SEO Ranking Factors In 2018

People often ask me what are the SEO ranking factors in 2018. And they want to know how the “rules” have changed over the last few years. 

I sourced several good authoritative well-researched articles. I will go through those in this video so you can get a sense of the things you must do with your website and your online properties to rank yourself locally and possibly nationally.

So when we start looking at search engine ranking factors in 2018, there are two things to understand:  

  • Google doesn't really tell people what rules they use for ranking pages. Everybody is guessing. Some people can try to work out the main elements via analysis and from studies and testing. This is something these guys at Backlinko, Search Engine Journal and SEMRush and the ones I'm referring have done.
  • And the ranking algorithm keeps changing all the time. We need to keep up to date with the rules.


Top Line Unchanged Ranking Factors

Content is still important for SEO ranking in 2018. Backlinko also proved the algorithm updates from Hummingbird and Rank Brain place a stronger value on semantic relevance and optimisation.

This means your content must:

  • Cover the topic in detail.
  • Be easy to understand.
  • Be suitable for the customer or the reader to stay on the site with.
  • Be comprehensive, relevant, easy to absorb, enjoyable content.

This requirement, to some extent, turns us all into a content engine and a publisher – think like a magazine.

Backlinks are still a significant Google ranking factor.  No change there. Google is now much better at assessing links for quality.

New and Important Ranking Factors

Google is shifting towards mobile first indexing. More than half the searches on Google are done on mobile phones, and therefore the site of reference or place of authority is your mobile website, not your desktop website. This means mobile content optimisation is essential. Speed is vital as part of mobile optimisation.

Also making sure Google understands what's on the page via on-page optimisation.

Then we see some important technical factors for SEO Ranking. These are:

  • Encryption (HTPPs).
  • Getting your on-page optimisation right.
  • Not putting in what Google calls interstitials we just call them pop-ups and stuff that jumps over the top of the page. It's very distracting on a mobile phone because they're much more prominent and therefore less is more.

So those are the top new factors.

Rank Brain

This is an excellent article by Brian Dean at Backlinko about Rank Brain. Rank Brain uses machine learning as part of the Google Algorithim, and it mainly focuses on what's happening on the page.

Rank Brain is one of the top three Google ranking factors according to Bloomberg.

This article shows how Dean thinks Rank Brain works. Essentially, it's trying to interpret what the user means by when they type in a keyword.

An elementary example, the term fencing could refer to the sport of fencing or if you want a fencing contractor or you want to discover how much fencing costs.  Google's trying to interpret what you mean when you type in the search words you use.

Their machine learning (Rank Brain) looks at what happens to people from the search result. Now apparently they can see what you click on, how much time you spend on the page and if you bounced off the page.  Rank Brain turns the learnings into a search result.

So what they do is they analyse a search request and give results back.

If those results are good, people will spend time on the website pages Google offers as an answer. If they're lousy, they bounce, and therefore Rank Brain adjusts the rankings (of pages) according to what users are doing.

I've seen people gaming the system with this. They have verified it by sending a lot of mobile users to a particular low ranked page and having them spend more time on this page and the site. The results show they can get a page to number one by doing this – mainly fiddling with Rank Brain.

Of course, you have to keep doing this to keep it there.

And what's important here is your content relates to the user, is useful and engaging. This is probably why videos on the page actually help your SEO ranking. Rank Brain sees you're spending time on the page.

There’s no value in optimising for a specific keyword these days. Dean’s recommendation is to ignore the long tail keywords and focus on the middle tail length keywords, so medium length keywords like the three letter words, not the 10 or whatever words and go after the “medium tail” word as a topic.

Then optimise your page around this medium tail keyword. Write good quality fat content with a lot of information that is comprehensive and useful for the audience. Then set it out in a way that's easy to absorb and follow. Graphics are just as important as the content.

A Great “Rank Brain” Oriented Article

This is an excellent article, again by Backlinko, but it is a fantastic example of how an item would look and feel if you set it up correctly, to be engaging.  

You can see the page is very approachable:

  • Nice graphics
  • Broken into chapters
  • A lot of content
  • Easy to absorb and navigate (scannable).
  • It's got video in it

It's an excellent example of the kind of content set up to deal with Rank Brain getting people to come to the site and stay there. This page is also excellent for others to link to so will earn a lot of backlinks.

SEMRush Ranking Factors Study

Now in June 2017, the guys at SEM Rush did a ranking factors study which they did quite a lot of hard data testing.

These are the findings which they've tried to rank in order of importance for SEO Ranking in 2018.

  • Direct website visits the time on the side pages per session bounce rate. All Rank Brain type activities.
  • Total referring domains total back length started referring IP total back length all backlink related activity.
  • Content length and keyword in the body keyword and the density keyword in the title. These areas are all content and content optimisation.
  • Video on the page helps as video drive this Rank Brain engagement stuff
  • The last factor was website security.

MOZ Local Search Factors

And the last study I want to cover is from MOZ. They did a local search ranking factor survey by asking SEO people what they thought was the most critical factors. There’s an element of groupthink amongst us, but also SEOs have some expertise on this topic.

So in the factors and importance are.

  • The Google My Business listing is essential. The signals are the categories you choose whether there's a keyword in the business title how close you are to the location of the searcher.
  • Links signals which are inbound anchor text again backlinks link domain authority backlinks and linking domain quality backlinks.
  • On-page stuff like name address and phone number (NAP_ and the fact that NAP is consistent across the web.
  • Keywords in the title and domain authority,  the web website is well respected and seen as an authority from Google.
  • What they call “citation signals” which is you're your business name and address and phone number show up in several places relevant to the local industry. Usually on local directories.
  • Then review signals the quality and quality of the review the velocity of the reviews and the diversity of the reviews across the web.
  • Back to the Rank Brain stuff. The click-through rate the mobile collects the call and the check-ins. Now local SEOs could be rating Rank Brain much lower than it probably is. It’s possible SEOs are taking a while to understand what Rank Brain is and how it works.

Future Scanning The Google Ranking Algorithm

This article by Tyler Bishop and Ezoic is also interesting. It covers the future of the Google ecosystem - stuff you should consider as part of your ranking work now and into the future.

Macro trends here are:

  • Much more mobile usage,
  • A movement away from web pages to applications
  • Optimisation of the user experience.

Mobile Use Will Increase

So we all know the future is mobile. That’s because there's so much more mobile use happening. This chart is old data  - mobile usage crossed the desktop use years ago. Clearly, in some countries and in some industries, it's higher.

If you're dealing with a B2B office environment, then that's going to be lower but if you're dealing with restaurants and cafes, then it will be much higher.

And Google's not just being driven by what's happening in Australia and New Zealand, and the US and UK. They're also concerned about what's going on in China and India where mobile is the only technology people have and use.

Progressive Web Apps

So one thing Google has keenness on is what they call progressive web apps. This video explains more. 

The PWA approach blends the experience of an app inside the mobile browsing experience. It's a Web site that kind of converts to what looks like an app when people are in.

Accelerated Mobile Pages

Google is also driving this what they call accelerated mobile pages technology. These pages are good for mobile users but not so good for businesses. This is because the accelerated mobile pages technology strips out a lot of functionality like lead generation forms and things we might like as business owners. Yet, Google is they're keen to get AMP going, and we'll see more of that.

In the drive to mobile first, it's not just kind of a mobile site.

Making Search More Visual

You know you actually must have all the elements in as in the regular site, but the user experience is essential.

An example of Google's more visual search results

This picture shows how Google is changing their search engine. They just had this listing stuff, and now they're getting much more visual and much more graphical and in the result pages and they're expecting to see that kind of thing happen you know on your Web site. And when you deliver websites for people.

Google Providing The Info – Not From Your Site

And they've stripping information out of the websites and presented themselves as if it's their own information. So, setting up rich snippets so they can know what they are grabbing is essential.

example of Google taking items from website

Page Speed

Now page speed is more critical on mobile than it is on desktop. If you're searching on the mobile network, and the page load is slow, you will not hang around waiting for the page to load. So it’s critical your page speed is fast. That's why Google is driving this accelerated mobile pages initiative to get this going.

HTTPS / Secure Sites

Also, this whole HTTPs secure website ranking is important, and they've made it a ranking factor.

They've come out and said it's a ranking factor. Google is starting to do stuff here by marking pages as not secure, freaking out users on your site.

So those are some more future things to remember:

  • They're going to mobile rankings.
  • They're going for user experience.
  • Rank Brain is a new approach
  • Links are still relevant, and you need to find ways to earn links.

Make sure your SEO and web design are keeping up, and if they are not, talk to your agency or give us a call

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