What genuinely influences page rankings today? With Google’s algorithms continuously evolving, and this year seeing several changes and updates, the question is how do you identify which factors genuinely impact your website’s visibility?
Google has not only updated ranking systems in 2023 but also improved its focus on content standards, from further changes to the Helpful Content Update to adding another ‘E’ for experience to make E-E-A-T.
Here, we’ll look at the transformation of Google ranking factors in 2023, looking at what’s new and what’s no longer relevant in the world of SEO. This is important to help steer your SEO strategy as otherwise, you could be focusing on things that either no longer matter or need a different approach entirely. As an award-winning digital marketing agency always keeping an eye on the changes over at Google HQ, we’ll highlight below some of the notable changes to be aware of.
The terminology may seem like a trivial matter, but it matters when trying to understand the workings under the bonnet of Google. Previously, ‘ranking factors’ implied a collection of measurable elements that directly impacted search engine rankings. However, Google has evolved beyond this simplistic framework and now refers to ‘ranking systems’ that consist of a set of ‘signals’ that provide a more holistic assessment of web content.
As Google says, “Ranking systems are designed to do just that: sort through hundreds of billions of web pages and other content in our Search index to present the most relevant, useful results in a fraction of a second.”
Think of a ranking system as a collection of signals, each representing a different part of content quality, while the term ‘signal’ refers to a specific data point or metric within that system. Google’s ranking algorithms have in effect grown up so that they evaluate content based on many things, rather than a few metrics. How helpful is the content? What is the intent behind a query? What’s the UX of the page like? Creating content Google loves is more complex than ever, but it’s all about being as helpful as possible for users. The ranking system is geared towards this.
As well as a shift in terminology, Google put further emphasis on Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) by adding another ‘E’ for Experience, creating E-E-A-T. Whilst not a ranking factor in the traditional sense, it’s all part of the signals in their ranking system to evaluate content and to ensure it’s primarily made for humans, not the bots.
Google’s commitment to improving UX led to the development of ‘Page Experience’. This considers multiple technical SEO metrics to evaluate how users perceive the quality of interacting with a webpage. Metrics like page loading speed, mobile-friendliness, and HTTPS and Core Web Vitals have all been rolled into this comprehensive assessment. In other words, Google wants to ensure that web pages are not just informative but also offer a smooth and satisfying user experience.
In April 2023, Google seemed to downgrade ‘Page Experience’ from its previous position in the ranking systems documentation to its own documentation page. This change may have raised questions about the significance of this factor in the grand scheme of SEO. Google has confirmed that many of the signals that contribute to page experience, such as page speed, security, and Core Web Vitals, still hold relevance and impact rankings positively. So, rather than being a single ranking signal, it’s more of a collection of ranking signals, used by various ranking systems to evaluate and reward webpages with excellent UX.
Alt text, which describes the content of images on webpages, plays a varying role in SEO depending on the context. In Google image search, alt text is a crucial ranking factor, helping search engines understand the content of images. However, in general search results, alt text carries less weight and counts the same as any other text on the page. It’s considered by algorithms but doesn’t receive special treatment. Understanding this can help you tailor your alt text optimisation strategy accordingly.
Domain ownership changes may no longer disrupt your SEO efforts. Ranking signals tend to persist even when a domain changes owner. However, if a domain has faced problems in the past, those penalties can carry over, emphasising the importance of maintaining a clean SEO history and to research thoroughly before acquiring a domain. It’s important to note that the age of the domain is not considered a ranking factor.
Google now automatically detects the language of web content, reducing the need for explicit language-specific domain choices, HTML tags, or other language indicators. While language choices still matter in some cases, Google’s language detection capabilities have evolved, making the process more seamless for website owners. It’s not a fully confirmed ranking factor, but if you provide content in a certain language, Google will know how relevant this is to the user based on the language used for the search query and other user settings.
Both backlinks and internal links are still very much crucial components for your pages. Google sees internal links as helpful to determine the most important pages of a website and also helpful for users as it improves UX. So, if you’re using natural anchor text that is relevant to the page you’re linking to, this will have a positive impact on your website. Same for external links – as long as they are helpful and of the highest quality, this matters much more than the volume of inbound links coming into your site. Quality over quantity ensures a better experience for users.
When it comes to link stability, how long links remain live on a page without any changes, this hasn’t been confirmed by Google to impact rankings. Many believed that the concept of ‘link churn’, based on a 2005 Google patent, would be used as a factor, but this hasn’t materialised.
While URLs are a confirmed ranking factor, their impact is often minimal once content is indexed. In other words, the URL structure may play a role in the initial indexation of content, but its significance wanes as content becomes established in search results.
The physical proximity of a business or website to the searcher’s location is now covered under the broader criteria of Relevance, Distance, and Prominence. Ensuring that your website is relevant to local searches and focusing on prominence within your industry are key aspects of local SEO success.
Google’s mobile-first indexing is now firmly in place, which means that Google predominantly uses the mobile version of the content for ranking and indexing. It’s finally complete after initially rolling out 7 years ago, so ensuring that your website is mobile-friendly is no longer a choice but a necessity. Mobile optimisation, responsive design, and fast loading times are all crucial elements for SEO success in 2023.
The importance of creating high-quality, relevant content has never been greater. Google will continue to evolve to reward websites that provide valuable and informative content to users, including ‘hidden gems’ on lesser-known sites and forums. This trend is not new but remains highly relevant in 2023 and beyond. Ensuring that your content meets the needs and expectations of your target audience has always been a pillar of SEO success, so if you haven’t been doing that, it’s a good time to change your approach.
Adapting your SEO strategy is imperative for maintaining and improving your website’s rankings. One thing is for sure, Google will continue to update its algorithms and ranking criteria, so staying up to date about the latest trends and ranking signals is essential.
As certain ranking signals continue to hold their ground and are critical for SEO success in 2023, following these confirmed factors can work to your advantage. 2023 Google Ranking Factors such as creating high-quality content, ensuring mobile-friendliness, and secure website practices should be incorporated into your SEO efforts to improve your website’s visibility.
Demonstrating E-E-A-T through your content and establishing yourself as an authoritative and trustworthy source within your niche is crucial too. Focusing on UX by enhancing page loading speed, interactivity, and visual stability will help satisfy ever-increasing user expectations.
Adapting your SEO strategy requires a proactive approach, and we’re here to help if you need it. Please contact the team for more information today about how you can improve your SERP rankings around Google SEO ranking factors in 2023 and beyond, and ensure you’re following best practices whilst providing the best experience possible for your audience.