Google is forever changing their search algorithm. This is a result of the giant search engine being keen on giving us, the users, the best possible results.
So, what do we need to be prepared for in 2018? With search engines evolving greatly year after year there are a lot of ranking factors you need to consider in order to rank highly in Google SERPs. Here are 11 things to consider when looking to increase your organic rankings and traffic in the New Year:
1. Direct Traffic
A recent study from SEMRush concluded that direct website visits are the most influential ranking factor. In their opinion, visitors that are going directly to your site are telling Google that your domain has high value.
To back this up, we’ve seen first-hand with older blog posts climbing to the top of Google after they get a spike in traffic. This could be referral traffic from Twitter, Facebook or Reddit for example.
Whilst direct traffic alone will not get you straight to the top of Google, and there will certainly be other factors involved, it appears that if we can drive traffic from other sources and combine this with higher direct visits, it gives us a boost in Google rankings.
One way to get direct traffic to your website is through branding. To go about expanding your brand you may wish to consider an online PR campaign, for example.
Whilst this tip is not specifically for 2018, branding is becoming more and more important to your website’s performance in the search results.
With each year the competition to rank for organic terms is increasing. As well as this, the price of your Google AdWords bids are going up, and the Google results pages are being stuffed with more and more distractions – local results, video results, Google Shopping, feature snippets etc.
The bigger your brand penetration, the bigger your advantage is in Google. This helps increase the likelihood of inheriting bigger and better links compared to your smaller competitors, which leads to better rankings. People searching for your brand also generates free traffic. Your brand can essentially own the first page of Google – your website, Twitter, Facebook, positive PR etc. can all rank on page one
3. Length of Content
The SEMRush study mentioned earlier also found that longer content tended to rank higher. The research concluded there is a 45% difference on average between the top 3 search results and those ranked in position 20. 600,000 different keywords were studied by SEMRush across the world.
Even still, the average content length for these top 3 rankings was only around 750 words; only 250 words longer than the content down in 20th position. Therefore, making your content longer will dramatically increase your chances of ranking above weaker content.
Bear this in mind if you’re producing content on external websites too. The length of the linking content may make a difference in the quality these links have on your website’s ranking.
4. Page Loading Speed
Google have emphasised the importance of page loading times for a while now and with each passing year, it becomes more important. A page that takes ages to load does not go down in Google’s good books. This is even more important on mobile devices – nobody likes holding their phone for that extra few seconds waiting for a website to load.
A survey by Kissmetrics revealed 40% of shoppers will abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load; so, if your website doesn’t load quickly enough, you’re simply driving these potential customers straight to your competitors.
Last summer, Gary Illyes from Google stated that page speed of your mobile pages will be an important factor when it comes to the mobile-friendly algorithm. Google offers free PageSpeed tools to show you what is slowing your website down, which pages in particular are slow, and how to resolve these issues.
5. Featured Snippets
The Featured Snippets box ranks above the organic search, and usually with the data from that featured snippet coming from a result on page 1. So, if you’re appearing in the featured snippet for a certain result then you have two of the 11 results on page 1, with one of those being the most prominent one.
To get in this position, Google programmatically determines which page contains the best result to answer the users’ question or search query.
Though these results are generally for questions and not necessarily traffic you expect to convert, it is still sending additional traffic to your website and helping to build your brand in the process. Here’s an example of where Receptional ranks for the feature snippet for the question “what is digital analytics?”
6. Mobile Optimisation
Mobile traffic has been on the increase for a number of years now and that only continues to rise.
Google also made their index mobile-first earlier this year, showing where Google’s priority lies. More than half of searches on Google are now done from a mobile device.
If you don’t already have a mobile-optimised site then you’ve probably noticed a decline in your traffic and conversions from mobile devices. To keep Google happy, the mobile version of your site needs to be responsive, load quickly, contain clear text, and have easy navigation. Google has a handy mobile-friendly test that can tell you what needs fixing.
The increase in searches from mobile devices also means a greater focus on local searches, so you should be assessing your local SEO strategy on a consistent basis as well.
7. Google’s confirmed ranking signals
The top three ranking signals in Google’s search algorithm were confirmed by Search Quality Senior Strategists at Google. They are:
Backlinks have been the number one ranking signal for a long time and they’re not going away anytime soon. If you want to rank above your competitors and in first position, then getting quality backlinks to your website is still essential.
Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, John Mueller confirmed earlier in 2017 that backlinks still remain a high-quality signal, suggesting they will most likely be the most important signal for years. Mueller said:
“There are a lot of really useful signals from backlinks.
“I can definitely see why it would make sense for our quality engineers to say, we still get a lot of value out of backlinks.
“Personally, I wouldn’t see backlinks going away as part of search but obviously these things evolve over time”.
In a Q&A with Google, Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, Andrey Lipattsev, said the two factors were links and content:
“I can tell you what they are. It is content. And it’s links pointing to your site”.
Create content that is designed to be user centric. Consider what value your readers will get from it, and whether it is well-written and engaging. As we said earlier, the length of content is also important, so you have plenty of space to create in-depth content.
Links and content will still be the key to ranking in Google in 2018.
RankBrain is an artificial intelligence program Google uses to help process search queries. If it sees a word or phrase it isn’t familiar with, the program is able to make a guess at what words of phrases may have a similar meaning, and filter the results accordingly.
For example, a search for “Beckham” will bring back results that also match “David Beckham” and his wife “Victoria Beckham”.
Greg Corrado, a senior research scientist at Google, confirmed in October 2015 that this is Google’s third most important ranking signal:
“RankBrain is one of the “hundreds” of signals that go into an algorithm that determines what results appear on a Google search page and where they are ranked.
In the few months it has been deployed, RankBrain has become the third-most important signal contributing to the result of a search query”.
11. Click-Through Rate
John Mueller put our opinions to rest a couple of months ago during one of the Google Webmaster hangouts, where he stated the search engine’s algorithm does not take click-through data as a direct ranking factor.
Instead, Mr Mueller said click data is used as a quality measurer in Google’s algorithm.
However, it’s certainly good to improve your website’s click-through rate as this equals additional traffic for free, whilst you don’t need to worry about it having a direct effect on your rankings. At least not for now.
Here’s the full Google Webmaster Hangout from September where John Mueller made the comment:
If you want to improve your website’s performance in line with these key ranking signals for 2018, feel free to get in touch with us today!