SEO Strategy

Search Ranking Signals: What REALLY Matters When Determining Your Position

November 1, 2018
ranking signals

Many business owners are understandably preoccupied with improving their rankings in Google searches. After all, Google accounted for 79% of all global desktop search traffic in 2017, and their search function absolutely dominates the mobile search sphere as well.

If you want to increase your visibility on the internet, you've got to play by Google's rules.

But even if you believe you're following all of those recommendations to a T, your search rankings might not budge very much.

That can be extremely frustrating. You might be inclined to pull your hair out and exclaim, "What am I doing wrong?!" The reality is that you might not be doing anything wrong, exactly. You just might not be focusing on the right things.

We hope that after reading today's post on SEO search ranking signals, you'll be able to identify how to improve your SEO rankings.

Question: What Are Search Ranking Signals?

Answer: Ranking signals (or ranking factors) are characteristics of your site that Google takes into account when determining your ranking for a given search term. In other words, these are the traits you'll need to pay attention to if you want to move your site to a more prominent position in search results.

That seems pretty straightforward, but it's actually more complicated than you might think. This is because Google won't actually disclose exactly how its search algorithm weighs various search rankings.

We do have clues and confirmed information pertaining to the factors Google takes into consideration, so we aren't totally flying blind. In fact, a recent announcement by Google on May 28, 2020, indicated that there would be huge changes coming to its ranking system, with special attention paid to page usability and user experience. Other than the occasional public updates by Google, understanding which ranking factors to focus on can be tricky, which is why most people turn to an SEO company in times like these.

With literally hundreds of possible ranking factors to consider, professional SEO services can illuminate some of the most important factors for your website in particular.

Which Ranking Signals Does Google REALLY Care About?

According to SEO guru Brian Dean at Backlinko, there are at least 200 factors that we believe Google takes into consideration when determining search ranking. Although there are statements issued by Google pertaining to some of these factors, they don't come right out and explicitly say which of these factors carries the most weight. There is some informed guesswork involved.

For example: Google has said that the domain's date of establishment can determine its authority, but the company doesn't say how much value they actually put into domain age. Yep, that's where the educated guessing comes in.

It's important to keep in mind that your SEO strategy could consider many different facets in order to be successful. Focusing only on the ranking signals we've outlined here may not produce the precise results you want.

After all, SEO is not an exact science. But according to our experience managing clients' rankings, these are the factors you cannot afford to ignore. To improve your search position in 2018 and beyond, these are the SEO ranking signals you need to know:

Mobile Friendliness:

The era of mobile-first indexing is upon us, which means it's absolutely essential that your site be consistently viewable on mobile devices. If you've been relying on a separate mobile version of your site (or, worse, you don't even have the option to view some of your site's pages on mobile), you're going to need to change that. Responsive websites are the way to go these days.

Instead of having a completely separate site for mobile viewers, your website will respond to the device on which it's being viewed, providing a more consistent and user-friendly experience for all.

Now, Google has announced that they'll be indexing (read: crawling and calculating for ranking) your mobile site first. So if there are navigation issues, coding issues, or consistency issues there, it could hurt your ranking -- even for desktop searchers.

Plus, with more consumers searching (and shopping) on mobile, you won't want to frustrate them with a website that doesn't function on anything but a desktop!

Page Speed:

The time in which your web pages load has been a crucial search ranking factor for quite some time. But in the past, websites with notoriously slow loading speeds may not have been penalized as heavily if they focused on improving other factors.

That's not going to be the case now, particularly for websites that have slow loading speeds when viewed on mobile devices. This goes back to mobile-first indexing; the slower your website loads, the less likely it is that a web user will want to even bother.

Having a slow page speed -- either on mobile or on desktop -- can impact your bounce rate, the time spent on site, the number of pages viewed, and a host of other important ranking signals.

It might not seem that important on the surface, but when taken into account together, your rankings could be impacted significantly just because your site doesn't load at lightning speed. Fortunately, there are tools that can speed up loading times.

Content Quality:

The idea that "content is king" still rings true, even with all of the other advancements that have been made in the realm of SEO. Google still cares a lot about the quality of your content. Without it, your site cannot be seen as relevant, helpful, interesting, or entertaining -- and that's what Google wants to see more than anything else.

Thin content that's posted only with the hopes of ranking will come back to bite you. You need to focus on the content that your audience wants to read. Of course, it should be optimized so that people can find you.

But if that optimized content doesn't do its job, your bounce rates will go up, your traffic will dwindle, and your search rankings will tank. Keep in mind that content length matters more now, too. Longer content tends to be better quality, which means users will stay on the page for longer. When they do, Google will probably view your site as more relevant.

Long-form content also offers a better opportunity for onsite optimization. Longer content makes it easier to naturally integrate more keywords (and other technical SEO factors) without compromising on quality.

User Experience:

Those who think Google's bots are the only viewers that matter will be in for a rude awakening. User experience (UX) matters a lot. Remember, humans are the ones who actually drive your business's growth.

If you don't keep your human audience in mind when designing your site, your rankings will suffer. Navigation, site architecture, page load speeds, site layout, consistency on mobile, and even the inclusion (or exclusion) of essential information can all play a part in user experience.

If this seems redundant, remember that many of these factors play into one another. That's yet another reason to diversify your SEO strategy.

Typically, business owners will turn to UX website designers and developers to ensure that their site is providing the best possible user experience for 2018.


In today's world, cyber attacks are becoming so common that it's just a fact of life. But that doesn't mean that Google or potential consumers are going to accept it as an inevitability.

Back in 2014, Google officially made having HTTPS -- a secure website -- one of its ranking signals. Since then, not having a secure site has been shown to have some major consequences. For one thing, Google's Chrome browser has started flagging websites as not being secure. Having this warning message show up to web users can really impact your traffic and your bounce rate.

According to SEMRush, 65% of domains that rank for high-volume keywords are HTTPS. Google values security and encryption, so it makes sense that they would reward websites that want to protect user data, too.


Link-building is still an important part of SEO strategies, and it's easy to see why. If you're able to obtain high-quality links from a variety of authoritative sites, this will have a huge impact on your credibility.

When Google sees a site as being trustworthy, it's going to feature it more prominently in search results. Currently, backlinks are still one of the strongest ranking signals in Google's algorithm (at least, we believe they are). While that may not always be the case, it's safe to assume that it will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

That said, Google has refined the way in which it analyzes these links; it's much easier to distinguish the good ones from the iffy ones, which means SEO agencies have had to refine their link-building strategies. When evaluating SEO agencies, make sure link-building is being done in the name of relevancy and helpfulness (rather than spamming).

Onsite Optimization:

We can't forget to mention some of the technical SEO basics -- the foundation of quality SEO. The pages of your website need to be optimized with pertinent keywords, headings, meta descriptions, metadata, schema, and more.

Often, this isn't work that can be done by the business owner themselves if he or she has no experience in SEO. Having a web developer and an SEO analyst will come in very handy when trying to determine whether these ranking signals are being heard loud and clear by Google.

Onsite optimization works in tandem with producing quality content and providing a great user experience, too. Like we mentioned earlier, these factors don't work in isolation. They're strongest when they're utilized together as part of one holistic SEO strategy.

We realize this post is a lot to take in -- and we didn't even cover all of the major SEO ranking signals. There's a lot more to consider if you want competitive search rankings.

But we hope that by providing this introduction, you'll recognize the need for improvements in your own SEO and web development strategies. If you want to increase your chances of search ranking improvement, you'll want to pay attention to these SEO ranking factors.

If you make the necessary changes, you'll show Google how dedicated you are to this cause and will hopefully be recognized for your efforts.

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