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There are a multitude of factors that can influence keyword rankings for a website. In the past, Google has said that over 200 factors are in play. To add to the confusion, Google’s algorithm is constantly changing in real-time, and is getting smarter since it began using artificial intelligence in its algorithm. At a high level, here are factors that influence a site’s keyword rankings as we head into 2018.
A solid technical foundation is a prerequisite for good rankings performance. Site content that is not discoverable by people or search engines cannot rank. Other technical considerations include:
- Mobile Friendliness: Now that more Google searches happen on mobile, coupled with the fact that Google will be moving to a mobile-first index, it is critical that sites are mobile-friendly – which means that content largely mirrors its desktop counterpart, and user experience does not suffer on mobile devices.
- Site Speed: While it’s a minor ranking signal, site speed is a factor applicable to every acquisition channel, and slow load times can impact other ranking factors. Pages with longer load times also tend to have poorer performance in engagement metrics. With the emphasis that Google is placing on mobile organic search, where load times are often slower, it is critical that site speed be a priority.
- Protocol: Google wants to serve secure pages to users, and therefore prioritizes the HTTPS version over its HTTP counterpart. Sites that have not switched to HTTPS are now marked as “Not Secure” in Chrome browsers.
On-Page Factors & Meta Data
These are factors that we can influence directly. The objective of SEO Content Audits at 3Q Digital is to identify improvements for on-page SEO and user experience. A well-planned keyword strategy lays the foundation for good performance in organic search.
- Page Title: One of the strongest levers we can pull, the title of the page should incorporate primary, and if possible, secondary keywords. These keywords should be closer to the front and be written in a natural way.
- Header Tags: Page headers are a formal way to highlight key sections of a web page, and they provide context to users and search engines about the page’s content.
- Meta Description: This snippet of text appears under the URL in organic Google search and acts like ad copy. These descriptions should entice the user to click with a compelling call-to-action. While these are not a ranking signal on their own, their impact on click-through rate can influence rankings.
- Body Content: The actual copy on the page needs to be relevant and useful. Factors for success include:
- Keyword Usage: While there’s no precise number of times a keyword needs to be used, it’s a good idea to incorporate them into the page’s body copy if your goal is to achieve rankings for a specific keyword theme.
- Relevance: Does it offer anything of substance around the keyword topic or theme that the page is targeting?
- Length & Comprehensiveness: The amount of content on the page will vary depending on topic and the purpose of each page. Address keyword topics in-depth with high-quality content if you hope to succeed in organic search.
- Freshness: Sites can take advantage of this factor by creating quality, relevant content that matches the real-time pulse and search trends within their vertical.
- Internal Linking: Incorporating links that point to relevant pages inside your domain is not only ideal for user experience, but it helps establish information hierarchy and spreads link equity throughout the site.
There are a handful of factors that sites can influence by producing high-quality content, along with a sound link acquisition program and public relations strategy.
- Authority: Domain Authority & Page Authority are scores developed by Moz that provide directionality in predicting a site’s ability to rank. Scores are calculated based on backlink profiles and not any on-page factors.
- Number of Backlinks: How many domains and pages are linking to the site? Links from third-party sites act like “votes”, which pass “link juice” to the page they are linking to.
- Quality & Diversity of Backlinks: The concept of “quality over quantity” applies to backlinks. A healthy backlink profile contains links from a diverse set of domains and pages; the more authoritative, the better.
- Link Relevancy: This ties back to backlink quality. There should be content relevance overlap between sites linking to each other.
- Anchor Text: Words within a link, the anchor text, is seen by search engines as the way one website is describes another. Exact match anchor text can influence rankings for that text. For example, Adobe Reader ranked well for the keywords “click here” since it has often been linked to using that anchor text.
In our next 2018 post, we’ll cover algorithm updates. Stay tuned.