Surveys of the general public reveal that most people think that Google choose which sites to place first in the search results based on their ‘keywords’ or ‘trustworthiness’, however most people, including many responsible for looking after a website have little understanding of the intricacies involved. Perhaps this is unsurprising, as SEO changes more regularly than fashion and if you’re following the trends from a few years ago, your information is almost certainly out of date.
In March 2016 Google’s Andrey Lipattsev revealed the top three ranking factors in SEO are:
- Joint first – Content and Links
- Third – Google’s RankBrain algorithm
There are over 200 SEO factors (some say 10,000) and six of the most important Google algorithms are shown in the infographic below:
If you want to optimize your website, what does this mean to you personally?
Equal first in priority is website content. While Google have manual site reviewers, it’s unclear how much of Google’s rankings are based on these reviews, however most SEO experts agree that a large part of where your website ranks is based on algorithms and Google have confirmed this. Several of Google’s algorithms have focused on improving their ability to detect good content, for example:
- Google Panda – Penalises sites with ‘thin’ or ‘poor quality’ content. If you’re just rewriting content from other sites, have very little content or your content doesn’t provide unique insights, it won’t rank well on Google.
- Google Penguin – Penalises sites that use keyword stuffing. If you write long lists of keywords, or use the same keyword excessively, this will also hurt your rank.
- Hummingbird – Tries to get at the meaning behind the search, rather than just focusing on keywords. For instance, if you search for “How old is London?” it doesn’t look just at websites that use “How” and “old”, but also shows pages that are about “A History of London”.
Backlinko recently analysed 1,000,000 search results and found that in order to gain that treasured first spot, most pages had:
- On average 1,890 words
- Contained at least one image
- Had a low bounce rate (most visitors to the site would then click to view a second page on the same website).
- Covered the same or a relevant topic for the whole page.
In order to take advantage of Google’s on-page algorithms, you therefore need to write decent quality content, include original, relevant photos or illustrations and keep your visitors engaged. These factors were more important that including a keyword in the title tag (though that’s still recommended), the numbers of pages on the website, or a myriad of other on-page SEO factors. It’s therefore far better to focus on creating great quality content on a few pages than churning out 100’s of pages to try and capture every possible keyword.
The other most important factor is backlinks to your site. Some of the algorithms that impact this include:
- Google Penguin – Penalises sites with keyword stuffing in the anchor texts (the clickable text in backlinks).
- Google Pigeon – Rewards sites that show the same physical address and phone number in directories, etc. that appear on the site itself.
- Unnamed Algorithms – Google also have a lot of algorithms that target different spammy backlinks (automatically generated links, article spinning, link farms, etc.)
Looking at the same Backlinko survey, what were the most important backlink factors?
- The number of domains linking to a page was the single biggest factor when correlated with position.
- The site’s overall link authority was also important, suggesting that a page without links could still appear high, provided the site it’s on has plenty of links.
When completing a link building campaign, it’s therefore essential to only build links from relevant, high domain authority websites. While having links pointing directly to a page is important, quality links going to your site as a whole will also help every page on your site. This is the main way Google measure the ‘trustworthiness’ of a site.
Google also look for unique content, therefore it’s best if the content linking to your site is different to the content on your site itself and the content linking to you should also be as unique and diverse as possible. Submitting the same article to a dozen different article sites no longer works and is more likely to get you penalised.
The golden rule with link building is “If SEO didn’t exist, would this still make sense?” You should focus on creating links that will drive traffic to your site, that show you are an authority in your industry and know what you’re talking about and that offer the reader something unique.
For more information on building quality links visit Indigoextra’s site, which includes information on authority link building, a regularly updated marketing blog and a guide to over 200 SEO factors that Google take into account.
RankBrain is the third most important factor and is Google’s artificial intelligence algorithm that tries to simulate which website a human being would feel is best.
The challenge with RankBrain is that it’s in a constant state of flux, giving different weightings to different criteria and merging the 200+ major SEO factors with a multitude of minor factors and one-off rules.
The answer to optimizing your website for RankBrain is to optimize it as you would for a real human being! Sure, do your keyword research and include keywords in the title and URL, but don’t obsess about keyword content in the body or try to achieve the perfect keyword density. Instead focus on writing content that will appeal to your visitors, that engages them and keeps their attention. Include calls to action to encourage visitors to contact you or buy your product or service and design a beautiful website that looks good on mobiles and monitors.
As RankBrain evolves it will be able to more and more closely simulate real human beings. People are your target audience and it’s a wonderful development in SEO that those who focus on quality rather than gimmicks will receive the most benefit.