Google’s Top 3 Ranking Factors Revealed

March 29, 2016

Google has officially confirmed their top three ranking factors. While the winners probably won’t come as a huge surprise, it is interesting to see them finally named.

It’s also a great opportunity for a mini SEO audit. How does your current SEO strategy line up with this new information? Are Google’s Top 3 your Top 3? If you’ve been ignoring something you shouldn’t be ignoring, or prioritizing something that isn’t a priority, now is the time to catch up and learn how to optimize what’s really important.

Google’s Top 3 Ranking Factors

We’ve known since October that RankBrain, Google’s then-new machine learning program, was the “third-most important signal contributing to the result of a search query.” Since then, Google had refused to comment on what the top two might be … until now.

During a Google’s March Q&A, Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, finally confirmed what most of us have suspected about the mysterious Top 2:

I can tell you what they are. It is content, and it’s links pointing to your site.

He wouldn’t say which was more important, but the two are so closely related that it hardly matters.

Now that we have confirmation, let’s take a quick look at how to SEO the official Top 2.

How to Earn Links for SEO

They key is “earn.” Black hat SEO strategies for building links with spammy link farms, etc., are definitely outdated and counter-productive to your SEO efforts. I’ve said it before, but link-building in a post-Penguin playing field means building relationships and creating outstanding content:

  • Engage with your audience—in comments, on social, in forums, etc.
  • Support and encourage influencers in your industry, and in complementary verticals.
  • Create great content that your audience wants/needs.

I was honored to be the featured guest on Brandwatch’s most recent Twitter chat, on the topic of SEO and Content Marketing. I stand by my 140-character link-building tip:

How to Create Content for SEO

Our editorial team at Profound Strategy has a content checklist with more than 120 items on it. No joke. While we have distilled the top 20 into a High Quality Content Checklist for our friends, a lot of it comes down to this: Creating content for SEO means creating content for the user first.

There are technical SEO considerations, but all of Google’s algorithm updates and all of the AI investments are pointed at delivering the best content to the user. The only way to stay ahead of Google’s changes and fine-tunings is to aim at the same goal.

In SEO terms, this includes:

    • Researching user intent. Google is learning to understand the question behind the keyword, which means your content should too. When your audience types your product into a search box are they looking for pricing or a definition? Answer the question they’re really asking.

    • Crafting your SERP snippets. Users don’t automatically click on the first organic result on a SERP. They glance through a few, so make sure yours stands out. Is your title or meta description cut off because it’s too long? Are you saying anything unique or noteworthy?

    • Going mobile. Mobile usage is growing, and will only continue to do so. Make sure your content works on mobile by actually engaging with it on a mobile device.

What About RankBrain?

RankBrain is a machine learning program that uses artificial intelligence to interpret unfamiliar queries. It’s part of the overall algorithm, but not really a factor to target on its own. When Google unveiled RankBrain last fall, we were told it handled only a small percentage of searches, and if that’s increased it has done so quietly.

It is, however, one more reason to focus on writing topical, authoritative content, rather than short, useless landing pages.

RankBrain  was designed to help Google deliver results for queries that the search engine has never fielded before—about 450 million of them every day. Rather than matching a string of characters in a query to a string of characters on a page, RankBrain interprets and understands the long-tail keyword and delivers appropriate content.

Well-organized, thorough content naturally uses keywords and their variations while providing engaging, helpful information. Google’s AI machine isn’t just looking for keywords in your content—it’s looking for answers.

What Does This Mean?

The caution now is to not over-correct. Beware of spammy SEOs using this update to promise lots of links for a small investment, or computer programs that can create dozens of pages of “great” content in “just seconds!” Quality is still key.

If you’re concerned about links, start building relationships and make sure your content is worth sharing. If you’re concerned about your content, do some thorough reviews and honestly evaluate how to make it better—or if it’s something you need to outsource.

Google’s reveal isn’t particularly earth-shattering. Any good SEO already knows that content and links are extremely valuable for SEO, but it is interesting to hear Google officially admit it.

Nate Dame
CEO and Founder
Nate is the founder and CEO of Profound Strategy, a results-oriented SEO consultancy trusted by forward-thinking companies, including a few of the world's largest B2B and technology brands. Profound Strategy builds holistic SEO strategies, supports internal teams, and offers full-service execution to create an organic search presence that generates significant revenue.

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