SEO guru Richard Conway reveals Google’s top three ranking signals.
It is known that Google’s algorithm consists of over 200 different signals that determine whether a website will show for any given search query. Over the years what these 200 signals actually are has been shrouded in secrecy, with the global community of search professionals working perpetually to try and determine what the actual secret signals recipe might be.
In 2014 Google made the unusual step of confirming that one of their ranking signals was HTTPS (having a secure website) over HTTP (a non-secure website). This signal, however, only affected a small number of search queries (one percent). Albeit anecdotally, we have noticed that this signal seems to have increased and strengthened late last year.
In March this year, Google’s Andrey Lipattsev surprisingly actually revealed what the top three most influential factors for ranking in Google currently are.
1. RankBrain – RankBrain is the name of Google’s machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) program. Machine learning is when a computer actually teaches itself new things without being specifically programmed. In simple terms, RankBrain helps to predict and provide the most relevant results to the user. This is now the third most important factor to a website’s ranking.
The importance of RankBrain first broke in a Bloomberg article in October 2015. (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-10-26/google-turning-its-lucrative-web-search-over-to-ai-machines). The article said: “RankBrain is one of the “hundreds” of signals that go into an algorithm that determines what results appear on a Google search page and where they are ranked. In the few months it has been deployed, RankBrain has become the third-most important signal contributing to the result of a search query.”
There are about 450 million daily queries on Google that have never actually been typed in before (which equates to about 15 percent of daily searches), therefore Google has to work out how best to serve the most relevant results for these queries. It now does that using RankBrain; which understands and learns what the query actually means and then serves up what it believes to be the most relevant result for that search term (based on its learnings). Examples of this may be ambiguous search queries, colloquial terms or voice/conversational search queries.
2. Links – This ranking factor is probably the most important one and has been a bone of contention for the SEO community for years. A link is when a third party website places a hyperlink (URL) on their website, so when a user clicks on it, they’ll be taken to your website.
A link can be seen as a ‘vote’ for your website, however, not all votes are equal. A link from NZBusiness is going to be worth much more in value than a link from Joe Bloggs the plumber. The reason is that NZBusiness is seen as a much more authoritative website in the algorithm evaluation, than a random plumber.
The words or visible text that a link says (called anchor text) also has an effect on rankings. For example, if lots of people link to NZBusiness magazine with the words ‘business magazine’ Google is likely to perceive this as being relevant and will accordingly rank the website higher for that particular term. Historically, these anchor text links have been abused or manipulated. A famous example of this was in 2004 when lots of people did what’s called a ‘Google Bomb’ – meaning they built lots of links to then US President George Bush’s website with the term ‘miserable failure’. The result? If you typed the words ‘miserable failure’ into Google, George Bush’s website was the top result!
There have been lots of more recent example of Google Bombs, but most are too rude or offensive to print!
As a small or medium business there are lots of ways of getting these good quality links pointing to your website. Think of asking suppliers, distributers, sponsors, and even clients if appropriate. Create good quality content or useful tools that people may want to link to organically, or try and get some great positive PR from top tier or industry publications.
3. Content – The problem with this one is that lots of people are churning out content just for the sake of it. Lots of so called ‘professionals’ talk about content being king; in my view this is not the case. When you want to rank in Google, it should always be from the point of view that the user is king, and the content should be totally focused around delivering value for that user.
Traditionally in ‘old school’ SEO, practitioners used to build up lots of pages around very similar content. For example, a plumber in Auckland might create a webpage for each of these terms: ‘Auckland Plumber’, ‘Plumber Auckland’, ‘Plumbing Company Auckland’, ‘Plumbers Auckland CBD’ and so on. Obviously from a user’s perspective having lots of almost duplicate pages is not very valuable. Luckily with RankBrain Google is now skilled at understanding thematic content, therefore all these terms can be catered for on a single page.
More recently, content marketers have been solely focused on the quality of the content and the personas behind them. Whilst there is some validity to this approach, you will not gain the SEO value from that content that you should. In order to create high quality SEO content, the following process should be used:
- Keyword research – First, actually understand which terms your customers or target market are really typing into Google. Do this using the free Google Keyword Planner (you’ll need to create an AdWords account to access this, but you won’t need to run any actual campaigns).
- Thematic grouping – Once you have a great keyword list and pared it back to the terms people are actually searching for, you should then group the terms thematically (like the plumber example above).
- Content with a purpose – Create content that is geared towards the thematic content (which means using some of the terms selected within the body text). This content should be designed and written with a view to being searcher/user centric. Consider what value they will get from it, will they share it, what action you want them to take, and is it written naturally and in an engaging style?
It’s not easy to get good rankings on Google and doing so is an extremely time consuming process. It can take months for a link to start providing any benefit – but done well, it is a long-term benefit.
According to the recent Google Consumer Barometer report, nine out of every ten consumers in New Zealand are online every single day. Therefore featuring prominently in ‘search’ is crucial for any business looking to grow.
You now have three ingredients to the Google secret recipe and your chances of being found online have increased.