One of the most frequently asked questions I am asked to answer is “What will you actually do to improve my websites rankings”.
My standard generic answer is usually the same and involves explaining that Google determines a site’s importance or authority based initially on over 200 ranking factors or best practices then comparing what you have with that or your competitors. In this article, we will take a look at some of them but importantly identify which ones Google favours.
Googles Ranking Factors – Top 3 Most Important
In a Question & Answer session with Google, held in March of this year, Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, said that the three most important factors were Backlinks, Content then something they now refer to as RankBrain
It goes without saying that building backlinks from relevant, aged, authoritative sites should be one’s aim but it is also important to ensure that your site has a diverse range of link types from multiple referring domains. It is better to get 10 links from 10 different sites than getting all your links from one site.
In a recent study by backlinko.com it was found that domain diversity has a substantial impact on rankings and that a website’s overall link authority was strongly tied to Google rankings.
Additional Backlink Factors
- Links from aged domains may be more powerful than those from new domains.
- Links from sites with high authority can be more powerful than 100’s of links from lesser domains.
- Links from different referring domains and IP addresses shows that your popularity is diverse.
- Page-level social shares is a good indicator of link value.
- NoFollow Links: officially Google say they do not count them but it may demonstrate natural v unnatural link profile
- Links at the top of a page have more power than those at the bottom, and a page with just a few outbound links will pass on more PageRank than those which are crammed with outbound links.
- Avoid multiple page outbound links. Excessive OBL’s will dilute the authority of the page.
- Sitewide Links are compressed to count as a single link
Second on the list of Googles most important ranking factors is content. Way back in the early days of the internet Google would determine the subject of a page by looking at the keywords. Stuff a few relevant words into the page and Google would think that the topic was about the term. Today thanks largely to algorithms like Hummingbird Google now understands not only the topic of every page but also the meaning of every question.
Now, why is this important to understand?
If Google understands what you have to say it will determine the value of your content and present this to a person making a search query. For example, if a user wants to know “What are the most important ranking factors” Google will consider the result they display based on their perceived value to the user. In simple terms a page that has all the old traditional ranking factors e.g. uses the keyword in title, good meta description, uses H tags or even comes from an authoritative site will likely rank less well than a page that contains a wealth of useful information.
In 2012 the suggested ideal length or an article or blog was 500 – 700 words, today as recent studies have shown, most articles ranking on page 1 exceed 2000 words.
RankBrain is Google’s name for a machine –learning artificial intelligence system that helps interpret search queries. The main advantage to Google is that it able to look beyond the literal meaning of the query keyword or search phrase and provide results which have a similar meaning or are connected.
To be clear RankBrain is not a standalone feature; our understanding is that it is more of an aid to assist with the overall search algorithms like Hummingbird, which in turn includes parts of Panda, Penguin, Payday, Pidgeon, Top Heavy, Mobile Friendly and Pirate.
Additional Ranking Factors
Keywords are an important factor when it comes to domains, with SEOMoz panellists agreeing that domains which begin with their target keyword are more successful than those with the keyword in the middle or at the end of the domain. Keywords in subdomains also boost ranks, but it’s important to be careful about having exact match domains; if your site is good quality, it will get a boost for being an exact match, but if it’s seen as lower quality by Google, it will be penalised.
Other influencing domain factors include TLD Extention, having a Country Code i.e. .co.uk will help the site rank locally but may limit the site’s ability to rank globally. Ownership of the domain; if the owner’s details are public, they have no history of owning spammy sites and ownership hasn’t been passed around too much, the domain will be trusted and ranked well.
Page level factors
The careful use of keywords is crucial here; for the best chance of ranking well, you should include your target keyword:
- At the start of your title tag
- In your description tag
- In a H1 tag
- Within the first 100 words of your content
- More than any other phrases throughout your content, without cramming “keyword density”.
- Mixed in with LSI keywords (synonyms of your target keyword)
- In relevant images via file names, alt text, descriptions and captions
Speed is also an important ranking factor so make sure your page loads as quickly as possible. In terms of quality, make sure to use good spelling and grammar, have quality internal and external links to other relevant pages, make your main content immediately visible and try to avoid sloppy code and HTML errors. Pages that are regularly updated with fresh content also rank better than those which are not.
Site level factors
A site with unique, valuable content that is regularly updated and has an appropriate contact page will always rank well. SSL certificates are also very important for Ecommerce sites in particular. The most important thing to note is that sites should be user-friendly; downtime should be minimal, navigation should be intuitive (consider breadcrumbs for extra ranking points), optimise for mobile viewers, avoid duplicate content on-site and show you’re trustworthy with appropriate terms of service and privacy pages.
The way users interact with your web pages plays a big part in your ranking. Pages with high click through rates are boosted, while pages with high bounce rates may be penalised. Sites with plenty of direct traffic and repeat traffic are seen as better quality, and the more time is spent on a site, the more authoritative it is seen to be. Pages with lots of comments also demonstrate high levels of user interaction and therefore quality.
Special algorithm rules
Google search results can be manipulated based on factors related to individual users. For example, browser history and search history both influence SERPs, and preference is given to sites with the same country-specific domain and local server IP as the user. Sometimes keywords can trigger different behaviour from Google, such as causing the News box to appear, shopping results to appear in organic SERPs, or local Google+ pages to appear above normal results.
Social signals are, in the eyes of Google, human recommendations of a person, product or brand. The number of shares a page has on Facebook or Pins it has on Pinterest are important social signals. Popular social media accounts, for example, those with lots of followers or lots of well-shared posts, are deemed authoritative and can influence the ranking of web pages they share. Site-wide social signals can increase a site’s overall authority and the search visibility of all its pages, so being active on social media platforms is incredibly important for sites to rank well.
In order for Google to recognise and rank your brand, you need to build a strong brand profile. Anchor text is a strong brand signal, as are social media pages with plenty of followers. Official LinkedIn company pages are beneficial, particularly if they are connected with the profiles of brand employees. However, the social media presence of a brand must appear legitimate; a brand with thousands of followers and only a couple of posts suggests that followers may have been bought while an active and engaged brand profile will be deemed trustworthy. It is also believed that Google looks at whether a brand is associated with a tax-paying business and gives more visibility to those that are clearly a functioning business.
On-site webspam factors
In order to prevent spammy sites reaching the top SERPs, Google has a range of negative factors which must be avoided. Low-quality content (poor spelling, unoriginal or badly formatted content), keyword stuffing, pop-ups and ads appearing above the fold all make a site look spammy. Lots of redirects are also treated negatively, as are sites with lots of hidden affiliate links or links to “bad neighbourhoods” such as adult content sites. If an IP address is flagged as spammy it can affect all websites hosted on that server.
Off page webspam factors
Unnatural and poor quality links can seriously hurt a page or domain’s ranking, so avoid creating a sudden influx of links or stuffing pages with huge amounts of low-quality links, which is a major black hat SEO tactic. Sites with lots of links from domains which are not relevant to their own are often penalised, as are those who have unnatural amounts of links from sites on the same server IP.