The Things that Matter: 5 Most Important Google Ranking Signals of 2018
How do you peel an orange correctly? Who exactly is Banksy? Was I a victim of Thanos’ finger snap? Those are some of the questions I’ve asked Google in the past few weeks and some have satisfying answers (I was slain by Thanos, for the greater good) while some are inconclusive (apparently, it’s impossible to cleanly peel an orange and no, no one really knows who Banksy is). Those inconclusive answers though, are in no way Google’s fault. In fact, I didn’t need to venture past the first page to find the answer I was looking for.
Apparently, this applies to almost every query that was asked on Google. 95% of search traffic goes to the first search engine result page (SERP) with the topmost result capturing the lion’s share of the traffic at one-third. This heavily lopsided result is why the impact of SEO and SEO services by extension should never be underestimated, especially for small businesses that can’t rely on the cachet of a brand name the way major companies do.
The most relevant ranking signals
Obviously, SEO works by optimizing something(s) so that a particular webpage or website could rank as high as possible in the SERP for a given search query, or keywords in SEO parlance. That something I referred to is defined as ranking signals, which are factors that Google uses to determine how relevant and trustworthy a webpage is.
Now, tech companies are notoriously guarded, because search engines algorithm is what separates the one and the other and as such, neither wants the others to know just what goes on under the hood. As a result, no one actually knows exactly how Google’s algorithm determine why this page is sitting in number 1 while that one is left languishing at page 6. Combined with Google’s ongoing algorithm updates, which modifies and adds new ranking signals overtime, you’re left with a heavily muddled playing field.
This muddled playing field is why SEO is sometimes described as one part science and one part magic. There are things that Google have confirmed to be true, things that Google half-heartedly acknowledges and things that people in the industry have inferred to be true based on statements from Google’s representative plus a healthy dose of trial & error. By last count, we’ve ended with over 200 factors but some factors are more equal than others and here are the 5 most important ones at the moment:
- Content quality and relevance
No, the algorithm itself does not rate the quality of a webpage with an A+, C- or F the way your college professor does; it is merely an algorithm after all. What it does though, is detect how users are reacting to a page using factors like time on page and bounce rate (which is defined as the percentage of users leaving your site after viewing a single page). Writing quality alone isn’t the primary factor, how relevant it is to the topic at hand is also pertinent.
For example, Google characterizes users intent based on 4 general stereotypes (know, go, do and buy) in what they refer to as micro moments. The general gist is that every search can be generally divided into those 4 types, wanting to know something, to go somewhere, to do something or to buy something. As a content creator, you need to know the characteristics of these 4 stereotypes to capitalize on them. Explaining what a kombucha is different from persuading them to buy kombucha.
It’s been two years since mobile internet traffic overtakes desktop for the first time and I honestly don’t think that going to change anytime soon, if ever. Google takes this info into account by boosting the ranking of mobile-friendly pages or sites on mobile searches. It used to be that having a mobile version of your site is enough but the practice of responsive web design has now emerged as the primary contender and Google has even stated that this is their recommended method.
- Site security
With how prevalent data privacy and security is these days, it’s no wonder that Google uses site security as a ranking signal. Google first launched this update in 2014 and at the time, they outright stated that this factor carries less weight than other signals but they also stated in the same post that this might change in the future. None of us can tell whether that statement still stands but with Russian interference in the US being a big talking point, it’s better to be on the safe side.
Consult with Google’s very own help center to help you in this highly technical matter.
- Social signals and backlinks
Citations are a measure of impact in the scientific realm. The more times a journal or a paper is referenced, the more impact that paper has in the field as a whole. It’s not always a proper representative of quality but it does reflect the ability of how a piece of writing could generate a conversation. In SEO, backlinks and social signals performs the same function.
Viral contents, those that generate traffic aren’t always of a good quality, but generally, that’s what marketers aim for. Backlinks are when other articles in the internet linked your article inside the post, usually as a reference or to indicate a response. Social links are when your article is tweeted or referenced to in anyway via social media. Basically, the more times your articles are linked, especially by an authoritative figure or prominent publications, the better are your standings with Google.
- Page load speed
Other than the mobile-first indexing (in which the mobile version of a page is used for the purpose of indexing), Google launched another algorithm update this year that shows just how mobile has become a priority. Mobile load speed is now a ranking factor on mobile searches while desktop load speed has been a factor since 2010. If you haven’t been paying enough attention to mobile performance, now would be a good time to consider that stance.
Quality and relevance is still number one, according to Google but that doesn’t account for the user experience. You see, even if you have quality content that ranks highly on Google’s SERP, users might evaluate your page differently. If they’re browsing on their phones and saw that your content is impossible to read without some finger gymnastics, they might bail. Or if they’re rate limited and saw that your site takes a long time to load, they might bail.
Optimizing for search engine might sound like a good idea but in the end, it’s the users you’re trying to seduce so always consider the user’s intent and experience when it comes to your website.