Google continues to enhance its algorithms for organic search ranking with major updates over the years. Thankfully, the latest algorithm change, the helpful content update, is hyper-focused on ranking content that’s written for and by people rather than content made primarily for search engine traffic.
Unfortunately, many businesses aren’t aware of the continued updates and are hiring SEO professionals that are either unaware of changes in ranking factors. They continue to approach SEO mechanically rather than combining knowledge of user behavior, and user experience, and providing optimal value. While their ranking may see an increase for a short duration as they game algorithms… over time that investment is lost as Google buries the site because their algorithms identify the gaming.
One of the advantages of running a site the size and age of Martech Zone is that I can deploy my own tests and watch what happens on this site as I adjust my tactics. It’s important to note that I don’t attempt to do any backlinking for Martech Zone. I have no public relations team. Yet, by putting out well-researched content on a fast site with a great experience on desktop or mobile… I continue to increase my organic rankings and acquire relevant traffic via organic search rankings. In other words, I’m providing helpful content.
Helpful Content Update
Google is now rewarding websites that provide high-quality and helpful content while penalizing websites that provide low-quality or misleading content. These updates impact both on-page and off-page ranking factors in the following ways:
- On-Page Factors: The helpful content update places greater emphasis on the quality and relevance of the content on a page. Websites with fast, well-written, informative, and useful content are more likely to rank higher in search engine results. As a result, on-page ranking factors such as content quality, headings, and user experience become even more important.
- Off-Page Factors: The helpful content update also impacts off-page ranking factors, especially with regard to backlinks. Websites that have earned high-quality backlinks from other websites are more likely to rank higher in search engine results. Google considers backlinks from authoritative and relevant websites as a signal of the quality and usefulness of the content on a website. Additionally, websites that engage in manipulative backlink practices or have low-quality backlinks may be penalized by the helpful content update.
The helpful content update reinforces the importance of providing high-quality and helpful content on both on-page and off-page factors. Websites that prioritize user experience, content relevance, and high-quality backlinks are more likely to rank well in search engine results. Conversely, websites that engage in manipulative or low-quality practices may face penalties and a drop in search engine ranking.
On-page and off-page factors are two types of ranking factors that Google’s algorithm uses to determine the relevance, authority, and popularity of a website. Each requires its own strategy, so we’ll break them out here.
Google’s On-Page Ranking Factors
Here is a list of probable on-site ranking factors that Google utilizes, ranked in order of probability to its impact on ranking:
- Content Quality: The quality of the content on a page is the most important on-site ranking factor. Google favors high-quality, unique, and valuable content that provides a good user experience.
- Page Load Speed: The speed at which a page loads is crucial to both user experience and search engine ranking. Google prefers fast-loading pages that deliver content quickly.
- Mobile Responsiveness: With the majority of searches now taking place on mobile devices, Google favors websites that are optimized for mobile viewing.
- Page Title: The title tag of a page is an important on-site ranking factor. Google considers the relevance of the title to the content of the page, as well as the inclusion of targeted keywords.
- Headings: The use of headings (H1, H2, H3) on a page helps Google understand the structure and hierarchy of the content. Relevant and properly formatted headings can improve search engine visibility.
- Meta Description: The meta description is a short summary of the content on a page that appears in search engine results. While it is not a direct ranking factor, a well-written and relevant meta description can improve click-through rates and indirectly impact ranking.
- URL Structure: Google considers the structure of the URL when determining the relevance of a page to a particular search query. A clear and descriptive URL can help improve search engine visibility.
- Image Optimization: The use of images on a page can improve user experience, but they need to be properly optimized for search engines. Google considers factors such as image file size, alt text, and caption to determine the relevance of images to a particular search query.
- Internal Linking: The way that pages are linked together within a website can impact search engine ranking. Internal linking helps Google understand the structure of a website and the relationship between different pages.
- User Experience: User experience (UX) metrics such as 404 error pages, bounce rate, time on page, and pages per session can indirectly impact search engine ranking. Google favors websites that provide a good user experience, as it indicates that the content is relevant and valuable to users.
Google’s Off-Page Ranking Factors
Here is a list of probable off-site ranking factors that Google utilizes, ranked in order of probability to its impact on ranking:
- Backlinks: The number and quality of backlinks pointing to a website are one of the most important off-site ranking factors. Google considers backlinks as a vote of confidence from other websites, indicating that the content is valuable and authoritative.
- Anchor Text: The anchor text of a backlink helps Google understand the content of the linked page. Relevant and descriptive anchor text can improve search engine visibility and ranking.
- Domain Authority: The overall authority and credibility of a website can impact search engine ranking. Google considers factors such as the age of a domain, the number of backlinks, and the quality of content when determining domain authority.
- Social Signals: Social media engagement, including likes, shares, and comments, can indicate the popularity and relevance of a website or page. While social signals are not a direct ranking factor, they can indirectly impact search engine ranking.
- Brand Mentions: Mentions of a brand or website on other websites, even if they don’t include a backlink, can improve search engine visibility and credibility. Google considers brand mentions as a signal of authority and relevance.
- Local Listings: For local businesses, having consistent and accurate information on local listings such as Google Business Profile can improve search engine visibility for local search queries.
- Guest Posts: Contributing guest posts to relevant and authoritative websites can improve backlink profile and search engine ranking.
- Press: While press releases can be a useful component of an SEO strategy, their effectiveness is a matter of debate among SEO experts. Some experts may prefer to If you’re in an industry where press releases are being distributed and you’re getting a good response that results in actual press mentions, they could be worthwhile. Otherwise, focus on other SEO strategies that have a higher potential for impact and may be less resource-intensive.
- Co-Citations: Co-citations are references to a brand (unique names, addresses, phone numbers, or other unique identifiers) on other websites that don’t include a backlink. Google considers co-citations as a signal of authority and relevance.
- User Behavior: User behavior metrics such as click-through rates (CTR), bounce rates, and time on the page can indicate the relevance and value of content to users. Google may consider user behavior metrics as a signal of quality and relevance, indirectly impacting search engine ranking.
Mythical Ranking Factors
Google has officially declared that some common ranking factors in the SEO industry are myths and do not directly impact search engine ranking. Here are a few examples:
- Meta Keywords: Google has confirmed that they do not use the meta keywords tag as a ranking factor. While it may be a good practice to include meta keywords for other search engines or for organizational purposes, they do not have any direct impact on Google’s search engine ranking.
- Duplicate Content: Google does not penalize websites for having duplicate content. Instead, Google uses a filtering system to identify the original source of the content and display it in search engine results.
- Social Signals: Despite being a commonly discussed off-page ranking factor, Google has stated that social signals such as likes, shares, and comments do not have a direct impact on search engine ranking. However, social media engagement can indirectly impact search engine ranking by driving traffic to a website and attracting backlinks.
- Domain Age: While the age of a domain can impact domain authority, Google has stated that it does not use domain age as a direct ranking factor. The quality and relevance of the content on a website and the quality of backlinks are more important factors for search engine ranking.
- Hiding Text: Some SEO experts have recommended hiding text on a page by making it the same color as the background to include more keywords. Google has stated that this practice is considered manipulative and can result in penalties.
- PageRank: While PageRank was once an important metric for search engine ranking, Google has confirmed that it is no longer updated and is no longer used as a direct ranking factor.
What About AI-Written Content?
Google’s Webmaster Guidelines state that automatically generated content is not allowed and can result in a penalty. This is because Google wants to ensure that the content on websites is unique, relevant, and provides value to users.
There is a subtle distinction between automatically generated content and content that is written with the assistance of AI technology. AI-generated content is not necessarily the same as automatically generated content, which refers to content that is generated by software without any human intervention. AI-generated content, on the other hand, involves the use of machine learning algorithms to assist with content creation.
While the use of AI-generated content is not explicitly mentioned in Google’s guidelines, it is generally considered acceptable as long as the content meets Google’s quality guidelines and is not designed to manipulate search engine ranking. Website owners should ensure that AI-generated content is unique, relevant, and provides value to users, and should avoid any manipulative practices that violate Google’s guidelines.