Probably the most common question I get from business owners or marketing managers around SEO is some form of “Is this a factor?” or “Will this matter for my SEO?” I wish there was a simple answer to that. Actually, I probably don’t because it would make me less useful. The truthful answer is really that ranking factors depend on the search intent, or more simply the search.
Brief History of Ranking Factors
Google skyrocketing in success to go from just another search engine to the actual verb we use to describe a search began when they started putting more advanced tactics into creating ranking value. They gave value to inbound links to give ranking strength, viewing links as an online referral or vote of credibility. If other websites link to your site, it shows they value your content.
Of course, as Google grew in popularity and took the lead as the dominant search engine, they got more nuanced in how they valued web pages based on links, content, and user experience. Generally, if Google gave value to something, entire industries would spring up to cheat in some way at exploiting these values, and Google would counter punch with another algorithm update. In the early days, ranking factors seemed relatively consistent across search though.
As time went by though, things got more and more nuanced. Google began applying their algorithm differently, depending on the type of search. It makes sense that a user may have a different expectation or intent between a search for a local chiropractor and a search for the latest news on a Kardashian or a how-to on some home project.
What You Need to Worry About with Ranking Factors
This makes everything a little more difficult to explain because the answer is usually “yes” and “it depends”. The value you get from a good SEO consultant like myself is knowing where to put your resources so that you are moving the needle the most efficiently. Just about everything related to your page can be viewed as either a direct or indirect ranking factor, but with some searches, certain pieces may carry more weight. A search with intent for beautiful images may rely less on speed as a factor than a pure informational search. Beautiful pictures take longer to load than text. It makes sense.
Google would tell you that the top ranking factor is user experience, sometimes referred to as UX. This is extremely vague but true, because it accounts for what the user is looking for. That user looking for information has a better user experience and wants speed more than the one looking for a beautiful picture, even though speed is a factor both searches. It is weighted more heavily for the information. Just as the length and thoroughness of the content would be more important for information than for images.
Search Results as a Guide
For each search, you need to look at what your competition is and what the search intent would be, and try to provide the best experience for that intent. The pages currently ranking are likely doing something right so can help give you an idea of general content needs and style with which you can adopt, but then improve upon. You can also adjust your strategy based on what Google is providing as result types. Does Google provide a local map result for your search? Are there videos? These are all different avenues you can or should take for your optimal keywords. As search evolves, it really comes down to individual searches for how the different ranking factors are applied, but if you are always being guided by a better user experience, you will be heading down the right path.