Ranking factors used to be easy to understand. Content, technical, social signals, backlinks, and user experience. End-of-year search reports would break these down into bite-sized pieces that search marketers could digest and easily implement in the next year’s optimizations.
The days of universal ranking factors are over.
Google now evaluates and ranks content in real time, creating an ever-evolving list of ranking factors that change based on industry and search intent. Due to incredible increases in machine learning algorithms, each individual query now has its own set of ranking factors.
today’s rankings are driven by relevant content
There are some consistent ranking factors in this new fluid world. The new buzz word is “relevant content. Relevant content dives into the idea of understanding user intent on a search-by-search basis, and providing content that best meets the user’s needs.
Relevant content provides answers to as many questions as possible and deals with the most important aspects of a topic in the format most conducive to the query.
For example, the query “best short hairstyles” would be best met with an image gallery of different short hairstyles instead of a long article explaining why one short hairstyle is best. People searching for hairstyles want to see the style, not read about it.
Alternatively, the query “401K contribution limits” would be best met with an in-depth article explaining 401K limits in different scenarios, perhaps accompanied by a table or tool. People searching for 401K contributions expect to see clear, explanatory copy that adequately addresses this serious question.
Holistic content crucial to ranking success
Holistic content is the final nail in the “one keyword, one landing page” style of optimizing. Savvy search marketers know that new ranking factors dictate a more comprehensive “one topic, one piece of content” style of optimizing.
Successful content needs to address terms related to the “main keyword,” as well as topics relevant to the theme according to search intentions. When optimizing content for a topic, consider the following questions:
- What other keywords are relevant for my topic?
- Where does one topic end, where does the next one start?
- Which of these keywords overlap regarding search intention?
- Which of these terms should I use in a text?
- Which terms should be avoided?
What does this mean to marketers
To be successful in the new world of individualized ranking factors, marketers will need to understand the search landscape for each key query and identify user intent. What content formats are successfully ranking? What questions are the top results answering? Only after answering these questions can marketers start creating relevant, holistic content that meets search intent.
This move away from universal ranking factors benefits both users and marketers.
Marketers who take the time to truly understand their audiences and create content to address their needs, concerns, desires, and fears will have a much better chance of ranking on page one. Users in turn will experience content tailored to their needs and will have a better experience. Google’s move to prioritizing quality, relevant content that meets user intent is yet another push towards personalization.