Google works hard, but SEO practitioners work harder. Every year, these digital experts rake information from the search engine giant to uncover its ranking signals. These factors help webmasters know what they should tweak in their web strategy so they can rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs) and give their readers a better user experience.
Back in 2014, HTTPS or secure sites became the stars of the show. Many websites changed from HTTP to HTTPS to accommodate the search ranking factor. In 2015, mobile-friendly websites took the spotlight. Web pages that were deemed optimized and responsive on a handheld device outshined those that didn’t. Then RankBrain was introduced in 2016, and its effects are very much still influencing new ranking signals.
In 2017, John Mueller from Google answered a tweet from a user who asked what the best search ranking factor is, and he replied “awesomeness.” When it boils down to it, these search ranking factors are cultivated towards a better experience for both your prospect consumers and actual customers.
A lot of changes have happened in the last five years in the search engine landscape. For instance, one of the most recent players in the game is voice search. With the rise of Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, and Cortana, plus hands-free information access, it’s not surprising to learn that about 3.25 billion voice assistants are in use today. Voice search SEO is giving practitioners new findings in keyword research, as they noticed that long-tail and natural language works best for this method.
Regardless if you will optimize for voice search or not, it’s critical to know the most influential ranking signals you should be aware of for a top-ranking website.
Is your website optimized for mobile? If your answer is no, then you have to take this seriously. Your webpages are losing to other sites just because they’re mobile-friendly and you are not. It’s important to note that 2.7 billion people are using mobile devices in 2019, and this number will continue to climb in the coming years—further establishing the dominance of mobile as the future of search.
If your answer is yes, on the other hand, then you’re off to a great start. However, don’t be too complacent. There are plenty of ways to keep tweaking your pages to consistently come out at the top of search engine results. Google is slowly rolling out its mobile-first indexing feature, which launched in 2018, to make sure that those sites that follow their guidelines are rewarded. This is regularly updated containing the latest information you need to prepare for this search engine update.
Google also has a simple test online where you can see if you’re meeting the standards of their recommended mobile-friendliness. It will also reveal page loading issues, if any, and give you a screenshot of your website on mobile. From here, you can take further actions to improve your mobile experience.
2. Page Speed
Your visitors hate slow load times. Remember, 53% of desktop surfers exit pages that take longer than three seconds to load. That’s automatically lost business, and they might always associate your brand with that kind of disappointing and frustrating experience. If you don’t want this to happen to you, you have to make sure that your pages (not just the homepage!) load in under three seconds.
But desktop loading times are not the only thing you should look into.
Page speed is now a critical mobile search ranking factor as well, in conjunction with the mobile-first index. Google has made it clear that going mobile is the future of search engines and access to information, so it’s only right for you to optimize your page speed on the mobile version of your site too. You’ll be shocked to know that the average mobile landing page takes 15.3 seconds to load!
There’s room for you to fix this issue. Review the current speed of your webpage and evaluate your on-page optimization techniques to rectify sources of the lag. Some best practices are reducing redirects, removing unnecessary pop-up windows, and optimizing your images.
3. User Experience
Delivering the best user experience for your audience is what every website and brand should be focusing on. If your users don’t feel valued, they will look elsewhere for what they need. Lucky for you, you don’t need to guess how to give them this experience as there are indicating factors.
A massive chunk of UX is having a responsive layout that is easy to navigate and a website structure that makes sense, along with relevant content that answers the questions they’re asking. This matters a lot: 38% of people will cease engagements with your business if your content isn’t helpful and the layout is unpleasant.
Simple actions like optimizing your call-to-action buttons, having bigger fonts for readability, and renaming your URLs. Search engines will be able to read these and reward you for essentially making your visitors’ lives easier when they visit your site.
4. Quality Content
As mentioned in creating good UX above, content plays a huge role in ensuring that your site is establishing its authority in your industry and giving your browsers the information that they came for. This is especially true for content that is optimized with vigorously researched keywords.
Articles with a considerable amount of length are also favored. Five years ago, the era of blog posts ranging around 200-500 words was the norm, but not anymore. Stats show that the average content length for websites on the first page of SERPs is around 1,900 words. Longer word count demonstrates thorough expertise on a topic, which in turn is positive exposure for your brand. Ideally, the longer your article is, the more information you can put there—much to your visitors’ delight.
If you do end up publishing content that’s around 200-300 words in length, be careful. Google penalizes thin content, and this can haunt the ranking of some of your webpages.
Focus on fleshing out evergreen topics and incorporating an intent to educate your readers. The most common types of articles are how-tos and list articles. Include credible sources and statistics when necessary as well.
5. Authoritative Domain
The domain rating (DR) is a score given to your website based on its quality and authority. The higher the quality of content you have, the more backlinks you gather, and the more boxes you tick under Google’s guidelines, the higher your DR will be. This takes a lot of time and consistent effort to achieve, but once you’re there, you will reap many benefits.
For instance, in the voice search world, websites with higher domain authority are usually one of the top candidates for the featured search result that the voice assistant will deliver to the user. The average DR of voice search results is 76.8 compared to only 21.1 on the web.
Working towards a higher DR should be part of your overall SEO strategy. It’s interwoven in your off-page and on-page optimization efforts, as the DR also reflects the number of domains that link to your page and the subsequent DR of those pages that link to you. If you’re consistently published on credible content in the industry, your DR will also rise.
6. HTTPS or Secure Websites
While HTTPS has been around for quite some time already, it wasn’t until July 2018 that Google announced it would start flagging all websites that don’t begin with HTTPS as “non-secure” on the Google Chrome browser. If you think that’s negligible, the stats will prove you otherwise: according to a 2019 survey, Chrome is the most popular web browser at 63%. It accounts for well over half of the world’s web traffic, with Safari trailing far behind at second place.
While there will technically be nothing wrong with your website if you’re not sporting the HTTPS on your URL, having a “not secure” label does send a quite ominous message to your visitors. Google is building a safer and more secure web, so they started to roll out these changes to the Chrome browser to send a message to webmasters to make the switch.
HTTPS is known as hypertext transfer protocol secure, which means having a variant of the standard web protocol with a layer of security via a secure socket layer (SSL). This is the protocol over which data is sent between a browser and a website.
Stats from Google Chrome usage show that there are currently more than 70% of Chrome users who are visiting HTTPS websites, meaning that browsing via this server is becoming standard. The non-secure tag is presumably to convince the remaining 30% to follow suit.
7. Social signals
Your performance on social media also says a lot to search engines about your credibility and authority. Social signals are defined as the number of shares, likes, and reposts of your content on various social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Since search engines want to provide high-quality and relevant content to users, they consider the media visibility and impact specific posts have online. If you’re getting shared frequently, the URL of your post will appear around Google more, and this tells them that you most likely have relevant and helpful information on your website.
Social signals aren’t only a share or retweet. They can also pertain to mentions on community sites such as Reddit, Tumblr, and Quora. This action has had an increased impact on search rankings, according to a study by Search Engine Journal.
Creating shareable content doesn’t always have to be viral or comedic. You’ll be surprised that your readers are more in favor of straightforward information versus incredibly funny delivery. If you can inject humor naturally and create an entertaining experience for your readers, then, by all means, do so—but don’t forget the main reason why you’re doing it. You want to spread information and show your users that your website can provide them the answers they’re looking for.
8. Site Architecture
Website architecture is a bit different from the layout of your website. This refers to the arrangement of your pages and subcategories on your website’s menu, and if you’ve assigned them the proper hierarchy so that your readers find the information they need at a faster pace.
This also includes tagging your subpages with the proper URL so that the search engine can read where the origin or parent menu of the subcategory. Generally, when creating URLs, shorter is better. You may use one or two keywords for higher relevancy but ensure that they’re easily read. This will improve user experience and lead to better rankings.
Besides the fact that it’s logical to do this, you’ll help search engines crawl your website faster if you fix your website structure. When search engines crawl your site, they look at all other links they can explore further and add this to their index, which is essentially a library of all the websites on the web. This crawl checks for duplicates of your webpage on other sites, its page speeds, mobile-friendliness, and more.
9. Quality Links
Backlinks have long been known to increase the search rankings of websites, but it’s not an easy feat to accomplish. You have to prove to various sites that you have content resources worthy of citation. This boosts your credibility and authority in your industry, and as previously mentioned, improves your domain authority.
There are various strategies that can fast track your link building efforts, such as guest posting, content outreach, and press releases. You can contact websites who would be willing to republish your content that’s relevant to their website. You can also build links internally so that you can create a library of your content related to your posts.
10. Local SEO
97% of users type queries to find a local business, and Google is aware of this. If you fill up your Google My Business Listing and provide your address on your website, your business will have a listing snippet at the upper right-hand corner of SERPs. This will encourage users to click on your website and help in your brand visibility in your neighborhood. Remember: Google is all about connecting users to brands that make it easy for their prospective customers to find what they need. Providing this information will increase your ranking.
The impact of practicing local SEO also translates well to sales, as a recent study showed that 78% of local mobile search results result in an in-store purchase.
Learning the voice search ranking signals of search engines gives you a better idea of what you can improve on your website to serve the needs of your target audience better. These are not one-time steps but a series of interlinked strategies that aim to give the best user experience.
There are a lot of resources on optimizing your site for desktop and mobile search, but not so much for voice. Voice SEO can help your business stay on top of its game by offering voice search optimization services so that you can adapt to the future of information access. The voice search takeover is already happening—it’s time to catch up.