phone are correct as well as Reviews. These are the most important elements in the Local Niche.

Google My Business profile optimization is another thing you can and should focus your optimization time on. 


The News and Publishing group, represents a unique opportunity within SEO. Cleaning up Archives. Focussing on Discovery pages, and what matters in Top Stories. 

Certainly all very specific to large publishers, or small - those in need of cleaning up their outdated content should focus on the best ways to do that most efficiently. 


If you're in retail you know ranking for a product can be difficult. Making sure to include Product Descriptions, learning about Pagination and being part of Google's Merchant Center, are all part of what matters for those sites with an Ecommerce platform. 

It might be competitive, with Amazon, but it's not impossible to take advantage of best practices within your own Ecommerce platform. 

This is just the start of a number of posts I'll be writing about, when I get into more details on each of the 40 SEO Elements listed in the table. 

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