In 2013, with the release of the Hummingbird update to its algorithm, Google marked a significant move in its quest to increase the accuracy of its search results. Google began looking at the intent and context of every search term; whereas previously, search was more contingent on keyword matches in search queries.

In other words, today’s search is semantic.

In the perspective of semantic search:

  • intent is defined by what has been explicitly stated in a search term,
  • context encompasses the set of circumstances that give that search term a defined meaning.

Now, Google uses a number of factors to establish both intent and context before it displays a SERP for a particular keyword. Some of these include:

  • Top trending topics of the day
  • User’s search history
  • User’s location
  • Synonyms and word variations
  • Natural language parsing (as opposed to single-word processing for keyword matches)

The core basis of semantic search lies in labeling and classifying data into structured forms called entities. Entities are objects (people, places or things) that have associated properties and relationships. This structuring makes it easy for search engines to parse natural language strings and assign intent to a search query.

For a better understanding how entity-based search works, look at Moz’s example of the Simpsons’ characters.

Google SEO Ranking Factors

With each character and place defined as an entity, with interconnecting relationships, it makes it easier for Google to parse a query written in natural language, like: “Where does Homer Simpson work?”

With the rollouts of the Penguin 4.0 and Possum algorithm updates in 2016, search has only become more incisive and focused on semantic relevance and search intent.

With that being said, the ever-changing nature of the algorithm means some or most of Google SEO ranking factors will rise and drop in relevance. Businesses have had to calibrate, and re-calibrate, their search strategies constantly to ensure that Google doesn’t boot them into search oblivion.

Even so, some have managed to retain a near-steady relevance across Google’s algorithm updates.

Here Are the 7 Google SEO Ranking Factors You Can’t Afford to Ignore

1. Content

Smart content has always – and always will be – the key. However, with the evolution of semantic search, the focus has shifted from keyword-focused content to semantically relevant and organic content written in precise, natural language that provides value.

Needless to say, serving up keyword-stuffed, unreadable, spun content will result in Google disqualifying it as lower-quality content. The new algorithm updates have rendered Google capable of understanding semantic correlations between words; content that’s pieced together to get as many keywords in will be immediately flagged.

To optimize your content for Google’s semantic search:

  • Up your keyword research gameAccording to Neil Patel, semantic search has made it necessary to look beyond a high search volume to identify the best keywords for your business. Instead, it’s about “building a database of keywords that are full of meaning”: in other words, it’s about assigning context to your keywords.

Content built around your semantic keywords can result in a higher CTR and higher quality score, which in turn, leads to better rankings.

  • Stick to a fewer topics within your niche and push for topical authority in that niche. The more focused your content is around a given niche, the higher your authority. Develop targeted non-branded focused content that seeks to answer questions and provide information.
  • Create content, in natural language, which can be framed as direct answers to questions that customers ask through their search queries.

2. Content Length

While it isn’t exactly set in stone, SEO analysts have noticed a correlation between content length and ranking. Long-form content that is detail-rich generally ranks higher than short-form content. It should be noted that mobile content, which is predictably on the rise, is about 2/3rd the length of desktop content.

So, is there a happy medium for content length? Not really. Most experts simply suggest that as long as your content is packed with value and comprehensive, Google will love it.

3. Backlinks

This is yet another that consistently finds a place in any list for Google SEO ranking factors. But, once again, with Google’s increasingly intuitive algorithm, only content that carries backlinks from diverse and authoritative domains gets through unscathed.

Google’s Penguin 4.0 update, in particular, cracked down on websites with poor backlink profiles, i.e. backlinks from spammy or irrelevant sources, with poorly optimized anchor texts. You have to be careful with your link-building strategies. However, the most effective of these strategies is content marketing: which comes down to creating quality content and then promoting it across multiple channels, including social networks.

The more high-quality and diverse your backlinks are, the higher your link authority, and thereby, your ranking.

4. Mobile-First Experience

Google’s algorithmic push for mobile-friendly content began back in 2015. Aptly named the “Mobocalypse” or the “Mobile-geddon”, it had website owners scrambling to optimize their content for mobile devices. However, 2016’s rollout of Google’s mobile-first index served as an even bigger kick in the pants for businesses that were still lagging behind in the mobile stakes.

How is mobile-friendly different from mobile-first? Mobile-friendly content is just content that works (displays) well on users’ mobile screens. Whereas, when we say mobile-first, it’s about how Google crawls your website. Previously Google crawled websites from a desktop-browser point of view. It now does so primarily from a mobile-browser point of view. In essence, Google “views” your website on a mobile-screen first to index them.

So, to keep your content optimized for Google’s mobile-first index ranking signal:

  • Make your website responsive: it’s generally easier to manage a single website that has been optimized for multiple screen-sizes and devices.
  • If you plan on a separate mobile domain, don’t launch it until it’s finished. Incomplete websites with little content can seriously dent your rankings.
  • Test your website performance including page speed to find and fix issues that could be slowing your website down: like uncompressed images and media.

5. Schema Code

With SEO becoming more and more focused on localized results, nothing helps a business’ ranking more than “semantic markup” or “schema markup” code. By using schema code markups on their business data and digital content, local businesses can make search engines absolutely LOVE them. Schema markup makes your content machine-readable and therefore, far easier to index in Google’s ever-growing Knowledge Graph.

By telling Google exactly what is contained within the content, it helps them aggregate that information to provide highly relevant search results to questing users. Local businesses should implement site-wide schema codes to frame important and relevant information that would make them highly visible and relevant in local search results.

6. Page Speed

As previously noted, with Google’s mobile-first index, page speed is now a crucial SEO factor. Ideally, mobile website content should load in 2 seconds or less, while desktop content should load in under 3 seconds. Websites that load in 1 second or less generally outranked those that took longer.

Using Google’s Page Speed Insights, you can test your site for elements that are slowing it down, and then optimize it by fixing those issues.

7. HTTPS Encryption

In 2014, Google announced its intention to start favoring websites with HTTPS encryptions. While this was originally a minor  factor, as 2017 comes to a close, SEO analysts predict that this signal will soon begin gaining further traction, as website security issues keep cropping up.

And to show us that it means business, in September 2017, websites that lack a HTTPS/SSL warning are clearly marked as such in Google’s Chrome Browser. Google goes on to warn that it plans to eventually mark all HTTP pages with an even more noticeable red “Not Secure” warning. Yikes! If you haven’t already, switch your websites to HTTPS.

Google SEO ranking factors

There are over 200 ranking factors that Google – both officially and unofficially – uses today to rank its pages. These include everything from on-page factors to social and user-interaction signals that determine a page’s relevance in the search ranking stakes. However, it’s always a good idea to atleast get the above ranking factors straight before you go any further. If you’re really interested in all 200 of Google’s SEO ranking signals: SEJ’s handy infographic can get you started.

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