For all of the talk of changing ranking factors and algorithm updates, ranking signals have remained largely the same. All indicators point to that trend continuing in 2017.
Google has spent the last few years releasing an array of algorithm updates all aimed at providing users the right information at the right time. Even with their latest roll out of Penguin 4.0, and its addition to the core algorithm, the main ranking factors are still content, links and user experience (e.g., technical signals like secure b, page speed and markup). These are still at the top of the list of ranking factors that mean the most to the bottom line…or top line in this case of the search engine result pages (SERPs).
There have been a few new technical signals that have emerged as larger rankings factors in the recent past. Whether it’s mobile responsiveness, faster load times or streamlined information architecture, they have all been aimed at providing the end user with an A+ experience. The latest in this stream of technical signals aimed at the user is the move to a securer Web or HTTPS migration.
Users want a safer experience on the Web, and Google wants to help facilitate that for them. Google announced that domains could receive a rankings boost from having SSL security way back in 2014, but large scale adoption didn’t take place. In fact, many domains ranking in the top 10 results still do not have the requisite SSL security. However, many more brands have adopted this technology this year and if the move to mobile responsiveness taught anything, it was that being the last to adopt a Google directive leaves the website vulnerable to large scale ranking depreciation. Any brands that have not yet made the transition will be left behind in 2017 and will see other early adopters surpass them in the SERP.
On-site content has been a key rankings factor since 1996 when Bill Gates uttered the famous words “Content is King.” In the three decades since that turn of phrase became synonymous with Web content; search engines have worked to refine their algorithms to reward novel content that had utility for the end-user. The latest such refinement was RankBrain, this addition to the new algorithm is AI (artificial intelligence) that helps the Google algorithm interpret search queries to help users find relevant pages that may not match their query string.
This means in 2017 SEOs can begin to loosen the worries of keyword density and focus more on novel content with utility to the end user, basically what search engines wanted all along. Although the algorithm is getting smarter in regards to the content’s theme, word count is still important. Remember the name of the game is providing useful and novel content to the user and that is almost impossible to do in 100 words or less.
Yes. Links still matter. High-quality link building will remain the single biggest ranking factor moving into 2017, even if Google won’t admit it. With the Penguin 4.0 the evaluation of links and spam will happen in real-time. That means that cleaning up back-link profile is more important than ever. It also means quicker positive results from gaining high-quality links and citations.
Not surprisingly, thinking about the end-user first, generates a fruitful year in 2017. Search engines have wanted webmasters and SEOs to do this for decades and now they are getting better at forcing them to do so. Though algorithms change and ranking signals are weighted differently from year to year, the core principles of search have been the same year in and year out. Focusing on the end-user, developing good content and building quality links should be the corner stone of any outreach project. If they are, the result will be improved rankings.