Google keeps its ranking signals secret for the most part. It has been said there are over 200 different signals Google uses to rank pages, and some think there are closer to 1000.
As a business owner or webmaster, you can’t possibly worry about 1000 different things for each and every page you publish on your website. But you can focus on the most important 5.
It is important to remember that Google ranks pages, not websites. As you’ll learn below, your site performance as a whole plays a critical role in how individual pages rank. But, for the most part, you have to think of each page as a separate entity, and devote time and effort to each new page.
If you can remember when you launched your last site or updated your site design, your homepage got the most attention. You probably went through a couple different options for layouts, images, edited spelling and grammar, had multiple people check links and make sure it all loaded quickly, and behaved well on mobile devices.
That is the same effort you should be giving to any page you want to rank well. It is very often the case that your homepage does not bring in the most organic search traffic.
You could spend days, or weeks, perfecting pages. But that is not sustainable. And because your interior pages are usually the first place a visitor lands, you need to pay attention to the details on those pages as well.
Have another set of eyes proofread it. Change the image that doesn’t look right. Double check every link. Make sure the page is loading quickly, and looks great on mobile devices. Spend some time writing an enticing title tag, and meta description for every page.
Of all of the countless signals Google uses, these are the 5 primary ranking factors to focus on in 2018:
- RankBrain / Artificial Intelligence
- Mobile / Speed / User Experience
- Site Authority / Brand
This is the obvious one. Without content, you have nothing of value to search visitors. Content can be an image, a song, an answer to a question, a lengthy article, or simply just a word. Content can be any combination of these as well.
Each page needs a purpose, and your content gives each URL on your site a purpose. With a purpose comes value for visitors. If you are unclear what value each individual page on your site brings visitors, it will likely not rank very well. Unless you have a ton of links.
If you have focused your page on one topic, it shouldn’t be difficult to write a title tag and meta description that clearly represents what the user will get when they visit the page.
Links are not all created equal.
Read that one more time. And might as well read it again. OK, now we can move on.
Each and every link your site acquires is different. The website that provides the link, the text of the link itself, and even the text surrounding the link plays a role on how much of a benefit your site will get from the link.
Links come from a huge range of places around the Internet. Social media, blogs, news articles, directories, apps, email etc. Think of each link as a referral for your business. Referrals build trust. And just like referrals in real life, some links are better than others. Some are worthless, or can even have a negative effect coming from the wrong source.
Links are still important and will continue to be. Period.
But focus on building quality links, rather than spending resources buying or building random links. It’s all about the quality.
There has been much debate recently about whether or not links are still the most important ranking factor. In several cases I have witnessed with new site launches, Google understands the intent of a search query so well, and understands the page content, that it does not need to rely solely on links to determine the page’s usefulness. So if a new page you create is a great representation of what Google thinks the searcher is looking for, they will reward the page by displaying it prominently in search results, even though the page or site has no incoming links yet.
Again, this doesn’t mean to stop thinking about building links. But, you should be paying attention to serving visitors what they want, and the links will follow.
RankBrain / Artificial Intelligence
Search Engines, most notably Google, understand language a whole lot better than we do. No longer are the days where you need to keyword stuff pages, or worry about keyword density or any of that nonsense. In many cases, you can now rank for search queries without having the words on your page at all. That doesn’t mean it’s recommended to not pay attention to keywords. Remember, each page needs a purpose.
By covering a topic, or a range of keywords on a page, you can rank a single page for many different, related searches.
Google’s AI, which is known as RankBrain, understands the intent of a user’s search. And not only that, Google’s algorithms understand the content on your page better than ever. So it is only a matter of matching the searcher’s intent to the purpose of your page, and then serving that link to searchers.
Mobile / Speed / User Experience
Mobile first indexing has begun. Google has two search crawlers: one for desktops, and one for mobile. Because people browse the web more on mobile devices than desktops now, Google has followed. It is no longer an option, your site simply must work well on mobile.
The same goes for speed and user experience in general. Your site not only needs to look good on mobile, but it must load quickly, and work well. Google now has admitted that user data is being used to rank pages. So say for example, someone clicks on a link to your page from Google, and the site does not load quickly, or it loads partially the visitor can’t get what they want quickly. Well, what do they do? They click the back button and then tap on another search result. The more this happens, the more Google’s algorithms question whether or not your page is a good option for future searchers.
You could have amazingly brilliant content, that due either technical speed issues, or an unfriendly mobile page, the user simply can’t read. Google’s sole purpose is to provide people with the best results for any given search query. When your page is slow, broken or just unreadable on mobile, your brilliant content no longer fits the bill in Google’s eyes. Your page will no longer rank well in search.
As you build traffic, links, mentions on social media, and your brand becomes more and more known, you build site authority.
The more authority you have in a given topic, the higher you will rank. Even more importantly, your job getting new content to rank well gets easier and easier.
You can build authority for one topic, or many. For smaller businesses, and new websites, it is recommended to pick fewer topics and expand as your site authority grows. It will be much harder for your solar panel installation business to rank for topics like plumbing and windows, than it will be to rank high for roofing and energy efficiency.
To quickly summarize: It all starts with content. Great content leads to links. Your links should be natural and of the highest quality possible. Google understands the intent of what a user is looking for, and will only get better, so focus on creating content that serves a purpose. Website visitors are using mobile devices more often than not, so a quick loading, mobile friendly, and usable website is more important than ever. The better the user experience, on topic content and links, the higher site authority you’ll have.
All of these factors are key to building organic traffic, and allow you to be one step ahead, in order to future-proof your website from any of Google’s many algorithm changes in 2018 and beyond.