Quick explanation: A ranking factor is something about a site that influences where it appears on a page of search results. So, if you’re searching for “hats for dogs,” a site with photos of dogs in hats is probably going to appear higher in the results than a site with no pictures. Well-described pictures are a ranking factor.
There are hundreds of ranking factors. Load speed. Mobile friendliness. Semantic relevance. Ease of use. Accurate description. Links. Markup. Length. Domain relevance. The challenge faced by each marketer is in determining which ranking factors to improve first. Which ones are the most important? It’s easy to get bogged down in a lengthy campaign, wondering if your time is being well used.
It’s helpful to remember two key points. These are THE ranking factors. All other factors fall under these categories:
- Content. Does the search engine understand what your site is about?
- Links. Do other humans link to your site from theirs?
Content is king, and has always been king, and will always be king, because content is the reason a site has value. Content is the difference between a list of plumbers’ phone numbers in the Yellow Pages, and the small ad beside that list that says “money back guarantee!” Content is how you communicate, both with humans and search engines.
Links are votes for your site. Links are created by human beings talking about things they like. (Sure, bots can make links too, but the search engines have been fighting that activity for years, and are getting pretty good at it.) When a search engine sees a link to your site, they see a vote, from a human being, that the site has something of value.
The huge list of ranking factors is important, and it helps us to be more efficient as we pursue these two goals, but it’s important not to lose sight of the way it works. We want to make websites that communicate clearly and gather support from their users.
It’s complicated, but it’s not.