Content is one of the most important Google ranking factors.
content has been an important ranking factor for a while — but in recent years, we’ve seen a shift away from keyword-focused content towards more relevant content written in natural language.
In fact, the SearchMetrics study cited above found that just 53% of the top 20 queries have keywords in their title tag, and less than 40% of landing pages have keywords in their H1. This number is dropping year-over-year, which “clearly demonstrates that Google evaluates content according to its relevance—and not by the inclusion of individual keywords.”
So what exactly does “relevant” content look like? The short answer is: comprehensive.
Backlinks remain an important Google ranking factor, but over the years, Google has learned to weed out the bad links from the good. More links will still result in a higher score, but only if they’re from a number of diverse and authoritative domains.
The key to a strong link building campaign is to create content people crave, and then to promote that content relentlessly. When other industry authorities read and link to your content, Google will read your backlink’s matching anchor text and consider your content more relevant.
When your content earns a lot of these high-quality backlinks, you hit three important ranking signals: number of backlinks, link authority, and link diversity.
3. Mobile-First User Experience
One of the biggest changes we saw in 2016 was Google’s shift towards mobile-first indexing. This means that Google’s index will now primarily crawl the mobile version of websites as opposed to the desktop version.
Mobile optimization is an extremely important ranking factor. All of the top 100 most visible domains have mobile-friendly solutions, according to SearchMetrics.
Today, it will be more important than ever that your content is responsive on all mobile platforms and identical to the content on your desktop site. Mobile-friendliness is now the norm, and with 85% of all websites now meeting Google’s criteria for being mobile-friendly, it’s time to improve your website even more — think mobile-first, not just mobile-friendly.
4. Other Technical Factors
There are many other technical factors which might play a big role in your website’s rank. These factors include:
Encryption: Backlinko still finds a strong correlation between HTTPS websites and first page Google rankings, and SearchMetrics confirms that 45% of the top websites all use HTTPS encryption (up from 12% in 2015). Google confirmed back in 2014 that websites with a strong HTTPS encryption will rank better than their HTTP counterparts, and websites that have not switched to HTTPS are now marked as unsafe in Google Chrome.
H1 and H2 Headings: There are more landing pages with an H1 and H2 in the source code this year. SearchMetrics found a strong correlation between the use of at least one H2 and a higher rank.
Anchor text: Exact-match anchor text still has a strong influence on rankings, but you risk a Penguin penalty if your links appear unnatural or spammy. Make sure your backlink anchor text is diverse and organic.
Interstitials: In keeping with Google’s emphasis on mobile-first optimization, they’re cracking down on intrusive interstitial pop-ups. That means any page with an ad or CTA that covers the main content or whisks users to a new page upon clicking might suffer a penalty. Exceptions to this include login dialogs, small banners that are easy to dismiss, and legally-required interstitials (e.g. age verification).