There is no one-size-fits-all list of SEO ranking factors.
At one time, SEOs—regardless of industry—could refer to a single list of Google’s 200 ranking factors to optimize their sites and content. And while that list is still a good starting point, Google’s latest machine learning program now changes the priority of those factors based on a variety of considerations, including industry, topic, and user intent. Ranking factors are reprioritized for each query.
RankBrain learns what types of information searchers are looking for when using specific keywords by collecting engagement data from how users interact with search results. It then uses that information to refine future results and prioritize relevant ranking factors. As a result, search ranking factors in 2017 and beyond are no longer universal.
To succeed with SEO in the age of RankBrain, you have to create your own ranking factors list—one that’s catered to your industry’s and audience’s specific needs and preferences.
Sound daunting? Scroll to the bottom of this post to download our free, RankBrain-inspired Ranking Factors Worksheet. This spreadsheet provides the structure you need to interpret ranking factors for your core keywords.
RankBrain establishes the relevance and importance of Google’s 200+ ranking factors using a variety of inputs. High-level inputs like industry and location are considered, as well as individualized inputs like a user’s historical search behavior and preferred content medium.
For example, keywords and links used to be the backbones of SEO, but—on average—only 53% of top 20 results have keywords in their titles, and inbound links are less important than they were in the past.
Developing a list of relevant search ranking factors requires identifying patterns in existing, top organic search results for queries that are related to your industry. By taking the time to research what RankBrain is currently prioritizing for relevant queries, you can establish a To-Do list for your content to help it perform well in organic search.
Start by conducting a depersonalized search for a relevant keyword, and look for illustrative consistencies:
Top organic results for [rankbrain] all have a lot of backlinks, which indicates it is probably a strong ranking factor.
When this exercise is completed, you’ll have a list of relevant ranking factors for the content you’re preparing to create. If the top three results are all presented as lists (“X Ways,” “Y Steps,” etc.), you might use that format for your title. If the top results all have dozens of inbound links, you’ll likely need to engage in content promotion activities after publishing to earn inbound links.
By conducting this research before writing new content, you can determine which ranking factors RankBrain is prioritizing. This information can be used to guide content creation and optimization.
There are some additional factors to consider, but they come into play after content is published.
Instead of relying on inbound backlinks to determine content quality, RankBrain utilizes engagement signals. Factors like click-through rates, time-on-page, and pages per session can present strong signals to Google about a piece of content’s quality and relevance to queries:
Once content is published, it’s time to determine whether or not searcher engagement is impacting rankings. To do this, pull click-through rate (CTR), time on page, and pages-per-session metrics from Google Search Console and Google Analytics.
By taking steps to improve user engagement with your site and content, users will send signals to RankBrain that the content you’re producing is relevant, useful, and credible. These signals should help you climb results in the SERPs and overtake your competition.
RankBrain has made universal ranking factors obsolete. The sites that excel in the SERPs today cater specifically to audience needs and preferences. And the only way to do this is to determine exactly what users are looking for when entering the keywords and search queries you’re targeting.
To get started on the task of creating your personalized list of search ranking factors, download our RankBrain-inspired Ranking Factors Worksheet template. Determine what factors RankBrain is prioritizing for targeted queries, and use those factors to create content that overtakes competitors in search results.
Download the Worksheet: