You must have heard that Google had 200+ ranking signals, plus, there are those angelic guys from Backlinko who compiled a list of 200 factors and are keeping it updated. It is really nice to know about all those things, but in reality, it is not quite possible to optimise for all of them.
While you decide whether this fact leads to depression or relief, we will give you a list of the ranking factors (a way smaller than 200, promise) that are deemed more relevant than many-many others. Last we checked, the list is valid for 2018.
01 / Keywords
While some say that keyword research is obsolete, we would say that keyword stuffing is obsolete (for sure) and exact keyword matching is not that important due to the flourishing existence of semantic search.
However, keywords are absolutely necessary. They are beacons for your visitors. They guide them to your site. The thing is, the research methods, as well as keyword implementation, should be more sophisticated.
One of the best strategies in the SEO world is to peek at your competitors for some inspiration. The same goes for keyword research.
With the exponential growth of mobile use, voice search is a real thing now. A trick here is that keyword research for voice differs quite a lot from the traditional search.
When a person speaks their query, they tend to form it as naturally sounding questions, as if speaking to a real person. In such a situation, you have to optimise for long-tail conversational keywords and questions that people are likely to ask.
02 / Search intent
Google takes search intent very seriously. When someone searches for Woolworths or Coles, the search engine assumes that they need a store nearest to them. As a result, the search listings are shaped this way. Plus, if the searcher is not quite satisfied with search listings, Google serves some further ideas in Related Searches.
Following Google’s lead, you have to do the same, i.e. understand your audience to give them the best results and make sure that you include keywords with different search intent.
03 / Number of backlinks to your website and linking domains
Though now Google preaches quality before quantity, the number of web pages and domains linking to your website still has a massive impact on rankings.
In a few of its patents, Google says that more links result in a higher ranking score.
Note that it is important to get links from different domains as links coming from the same domain carry little weight and Google will often only count one of those links when evaluating your link profile.
04 / Link authority
As we’ve mentioned in the previous point, whatever links you have, they, as one of the strongest ranking signals, have to be of good quality. Otherwise, lower quality backlinks can get your site gravely penalised.
05 / Linking text (link anchor)
Surely, link anchor text has lost some of its importance (yes, like most things we talk about here). Still, keyword-rich (not over-optimised!) anchor text still sends a strong relevance signal to Google.
Here the concept of relevance is tightly linked to that of diversity. While your backlinks are expected to be relevant to the topic of your web page, it’s important to note that too similar anchor texts can get you under Google’s Penguin penalty.
Understandably, there’s no universally right ratio of different kinds of anchor text in your link profile. However, you’d want your link anchor texts to be a mix of branded text (e.g. Your Brand Name with a link), naked URLs (e.g. https://yourbusiness.com) and keyword rich texts (e.g. Chocolate Gifts with a link).
06 / Click-through rate
A click-through rate, or CTR, is a ratio of the number of times a given search result was clicked on to the number of times it was displayed to searchers.
Google only implies in its numerous patents that SERP CTRs have a massive impact on rankings, but those implications are pretty clear. SearchMetrics’ ranking factors study even found that CTR has the highest correlation with rankings out of all factors examined.
Yes, we hear you screaming that correlation doesn’t always equal causation. However, real-time experiments showed that an increase in CTR can literally boost a site’s rank in real time, thus, it is more than likely that Google uses a click-through rate as a factor in its ranking algorithm.
So, how to improve your CTR?
- Use descriptive URLs. E.g. http://example.com/improve-site-speed instead of http://example.com/category=site-speed/id=4258?.
- Write page titles according to the magic formula: format + emotion + content type + subject.
- Write the description of your page as if it is an ad for your content.
07 / Time on site and bounces
These two metrics are closely connected.
A bounce happens when visitors visit only one page on your site before leaving. It does not matter how much time visitors spend on your page, 2 seconds or 20 minutes, it is still considered a bounce.
Time on site is simply the amount of time visitors spent on your website site.
As a business owner, you want your website to be of a high quality to have fewer bounces and your content to be highly relevant to visitors to increase your time on site.
There are few ways how you can succeed here:
- Create better content. Make sure your content is useful (gives information, inspiration, or motivation), entertaining (gives a laugh, takes by surprise, or visually delights) and accessible (serves all the desires of a modern user — skimmable, conversational, and well-designed).
- Use internal linking. It is a very nice thing to interconnect all the pages on your site that are on a particular subject or related subjects.
- Engage users. For example, introduce content recommendations on your pages by suggesting other relevant articles for further read.
- Introduce pageless scrolling. Remember how you spend precious time of your life scrolling and scrolling an endless newsfeed of any social media channel? Well, you can apply something similar on your site.
08 / Website structure
Ideal site structure does not only allow crawlers to index more pages of your website but also allows users that have visited your site to find what they came for in the shortest period of time. It is one of the most important UX factors.
- Make your site structure shallow. Shallow means that any page on your site is (advisably) no more than three clicks away from your homepage.
- Apply a user-friendly site navigation. Use a few menus on the page, make use of drop-down menus, try to use fewer categories and subcategories, use a site search box in a visible place on your site, create a FAQ page.
09 / Secure websites
From January 2017, Google started to flag HTTP sites that collected passwords or credit cards as “not secure” in the URL bar. It seems as pretty strong advocacy for adoption of HTTPS encryption.
10 / Mobile friendliness
Google’s shifting to mobile-first indexing that should be due in mid-2018. It means that the mobile version of websites (if available) will be indexed opposed to the desktop version. The less obvious — but perhaps even more important — implication of this change is that Google will now also analyse mobile pages against the ranking signals to determine how a site should rank in both mobile and desktop search results.
So, mobile friendliness has changed its status from “nice-to-have” to “have-or-die”.
11 / Website speed
It is well known that page speed is used in Google’s ranking algorithm.
Page speed can also influence your SEO indirectly, as search engines will likely crawl fewer pages if your site is slow due to the allocated crawl budget. This, in turn, could negatively affect your site’s indexation. Load time can have a massive impact on user experience, too. Slower pages tend to have higher bounce rates and lower average time on page.
So what’s the page speed you should aim for? Google’s mentioned they expect pages to load in 2 seconds or less. That’s for desktops. As for mobile, according to Google’s mobile page speed study, as page load time slows down from one second to six, the bounce rate increases by 106%. The most common culprit for slow pages is an abundance of uncompressed content on the page, such as scripts, images, or CSS files.
12 / Tags for search engines
By means of tags for search engines or HTML tags, you can help Google understand what your page is about.
- Enhance user experience by providing better navigation and best match with search queries.
- Give guidance to search engines on where to find the most important parts of the site or which parts to overlook.
- Make your search engine listings look more attractive and informative.
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