Google announced last month their top three considerations used to determine a websites rank: onsite content, links, and RankBrain. RankBrain should be no surprise – we knew this was at least in the top three. Nevertheless, this is the first time we have gained this type of insight into how Google assigns priority to ranking factors and it confirms our hypothesis that user experience onsite combined with user acknowledgement (qualified linking) remain the primary drivers establishing site rank. Let’s take a look at what these three factors mean for your site.
I know what you’re thinking. You’d be rich beyond your wildest dreams if you had a nickel for everytime someone told you that ‘content was king.’ But we get to say it now because Google confirmed it!
Content IS king. Your site should include original, well thought out and focused content. Remember to tie everything back to user experience – will someone landing on your site want to stay there? Or will they bounce and find someone else to do it better. That’s the biggest question that Google’s primary ranking factors will all ladder up to answer. Is the site cited, and do people who arrive stick around to use it. Keep bounce rates down by paying off your meta descriptions and on-page optimization efforts with information that compels and provides a fresh perspective.
Linking still matters. While many seem to think that recent algorithm updates including Panda and Penguin have reduced the importance of links, the opposite is, in fact, true. The secret to crushing link building is to approach it from a human point of view. Think of links as symbolic of relationships that should exist in the ‘real’ world.
So, you might ask, what’s the best way to build ‘real’ links? Unfortunately this will require some actual human-to-human contact. The answer is to reach out and speak to someone the old-fashioned way! Build relationships with vendors, customers, and opinion leaders within the industry you work and have them acknowledge how great your site is with a link and a handshake. These are the types of links Google is looking for.
What’s great is that quantity really isn’t everything here. The better the link the more it will count, so worry less about how many and instead focus on how meaningful your links can be. Spend the extra effort getting to know influencers in your space and build meaningful connections that foster critical rank-building links.
As I talked about recently, RankBrain is the future of Google’s algorithm and represents a significant step forward from the dark days of PageRank.
Essentially artificial intelligence (AI,) RankBrain itself could really be considered a nested group of ranking factors all unto itself. Basically, Google is looking to determine how effective your site is at answering the core questions faced by your users and RankBrain ‘learns’ and ‘evolves’ overtime to determine the best sites that fit this charge.
For example, if RankBrain determines that visitors to your site often bounce and continue searching, that will likely indicate that your website is not as relevant for the given keyword or keyword set as a competing site, thereby harming your overall traffic rankings. While even Google employees are not certain what matters most to RankBrain, it’s a fair bet to say that metrics considered will include datapoints such as time-on-site and level of onsite engagement. User engagement will only increase in importance as RankBrain evolves.
Google’s reveal last month amounts to yet another step forward in the evolution of SEO. Marketers and webmasters should remember the core concepts of user engagement and search experience when crafting and refining their site properties. The key to success remains twofold; the ability to entice searchers to discover and engage while convincing opinion leaders to link and endorse your site.