With every Google algorithm update it become harder and harder to understand exactly what Google’s ranking factors are. What does the big search engine really care about? First they want keywords, now they don’t. They loved links, but then they want different links. Just what is it that really matters?
Within this article, I’ll be clearing the fog around Google’s algorithmic mystery and teaching you how to create pages of evergreen SEO value. If you want to dig deeper into the nitty-gritty, the original data and study can be found at Search Metrics.
Here are the top 10 SEO ranking ingredients that will make for a win-win recipe between you and Google in 2014. Enjoy!
1) Quality Backlinks
Backlinks have always been one of the most important evaluation factors that Google uses to calculate a website’s authority. However, if the number of backlinks pointing to your website was very important in the past, now it is the quality of those links that matters much more than the quantity.
A website with 5 high quality links could easily outrank another page with 50 poor backlinks. Moreover, if the website that has 5 quality backlinks suddenly gets 100 bad links that are unrelated to what that site is about, then this could even harm its rankings significantly. This process is also referred to as negative SEO.
So which links are high quality? An ideal link would come from a page that:
- has content related to the content on your own website (similar or related niche)
- is already authoritative in Google’s eyes (high page rank, relevant content)
2) Backlink anchor text
The anchor text you use in these quality backlinks is another top SEO ranking factor. It used to be very important that you use your targeted keywords in the anchor text of a backlink, but not any longer.
Nowadays, Google is looking for a wide variety of links pointing to your pages, suggesting a natural and organic link building strategy.
According to the study, it is best to have combination of both nofollow and dofollow links that:
- Contain your targeted keywords
- Only contain part your targeted keywords, or related (synonymical) phrases
- Make use of stop words (the, to, in, etc.)
3) Social media popularity
Out of all the positioning factors analysed in the study, social signals have been found to be in very strong correlation with high ranking pages.
Likes, shares, comments, +1s, tweets, Pinterest pins – they are all a strong confirmation for Google that a certain page is really valuable and helpful to the reader (since they decide to further share it with their friends).
Google +1s seem to be especially important as far as ranking goes, closely followed by Facebook shares, likes and comments. Tweets and Pinterest pins are important as well, but don’t seem to have as big of an impact on rankings as +1’s and facebook shares do.
4) In-depth, qualitative content
The study by Search Metrics has shown that content is still king in Google’s search ranking factors. Longer, richer content, with images, videos and files to go with it is more and more common in Google’s top search results.
And this change is here to stay. Google’s main goal is to provide searchers with quality content. And if you have it on your website, then its SEO value is evergreen. Quality content will simply start ranking better and better with time.
The study showed that pages in the first 10 positions are, on average, 600 words long.
5) Keywords in title … the right way
This has always been an important SEO rating element. Making smart use of keywords in between your title tags is essential. The closest the keywords are to the beginning of the title, the better.
If you are writing a blog post and want to optimize it, a good strategy is to give that post a relevant name, and then write a slightly different title for the post’s page.
For example, if a post’s title is “5 Simple Steps to Online Success – Small Business SEO”, you could change the title of the page to “Small Business SEO: 5 Simple Steps to Success”. Notice how our targeted key-phrase is now in the beginning of the title? This will make a search engine’s job of finding your page for the right keywords much easier.
Pro tip: when using this strategy, make sure to keep the title interesting! Remember that your final goal is to get people to come to your website and not just making an appearance in the results.
The study has also shown that the top ranking pages almost always support the topic highlighted in the title with a relevant meta description. This should further reinforce the keywords in the title, with related phrases and keyword synonyms.
6) Keywords in body … the right way
The keywords you use in your title also need to be reinforced in the body of the page. An SEO ranking component that has always been important is the use of relevant words in your h1 and h2 title tags. But don’t simply stuff those with keywords!
Use different ways to show that this page really is about the keywords used in the title. If you’re writing about a “supermarket”, you might want to also use words that come with it naturally, such as “shopping” or “leisure”.
7) Internal and external links
Google still loves pages that are well-linked internally. And the anchor text of those links is important as well. As far as SEO backlinking goes, it is a good strategy to use keyword rich anchor texts inside your website and softer anchors (generic, more words in the anchor, including stop words) on other websites that point to your own.
Another ranking factor that Google takes into account is external links going from your website to other pages relevant to the topic. This is because Google likes to point its users to the best, versatile and most content-rich pages. Linking to popular, already trusted websites (Wikipedia and other authoritative pages) shows that you are willing to share your sources with your readers and make their experience even better.
Pro tip: make these links open up in a new tab when users click on them. This is to make sure your readers don’t actually leave your own website to go to a source.
8) Media rich content (videos, images and files)
These days Google loves media-rich pages. Use videos and images to further expand on what your page is about and make sure to help Google figure out what a specific photo represents by including a relevant, short description of it in the alt image attribute.
However, the study also notes that using too much media can be a negative ranking factor. Big images (1024x768px or greater) attract slight penalties in rankings.
The bottom line is that you should use images to expand on what you are talking about, but not to overflow the page with useless content in a trial to rank higher. Google is looking for pages that offer a great experience for the reader, so use your own common sense here and you’ll be fine.
9) URL length
An ideal, SEO-friendly URL is short and concise. The use of keywords in the domain has dropped in importance drastically.
Having your keywords in a page’s URL is 3 times as relevant as simply having that keyword in the domain name, which makes it simply not worth the effort of trying to get a domain with your keywords in it just for SEO purposes.
Interesting fact: the simple presence of the h1 and h2 tags on your page is a much more important ranking component right now compared to having a keyword in the domain name.
Pro tip: Long URLs can result in a negative ranking factor and can affect usability. Keep is short and simple. You can find lots of useful information on this topic in URLs are for People, not Computers, by Not-Implemented.com.
10) Website speed
A top ranked website must load quickly, but this is only relevant up to a certain point. Website speed is now a negative ranking factor, which means that pages will be penalized if they are slow, rather than being rewarded if they are fast.
At the end of the day…
SEO ranking factors will continue to change and search engines will continue to improve their algorithms. However, the highest quality, shareable content will always continue to rank highly. The only way to make sure your website will stay up in search results is to have qualitative content that genuinely helps your readers and customers.