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Want to rank high on Google but not sure how? There is an extensive list of ranking factors included in the algorithm which need to be respected, but what if you want to cut through the chase and use only the most important ones? And what are they anyway?

Google ranking signals – how do they work?

Firstly, Google keeps its algorithm rules a secret. There is no comprehensive list written or published by Google, but there are case studies which have proved some speculations.

Secondly, there are A LOT of Google ranking signals of the search algo. And they are updated quite frequently. You should know that they are generally divided into ten categories: domain factors, on-page factors, on-site factors, backlink factors, user interaction, special algorithm rules, social signals, brand signals, on-site web spam factors, off-page web spam factors. Some are proven, some controversial, some only a speculation, but the point is they are out there and your website should follow them all.

And thirdly, a list of more than 200 SEO ranking factors is available on our website, so if you want to meet all the demands and have the time to read them – go for it. Meanwhile, here we will present to you the five most important ranking signals this year.

1. Content

There are two major truths in SEO: content and backlinks rule. Without quality content – which focuses on search intent and solving searchers’ problems – there would be nothing to rank for, so your website needs to produce it constantly so Google would eventually reward it.

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Provide your users with content they are actually searching for. (Image source: Marketing Land)

For that reason, you need to draw up a content strategy. Do your web pages contain the keywords you want to rank for? Do you have enough pages on your website? Is the content long enough and interactive? Do you have videos and images, and are they optimized? Do you have a blog? Do you have a publishing schedule? Do the articles focus on search intent?

If the answer to any of these questions is NO – you know what to do: you have to make it a YES. Provide value to your users and give them the information they are looking for. When you plant the seeds and farm them, they will grow strong and you will have a lot of crops to sow.

2. Backlinks

This is a general truth: backlinks rule. If your website respects all of Google ranking signals but has no backlinks – it shall not rank.

One of the strategies you can implement for link building is content marketing. This means you should create and distribute useful, relevant content with the purpose of obtaining and retaining your target audience by providing them with useful content.

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Backlinks bring SEO juice to your site. (Image source: Moz)

Other strategies might include getting listed on directories, gaining publicity, inviting influencers, interviewing, managing a vlog, calling up expert roundups, publishing on social media – all the strategies you can think of that can cause other sites to link back to you, that is obtaining backlinks from authoritative sites and improving your general link score.

Once you have achieved this, you will know that you are creating truly useful content.

3. Technical SEO

Another crucial factor is technical SEO.

Many developers (especially the beginners) do not realize that website code needs to be valid, pages extra light and fast (load tie must be 2 seconds or less), information on the site must be arranged according to markup, and especially today websites need to be secured – so go ahead and switch that domain to SSL (usually add an ‘s’ to HTTP – HTTPS).

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Technical SEO includes valid code, fast load time, markup arrangement of information, as well as security. (Image source: Moz)

There is also a controversial factor which says that domain age is crucial, however, Google’s web spam chief Matt Cutts claims that it is, in fact, not a ranking factor at all. But hey, at least another year came by and you can be lucky to be on Google! So, hooray to that!

4. UX

We have already written about designing for SEO, so we will not go into such details again.

However, Google frequently highlights that websites need to provide for the best user experience to their visitors. UX means that the user should at all times know where they are, what they are supposed to do next, and whether their pleas have been answered or not.

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UX and SEO play an important part in ranking. (Image source: Search Engine Land)

First of all, when it comes to architecture, your website should have a shallow structure, with a user-friendly navigation and fewer categories in the drop-down menu. Mind you that this is a general recommendation, not a rule, because in complex sites the structure needs to be aligned with the size and numerous categories.

Additionally, if you have lots of pages and generally a ton of content, do not forget to include a search box so users can find what they are looking for at all times.

5. On-page

And the last, but not the least, is on-page SEO. On-page means metadata, that is HTML tags, which help Google better understand the content of your page. They also serve as guidance to crawlers to get a grasp of the most important parts of the page and help the users decide to click on your website based on the SERP snippet.

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Optimize metadata on your website and expect a better response from search engines. (Image source: Search Engine Land)

So, to sum up, optimize title and description tags to look appealing to the searchers (title must not be longer than 60 characters and description up to 130-156), next header tags must be hierarchically ordered, whereas image tags (alt text) must tell search engines what exactly the image depicts; and finally, think of open graph tags – include OG images for every page on your website so the users get a better feel when they share your pages on social networks.

There you have it – the five most important SEO ranking signals that will help your website rank high in the SERP in 2018, and hopefully for years on. Mind you that this is not an exhaustive list, but that there are a lot of other factors which contribute to a better positioning of your website. Watch out for all!

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Vesna Savić

Dedicates her time to learning about better means of communication, translating knowledge into practice, and is a passionate reader.