The “olden days” of SEO were often about putting the right keyword in the right place. Modern SEO has more to do with what you have to offer to readers and what kind of experience they have on your website. It’s a pretty big difference!
If you first learned about SEO back in the keyword-and-metadata days, I totally get that it can be a tough transition to this new way of thinking. However, if you step back and understand what Google is trying to do, it actually makes a lot of sense.
Just like its users, Google is really just looking for great content that answers the questions typed into its search box. The company wants to make its own users happy by connecting with the content they want!
But, if it’s not just about keywords and title tags anymore, what IS Google really looking for? Below, let’s talk about some known ranking factors, what they mean for you, and how to get more of your website content to the top of the search results.
11 Factors Google Considers When Ranking Your Website Content
No one really knows everything that goes into Google’s “secret sauce” for ranking content, but we can identify a pretty sizable list of factors. Some of these factors have a major impact. Some of them have only a minor impact. But we can confidently say that ALL the following factors have some kind of impact on how well your content ranks in search.
1. Quality and Relevance
Let’s start with a really big one. We know—without a doubt—that Google is looking for high-quality, relevant content. That means that your content should be interesting, informative, and full of helpful answers to the questions your potential clients are asking. Choose a topic, cover it well, and make it relevant to your clients and your brand. Check it over for grammar and spelling. Make sure it looks great when it’s formatted on the page.
And don’t just write content for the sake of having content on your website!
Instead, focus on the reader while you write. Think about what your “perfect clients” are searching for. And never, ever make it sound like you care more about making money than helping your visitors. While your main goal may be to bring in more clients and cases, the best way to do that is to focus on providing a great experience for the person who lands on the page.
Keep in mind, too, that anything that could affect someone’s health or wellbeing—like medical, legal, and financial content—is held to a higher quality standard by Google. So, be the expert you are. Be authoritative on the topic. And make sure your content is as professional as you are.
2. Who Shares Your Content
Who shares your content can mean a lot when it comes to search rankings. For example, Google sees great backlinks as evidence of the quality of your content, and it uses the health of your backlink profile as a major ranking factor. If other high-quality, authoritative sites link back to your content, you’re in good shape. If a lot of poor-quality or spammy sites link back to yours, then it’s a bad sign. So, cleaning up your backlink profile can actually make a huge difference in how your content performs in search.
And, while Google doesn’t directly use social media performance to rank your content, lots of “shares” to and from social media may signal to Google that people are engaged with what you’re writing. That’s probably a more minor boost—but every little bit counts!
Luckily, to start getting the backlinks and social proof you need, all you have to do is create and promote high-quality content that resonates with the audience you’re trying to reach. It’s just like we talked about above! If you’re a good source of high-quality information, then you’ll see news sources, bloggers, industry experts, and other authoritative followers both share your content and link back to your site.
3. User Behavior
Keep in mind that the main aim of search engines is to connect their users with the information they’re searching for. If Google sees that people click on your content, stick around long enough to read it, and even sometimes dig into other content on your site, then it is more likely to reward you organically.
If Google sees a ton of people bouncing away from your site, it’s going to assume that you’re not providing good answers or a good experience. If it sees a lot of people bouncing away from your site to go to another website with the same question, it looks even worse. (Learn more about pogo-sticking and bounce rate here.) Similarly, do people come back to your website for answers? Do they bookmark it for later? Google notices these things, too.
So, your content might generate many click-throughs from search, but it won’t help you if people aren’t finding what they need when they get there. You have to deliver on the promise your title and headline make.
Ultimately, if your content is informative and relevant, Google will see that through the behavior of the users that visit you.
4. Page Functionality
Google looks at more than just the words on the page; it also looks at how functional that page is for visitors. So, your website needs to include all the technical stuff that protects visitors’ privacy and security, allows Google to index your pages, and supports a positive user experience.
Page speed is a big one here. If someone clicks through to your content from search, and the page takes forever to load, it will negatively impact your rankings. Your rankings will also suffer if your website doesn’t work well when viewed on mobile devices or doesn’t protect user security with HTTPS.
Both Google and its users expect a fast, secure, and mobile-friendly website. And, if you want your content to rank highly, you’ll give it to them.
Of course, DSS users don’t need to worry about a lot of the technical factors that Google looks at because we build all our websites with Google crawlability, functionality, and rankings in mind.
However, Google has recently made these kinds of technical factors a much bigger deal in its rankings. If your website is more than a year or two old, you’ll probably achieve better rankings with a website redesign or technical upgrade that brings you up to date.
Specificity is better than generality when it comes to keywords in your content. So, don’t try to cover every keyword in every article or post you write. Instead, focus on one keyword per piece of content, and use natural variations of the keyword to avoid sounding repetitive. These days, Google is getting REALLY good at understanding how people speak and what kinds of words and phrases really mean the same thing.
There’s no longer any reason to spam the exact same keyword phrase over and over!
So, stick to what sounds natural, and make sure you use your keyword or a variation at least once in the first few sentences of your page, as well as a few times throughout the rest of the content piece. You don’t want to over-stuff your content with keywords, but you do want to use natural-sounding variations when it makes sense to do so.
And, while it’s not as important as it used to be, using keywords in your content’s title, headline, meta description, and H1s still helps Google determine what the page is about and its relevance to search queries. Find out how to write metadata and headlines for your website content.
Don’t overdo it, though! If you’re writing well about the topic, then you’ll naturally—almost accidentally—use the kinds of words and phrases that people search for.
6. Content Length
Google hasn’t made any official declarations about word counts or how long your content should be. However, longer content—around 2000 words—seems to generally rank higher than shorter content.
And it makes sense! Longer articles and blog posts will naturally contain more instances of your topic keyword and its variances. Plus, longer content will typically cover more information on the topic and provide a more engaging and in-depth read.
However, as your content gets longer, you need to pay more attention to how you format and arrange it on the page. Big walls of hard-to-read text are going to drive people away, even if what you have to say is great! That’s why we recommend that you break up longer content with headlines, bullet points, numbered lists, images, and video.
Of course, you shouldn’t get too caught up on hitting exactly 2000 words every time. If a smaller word count covers everything you need to say on a particular topic, there’s no need to add a bunch of meaningless “filler” just for the sake of making it longer.
Long or short, the most important thing is that the content is useful and satisfying for the people reading it.
If the same content exists on more than one page of your website, Google will notice—and it won’t be happy. This also goes for content that has been plagiarized or copied from another website. Google can even pick up on pages that are slightly rewritten or modified. So, just don’t do it.
You should always aim to write fresh, original content. If you have a few content pieces that are very similar, it’s probably better for your rankings if you concentrate them into a single, authoritative article on the topic. If you don’t have anything new to say, improving an older page on the topic probably makes more sense than writing a new one.
Repeating the same thing over and over across a bunch of pages will not help you. It will probably get you in big-time trouble with Google, instead.
Remember: the goal is to make sure that EVERY content page on your website is unique and useful!
8. Images and Video
Google seems to prefer content pages that also offer a multimedia experience. Including relevant pictures and videos alongside your written content improves the look, feel, and experience for the user. It also shows Google that your content has a lot to offer.
You do have to strike a balance, though. If you use a ton of unoptimized images on one page, or if your video player doesn’t always work right, it’s going to frustrate your readers and drag you down. So, do use that visual content, but use it smarter and more strategically.
Find out how to optimize images for your website.
9. Internal Links
Links that point back to related content on your website help Google understand how your content is structured, how it works together, and which pages about a topic are the most important. So, link your content together when it makes sense!
Contextual links that appear in the body of your content help transfer part of that “Google juice” to relevant pages on your website. For example, a blog about local bike laws might link back to your main bike accident practice area page, and you might do the same with a blog about common bicycle injuries. This helps Google understand that all the pages are related, and the specific blog posts point back to a more important (but more general page) on your website.
However, you do need to be careful that the way you link your content together makes sense, and the anchor text you use is descriptive of the page you’re linking to. You should also periodically check for and fix any broken or outdated links.
By the way, it’s also fine to link to outside sites when it’s relevant, but an excessive number of outbound links could hurt you because it looks “spammy.”
Fresh content typically outperforms older content in the rankings. However, older content that has been maintained and updated over time can outperform fresh content.
What?! How does that work?
Well, the type of content matters here. Google understands that pages about current news or a current event are probably best when they’re fresh and up to date. However, Google also understands when content is “evergreen.” So, recent pages about Britney Spears’ conservatorship battle are likely to outrank older pages about it. However, an older page that thoroughly and authoritatively answers “what is conservatorship” could easily outrank a brand-new page that doesn’t cover it as well. Make sense?
Keep in mind that Google does recognize when you change and update older content, and it counts toward the page’s “freshness.” So, keep writing new, authoritative content. Maintain and regularly update your older, authoritative content. And, when you’re planning content, think about whether your topic is something that needs to be “fresh off the press” or if it’s more “evergreen.”
11. Everything else
While we’ve given you a good list here, you have to realize that Google uses hundreds of factors in deciding page rankings. You can’t just game the system. And you can expect that the system will keep changing as Google’s algorithm evolves and gets better at connecting searchers with the content they want.
So, really, the best way to make sure you reach the top of the rankings and stay there is to play by the rules. Create great content with your readers in mind, and don’t overthink your SEO optimization. If your content is relevant, readable, and focused on your perfect clients, everything else will start to happen organically.
Do you have questions about creating engaging website content or improving your search rankings? Schedule a free marketing analysis, or give us a call at 888.886.0939.
We love sharing what we know about what it REALLY takes to get to the top of the search rankings!