With over 200 ranking factors being taken into consideration every time Google decides where to place your website in the search engine results pages (SERPs), it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of things you need to get right. What’s more, Google is notorious for tweaking and refining its algorithm, introducing new signifiers and changing its priorities over time.
That being said, not all factors are an absolute must. The list of things you need to optimise for is relatively short in comparison to the list of things you can / could / should / will eventually get around to doing.
If you feel compelled, you can check out the most recently updated list of Google’s 200 ranking factors here
But if you’re looking for something a little easier to digest, we’ve compiled a list of our most important factors. This first part of our two-part feature covers a few things we think you should take a look at to improve your rankings.
As an aside, it’s worth noting that there is no sure-fire way to get your website at the very top of the search engines. But the considerations we’ve listed here are a good way to make improvements and, if anything, improve the ranking your website overall.
Click-through rate (CTR) is the ratio of people who successfully click on a link to view a web page, to the number of those who don’t. It’s also one of the strongest factors Google takes into account when ranking your website, as CTR provides a pretty solid indication of how relevant and useful your content is to the people searching for it.
So why might somebody unsuccessfully click-through to your website, or any one of your subsequent web pages, in the first place?
Well, there’s a myriad of reasons why, but they typically stem from not making it easy, or clear, or enticing enough for the user to go ahead and make that all-important ‘click’.
Failing to optimise webpages with the relevant meta-data will reduce the chances of people taking the time to click on it. What’s even worse, neglecting to include meta-descriptions on your pages usually results in random text (pulled in from elsewhere on the web page) being used in its place when displayed in the SERPs.
Okay, so now you know why meta-data is important. But what exactly do you stick in there to begin with?
Despite keyword research not being ‘necessary’ to rank high, keyword research does provide a solid starting point in discerning what you are likely to be found for, and what keywords you ought to be implemented in order to be found. But even then, we’re barely scratching the surface of what can be achieved here.
For instance, a study conducted by Google found that mobile search queries such as “brands like” and “businesses like” have increased by 60 percent over the past two years. In other words, user search behaviours have changed alongside the advances in mobile technologies and today’s research-obsessed consumer is highly likely to perform a comparison search in order to get the best results — typically via their smartphone (which is to hand) immediately after coming across something that inspires that motivation to search.
Whilst the notion of incorporating ‘alternative’ keywords in your keyword strategy may not sit right with most businesses and brands, it does present an opportunity for you to stand out. Enabling product/service comparisons in a way that benefits you is a surefire way to become part of their consideration set, and will almost certainly help increase your click-through rate at the same time.
Rich snippets can increase your click-through rate and improve your ranking simply because it gives users more of a preview of your content before clicking on it.
To put it another way, rich snippets are the front windows of your store. They provide customers with relevance, intrigue and enticement — all three essential ingredients for encouraging people that your website (and your products/services) is worth their precious time.
Of course, just because you are using rich snippets doesn’t automatically guarantee their appearance in the SERPs. If the structured data markup doesn’t meet Google’s quality standards, it reserves the right not to display them at all.
schema.org can provide guidance into every type of structured data markup that you may want to implement on your website and can certainly help with the structuring of your rich snippets.
In 2017, Google announced that its Chrome browser (which currently accounts for 45 per cent of all searches performed) would begin to flag websites as ‘insecure’ if they aren’t HTTPS.
In case you’re unsure what HTTPS is, here’s the long and short of it: All websites are typically prefixed with either ‘http’ or ‘https’ when displayed in the address bar. Both serve as variants of the same communication protocol over which data is transferred between your browser and the website you are viewing. The reason HTTPS is preferred by Google is because it uses an additional protocol called SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) that encrypts this data and effectively makes the website more secure.
It’s pretty simple when you break it down, and it makes sense as to why Google would want more websites to make the switch to HTTPS — which is achieved by getting the SSL installed. It also makes sense that Google prioritises HTTPS websites in the ranking pages.
Google has always stipulated that page speed — the speed at which the content on your page loads — is one of the key signals used by its algorithm to rank pages. It’s also worth noting that slow page speed can result in fewer pages being indexed at all, as search engines have an allocated crawl ‘budget’ that is very much dependant on the time it takes to get the job done. So yeah, there’s that too.
Then there’s last year’s Speed Update from Google, which now means page speed is a ranking factor for mobile search. If your website is not loading quick enough, it will be discounted from the SERPs when searching on a mobile device. And seeing as mobile now accounts for the majority of searches performed, that’s a large proportion of the marketing your missing out on right there.
Optimising your website to work across all devices and browsers is the first step to ensuring quicker page speeds on a mobile device. It also provides a much better user experience overall and this can only work in your favour.
Once you’ve got those mobile pages deployed, you can then start to tweak and refine things to further improve page speeds.
“Minification” eliminates redundant or irrelevant data that is slowing your page speed as a result of the excess information essentially ‘weighing things down’.
To give you a prime example, it’s quite common for website themes to load thousands of CSS instructions that are not even being used. Let’s say you’ve downloaded a new theme for your website and it gives you the option to choose between a light background and a dark background. Although you may choose the light background, the excess CSS for the dark background is still being loaded.
Your first step is to ensure your website isn’t loading any data that isn’t being used. This goes for absolutely everything on your website, whether it’s CSS files, JS files, image files, or plugins.
The next stage is to minify/optimise existing data to ensure it does not compromise page speed. In the case of images, you’re best to export it first, remove it from your media library completely, and then reduce the image file size before uploading back to your library. Thankfully, there’s a really useful online tool available called TinyPNG. All you need to do is upload your image and this tool will compress the file without reducing the resolution.
When it comes to CSS files, on the other hand, there are a number of tools online that can help filter the code of any excess notes and spaces and will reduce the file size without affecting how it works. One such tool is CSSNano. Dabbling in code can be intimidating for anyone who isn’t entirely comfortable, so it’s probably worth contacting your web developer for assistance.
Get in touch to find out more.