Finally, the wait is over. After all these years, we can put all the speculation, and debates behind us. Darn, we even no longer have to guess what really helps our sites to rank…
Why? Because Google has finally revealed its top three search ranking factors. And they are content, links and RankBrain.
So, let’s begin.
Factor #1. Content
Take a look at The Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors, the SEL’s fantastic attempt at formalising the Google’s ranking factors, and you’ll see it:
Content takes the primary role.
Plus, together with architecture, it includes the most elements.
And so, it goes without saying, doesn’t it?
Content shapes your rankings.
Quality, length, the depth of information, keywords and how you use them, to the frequency of updates affect where the search engine would place your page in SERPs.
As the Search Engine Land’s guide to content points:
“Get your content right, and you’ve created a solid foundation to support all of your other SEO efforts.”
However, the question remains, why? So let me explain.
The key thing search engines focus on is providing the best user experience for the searchers. In practice, outside of the typical UX elements like design and usability, it means delivering the exact information that matches the searcher’s intent and needs.
Because, if you think about it, when you search for information on Google, you’re ultimately searching for content. Sure, it doesn’t always mean blog posts. You could be seeking videos to teach you how to do something, Wikipedia entries, product pages or any other content type.
But ultimately, when using Google, you’re searching for content.
And for that reason, Google, and other search engines seek and propagate the most relevant, quality, and in-depth information to the top of the search results.
Factor #2. Backlinks
We’ve suspected this for a long time – to get to the top of search listings a website needs links.
Plenty of them at that.
And that they should be as good quality as possible.
But now we are certain about it.
So let’s take a look at how backlinks work, what makes a good backlink, and how you could acquire them.
How backlinks work
In the simplest terms, backlinks are upvotes other sites give your content.
Google considers every backlink as an indication of your content’s authority on its subject matter. And simply, the more quality upvotes you have, the higher your content can appear in the search results.
Quality of Backlinks
However, there are many intricacies in how Google analyzes and calculates the strength of backlinks. For example, the search engine pays close attention to the quality of links, not just their quantity.
As a result, sites with fewer but stronger links often outrank those with many low-quality backlinks.
Therefore, when building links, you should first and foremost strive to create ones that pass the following criteria:
A backlink should be relevant to a page on your site it points to. This means that it should be placed on a page that’s somehow relevant to your content. For example, if you run a hotel, then your best backlinks would come from tourist- and hospitality-related websites. However, links from marketing blogs (unless they talk about hotel marketing, of course) wouldn’t be too relevant.
You should acquire them naturally. This means that this should be a link someone added to their content without being reimbursed for doing so by you in any shape and form.
Those links should also increase value to users. This point ties in with the relevancy we’ve already discussed. Anyone clicking a link should be satisfied with the information they found on your site.
Secondly, you should perform regular backlink audits to assess your site’s link profile, and monitor the quality of links pointing to your site.
In particular, you should track:
- The number of referring domains,
- The strength of those links, their domain authority, trust score, and domain score.
- Referring countries,
- Dofollow and Nofollow ratio, and
- Anchor text distribution.
Understanding the importance of link audit, we at SEMrush have recently launched SEMrush’s Backlink Audit Tool that allow you to take a deep look at your backlink profile, and deliver all the insight you need to establish the quality of your links.
Factor #3. RankBrain
I admit, RankBrain, the third factor on the list sounds more like something from a sci-fi movie rather than a product of modern technology.
Why? Because you see, RankBrain is the Google’s artificial intelligence system that uses machine learning to process search queries, especially those the search engine hasn’t encountered before.
I admit, the above definition may sound a bit cryptic (unless you’re well-versed in the tech speak). So, to put it in the simplest terms, RankBrain analyzes search queries and matching words and concepts they include with web pages to deliver the most relevant information to the user.
As Danny Sullivan explained in this article:
“From emailing with Google, I gather RankBrain is mainly used as a way to interpret the searches that people submit to find pages that might not have the exact words that were searched for.”
And apparently, it’s quite good at its job. Some SEOs have reported it being capable of matching concepts between the query and the page, even if there are no identical words between the two.
But how does this affect SEO?
For one, RankBrain search results more relevant to the user. The research by Stone Temple Consulting, conducted after the search engine has launched Rankbrain, discovered that the quality of Google results for difficult to understand queries has improved by 54%.
And needless to say, such boost of quality, in turn, could result in users not having to check more than the first three results, as the search engine would have already delivered the information they sought.
As a result, companies will most likely have to create more specific content to ensure that RankBrain considers it relevant to the search query and positions at the top of the search page.
Hopefully, after reading this article, you’ve gained a basic understanding of ranking factors importance, and reasons why the search engine decided to focus on them as the key ranking criteria.
Anna Lebedeva is the global content and public relations manager at SEM Rush