When searching for what Google’s main ranking factors are for SEO, you will be shown many different lists. These lists vary in size, and they try to tell you which ranking factors are the most important and in what order. They all typically mention that there are over 200 different ranking factors we know about. But they seem to pick out the top 10 or so and over explain them all.
Here we will attempt to tackle the same subject but in a way that should help shape your approach to and understanding of SEO. If we can understand SEO through principles, rather than a checklist of over 200 items, we can comprehend and implement it in an easier way.
Let’s look at SEO through the lens of Expertise, Authority, and Trust (EAT)! This will help us understand SEO at a more fundamental level in order to help drive our decisions.
Google has a phrase they use when it comes to the importance of a source of content. “Your money, or your life.” When it comes to the source of content, Google is incredibly interested whether the content you are trying to rank has anything to do with a user’s money or their life. This means if you are offering financial advice of any kind or medical information and suggestions, the content is much more likely to rank if Google knows it’s coming from an expert.
We know that author markups are no longer implemented and according to John Mueller of Google, there isn’t anything “technical” site owners can do to send signals directly to Google about their expertise. This makes sense because someone could easily manipulate it. Instead, Google uses what it refers to as “soft” signals to determine expertise. We know how sophisticated the algorithm is at reading and understanding content these days, so it’s safe to assume they can assess the general nature of your website. They know if you’re a plumber or a shoe company. If you’re a shoe company, don’t expect the plumbing advice you put on your blog to rank above a plumbing site that’s been posting tips for years.
Once we view content through the lens of expertise, less as a technical signal but as a soft signal developed over time, we start to see the kinds of content we should be creating.
This can be summarized in three tips:
- Create content that aligns with your business’ expertise.
- If you’re a plumber, write about plumbing.
- Don’t publish content that is outside the scope of your website.
- If you’re posting content that is very different in scope, it becomes harder for Google to understand what you’re an “expert” in.
- Keep all of your social profiles updated with your areas of expertise.
- Google can read these, too! You want your name associated with your expertise across the web. This way, Google will value your content more.
“Authority” is what comes to mind for most people when they’re thinking about SEO. “What can I do to my site to give it more “authority?” or “How can I make my site more authoritative?” There are a lot of factors that go into how Google determines your site’s authority. But let’s focus on some of the big ones.
- Age – How long has your domain been active?
- Size – How many pages does your website have?
- Popularity – How many backlinks, from external sources, are pointing to various pages on your domain?
These may seem outdated, antiquated, or “un-sexy,” but that doesn’t make them any less important. A lot of SEOs don’t like to focus on the first two because, when going up against established competition, they may be factors you just can’t help. I like to bring them up because it can explain how, after years of work, you’re still just not outperforming that competitor whose website has been around forever, has thousands of pages, and thousands of backlinks.
If I decide to start selling running shoes online, I shouldn’t be kicking myself for not outranking Nike in my first year. It’s important to remind ourselves as SEOs and marketers that these aspects are still very important in Google’s understanding of authority, so be sure to let this information inform your marketing strategy. When facing this kind of competition, work on SEO, of course, but perhaps don’t put all your eggs in this basket.
Authority also refers to the internal authority flow of your website. It always has been, and always will be, incredibly important for Google to be able to easily crawl and understand your webpages.
- Structure your site, so authority flows directly from main to sub folders based on intuitive categories.
- Implement breadcrumbs on your site, so users and Google alike can easily see where they are on your site and where they came from.
- Use Schema.org to help draw up your structured data, so Google can easily understand a page and its contents.
- Remove pages that don’t have their own purpose or could be considered duplicate content.
- If you need to, use the “rel=canonical” tag to tell Google which page is the more important out of a group of similar pages
Also, don’t forget about the classics! Optimize your meta elements like header tags (H1s, H2s etc.), meta descriptions, title tags, and others.
Trust is one of the “factors” in Google’s algorithm that can be the most confusing. It’s used to help calculate things like your site’s authority score, but it’s also considered to be its own calculation. This results in an overall “trust score” for your domain that is considered outside of your authority.
This means you can be very well trusted but still have low authority due to other SEO factors.
Search engines are always looking to see how close your website is to spam sites or to “seed” sites. “Seed” sites are domains that Google inherently trusts due to the nature of their existence. Google considers domains like most .edu or .gov sites to be more trusted than regular .com domains.
Google starts at the home page of one of these sites, Harvard.edu for example. It crawls through every link on the home page and takes inventory. Then, it calculates how many of the pages it lands on are spam. It continues this process, creating a complicated web of sites. It takes note of how many “crawls” or “steps” it took to get from the seed site to your domain. Also, it calculates how many steps away your site is from the spam sites it did eventually find. Once Google has an idea of how close your domain is in proximity to both seed and spam sites, it knows how trustworthy your domain is.
Now that we understand what sites Google views as “trusted,” we can use this information to carefully monitor the external links you choose to put on your site and in your backlink profile.
When you’re executing linking campaigns, it’s important to see what kinds of links your search competitors have. Try to out class them with more trusted backlinks. Also, make sure to cite credible sources, and preferably, first-party information.
Focusing on all the “most important” ranking factors at once can be overwhelming and confusing. If you think about SEO from a higher level and allow those principles to drive the smaller, day-to-day SEO decisions, you will know you’re aligned with the ranking factors that matter to drive online success.
Contributor to Enlightened Digital, long-distance cyclist, and lifelong advocate for women in business from Philadelphia. Tech and business are my lifeblood, but I’m also a fanatic of brewpubs and just about every sports team in Philadelphia.