Everyone familiar with SEO and Google has likely heard about the immense importance of acquiring links from other websites to your own site. These are termed "backlinks." But just how crucial are these backlinks?
Years ago, the quantity and type of backlinks accounted for over 50% of your potential ranking power on Google. Today, that figure has dropped to a mere 15%! This raises the question: what are the other factors that determine your ranking on Google?
This article delves into what Google truly values. As you navigate through, remember three key points:
You don't necessarily need to meet every ranking criterion.
There are additional ranking factors, but they come into play only in specific scenarios.
The percentages can fluctuate weekly, so they should be viewed as indicative rather than definitive.
Google's algorithm has approximately 220 ranking factors that carry varying weight under different circumstances. A news site is ranked differently than a yoga blog and then an e-commerce site. Moreover, other factors come into play if someone is famous and has many followers on platforms like YouTube but has little content on their website.
The ranking factors this article addresses pertain to sites with blog functionality.
Google's ranking factors in 2023.
(24%) Consistent publication of high-quality content
With the rise of AI and the ease with which content can be produced, the regular publication of high-quality content has become increasingly important. AI is not yet capable of producing in-depth content and often remains superficial.
If you can publish content that is deeply informative, you will be rewarded with a high ranking. Think of articles ranging from 1500 to 2000 words.
(15%) Keywords in Meta Title Tags
Most blog writers know that their article should be based on one or more keywords, but very often they forget to include these words in the Meta Title. For four out of ten clients who are fairly active in posting articles, the Meta Titles aren't even filled out, let alone provided with the correct keywords.
Backlinks indicate that other sites find your content relevant enough to refer to. At least, that was Google's thinking years ago. However, since it has become such a (misguided) trade to buy and exchange links, its value in Google's eyes has been reduced by 15%.
However, this doesn't mean that a link from a site with very high domain authority can't significantly influence a ranking factor. The point is, that you shouldn't base your entire SEO strategy on obtaining backlinks.
(14%) Niche Expertise
New as a ranking factor is your expertise within a niche market, and it accounts for about 14% of a ranking factor. This is also due to the rise of AI. AI knows a little about many things, but an expert knows almost everything about one topic.
That's precisely what Google is looking for. Demonstrate your expertise in a particular area, and you will rank high. This also prevents companies from hiring small SEO agencies that employ a batch of students to write a lot of low-quality content that pollutes the internet.
(12%) User Engagement
How long a visitor stays on the site and how much content they view has always been an important ranking factor. There are many tricks to keep a visitor on a page longer, such as placing lots of images in between, using short paragraphs, etc., but Google is becoming increasingly savvy with these tactics.
User engagement also includes the number of visitors that come to the site through channels like social media or an email campaign.
(5%) Trustworthiness & Expertise
Also new - or much higher on the ranking list - is how reliable the author is as an expert. Reliability can, for instance, be demonstrated by naming yourself as the author of an article and linking to a dedicated author page. This page would have your complete CV, which should be verifiable, for example on LinkedIn.
Additionally, you can publish articles under the same author name on other sites, and if all those articles demonstrate your expertise in a particular field, you build a degree of reliability and expertise.
(4%) Mobile-friendly / Mobile-First Website
Google occasionally emphasizes how they find a Mobile-First website extremely important, but still, it only plays a role for about 4%. You can imagine that this percentage might vary by niche and country. Some topics are searched for more frequently via mobile than others, and not every country uses mobile devices extensively for searches.
(3%) Internal Links
I so often encounter our clients forgetting - or being unaware - of creating internal links. As you can see, this article is full of them, making it easy for you to find more knowledge about a specific topic.
In addition, it's important to ensure that the so-called anchor text aligns with the article it's linking to and that the article is related to the source article from which the link originates.
Imagine you have a travel blog and you write a sentence like: 'We were cycling towards a restaurant and suddenly a very large dog approached us.' Now you could link the words 'large dog' to an article about a dog shelter you once visited. But there's a slim chance that visitors of a travel blog are on your site to then read something about a dog shelter.
(3%) Page speed
I recently conducted an SEO scan for a friend of mine, and his mobile website scored 18 while the desktop version scored 70 on a scale of 1 to 100. His target audience is between the ages of 16 and 30 and resides in Europe, so they search almost exclusively using a mobile device within his market.
Even though website page speed only counts for 3%, these scores are so poor that he will hardly be able to rank at all. This was also evident from the report I compiled for him.
(2%) Site security / SSL Certificate
In an era where data seems to be determining everything, the number of hackers is also increasing. Google wants to assist by including the security of your site as a ranking factor. They find it dangerous to direct a lot of traffic to poorly secured sites, especially since it's so simple to get basic security in place.
(1%) Schema Markup / Structured Data
You'd think that Google's algorithm is getting better at analyzing and understanding content, but probably due to the amount of energy that such analysis requires, they want every site to be equipped with Schema Markup.
With this, you indicate what kind of information is on a page, such as; Author, Specifications, Product description, etc. This makes it easier for Google to crawl a site, and therefore it counts for about 1% as a ranking factor.
(1%) Keywords in URL
A good URL structure has always been important for Google, but the focus here is primarily on incorporating the keywords the article is about into the URL.
The URL is one of the first things that gets crawled, so it provides an indication to Google about the page's content. It's logical and easy to do.
(1%) All other ranking factors:
For other ranking factors, think about the total amount of content and pages, violations of Google's policies, rankings of the competition, the site's code structure, and much more.
Remember that Google's algorithm is extremely complex and the ranking factors mentioned above are a generic representation of reality. If you mess up on just one of the ranking factors, it could result in none of the pages on your site ranking.
An example of this is if your site's speed is 1 on a scale of 1 to 100; it weighs so heavily that you'll never rank high. Additionally, Google can also issue penalties, for instance, for spreading misinformation or if your pages are blocked.
Therefore, always engage a specialist, and if you think you already have one, it never hurts to seek a second opinion.