Google’s Most Important Ranking Factors in 2017

You can maximise your SEO efforts by focusing on the handful of highest yielding ranking factors. Google’s algorithm is in a constant state of flux – so what was true in 2008, 2010 or even 2015 may not be true today. The following ‘most’ significant ranking factors are based on recent industry research conducted by SearchMetrics, Backlinko, and SEO PowerSuite.

The data gleaned from these studies would seem to suggest that the following are currently the most important ranking signals in the Google algorithm:

1. Content is King & The King is Colonising

Content remains of the most important Google ranking factors, according to a Search Quality Strategist at Google. Engaging content has been an important ranking factor for some time. Keyword-focused content has waned in importance in favour of relevant content written in instructive/useful language. This will only continue & increase moving forward.

SearchMetrics found that only about half of the top 20 queries have keywords in their title tag, and less than 2 in 5 landing pages have keywords in their H1. This is dropping all the time, showing that Google are judging content by relevance — not mechanical inclusion of individual keywords.

So how do you create relevant content? The answer is including or dealing with all or nearly all elements or aspects of the search term. This is a very labour intensive creative process.

The Google search result for “pug” on Google UK returns Pets4homes at #2 (second only to) Wikipedia – why? Well contains an incredible 5682 words. They offer information on:

  • Breed Characteristics
  • Lifespan
  • Appearance – Height & Average Weight
  • Temperament
  • Intelligence & Trainability
  • Child friendliness
  • Average life expectancy & various (exhaustive) health disorders
  • Caring for & Grooming a Pug
  • Exercise
  • Feeding
  • Average Cost to insure and care for a Pug

So there is very little that you can’t learn about your initial search (pugs) on this page – relevance here means exhaustively comprehensive.

Semantic search is only going to become more important as time goes by. Major Google Algorithm updates such as Google Hummingbird and RankBrain increase the importance of semantic relevance – an in-depth expose of a single topic should thus outrank keyword-dense 2010 style SEO copyrighting. That’s because Google reward content that is made for human beings not search engines!

Overall long content outranks short content, as it covers a subject in greater detail. Note that ranked mobile content is 33% shorter in length than desktop content – which makes sense.

The quality of content eventually lowers your bounce rate and increases Click Through Rates (CTR) – ever get lost for a few hours on Wikipedia? Your content needs to be comprehensive and tailored to your target audience. Another way to look at this is – imagine you rank already, and you are getting visitors for your dream keywords – are you showing them a good time? If not – start there – because even if you magically took #1 on Google – if you aren’t servicing their informational needs you won’t hold their attention for too terribly long. 

I suggest you review your website and:

  • Isolate then fix information-ally content.
  • Deal with less topics but in greater detail on each webpage.

2. Inbound Links

Inbound Links are still a significant Google ranking factor, but unlike 6 years ago when all links were either good or at worst meaningless, now links can have a negative impact on rankings too. A higher volume of ‘good’ links from a diverse range of authoritative domains still has a big positive impact on where you rank.

Link building has never been simpler:

  • Create content web users want/need intensely
  • Promote that content like there is no tomorrow

If your content is any good, two things should happen:

  • After industry authorities read it some (or a sizeable chunk) will link to it
  • Google will interpret these industry authority inbound links positively & your rankings will lift across the board within that informational neighbourhood.
  • If your content is consistently really good you will earning a compounding number of high-quality links, which are both authoritative, and diverse.

Social signals can earn you downstream high-quality links. Ranking and social signals enjoy a strong correlation — Facebook has the highest number of average user interactions although this will vary by industry.

There are many different ways to approach link building, but what they all come down to content marketing:

Step one: Create ever higher-quality content.

Step two: Promote.

If you’re not sure where to start – try the Skyscraper method: Find someone else’s relevant content which already ranks, improve upon it by investing time going deeper into the issue/s at hand, then share your superior content.

In highly competitive search spaces you should also:

  • Monitor the number and quality of the links your content has earned.
  • Reach out to potential high-quality link partners.
  • Disavow low quality inbound links via Google Webmaster Tools.

3. Mobile-First User Experience

Google now indexes/crawls the mobile version of your website before it does the desktop version. Mobile optimization is a need to have not a like to have component of your SEO strategy in 2017. 100 out of 100 of the most visible domains on the internet now have mobile-friendly versions.

Your website’s content has to be:

  • responsive on all mobile platforms
  • identical to the content on your desktop site

Mobile-friendliness should be a given, double check you meet Google’s criteria for being mobile-friendly, but start thinking mobile-first – that is the user experience on mobile should be beyond acceptable & nearer to outstanding.

If you are currently building a mobile version of your website, don’t launch it until it’s finished. Releasing an incomplete mobile version of your website could have a detrimental effect on your website’s mobile (or even in extreme cases combined mobile and desktop) rankings.

Page load speed is now a pivotal ranking factor & a sub-aspect of a good user experience. Desktop versions of websites should load under 2.25 seconds, while mobile websites shouldn’t takre more than 1.7 seconds to fully render. According to research top-ranked mobile websites are around a full second faster than their desktop versions.

Steps to take to improve mobile-first user experience:

4. Technical Ranking Factors

There are myriad technical factors which play a role in your website’s rank. Many others might not make you rank but their absence could easily mean that you don’t rank. These factors include:

  • 45% of top ranking websites use HTTPS encryption (up from 11% just 2 years ago). Google said as much in 2014 that websites. Now websites that have not switched to HTTPS are explicitly marked as unsafe in Google Chrome.
  • The use of one or more H2 heading and ranking better has shown reasonable correlation in recent research.
  • Exact-match anchor text still helps rankings, but overdo this & you could get hit with a Google Penguin penalty for links deemed unnatural. Anchor text should thus be varied & natural. A natural spread of anchor text might be 60% branded text; 15% naked urls; 5% generic text; 5% topic-related text & only 15% (maximum) exact match text.
  • As of 10 January 2017, Google are officially penalising intrusive interstitial pop-ups. Pages with an advert or Call To Actions that covers the main body content or takes website users to a new page can suffer a penalty. Exceptions to this new rule of thumb: login dialogs and legally-required declarations (e.g. age verification).

Steps to take to improve technical ranking factors:

  • Utilise HTTPS encryption.
  • Use H2 headings.
  • Make sure anchor text is mixed yet relevant.
  • Remove all intrusive popups from your mobile website.

Take Home Message on SEO into 2017

SEO is constantly changing. Google’s thrust is toward rich content, authoritative inbound links, and an outstanding mobile user experience. Other ranking factors are still important to your rankings, but those listed above will have the most potent tangible impact on where you rank in your niche in the first half of 2017.