The End of Universal Ranking Factors in Search
In a science as imperfect as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), SEO practitioners (SEO’s) seek to find correlations between factors that might affect a page and search result and the ranking of that particular page for that search result. They call these, imaginatively, ranking factors and for a number of years organisations like Moz and Search Metrics have been producing studies of rankings factors, to establish the key elements which influence rankings, how they have been changing and, importantly, giving SEO’s a guide of what they need to prioritise their efforts on.
As Google’s search algorithms have become ever more sophisticated and as it has started to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Machine Learning, search results have become ever more personalised and up to date. When you search on your mobile whilst travelling, the results you find will often be totally different to what you see when searching on your desktop at the office. Similarly, the layout of the search results page (SERP) will often be totally different depending upon the type or intent of your search. Search for la la land and Google will show you performance times, where you can see the film, its soundtrack, top news stories, its cast, reviews, latest tweets, more detailed information and so on.
Do a search for kimono, however, and Google will show you shopping links, detailed information, related questions, images and text ads.
Google now thinks about not only what you are looking for but why you are looking for it, what you are going to do with it and where you are, i.e., Google thinks about content, context and intent.
So, in a world of ever increasing sophistication and personalisation in search, Searchmetrics has summarised 5 key points:-
- Universally applicable ranking factors are a thing of the past. Now, each industry, sector or even each individual search query, has its own ranking factors.
- Today’s rankings are driven by the dynamic between individual content relevance and use. The main task for SEOs and online marketers today is the creation of relevant content that is targeted towards the specific user intention, which can vary greatly depending on the search query.
- Technical factors remain a prerequisite for good rankings. Even when providing content which is as relevant as possible and which perfectly meets the user intention, it is extremely difficult to achieve a position at the top of Google’s ranking if the page is not – for both humans and search engines – easily accessible, easy to consume and optimized from a technical point of view, i.e. good technical SEO is a prerequisite of any good search result.
- User signals give Google direct feedback on how satisfied people are with content. Google now has access to an enormous quantity of data regarding web users’ behaviour enabling it to gauge how happy a user is with a result. This combined with the machine learning methods of RankBrain, creates a highly effective system for evaluating online documents in real time.
- Backlinks are now just one of many contributing factorsSearch engine rankings are no longer determined primarily by backlinks. Depending on the topic, it is now sometimes possible for a website to achieve a high Google ranking without a large amount of high-quality backlinks.
Is This The End for Universal Ranking Factors?
There is still a high degree of correlation between certain factors and google search ranks. If your page cannot be crawled, it cannot be ranked – end of story. If your page is not https, if it is very slow, or not mobile friendly, etc., it will not rank as well as one that is. And if your page is not relevant to a particular query then you cannot expect it to rank for that query. However the days of giving your SEO a checklist of items to work through to achieve high rankings are over.
The Google search engine, which was once driven by a slow, clunky algorithm, that needed updating one step at a time, has become a fluid, highly complex, continually changing organism.
Google has now reached the stage where all significant updates have been incorporated into its central algorithm, meaning they can no longer be differentiated individually. The evaluation of a site’s relevance is now based on the complex interplay of hundreds of factors, each of which is assigned its own flexible weighting, all of which happens in real time.
So What Do SEO’s Do Now?
In a world where search is still the main starting point for every customer journey, with 92% of all business purchases starting with a search and 81% of shoppers search online before buying, nearly every organisation needs good search visibility to succeed. That’s why content relevance and focusing on the user journey is replacing the traditional checklist of ranking factors.
But without a basis of ranking factors to establish how a page can rank, how can SEO’s help you position your site?
SEO’s now need to focus on the creation of holistic and comprehensive content specifically geared to your target users. The main task now is the creation of highly relevant content that is targeted towards the specific user intention, which can vary greatly depending on the search query. Your SEO needs to understand who your users might be, what they may be looking for and why they may be looking for it. They need to understand the things that set you apart from your competitors so that you find the perfect match.
Usually, content is relevant when it provides answers to as many questions as possible and when it deals with the most important aspects of that topic, whilst, perhaps, providing more, additional, resources if users require further detail. This is how holistic and comprehensive content is defined and treated.
The End of Checklist SEO
Searchmetrics announced that the 2016 guide to universally applicable Ranking Factors would be their last and they would now focus on the analysis of specific industries.
Zelst have been focusing more and more of our activity over the last two years in the creation of holistic and comprehensive content specifically geared to your target users and have delivered exceptional results for our clients in this constantly evolving search world. If you would like to explore if we can help you increase your search visibility for your target users drop us a line or give us a call.
See and download the Searchmetrics Top 20 General Ranking Factors 2016 here:-