You might be wondering why the Top 3 SEO ranking factors are becoming so important right now? And why dedicate a full blog post to this topic?
Well, there can be no doubt, that 2023 was the year of AI. Unless you have been living under a rock, there was no avoiding ChatGPT and the discussions around artificial intelligence (and the end of the world as we know it). As such, it has also been a very busy year for Google SEO.
Depending on your dependency on SEO for your business this might not have been the best year and I am afraid it´s not going to get better anytime soon. If anything I think it´s a safe bet to say anything SEO is going to take another deep dive in 2024.
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Is Google killing SEO in 2024?
You might have heard some rumors about Google completely changing the SEO game in recent months. And these are totally true. The Helpful Content Update in October 2023 hit many websites hard and Google has been drilling down on the so-called Parasite SEO practices, which normal people might better know as buying advertorial placements in online news magazines since like well.. forever. And now Google is rolling out AI-like Search Results that are using your content but not giving you any direct credit for it.
But wait… there is more!
And it´s not just SEO. Google (as well as Yahoo), has also set their sights on fighting SPAM email in a big way through their GMAIL email service, which is supposed to shut down cold email marketing as we know it on these two platforms for good.
Seeing how ChatGPT is casually giving you the right answer for almost anything in just a sentence or two, it´s easy to see why Google would be rattled by this. It´s surely disrupting the whole search engine setup and cutting deep into Google´s profit as such. So it´s easy to understand that the tech giant is rooting out a tree or two to fight back. Any mimicking a popular trend is not below Google either, so it´s easy to predict that the real fight over AI dominance has not even started yet.
While they are causing SEO experts to shiver, by stealing the Open AI approach to find answers faster, there is also light where nothing revolutionary has happened for years. So it comes as no surprise that Google is strapping an AI rocket on the back of their advertising system to literally skip lightyears ahead and reinvent the wheel, eh.. ads. With Google Ads Performance Max campaigns outperforming traditional ad campaigns by a factor of 10, it´s no wonder Google is experimenting with fully AI-created ads. Having seen the announcement event, I think it´s safe to say everyone was just blown away.
But is this really true?
You don´t need to be able to read between the lines to see a clear strategy above. For the first time ever, Google has lost a large part of its omnipotent foothold in the “search & answer”-industry. Everyone has become aware that AI is just better at answering a search query in one simple sentence than clicking through a ton of random websites ever could. It´s not just a huge time-safer, it´s basically a death sentence for SEO in general. As there is no reference to your website anymore which leads to exactly zero traffic to your web property.
This is not good. At least not in a B2B sense, which means mostly for marketers and businesses. It´s absolutely great for anyone else, though! Why search on Google when you can get an instant answer from AI? With Google realizing the Titanic leaks, it´s desperately struggling to close the (money) leak by creating a new money-making machine: Google Ads plus AI. Now as your SEO becomes more ineffective, Google hands out a shiny new toy that should save your business from this (well-planned) mess.
O.K. I get it, so the biggies don´t want to lose their (eh… our money). But from an SEO perspective, this is a losing battle. SEO agencies that make a living out of this search engine game are clearly on the losing end. As are people who rely on SEO because they don´t have a budget for paid advertising. Or do you trust Google Ads to earn back a profit and be ROI-positive every time? No, me neither! Shiny new toys or not.
But Thorsten… What will still work for my business in 2024?
Some expert channels and doom-sayers on YouTube are already suggesting interesting creative ways to find new clients, but let´s not overreact right now and stick to what always works for SEO instead. Some universal truths will always work, so let´s find out, what the Top 3 SEO ranking factors are, and which will stay most important in 2024, so you have something to rely on while Google is trashing your well-laid-out but outdated plans.
As you might know, SEO is a dynamic field that continually evolves as search engines like Google, YouTube, Bing, and Yandex refine their algorithms. Understanding the key ranking factors can significantly improve a website’s (or YouTube channel´s) visibility and performance.
These are the Top 3 SEO Ranking Factors
1. High-Quality Content
High-quality content remains the cornerstone of effective SEO strategies. Google’s algorithms prioritize content that demonstrates experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, collectively known as E-E-A-T. This focus on quality content is not just for ranking but also user experience and conversion. Content should clearly identify its focus to avoid ambiguity, utilizing relevant keywords naturally within the text. (So no more keyword-stuffing like above Thorsten!).
The use of conversational keywords and natural language is increasingly important, especially in the context of voice search optimization. Use the Hemingway App and aim to write for students of the fifth grade or 9 to 12-year-olds in general. By using this language structure, you can make sure that even non-native speakers will find it easier to understand your content.
Things to Avoid:
- Thin or Low-Quality Content: Avoid creating content that lacks depth or doesn’t provide value to your audience. Content should be informative, well-researched, and relevant to your audience’s interests.
- Keyword Stuffing: Overusing keywords in your content can harm your SEO. It makes the content difficult to read and can be penalized by search engines.
- Duplicate Content: Do not replicate content from other sources or use the same content across multiple pages of your site. This can lead to confusion for search engines and may negatively impact rankings.
- Ignoring User Intent: Content should be aligned with what users are searching for. Ignoring the intent behind search queries can lead to high bounce rates and poor user engagement.
Imagine a website dedicated to healthy eating. High-quality content in this context would include comprehensive articles on nutrition, detailed guides on diet plans, and informative posts about the health benefits of various foods. Such content would demonstrate expertise and authoritativeness in the field of nutrition.
Incorporating E-E-A-T signals, the website should feature articles written by or reviewed by nutrition experts, providing accurate, trustworthy information. For instance, a detailed guide on “The Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet” should be comprehensive, citing scientific studies and expert opinions. It should also be structured to include relevant keywords naturally, such as “Mediterranean diet benefits,” “healthy eating,” and “nutrition tips”
2. Page Experience
Page experience is another crucial factor, and even though it is not a single thing, it includes many moving pieces, all combined; this is one of the TOP 3 SEO ranking factors. This encompasses aspects like mobile-friendliness, usability, and the overall user experience on a website. With the increasing use of mobile devices, ensuring your website has a responsive design that adapts to various screen sizes is essential. Google’s core ranking systems reward content that provides a good page experience, highlighting the importance of optimizing for metrics like loading performance, interactivity, and visual stability.
Things to Avoid:
- Slow Loading Times: Websites that take too long to load can frustrate users and increase bounce rates. Ensure that your website is optimized for speed.
- Poor Mobile Experience: As mobile browsing is prevalent, a non-responsive design that performs poorly on mobile devices can significantly harm your SEO.
- Complex Navigation: A complicated or confusing navigation structure can lead to poor user experience. Keep navigation simple and intuitive.
- Intrusive Ads or Pop-Ups: Excessive use of ads or pop-ups can be distracting and annoying for users, leading to a negative experience and potentially harming your SEO.
Consider an online store selling sports equipment. To provide a good page experience, the store’s website should have a responsive design that adjusts seamlessly to different devices, ensuring that customers browsing on mobile phones have as smooth an experience as those on desktops.
The site should load quickly, have an intuitive navigation menu, and display product categories. For instance, the product pages should load within a few seconds, have high-quality images that don’t affect loading times, and feature easy-to-use shopping cart and checkout processes. Interactive elements like product filters and search bars should respond quickly to user inputs, contributing to a positive overall user experience
Backlinks from reputable and authoritative websites play a significant role in SEO. The quality of backlinks often matters more than the quantity. High-quality backlinks are those that come from reliable sources relevant to your content or industry. These links are viewed by search engines as a vote of confidence, significantly impacting your website’s SEO. It’s important to focus on creating exceptional content that naturally attracts such links and to monitor your backlink profile for low-quality or spammy links.
Things to Avoid:
- Low-Quality or Irrelevant Links: Backlinks from spammy or irrelevant sites can harm your site’s credibility. Focus on earning high-quality links from reputable sources.
- Using Unnatural Anchor Text: Over-optimization of anchor text can appear manipulative. It’s important to have a natural and varied anchor text profile.
A blog specializing in travel tips and destinations would benefit significantly from high-quality backlinks. For instance, if a well-known travel magazine or a popular travel influencer links to the blog’s article on “Top 10 European Destinations for Solo Travelers,” it acts as a strong endorsement.
These backlinks should come from reputable sources within the travel industry, indicating to search engines that the blog is a credible and authoritative source of travel information. The quality of these backlinks is more important than their quantity; a few links from highly respected travel sites can have a greater impact than numerous links from lesser-known or irrelevant websites.
Additional Ranking Factors to Consider
Optimizing for mobile search and user experience is crucial. This includes implementing responsive web designs and ensuring a seamless browsing experience for users on mobile devices.
Importance: With the majority of internet traffic coming from mobile devices, websites must be optimized for mobile users. This includes responsive design, fast loading times, and easy navigation on smaller screens.
Example: A fashion retail website should have a mobile-friendly design where users can easily browse products, read descriptions, and make purchases directly from their smartphones. The website should automatically adjust its layout based on the device’s screen size, ensuring that text, images, and buttons are easily viewable and clickable.
For businesses targeting local audiences, optimizing for local search, including Google My Business optimization and using location-based keywords, is vital.
Importance: Local SEO is vital for businesses targeting a local customer base. It involves optimizing your online presence to attract more business from relevant local searches.
Example: A local bakery should ensure its Google My Business profile is complete and up-to-date with accurate information like address, hours, and photos. The bakery’s website should include local keywords like “fresh bakery in [City Name]” and create content relevant to the local community, such as participating in local events or offering specials for local holidays.
Voice Search Optimization
As voice assistants become more prevalent, optimizing content for voice search by using natural language and answering common voice search queries directly is increasingly important.
Importance: As voice searches become more common, it’s important to optimize content to match the conversational tone and direct answers sought by users.
Example: A health blog could optimize for voice search by including content that directly answers common health questions. For instance, an article titled “How to Lower Blood Pressure Naturally” should start with a concise, spoken-style answer that voice search devices can easily pick up and read aloud.
Technical SEO (Site Architecture, Server Location, Code Efficiency)
This includes factors like site architecture, server location, and minimizing code. Ensuring your website is technically sound helps improve its visibility and performance in search engine results.
Importance: Technical SEO ensures that a website is technically equipped to be indexed and ranked by search engines. This includes having a well-organized site structure, fast server response times, and efficient code.
Example: An e-commerce site should have a clear site hierarchy, making it easy for search engines to crawl and index its pages. It should also use a content delivery network (CDN) to improve load times globally and minimize code to speed up page rendering.
Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)/HTTPS
SSL/HTTPS is crucial for any website, especially those handling sensitive user data, as it ensures secure data transmission, builds trust with users, and contributes positively to SEO efforts.
Importance: Security is a top concern for users and search engines. Websites using HTTPS are preferred by search engines as they provide a secure connection.
Example: An online banking service must use HTTPS to secure user data. This not only protects sensitive information but also signals to search engines and users that the site is trustworthy.
User Engagement Metrics (Bounce Rate, Time on Site)
The bounce rate measures how many people out of 100 wait around for at least 3 seconds until your website has fully loaded. It´s usually a best practice to consider bounced visitors as not relevant and to exclude them from any retargeting campaigns. The more time people spend on your site, the more relevant your content is for them.
Importance: How users interact with your site can influence your SEO. High engagement (longer time on site, low bounce rates) can be a positive signal to search engines.
Example: A video tutorial website should aim for high user engagement. By providing engaging, useful content, users are likely to spend more time on the site, reducing bounce rates and indicating the site’s value to search engines.
Social Signals (Shares, Likes)
This one is easy to understand: The more shares and likes your content gets on social media, the more people like your content, and the more relevant your content becomes for search engines.
Importance: While not direct ranking factors, social signals can indicate content popularity and relevance, which indirectly impacts SEO.
Example: An article on sustainable living that is widely shared and liked on social media platforms can gain increased visibility, driving more traffic to the website and improving its perceived relevance.
By focusing on these factors in addition to the primary ranking elements, websites can comprehensively optimize their online presence, improving their visibility and effectiveness in search engine results.
Even though not everything is unicorns and rainbows in Search-Engine-Land right now, it is still safe to bet on the ranking factors that are universally accepted as working. While SEO is complex and not easy to understand, focusing on these Top 3 SEO ranking factors consistently, can significantly push a website’s SEO performance.