“So what is Google even looking for?”
It’s a common question I get from clients. Sometimes this is a question clients and business owners ask in an effort to see if they can handle their own SEO internally. Why pay a consultant if we can just find out what we need to do and then do it ourselves?
As is the case with most questions regarding SEO, the answer to this question isn’t necessarily cut and dry—but I always do my best to explain it in a user-friendly way.
As it stands today, there are over 200 known ranking factors. But those are just the factors that the SEO community knows about after years of collecting data. It’s likely that there are many more ranking factors that have not yet been confirmed.
Sometimes Google representatives will confirm or deny our theories, but they are understandably secretive in order to prevent people from gaming the system.
Within the 200+ ranking factors I mentioned, some of the factors are weighted more heavily than the others. Which is to say that some factors should be top-level priorities that once addressed should yield significant results, while other factors may not be as critical to address immediately.
I’ve been studying Google’s algorithm for over a decade. In that time I’ve conducted hundreds of experiments to figure out best practices when it comes to getting a website ranked. I’ve also watched countless hours of videos, case studies, and interviews from Google representatives, experts and fellow SEO professionals.
Please note that this article will not be an exhaustive list of every ranking factor known to man—but rather a collection of the projects that I’ve seen have the biggest impact in the shortest period of time.
If you’re looking for all of the known factors, Brian Dean at Backlink has put together a comprehensive list of 200 ranking factors.
In my experience, there are 3 main action items that I recommend as starting points for any company trying to improve SEO. That isn’t to say that these 3 projects are the only ranking factors. What I am saying is that these projects typically yield substantial ranking increases when addressed correctly—and therefore should be at the top of your priority list.
Conversely, these are also the top 3 factors that I often see holding sites back from ranking. Google is willing to overlook a lot of errors and omissions if you have these action items in good working order. However, if you are failing on any of these critical items, it could be very difficult to rank, even if you are doing everything else perfectly.
Page speed and website performance
Google’s mission is to bring people the best content on the topic that they are searching for, from a website that will have the best user experience.
One of the biggest factors when it comes to user experience, is page load speed.
It’s well documented that when websites don’t load lightning-fast, people will bail before they have a chance to even see what you’re offering.
You could be selling a great product with a beautiful website that has fantastic content—but if it takes too long for that website to load, you are going to have a hard time ranking.
There are multiple other factors that come into play when it comes to what Google likes to see in a website’s overall performance, and we can tackle those issues in a different blog post.
The reason I’m focusing on page load speed is because I’ve seen improvements in load speed lead directly to substantial ranking increases on several occasions. I have worked with multiple businesses who have doubled their traffic simply by addressing a few speed issues.
Keep in mind that you need to be optimizing your website’s performance on mobile devices—not just desktop.
Wondering how your website stacks up in the speed department? Contact our SEO company in Vancouver, WA for a free website audit and consultation.
The bottom line: when your website is slow to load and misses the mark with other key performance metrics, your rankings will suffer.
The saying that “content is king” might be a cliche in SEO, but it does ring true.
As I mentioned previously, Google’s mission is to deliver the most relevant and accurate search results to its users. So if you want a chance at ranking, you need to have fantastic content.
So what is Google looking for when judging your content?
It should go without saying that your content should be relevant to the search query that you’re targeting—but you might be surprised how many businesses miss this mark.
Google is looking for the best content on a particular subject, so make sure that you are being thorough and not straying too far from the topic at hand.
Your content should clearly answer the question that your audience asked in order to arrive on your page.
Well, duh. Of course Google is looking for high quality content. But what does high quality content consist of?
Here are a few examples of the boxes you should be trying to check:
- Unique and fresh (not plagiarized)
- Spelling & grammar should be on point
- Videos, images, and infographics to support your text
- Fact checked and sources cited with links
Again, this isn’t an exhaustive list of factors to consider, but these are a few of the big ones.
Google wants to make sure that it’s presenting content from trustworthy sources.
One simple way to lend some credibility to your piece is to cite your sources by linking to other credible websites within your content.
The more an author writes on a particular topic, the more authority they build within that space, and the more trustworthy they become in Google’s eyes.
Content that deals with people’s money or health can be particularly difficult to rank, as Google has extra safeguards in place to protect users from content that could potentially harm their finances or physical wellbeing.
This is a facet of SEO that I’ve seen bamboozle even top level experts at 7 figure agencies before.
Search intent refers to what Google believes a user’s intent is when searching for a particular phrase. It sounds self explanatory and like it’s not even worth talking about—but I’ve seen people waste thousands of dollars on SEO campaigns that have no chance of being successful because they simply neglected to take stock of what Google believes the search intent for a key phrase is.
For instance, let’s say that you’re a software company that specializes in appointment scheduling solutions and you want to rank for the keyphrase “best scheduling software”.
You might think that your company’s homepage or a landing page about all of your product’s features would be sufficient to rank on the first page of Google, right?
If we take a closer look at page 1 of search results for that keyphrase, the top 10 results are all reviews and comparisons of the most popular scheduling softwares.
- Best Scheduling Software 2022 | Reviews of the Most Popular …
- 14 Best Appointment Scheduling Software [2022 RANKINGS]
- Best Scheduling Software – 2022 Reviews, Pricing & Demos
- 10 Best Scheduling Software in 2022 – Business 2 Community
- 17+ Best Scheduling Software of 2022 (Ranked & Compared)
So what this tells us is that Google has determined that the search intent for the keyphrase “best scheduling software” is to gather information by comparing multiple softwares.
The intent is not to find a single company talking about the benefits of their software.
A backlink is anytime someone from another website links to a page on your website, and vice versa.
Backlinks are seen by Google as a “vote” for your content. It’s someone else saying “hey, this is such good content that I’m going to share it with my visitors”.
Backlinks are absolutely critical for SEO success and in my experience, enough quality backlinks can lead to fantastic rankings even if you fall short in a few of the other ranking categories.
That being said, not all backlinks carry the same weight, and in fact, enough low quality backlinks can actually end up hurting.
However, not all backlinks are created equally. Ideally you want backlinks from sources that are relevant to your space. If your company sells dog houses and you have a bunch of backlinks from cooking blogs, that might not help as much as you would hope.
The more trustworthy the site you’re receiving the backlink from is, the more weight the link will carry. You can get an idea of a site’s trustworthiness by using a tool like Moz, AHREFS, or SEMRush to look up a website’s Domain Authority score.
There are a number of strategies for building backlinks that we’ll go over in a separate blog post, but the top strategy is to have content that is so good that people are compelled to link to it.
A final word on ranking factors
When it comes to ranking on Google, you should abide by two general rules.
Create the best content that is available on the subject, and make sure your website has a great user experience.
If you cover those two bases, the rest will usually take care of itself.
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