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What happened to Amelia Earhart? How many licks does it take to get to the center of those lollipops? What’s really going on in Area 51?
Life is full of mysteries we may never get the answers to. What it takes to rank higher in Google isn’t one of them.
One of the greatest questions in the SEO world is what exactly goes into Google’s ranking algorithm. If only we could Google the answer, right?! Although Google keeps its official list of ranking factors a secret, the key to get your business to rank higher on Google is not as mysterious as it may seem. In fact, we’ve cracked the code, and have a bunch of SEO case studies to prove it.
At Blue Corona, we are search engine detectives, sleuthing out all the possible ranking factors Google uses. But we don’t do it alone! We collect tons of data and use industry-leading SEO tools such as Moz as well as our own proprietary data platform to help unravel the great mystery of the digital age that is Google’s algorithm for ranking factors.
We hate to break it to you, but if you’re not on the first page of Google, you’re losing sales to your competitors. A whopping 97 percent of people DON’T click past the first page of results. Can you think of the last time you did?
Understandably, business owners are determined to get their business to rank higher on Google, ideally in the first three organic listings. To do this, it’s important that you understand the uncovered Google ranking signals, and optimize your pages for the best chance of being displayed to potential customers.
How Does the Google Ranking Work?
Google uses a variety of factors in its algorithm to determine what results will be the most helpful for the user.
Google’s algorithm is smart; it is constantly changing and adapting to give users the best experience and to prevent black hat SEO tactics from manipulating search results. Part of the mystery of Google’s search algorithm is that it takes a LOT of ranking signals into account before displaying results.
The reason for this is because one search term can have hundreds of meanings. For example, if I conduct a search for the word “bathroom,” Google has no idea of what I’m really looking for. Possible results could range wildly, including:
- Finding the nearest public restroom
- Defining what a bathroom is
- Emergency plumbing
- Bathroom remodeling companies
- News stories
- Home decor websites
- Cleaning advice
What Google is trying to do here is guess my intent and then tailor the results to what it thinks will be the most helpful result. Over time, Google’s algorithms have identified and adapted to the user’s search intent, and identified four main types:
- Know queries, where the user wants information about something. Ex: “Why won’t my toilet flush?”
- Do queries, where the user wants to take an action. Ex: “Best bathroom remodeling company.”
- Website queries, where the user wants to go to a specific website or webpage. Ex: “Wayfair”
- Visit-in-person queries, where the user wants to locate and visit a physical address. Ex: “Closest place to buy cleaning supplies”
This changes a little bit for Google’s mobile search index, which focuses on micro-moments:
Micro-moments are the instantaneous moments when a user turns to a mobile device for an immediate need. They focus on:
Google’s smart search algorithm—both for mobile and desktop results—has adapted to produce results based on historical data as well as its ranking signals to match the most common intent, and then provide the user with the most “helpful” answer. Knowing this can help you tailor your SEO strategy by matching your content to the most common intent people have when searching for that keyword. For example, when I search for the keyword “plumbing,” the top results are for plumbers in my local area. This means Google has learned that the most common intent people have when searching for “plumbing” is “I need a plumber to fix an issue.” As SEO experts, adapting content to users’ search intent and Google’s other ranking factors can help you win big time in the first-page real estate game.
HOW MANY RANKING SIGNALS ARE THERE?
Although nobody but Google knows the exact answer, SEO experts have been guessing and testing them for some time now, and have arrived at a list of over 200 factors used by Google’s search algorithm to rank websites and pages. But don’t let that list overwhelm you! Not all 200 Google ranking factors hold equal weight. So, what search engine ranking factors are the most important for your SEO efforts in 2018?
Before we dive into the most important Google ranking factors for your 2018 SEO checklist, you should know how the Google ranking algorithm works to put your business at the top.
Most Important Google Search Ranking Factors for 2018
At Blue Corona, we’ve identified the major areas that we predict will be big players impacting search engine ranking factors with Google’s algorithm updates in 2018:
- Secured sites (HTTPS vs. HTTP)
- Websites that are mobile-friendly
- Page speed
- Schema markup
- Webpage content quality
- Webpage content length
- Social signals
- Quality backlinks
- Optimized images
- Domain age
Creating Quality Content
We’re sure you’ve heard this one before, but content is still the king of the SEO world this year. User experience is Google’s big priority; creating quality content that is easy for the user to find and understand is key.
There’s a lot that goes in to creating quality content, but the basic idea is that Google will recognize and reward content that helps users find the information they were looking for. Think of it like a farm—would you rather have a hundred tomatoes that are semi-ripe and hard as a rock, or would it be better to have a dozen vine-ripened, cheery red tomatoes? When it comes to content on your website, the pages should be the juiciest tomatoes ever.
Quality content means not falling for the most common SEO mistakes, such as keyword stuffing, scraping content, or writing thin content that has little or no value to users. Google’s overall priority is user experience, so if your content doesn’t deliver on this, it won’t rank well.
Careful, purposeful keyword usage is big for SEO in 2018.
A recent Google algorithm update called the Google Maccabee Update was aimed to improve user experience. It did this by penalizing keyword permutations, which are multiple phrases or long tail keywords that basically mean the same thing. An example of this would be creating a page about “how to thaw frozen pipes” and stuffing it with keyword permutations like:
- Thaw frozen pipes with hairdryer
- How to use heat on frozen pipes
- How to thaw frozen pipes that burst
- Start thawing frozen pipes
- Thaw frozen pipes outdoors
Unless the content is incredibly in-depth, these keyword permutations disrupt the natural flow of the text and can create a bad user experience. The key to a high keyword ranking in 2018 is creating helpful content.
Does Google have a specific length requirement for getting your content indexed? Nope, that’s part of the mystery. Thankfully, thorough our data and data from other reputable SEO sources, we’ve got proof that the highest-ranking pages on Google DO tend to have longer content. In fact, the average content length for a web page in the top 10 results for any keyword on Google has at least 2,000 words.
That being said, it doesn’t mean you should make every piece of content into a book–you should take cues from your target audience by monitoring your bounce rates and tracking leads.
When we tested it, the most successful blog posts in terms of conversions and organic traffic were between 695 and 929 words.
At Blue Corona, our data-driven approach to optimizing content is finding the balance between content length and conversions, which will continue to be an important search engine ranking factor in 2018.
From a very young age, we’ve been using pictures and other visuals to gain information about the world around us. While that approach works for humans, pictures are still tough for search engines to make sense of. The SEO solution to adding photos without missing out on ranking opportunities is to make sure you are optimizing photos on your website.
We’ve written a great guide on how to optimize photos on your website, but here’s the basics:
- Reducing the file size for faster loading times (another ranking factor!).
- Choosing a descriptive file name that includes keywords you’re trying to rank for.
- Including a caption can help consumers find what they’re looking for more easily.
- Adding an alt tag helps search engines understand what the image is about.
- Giving a title to your image provides additional information for a better user experience.
Along with content, backlinks are the bread and butter of SEO. When your website is associated to a trustworthy site via a backlink, it also makes your site look more trustworthy to search engines. Google keeps score of what sites have quality backlinks through PageRank.
PageRank is essentially your “link score.” One of the algorithms that skyrocketed Google to fame, it evaluates both the quality and the quantity of links to your site, giving it an authority score of 0 to 10. You can’t afford to have spammy, low-quality links in 2018!
Social shares and signals such as Facebook “likes” and shares, tweets, Pinterest pins, etc. most likely influence your Google rankings. Besides just promoting your company, social media has a positive impact on your company’s SEO efforts. When a person finds something they love on social media, they may share that link with others. This increase in inbound links to your site can both improve your credibility and tell Google your content is popular, which can boost your company’s social profiles to the top of branded searches.
Mobile Usability Is a Must
We’re calling it now—2018 will be the year businesses will finally catch on to the idea of prioritizing their website’s mobile experience, rather than it being an afterthought. This is especially important as Google gets closer and closer to prioritizing mobile-friendly content—aka the mobile first index.
The mobile first index means Google will begin basing rankings based on how it crawls a site’s mobile version instead of its desktop version. Google is still testing this, but when it rolls out, it will rock the SEO world as webmasters and SEO experts rush to adapt their content to a mobile audience.
Blue Corona is ahead of the curve, and has already begun preparing clients’ websites for the rollout of the mobile first index. If you haven’t, you have some serious catching up to do in 2018!
Google revealed that 40 percent of mobile searches have local intent, making it an important area of opportunity for businesses in the home services industry! Resisting the change to prioritizing your site’s mobile version will hurt your business in the long run.
Voice Search and Digital Assistants
Another big thing to adapt your SEO strategies for in 2018 is voice search and digital assets. According to Google, 1 out of 5 searches already come from voice queries, and we’re expecting a bigger shift towards that in the coming years. Because of this, focusing your SEO efforts on long-tailed keywords will benefit you. In fact, we’re seeing it already with Google’s RankBrain.
RankBrain is the name of Google’s machine-learning artificial intelligence (AI) system that helps Google sort through the billions of pages it has indexed in order to decide which pages will be the most relevant for search queries. Specifically, RankBrain helps Google interpret long tail queries to bring the searcher results. Using long tail keywords in 2018 can help increase your conversion rate and adapt to voice search!
Important Technical SEO Factors
A crucial foundation to SEO work in general, Google’s shift to ranking sites that are fast and secure higher will continue to be a priority in 2018.
Page speed has a massive impact on user experience. In 2018, search engine users want answers, and we want them fast! Increasing your page’s loading speed not only helps your bottom line, but it has been confirmed by Google to be a ranking signal. This year, aim to have all of your pages load in two seconds or less.
Encryption has also been confirmed by Google to be a strong ranking factor. Encryption means that your website is secure, which can be seen by the addition of an “s” at the end of the “http” part of a URL. With the increase in technology from hackers and identity thieves, Google is making an effort to ensure its users are protected from these malicious intruders by making website security a key search ranking factor. Secured sites protect a user’s connection and ensure a user’s activity cannot be tracked or have their information stolen. If your site isn’t secured in 2018, you’re going to have a huge wake-up call; finally adding that “s” to your site will prevent your site from sinking in the rankings.
Schema markup is a type of structured data added to websites that make it easier for search engines to interpret content. Boring, right? Well listen to this: structured data can improve click-through-rate (CTR) by 30 percent! Adding schema markup with the help of sites like schema.org can help the leads roll in!
Domain age is a sneaky search engine ranking factor. Although Matt Cutts (the head of Google webspam) has said that domain age doesn’t play a big role in how well your site ranks on search engines, there’s tons of evidence out there saying it does. It can be difficult to get leads to a new website, but the new year means another candle on your website’s birthday cake! Cheers to an older and wiser (and more authoritative) 2018!
Let the Digital Marketing Experts Keep an Eye on 2018 SEO Trends for You
The official tweaks that Google will make to their ranking algorithm may be a mystery, but these are a great forecast to adapt to the changes this year!
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of Google’s ranking factors and still aren’t sure where to focus your SEO efforts on in 2018, Blue Corona can help. We have a data-driven process that brings measurable results. Start growing your business today!
About The Author: Blue Corona is a data-driven online marketing company with offices in Gaithersburg, MD and Charlotte, N.C.
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