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3 Most Important Google Ranking Signals in 2017

pwd staff OLIVER WOOD
Oliver Wood

|18th September 2017

There’s no doubt about it—Search is incredibly lucrative.

A study from BrightEdge found that organic traffic beats out all other marketing channels by a significant margin, driving 51% of all online visitors to B2B and B2C sites. In comparison, paid search only accounted for 10% of traffic while social media only drove 5%.

Your target audience is searching right now for products or services your business offers. A significant majority turn to Google as their preferred search engine of choice. In fact, Google completely dominates the search engine landscape taking nearly 92% of global search queries according to data from StatCounter:

1Ranking for target keywords that are relevant to your business positions your brand in front of prospects ready to buy. That kind of visibility ultimately contributes more to your bottom line. But simply having a site isn’t enough to rank for your keywords. The reason is because Google relies on complex algorithms that weigh hundreds of different factors to determine rankings.

Fortunately, you only need to focus on a handful as there are certain signals that matter more than others. Optimising these gives your site a far more competitive advantage in search and can even protect your rankings from future algorithm updates.

Here we look at some of the major ranking signals in Google and how you can outrank your competitors.

1. Content

Google continues to refine its algorithm to deliver the most relevant results.

Panda was one of the first major algorithm updates that shook up the search results. The update targeted “thin” or low quality sites that provided little value to its users while returning sites deemed as high quality to the top.The implications were clear—Google only wanted quality pages in its search results and was even willing to reward them with better rankings.

The implications were clear—Google only wanted quality pages in its search results and was even willing to reward them with better rankings.

Taking things further is the Hummingbird update which is able to judge context through a concept called semantic search. What this means is that more value is placed on relevance and optimisation. In-depth posts that cover a topic will always beat out thin or low quality content.

Content then is easily one of the most important ranking signals. Here are the parts of your content that matter the most:

Keyword Usage

Optimise all on-page factors of your site to include your target keyword and related phrases. These include your page titles, headings, meta descriptions, and even images. But be careful not to over optimise your content as doing so could lead to ranking penalties.

Here is a more detailed look at what a well optimised page would look like:



Data from serpIQ found a strong correlation between content length and rankings.


Note that this doesn’t mean that longer content automatically ranks higher, only that a correlation was found between the two. In general though, content length will largely depend on the topic. One thing you can do is look at the pages that already rank for your keywords.


Online users turn to search engines for one purpose—Information. If users are bouncing out immediately on your pages, it’s an indication that the content is lacking in quality. The key to getting your content to rank lies not only in its relevance but also its value.

Google is looking for useful and informative content. Aim to be incredibly in-depth by adding relevant images, including references, and even putting in your own research to backup your claims.


All other factors being equal, the more links you have the higher you rank in the search results. This still holds largely true today but with some exceptions. Thanks to the Penguin update, simply spamming your site using automated tools will more than likely lead to a ranking penalty. It’s a clear indication of using questionable tactics to manipulate rankings, something that Google frowns upon.

The key to earning quality links that get your pages ranked comes down to content marketing which is defined as the following:

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

The kind of content that drives people to take action is also the kind that gets linked to. When other authority sites link to that content, Google ranks those pages even higher in the search results.

Here are the factors that matter for backlinks:


Where your links come from matter a great deal. It used to be that you could simply spam your pages with links and start to see your rankings rise in the process. But that is now no longer the case as Google’s ranking algorithm looks at the actual sources of those links.

A link from a relevant source carries far more weight than a link from a spammy source. Too many of the latter do more harm than good. Here are strategies to build quality links:

  • Content creation: Create compelling content that people want to link to such as comprehensive guides, infographics, and even videos. The key is to focus on providing value for your target audience.
  • Manual outreach: Reach out to authority sites in your industry and submit guest posts in exchange for a link back to your site. These kinds of links are really powerful.
  • Submissions: Examples include submitting content to press release sites or local business citations (e.g. Google My Business, Yelp, etc.). While not as strong as other link types, submissions can still help your site rank higher in the search results.

Anchor Text

Anchor text refers to the text in a clickable link. Just like the content on your pages, anchor text tells Google what your pages are about. But spamming your pages with links that contain an exact match of your target keywords is an indication of spam. What Google is looking for is a healthy mix of anchor text that contain your target keywords and even your brand name.

There is no exact answer on the ratio to aim for but these averages across different industries should provide a better idea of what a natural link profile looks like:



If your site is relatively new and there is a huge sudden influx of backlinks, it’s a major red flag and an indication of using automated software to build them. Instead, you should be aiming for a steady progression of new links to your site.

Use tools such as Ahrefs or Open Site Explorer to keep a close eye on your link profile.

3. Technical SEO

Quality content and relevant backlinks alone are enough to outrank a majority of the competition in the search results. But in recent years Google has put much more emphasis on the technical aspects of a site. Namely, are users able to access your pages from their devices? Do the pages load in a timely manner without having to wait a long time?

Even if your site is well optimised, you could still be ranking lower in the search results if certain aspects fall short. Here are the two most important:

Mobile Friendliness

More people are using mobile devices to browse the web. In fact, data from comScore shows that traffic from mobile devices have now overtaken traffic from desktops.


To account for this trend in usage behaviour, Google has released a major update to its algorithm that makes mobile friendliness a ranking factor. What this means is that your site could be ranking lower in the mobile search results if it isn’t optimised for all devices.

The implications are clear—mobile matters. And not making the move sooner rather than could mean losing sales as a result.

Google’s recommended configuration is to implement a responsive design, a grid-like structure that dynamically adjusts to fit all screen resolutions. Users will be able to easily browse your site from any device including desktops, smartphones, and tablets.

Page Speed

Nothing is more frustrating than staring at a blank page waiting for it to load. Online users may have been tolerant in the past of slow loading pages but not anymore. Consumers today expect a fast browsing experience and data shows that 40% will leave a page if it takes longer than three seconds to load.

There is a strong correlation between bounce rates and the time it takes for a page to load:


Google has even made pagespeed a ranking factor so your site could be ranking lower if takes too long to load. Here are several ways to improve your site speed:

  • Minimise HTTP requests
  • Reduce server response time
  • Use a CDN (content delivery network)
  • Minify JavaScript, CSS, and HTML
  • Enable browser caching
  • Enable gzip compression
  • Optimise images

Each of these together will help to dramatically boost loading times for your site. Even a one second improvement can translate more revenue to your bottom line.


Search is a constantly evolving landscape.

Google is said to update its ranking algorithm hundreds of times a year but there are certain signals that continue to carry more weight than others. These include your site’s content, backlink profile, and technical aspects such as mobile friendliness and loading times. Prioritise these to give your a site a major advantage in the search results and outrank the competition. If you want more info on our SEO techniques, check out the main landing page.