Important Google Ranking Signals
Here is a list of, in my opinion, the most powerful SIGNALS that Google uses to make a ranking decision. I am quite certain other SEO consultants or Digital Marketing agencies have their own opinion, that’s fine, these are mine. I have listed them in no specific order. The bottom line is this – get these right and you are one step further up the ladder than thousands of other websites.
Or let me do the work for you
If you don’t want to teach yourself the fundamentals of optimising your website let me start by performing my 6 STAGE VITAL SEO Audit on your website. It’s quick and at just £70 it’s possibly the best value for money you could spend on your website. Let me deep crawl your website in the same way a GoogleBOT would and provide you with 6 x spreadsheets. We cover some of the most important RANKING SIGNALS from H1 headers to Image Filenames and Broken Links.
Or carry on reading to find out more about what you can do yourself to improve your chances of Google ranking success. We start with looking at the hottest topic – Google Page Experience
SPEED – quality of User’s Page Experience
This has been the number ONE aspect of essential website improvement in recent years. If your website is slow to load, hard to navigate, does not load on all platforms and medias .. it’s not going to rank.
Thankfully Google have provided an online tool to help website owners check their websites with this PAGE SPEED INSIGHTS tool. There’s also a built-in module withing the Google Search Console (a tool all website owners MUST make use of). The screen captures below are taken from one of my own websites after SPEED improvements were made
I’d strongly recommend making use of the SPEED TOOLS on Google to see how well, or badly your website is doing. SearchEngineJournal have a great article on the need to improve USER EXPERIENCE (*7)
Action: please visit https://pagespeed.web.dev/ and get started on the road to better user experience. Please note – you may need help with a developer to implement the suggestions. If you are stuck – please get in touch and I will make a few suggestions
Content is still KING
Daft as it may sound, one of the most important elements of any website is CONTENT. If the content is rich, unique, well written and informative visitors will like it. If visitors like it, Google will also like it (*1). Remember, Google is looking at how people interact with your website. If they land on a page, look at it for 1 second and LEAVE (aka bounce) – then Google will wonder if the quality is any good. If visitors land on a page, read it, look around, click a few links and generally interact then GREAT. We have solid content that both visitors and Google will like.
Don’t plagiarise other people’s content
Don’t be tempted to find a website that is already ranking well and simply CUT and PASTE their content to your website. Google is VERY GOOD at spotting plagiarsm. Even changing a few words here and there isn’t good enough. Your content has to be exactly that – YOU CONTENT.
Headers and their proper usage (H2)
Google employs artificial BOTS to crawl a website and pick up ranking signals. These signals are used to help GoogleBOT understand what your website is about. The onpage content, as discussed above, is very important. Each section of that content can be, and should be, separated by HEADERS (*2).
Headers Hierarchy (H3)
These headers are split in to a hierarchy. H1 is the MOST IMPORTANT – followed by H2 to H6. Each MAJOR change of subject should be supported by an H1 (or H2). Subsequent paragraphs breaking down the details should filter down from H3 to H6. If each section is as important as the next, it’s fine to make then all H2/H3.
Most people don’t go beyond an H4 (H4)
I personally don’t go much beyond an H4 and I very rarely use an H5 or H6. The normal pattern of a page goes something like this for me:
H1, H2, H3, H3, H2, H3, H3, H4 (one MAIN topic and TWO secondary headings based on the primary with FOUR tertiary levels expanding the secondary) with a final summary H4 at the end
H1, H2, H3, H1, H2, H3, H1, H2, H3, H3, H4
This one have THREE primary categories all covered by the H1. Each has a secondary and tertiary level. Again, it ends with an H4 conclusion or similar.
Action: please consider using my HTML HEADERS AUDIT. This service is included in my 6 STAGE SEO Audit. It is also available individually for just £15. I will provide a CSV/XLS file detailing ALL your website’s H1 and H2 headers. Included in the file are the SOURCE URL allowing you to locate and optimise the header’s content quickly and effortlessly.
Meta Title and Meta Description
The CONTENT and HEADINGS discussed above are all visible to the VISITOR as ON PAGE content. They are also analysed by the GoogleBOT to understand the page. The next sections look at ranking signals that are NOT visible to the user. The first is the HTML attributes of Meta Title and Meta Description (*3)
As displayed in Google Search Results
The Meta Title has TWO primary functions.
- It lets Google know what a webpage is meant to be about BEFORE it even starts to analyse the CONTENT
- It’s the HEADING that is listed in the Google Search Results as shown above
Meta Description – influencing strapline that gets the click
The Meta Description isn’t used for RANKING purposes – but it is the text generally displayed in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) under the TITLE. The main purpose of the description is to convince the searcher to click on your listing. I say “generally” used by Google – if the search engine thinks the description is too “spammy” it will ignore it and supply it’s own. Don’t write a description like “WOW – this is amazing – the best ever website in the world for Seiko Divers watches – AWESOME”. Keep it to point, factual and informative.
These TWO attributes can be viewed with most browsers. Navigate to the page of interest, let’s use the Met Office. Right click your mouse outside the content and press “View Page Source” – then SEARCH for “title”
Action: please consider using my Meta TITLES & DESCRIPTIONS AUDIT. This service is included in my 6 STAGE SEO Audit or can be purchased individually for just £15. I will provide a CSV/XLS file detailing ALL your website’s Meta Titles and Meta Descriptions. Included in the file are the SOURCE URL allowing you to locate and optimise the header’s content quickly and effortlessly. I will also add personal commentary and guidance with each deep crawl test.
Image NAMES and ALT text
So we have started to look at the elements of a website that GoogleBOT needs help to understand. Meta Title and Description above are two examples. The next is IMAGES and their ALT names. Here’s an example from my Diver’s Watch website (chronodivers.com)
What the human eye can see is a yellow watch, possibly a diver’s watch. Can we really expect Google to see that? It probably could guess it’s a watch, but why assume. Let’s help Google understand this image as best we can.
The first thing I have done is give the image file a name that tells a story “PRODIVER-YELLOW-MODDED-SEIKO-DIVER-watch-7002-700A.jpg”. That’s a great start. After that I have added some ALT text (used by assisted browsers for people with difficulty accessing websites) “A bright yellow Seiko SUB200T PRODIVER modified dive watch”. Perfect, I have helped GoogleBOT and at the same time assisted someone with partial sight or similar disability to better understand my website.
Image’s ALT TEXT is particularly important when it’s a LINKED image. Accessibility features in web browsers will use this ALT TEXT to tell their visually impaired visitor what they can expect if the image is clicked.
Action: We are pleased to offer an IMAGE ALT text AUDIT. This service is included in my 6 STAGE VITAL SEO Tests or can be purchased individually for just £15. It provides the customer with an XLS/CSV file of all the linked images that are MISSING image ALT text. I will also supply a list of ALL your website images so you can check them for meaningful and descriptive image file names
Internal Anchor Links
Every website should have an east to follow MENU. The words used in the MENU should be relevant to the content being served at the destination. Likewise, any LINKS within the CONTENT that direct visitors to other pages in the SAME website should be viewed as little signposts. The words used to link from page A to page B should be informative and relevant.
Example of content specific linking words (anchors)
For example. On a food website you might say “Last week we looked at how to bake the very apple and blackberry crumble and how to make sure our custard isn’t lumpy” … What some websites would do is add a “click here for more information” link at the end of that sentence. NO! Use the content rich words themselves as ANCHOR text links to the apple crumble and custard page eg
Use as many different SYNONYMS as possible to link from various pages to EACH page. Google will use this ANCHOR text so next time someone searches for “best apple and blackberry crumble recipe” – your site has a great page all about that topic
This is the hardest one to improve – most importantly – DO NOT pay for someone to build you some backlinks! External Backlinks are links from websites OUTSIDE your control. They are often REFERENCE sites or sites within a similar industry as your own. They may be directories or blogs. But most importantly, they must be relevant and of HIGH QUALITY. The only way to get quality backlinks is by building a QUALITY WEBSITE. A website of unique, interesting content will attract links from other related websites.
Avoid TOXIC backlinks
In 2011/12 thousands of websites where DEMOTED in Google when they rolled out an algorithm that could detect TOXIC BACKLINKS. These backlinks existed all over the world, geographically, and often from diverse interest websites. Google realised that a DOUBLE GLAZING company in Southend shouldn’t have 2,000 websites from Thailand to Pakistan and India to Indiana. Previously, people where literally buying backlinks at watching their website CLIMB up the rankings. Google’s PENGUIN algorithm punished these websites and they tumbled down the rankings (*3)
Today – thankfully – Google ignores a majority of these TOXIC backlinks. If it didn’t it would be possible to maliciously attack a third party website. However, if Google PENGUIN taught us anything, it taught us to NEVER BUY BACKLINKS. Earn them through quality and manual networking!
Broken Links – Error 404 – Page not Found
Google doesn’t directly demote a website with a few 404 errors, they happen so it can overlook a handful. However, it’s certainly NOT going to PROMOTE a website in the search engine rankings if the site is littered with dozens of BROKEN LINKS. For that reason alone, I’m going to say that broken links are BAD for SEO. And that is why I offer a comprehensive Broken Link Audit here. For just £15 I will supply a CSV file with all your Error 404 pages with their source and destination. More details here on why too many broken links damages SEO
References for more information
For those interested in reading more about the subject discussed here, here are some useful links