10 ‘Hidden’ Ranking Facts, 1 Is A Lie by @beanstalkim

We all love games, right? Well, it’s time to play the SEO version of a game you’re probably tired of by now (10 concerts I’ve seen, one is a lie).

In this game, I’ll list and outline 10 “hidden” ranking facts and the supporting data for them. Nine of them will be real and one will not.

So, you know the rules:  At the end, I’ll note which one I haven’t seen as well as provide some links to reinforcing data on the other nine.

Can you guess which is the lie?

Pinocchio SEO

Ranking Fact 1: Click-Through Rate Impacts Rankings

While it’s been debated among SEOs for ages and denied by Google to be a direct ranking factor for even longer, the simple fact is, click-through rates impact rankings. It gets a bit more tricky than a simple “I got a click and that’s good” however because that click can impact rankings either positively or negatively.

If someone clicks in the SERPs to your site, Google will take this as a measure of intent. Whether they stay on your site or whether Google sees that same searcher three seconds later searching for a different result will determine whether that intent was met and whether the impact of that click on your rankings should be positive or negative.

Rankings Fact 2: User Benefit Is More Important Than Keyword Usage

It makes sense that using the keywords you’re hoping to rank for on your page would improve its rankings. Clearly, some use is important if for no other reason that it’s what your visitor is obviously comfortable with and it’s always wise to speak in their own language. But as of late, the use of non-keyword-rich content has been found to improve rankings more than content built around the desired terms.

Ranking Fact 3: RankBrain Isn’t a Ranking Signal

Brain with a no symbol on it

When we talk about ranking signals, we’re talking about areas of the algorithm that can have their weight adjusted to impact how results are created. For example, in an update, the weight applied to the anchor text of links to your site may be increased or decreased. When a user runs a query for a term, this new measurement will be used to determine the order that websites rank in.

With RankBrain, however, we didn’t see the addition of a new signal but rather a system designed to understand what a searcher’s intent was, augment the query being performed to this intent, and further adjust the weight applied to the ranking signals as appropriate to meet the user’s intent and provide the best results for it.

Ranking Fact 4: Hidden Content Carries Its Full Weight

Content hidden behind tabs or accordions is being devalued or even discounted for ranking purposes.

This practice can be used to heavily benefit users on mobile devices and with the switch to the mobile-first index, this will soon no longer be true as this content will carry its full weight. I wouldn’t suggest cramming a ton of keyword-rich spam content behind tabs, however, as one can assume Google will see this coming and have detection for it.

Ranking Fact 5: Time on Site Impacts Rankings

We talked a bit about it above when we discussed click-through rates. Google is looking at the time on site to determine if the visitor intent was met when a user clicked through to a website.

If we think about it, this makes great sense: Success is not measured with the click but is measured through meeting the needs of a searcher. If you don’t, time on site will be low relative to the time on site for other sites that rank for the same or similar queries.

Ranking Fact 6: Link Building Is Growing in Importance

Before you discount this as the obvious signal I haven’t seen, bear with me because I’m not implying this as a universal truth in SEO, just in one specific application. Having said that, I suppose I would say this even if it was the one I hadn’t seen. 😉  The weight links are given in SEO is still strong but it is diminishing, HOWEVER, not in local. In local, search links are taking over a lot of the weight that was once attained via citations.

Ranking Fact 7: Page Speed Is a Ranking Factor

We’re an impatient group, us humans. We want what we want and we want it yesterday.

Google knows this and puts a great deal of importance in it, especially as more traffic comes from mobile devices. So important a factor is it that Google has given us a tool to measure and improve our speed. You might treat this as either old or new news as the tool has been around for a while, but it’s importance has grown and will continue to grow.

Ranking Fact 8: Bounce Rate Impacts Rankings

I know, I’m starting to sound like a broken record. But some signal types need to be covered multiple times as they’re relatively new. As AI takes over, the algorithm will only grow in importance.

Like the use of time on site as a ranking factor, so too is bounce rate, and for virtually identical reasons. If Google registers a high bounce rate for your page in the search results and if other sites have lower bounce rates for the same of very similar queries, then it’s obvious to Google that the result likely doesn’t meet the user’s intent relative to the other sites.

Ranking Fact 9: Anchor Text Improves Rankings

In both internal links and external links pointing to your site, the use of your targeted keywords is critical to improving the rankings of the targeted page. Things in this area haven’t changed much over the past decade.

Google needs to understand what a page is about and how relevant it is for a query. A big part of that calculation is who links to the page and how they link to it.

Ranking Fact 10: Search Algorithms Vary by Query-Specific Factors

Grumpy SEO

I remember the good old days – way back two or three years ago – when an algorithm was an algorithm and you could reference one of a number of industry analysis on how the factors are weighed to understand what you need to do to improve yours. Well, not anymore.

Ranking signals vary by the query and subject type, and to me, that’s a signal itself. A function that simply sits and analyzes likely user intent to a query, adjusts the other signals to accommodate what would be important there, and then measures the resulting clicks and post-click engagement for success metrics.

So… Can You Guess Which One?

And this is of course the part where you get to guess which is not a signal I’ve seen nor do I expect to ever see. If you guessed ranking signal eight, that bounce rates impact rankings, you’d be right. There are a variety of reasons why bounce rates can’t be used as a metric but here are a few of the more obvious:

  • Not every site uses Google Analytics and on sites without it, Google can’t accurately measure the bounce rate.
  • A bounce rate is a poor measure of user satisfaction. A person landing on a page and finding exactly what they want and reading a lengthy piece on a subject is often better served than a user who has to navigate through half-a-dozen pages to get the same information.
  • Time on site is a far more consistent metric to use on Google’s end to determine the user’s satisfaction combined with the data of the searcher’s next action (do they click on the next result for the same query or did they successfully complete their task).

While I’ve seen the other nine signals myself, I thought I’d dig up some supporting articles on them since I couldn’t dig into each individually for this piece. Here are some links where you’ll find information on the various signals I have seen:

And now hopefully that’s the last we’ll all see of this game.

Image Credits: DepositPhotos

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