If you were to scour the web, you would find that there are over 200 ranking factors for Google. With that many, there literally aren’t enough hours or days for you to deal with them all. Luckily, you don’t need to because there are certain ones that hold more value than others. Plus, there is the fact that the algorithm that Google uses is constantly changing, so you can never rely on the ranking factors that worked yesterday.
SO, with that being said, based on the most up-to-date studies by the top SEO sites, here are the most important ranking factors that you need to become familiar with:
Content is by far among the most important of the ranking factors that Google looks for. Obviously, this is not news if you have been around for a while, as it has always been an integral consideration for search engines. However, recently, in terms of ranking, it is more important for content to take a more natural approach rather than a keyword-focused one.
In fact, one study reports that just over 50 percent of the top 20 searches have keywords within their title tags and less than 40 percent of landing pages have them in their H1 headings. Year-over-year, these numbers are decreasing, which shows that Google is serious about evaluating content based on relevance rather than the inclusion of keywords.
So, how do you determine whether you have relevant content or not? What is relevant content? Basically, it is comprehensive content. If you were to go to Google and search for “Golden Retriever,” the first article that pops up (aside from the Wikipedia page, of course), is from Dogtime.com. This article essentially covers everything you would want to or need to know about this particular breed of dog on a single page, from their history and personality to their health and how to care for them. You can even find information about rescue groups.
This goes to show that semantic search isn’t going anywhere. Google algorithm updates, such as Hummingbird, place significant value on semantic relevance as well as optimization. In other words, an article that goes into in-depth detail on a single topic, assuming that it is easy-to-read, is going to win over a piece of content that is drowning in keywords and is unreadable.
One site has found that long-form content tends to rank better in search engines than short-form content. Why? It may be due to the fact that long-form content allows more to be said in greater detail.
How You Can Optimize
Due to the fact that content has a significant influence on other franking factors, including CTR and bounce rate, it is important that you ensure your content is not just comprehensive but also relevant to your target audience. In other words, if you are in the auto repair industry, an article on noise cancelling headphones won’t benefit your business any.
You may find a content auditing software benefit, as it will help to:
- Find and remedy thin content.
- Explore topics in detail.
- Improve Topical Authority in your individual niche.
Another important ranking factor are backlinks, though the search engine giant has figured out how to determine which links are good and which ones are bad. While it is true that the more links you have, the better the score you have, you must make certain that your links are coming from a diverse set of domains and that those domains are authoritative sites. Otherwise, you will be doing more harm than good.
When working on a link building campaign, the key is to create content that readers want and then work to promote it persistently. Once high-quality industry authorities read your content and link to it, Google will catch the matching anchor text to your backlink and consider your content to be more pertinent. Once your content “earns” enough of these, you will essentially get three ranking signals of high-importance: number of backlinks, link diversity and link authority.
How You Can Optimize
When it comes to link building, there are many different ways in which you can do it. However, it all comes back to content marketing. First, you need to develop high-quality, relevant content. Second, you must promote that content.
If you don’t know where to begin, you should consider researching important link building strategies. If you are having difficult creating content, scour the web and get some ideas. Find a piece that has backlinks in it and see what they did and how you can improve it. Then, develop your own piece with more detail, and share it!
Also, you should consider using a link auditing software that will help you:
- Contact high-quality industry partners for backlinks.
- Monitor the number of links each piece of content has and each link’s quality.
- Eliminate low-quality and spammy links – if you’re unable to remove them, disavow them.
#3: Mobile-First User Experience
In 2016, Google made a huge change – the mobile-first indexing shift. Now, Google primarily crawls mobile versions of sites instead of desktops versions. Therefore, this makes mobile optimization one of the most important ranking factors out there. According to SearchMetrics, the top 100 domains that are considered most visible all have mobile-friendly sites.
It is more important than ever before that your content is mobile-responsive and is 100 percent identical to its desktop counterpart. Rather than simply thinking mobile-friendly, you need to change your headspace and think mobile-first – after all, 85 percent of websites are mobile-friendly based on Google’s mobile-friendly criteria.
One thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn’t launch the mobile version of your website until it is 100 percent finished and ready-to-go, according to Google. If you release an incomplete or broken mobile version, you could harm your ranking. You would be better off just having a desktop version only.
Another ranking factor that relates to user experience is page speed. As a general rule, it should take no longer than three seconds for a desktop website to load and no more than two seconds for a mobile version to load.
How You Can Optimize
- Make use of Google Search Console; your mobile version can be added and verified here.
- Ensure that your mobile site and desktop version have the same structured markup with the Structured Data Testing Tool.
- Use the txt testing tool to make certain your mobile version is accessible to Googlebot.
- Use PageSpeed Insights and test your site’s page speed. If it’s slow, an auditing tool can be used to locate and repair page errors, uncompressed content and any other elements that may be slowing the site down.
#4: Other Technical Factors
While the aforementioned are definitely the most important ranking factors by far, there are a few other technical ranking factors that deserve to be mentioned because they can play a significant role in the ranking of your website. These include the following:
- Encryption – There is a significant correlation between first page rankings on Google and HTTPS website. In fact, one site reports that 45 percent of the top sites utilize a HTTPS encryption, which is up from 12 percent in 2015. In 2014, Google said that a website with a strong HTTPS encryption will have a higher ranking that one without it. In fact, sites without the HTTPS encryption are marked unsafe in Chrome.
- H1 and H2 Headings – This year, there are significantly more landing pages featuring H1 and H2 headings in source code. One study has found a relation between the use of at least one of these and a higher search engine ranking.
- Anchor Text – Exact-match anchor text continues to have a significant – and positive – impact on rankings. However, if the links appear spammy or unnatural, there is a chance that you will be flagged for a Penguin penalty. So, it is important that you take the time to ensure that your anchor text is organic and diverse.
- Interstitials – Google is starting to crack down on interstitial pop-ups. So, if you have pop-ups on your website that cover up your main content or takes users away from you site and to a brand new page when they click, you could suffer a penalty. The only exceptions are if it is a small banner that can easily be dismissed, a login dialog, or an age verification (or other legally-required pop-up).
How You Can Optimize
- Get HTTPS encryption.
- Utilize H1 and H2 headings, particularly if the top sites in your individual niche are not.
- Make certain that your anchor text is relevant, diverse and organic.
- Remove intrusive interstitials from your mobile site.
SEO is constantly evolving. Just in the past several years, Google has pushed for quality links, top-notch content and a committed mobile experience. While there are plenty of other ranking factors that are important, the ones mentioned above are the ones that should take priority if you are trying to get a gain on your competition and get your website to the top.
If you have any questions or would like help putting this information to use, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team here at WebDetail. We are happy to provide answers to your questions or help implement an SEO strategy that will work for your individual business.