What Ranking Signals Are
If you want to ace your SEO game, then you need to know what signals influence rankings. In this full guide, you are going to learn all about ranking signals and how to optimize them to beat your competitors and drive more organic traffic to your websites.
Properly said, ranking signals are characteristics of your website or web property that search engines like Google use to calculate your rankings. They can be internal like backlinks and social signals or internal like page structure and keyword density.
Nonetheless, search engines have not disclosed this information properly, but based on our tests along with what several other SEO companies have reported, we are aware that these factors influence search results.
In conclusion, you can increase your rankings by optimizing them. Some of them have more influence than others, but nonetheless, by fine-tuning every single factor you can make a huge difference.
Difference Between SEO and Local SEO
Before we move on, it is important to make a distinction between SEO and Local SEO, because they have specific differences. To summarize it, general SEO targets keywords and phrases without a geographic component, whereas local SEO targets specific regions such as cities.
For example, organic SEO would include a website trying to rank for “how to lose fat”, whereas a local business trying to rank for “pool repair Los Angeles” would need to play by the rules of local SEO.
In consequence, local SEO involves a set of extra ranking signals that you need to include in your strategy to rank for your targeted keywords. Such signals include:
- Local relevant backlinks
- Topical + local relevant content
- On-page for local rankings
- Optimized Google My Business Page
- Google Reviews
We will cover each one below, to let you see how to optimize each factor.
Locally Relevant Backlinks
If you want to rank, then you need backlinks. The thing is that when it comes to ranking locally, you need your backlinks to be relevant to the location you want to rank for.
Google needs to see your website is relevant for that location, and you can easily accomplish it with citations and other must-do steps in SEO, but you can really improve your results by contacting local bloggers and getting a backlink to your site. They work wonderfully well.
Good news is that local bloggers don’t usually earn much money from their blogs, so paying them for a link placement will work very well. Although, you still need to do your homework and verify the sites aren’t penalized and have some link juice that can benefit your rankings.
Moreover, you also need to take into account your anchor text distribution strategy, because if you are not careful enough, then you can end up messing up your off-page strategy and triggering algorithmic responses that will damage your rankings and your progress.
Topical + Local Relevant Content
Most businesses when they try to expand to other cities find out that it is much harder than expected, and it happens because they lack of local relevance for that new location, but it can be easily solved by doing the following: publish 4-5 articles that talk about the new city and send a backlink from them to the new location page.
They don’t need to be spectacular, they just need to be unique and talk about something about the new city. This will help you to create local relevance, which will make it much easier for you to rank in a new location.
Therefore, make sure to follow this, especially if you have been stuck for a long time. This can prevent you from improving your rankings, so give this a try and you will see how much it can help you!
On-page Optimization for Local Rankings
In order to rank a website locally it needs to be on-page optimized for such purpose, and in a nutshell it means the following:
- Presence of well-structured NAP (Name, Address and Phone) on the website
- Integration of proper Schema Mark-up
- Proper keyword mapping and planning across the website
- Optimal URL structure
- Correct siloing
- Spot on internal and external linking
On-page plays a huge role when it comes to ranking on Google, because if it is not well-structured and optimized then it will become much harder to rank, and even impossible in some cases.
Off-page and on-page need to work together in complete synergy. The signals sent by the on-page optimization are critical for ranking your website for your targeted keywords, thus it is very important to pay attention even to the smallest details, because something as ‘simple’ as a poorly-structured NAP can cause you more problems than you imagine.
Moreover, when building multiple pages for different locations it is important to use the right keywords in the title and throughout the content.
Some critical aspects regarding on-page:
More isn’t necessarily better. It varies from niche to niche, therefore you shouldn’t think that putting 5000 words on your homepage will make you rank better than everyone else, that’s why you need to analyze what your competitors are doing.
You should go and get the word count from your top 10 competitors for your targeted keywords, average it and then use it as your word count for your money page.
This is very similar to the case of anchor text where proper analysis of your competition really pays off.
Again, there’s no such thing as a magic percentage to follow, but by all means avoid keyword stuffing because it won’t get you far. Just like with word count, you can go and spy your competitors, see what percentage of keyword density they are using and replicate it.
Moreover, you also need to take into account that Google is smarter, so you need to use LSI keywords and make your content semantic. That’s how things work nowadays, and you need to play by those rules if you wish to win.
GMB Page Optimization
If you want to rank, then your GMB page needs to be spot-on with respect to optimization. Here are some of the most important things to do:
- Create and verify your page
- Include the correct NAP + your website
- Use the categories that perfectly define what you do, because if you choose the incorrect ones, then you will have serious problems ranking
- Make sure to include EVERYTHING: the days you work, hours, etc.
- Include optimized and geo-targeted photos of your business, products, staff, etc.
- Beautify your GMB with a big, nice and optimized (geo-targeted too) cover photo
- Write a good and optimized description of your business, but forget about keyword stuffing because it won’t get you far!
- Get as many legit reviews as possible, and of course, make sure to reply to all of them so you can prove you are an active business owner
This is one of the most important assets you have at your disposal and it is your duty to optimize it perfectly in order to achieve higher rankings, and hence, get more traffic in return.
But the optimization needs to go beyond search engines and also focus on users and conversions, because if you cannot convert your traffic then your investment will be worthless. That’s why it is important to make sure to add excellent photos about your business, your staff and even include a CTA in the description if it fits correctly.
It shouldn’t be surprising to discover what reviews play a huge role when it comes to local rankings, and therefore you need to pay more attention to them. You should aim to have at least 5 reviews, so they can show up and keep growing from them. Moreover, reviews are more than a simple ranking signal, because they also irradiate trust, which is a precious element that will allow you to turn more visitors into clients and sales.
Just like backlinks, citations play a major role when it comes to improving your rankings on Google… but what is it? A concise definition would be the following: it is any online mention of the name, address and phone number of a local business. They are very important, and that’s why it is primordial to optimize them to their fullest.
When building citations you need to make sure that your NAP remains constant, otherwise you will face problems and you will need to execute a cleanup.
But why does Google care about citations? Let’s put it this way: Google collects data from all corners of the internet for each business. That’s why the NAP of your citations needs to remain constant in every single platform, so that the data collected is as accurate as possible, because when it is not the case then ranking becomes a major problem.
Make sure you use HQ platforms and that your NAP is consistent in all of them and you will be fine, because this is part of every successful local SEO campaign.
But wait… where can I place my citations? Here you have a list of pretty good sites:
- Yellow Pages
Of course, when it comes to building citations for countries other than USA you also have the opportunity to use national directories and websites and you must go for it by all means as long as they are not spammed or penalized.
Now that you know the distinction between SEO and Local SEO, it is time to explain how to target general ranking signals. Put our best practices into action and you will obtain excellent results.
Pick Your Anchor Text Properly
It is the clickable text that takes you to another website or page within the same site. The thing is that choosing your anchor text can be harder than it seems, and no, there’s not a default strategy.
Over-optimizing your anchor text by using your targeted keyword too many times is the quickest way to dump your rankings and have a much harder time recovering, because in most cases you will end up triggering a penalty.
The problem with most beginners is that they think that by using their exact targeted keywords as many times as possible they will get to rank higher, but those days are long gone.
In order to find the ‘perfect’ anchor text strategy it is required to analyze what your competitors are doing, and this is done by using special programs like Ahrefs.com and other resources like private software.
A very important thing to point out is that Google is getting much smarter, therefore you need to be more careful with the kind of anchor text you use. For example, let’s suppose you want to rank for plastic surgeon Bangkok. At first it is easy to think that the very same keyword can be used as anchor text, but it is not really that natural. Therefore, a much better pick would be “plastic surgeon in Bangkok”.
Google is smart enough to understand that both keywords mean the same thing.
Again, the Wild West days are long gone and Google is much smarter, and hence, it can tell the difference and that’s why your strategy needs to be more natural, which means using natural-sounding anchor text like a human would do.
What To Do If There’s Not Enough Data?
There will be cases where you won’t have much data to work with, in those occasions there’s a route you can follow that will help you to fly under the radar and see what works and what doesn’t for your niche: build branded anchor text backlinks.
Let’s say your business is called Stellar Pizza, then examples of branded anchor text would be:
- Stellar Pizza
- STELLAR PIZZA
There’s no doubt about it: Google loves brands. Furthermore, this is how natural backlinking happens in most cases, so you should go down this route in case you don’t have enough data to work with. You can save your exact matching anchor text for the real heavy hitters.
UX Lifecycle Management
UX and interaction is increasing in importance because Google is starting to take it more seriously as it gets smarter. If a user leaves your website too soon, then it is a sign that something is not alright, and if this situation is repeated several times and finally forms a pattern, then it is a clear signal that your website is not offering what visitors are looking, or simply put, you are failing to catch their attention.
Therefore, if you want to retain your rankings, maximize your conversions and eventually become the top choice for the SERPs in your niche, then you need to pay more attention to User Experience, because if your bounce rate is way too high, then your rankings and conversions will suffer the consequences at the end of the day.
Make your users happy and Google will notice it and see that your website is offering exactly what they are looking for, and it will reward you with better rankings. That’s why good SEO practices go beyond off-page work, because you also need to focus on making the user happy.
How to Ace Your On-page Game
You also need to handle your on-page game because it will allow you to let Google understand what your content is about. Furthermore, it will set you apart from your competitors. Let us see how to do it.
Use Local Keywords on Title Tag and Meta Content
The secret to successful local SEO is making search engines like Google link your website and business to your geographic location. This will mean that you need to use the right keywords to make that association so when someone looks for the products or services you provide in their community, they will come across your website.
The most common way is to incorporate the name of your community into your target keywords. A combination of the products or services you provide with the right location keyword should be in your title tag and meta content. You want to limit the keywords to a simple business description, such as “pizza delivery” and location, such as “Bangkok”. Do not expand the use of keywords or Google might read your website as spam which only causes more issues.
You may need to do some experimentation to find the right combination, but once it is found your website will benefit greatly from having the proper tags and meta content for your site.
The very same applies to general SEO. Just focus on your targeted keywords and include them in such strategic positions.
Handle Your Site Structure
You will need to optimize the design and UX of your site depending on its structure. This means considering whether you will create a separate page for every service that you offer and each city or community where you are located. For example, if you run a business in three different cities, then you will want to create three separate sites that cater to each city. This will dictate your local SEO keywords for maximum effect.
For example, if you run an hotel business in Bangkok, Koh Samui, and Chiang Mai, then you will need to create a page for each city and optimize the content with keywords. You’ll want to ensure that each URL contains the name of the city or community as well. The more you can identify each business with the city they are located, the better the on-page signals will be to attract the right consumer base.
Optimize Your Images
It’s amazing just how many business owners overlook images when improving their on-page signals. This may be because some believe that Google can recognize images without any additional text information. However, you will need to use ALT attributes where you can tag your images with the appropriate description and proper keywords.
For local SEO purposes, this means including your community so that search engines can associate it geographically and any appropriate keywords such as a description of your business which will help get you more views from local consumers.
Optimize Your CTR
First, we should take a look to what Google has to say about Google Ads (formerly Adwords). From that page, we can extract the following:
“A high CTR is a good indication that users find your ads helpful and relevant.”
What if we replace ads with organic results? There you have it!
It is one of the metrics used by Google to measure quality. After all, their goal is to serve searchers with the best information at disposal, and they are relying on CTR to filter results even more, along with other ranking factors.
Google is evolving constantly and getting smarter in order to offer users a better experience. It would be a mistake to rely solely on optimizing CTR, but if you are already ranking within the top 10, then it makes a lot of sense to focus on this variable.
Therefore, it is better to focus on optimizing your organic CTR when you are already ranking and you need to move ahead your competitors on the first page. We all know that it gets harder from there, and hence, trying as many things as possible becomes a wise idea, and optimizing your CTR is one of the best strategies that you can implement.
There is more evidence that supports the fact that click-through rate is a ranking factor, and all you have to do is to check this page out.
For more evidence, you should check what Moz has to say about this matter. They found the following:
- Pass the expected CTR for a determined ranking by 20% and chances are you will occupy position #1
- Pass the expected CTR for a determined ranking by 12% and chances are you will occupy position #2
- Fall below the expected CTR for a determined ranking by 6% and chances are you will occupy position #10.
As Moz points out, you should follow this simple yet powerful rule:
The more your pages surpass the expected CTR for a determined ranking, the higher your chances of occupying prominent organic positions in the SERPs.
Below you will find suggestions to optimize your CTR to attain higher rankings.
Relevance and Content:
If you want users to click on your page, then you need to make sure that the content is relevant for the keyword you are trying to rank for. As simple as that.
As a general rule of thumb, check what your competitors are doing on the SERPs, replicate it and improve it.
Create An Attractive Title:
If you want people to lick on your page, then your title needs to be attractive, it needs to invite them to visit your website, and that is where copywriting comes into play.
Simply put, you need to grab their attention and motivate them to click through. As simple as that, but of course, it sounds easy in theory, but if you want optimal results, then you will have to test different titles and find the winner.
Create A Catchy Description:
After coming up with a winning title, you also need to play around with your description. Unlike the title, you have more space and characters to work with, so use them smartly. Ideally, you need to share the benefit of clicking through, but at the same time, you need to reserve some mystery and intrigue.
Also, don’t forget about including a clear and concise CTA (call to action). You need to tell people what to do, so be as transparent and direct as possible. It will pay off.
Like the title, you will have to test different description variations before you come up with a winner, but it will be worth it, because a higher CTR will not only improve your rankings, but also give you a better ROI, because you will get more visitors, and therefore, more chances of turning them into clients. Powerful and profitable.
Sitelinks for the Win:
Even though you cannot directly make Google to show sitelinks for your site, you can structure your page properly to increase the chances. Furthermore, the more Google “likes” your site, the higher the possibilities for your site to show sitelinks on the SERPs.
You can tell Google what sitelinks not to show on the SERPs, and all you have to do is to:
- Go to “Search Appearance”
- Select “Sitelinks”
- Demote the links you do not want to show on the organic page results.
That’s all 🙂
Take Advantage of Rich Snippets:
This will make your page a lot more notorious on the SERPs, because you can add review stars, display photos of products, their price and more. You can take huge advantage out of this, so start structuring your data properly, because this will boost your CTR for sure, you can bet on it.
The Mobile Friendly Factor
We are living in a world where mobile devices are being greatly used, much more than our desktops and laptops. More people are accessing Google using their smartphones rather than their desktops. With desktop users becoming a minority, it is becoming important for search engines to cater to this growing market by offering them faster and better optimized pages. People often switch to another website immediately if they find a website is not optimized for their device.
Another important thing to notice is that Google owns about 95% of the mobile search engine market which has forced them to opt for mobile index if they want to do much better in mobile search results.
Correlation between Responsive Design and Google Mobile Index
With Google improving its mobile services to cater to its mobile users, website owners need to adapt fast to make their website mobile-friendly.
One of the best ways to do it is through Responsive Webdesign. In Responsive Design, a number of factors like fluid, proportion-based grids, flexible images and CSS style rules help deliver a better overall user experience for different devices.
Throughout it, it maintains the HTML and URL structure perfectly allowing the website to grow or shrink depending on the device it is being accessed from. Thus, it can be said that having a responsive design is important for success when it comes to Google ranking.
According to Google, there are a number of benefits to having a responsive design website and these are the top reasons why Google recommends it –
- Having a responsive design allow users to share and link to the content using their URL.
- It also allows Google’s algorithms to assign indexing properties to the pages rather than having to signal the presence of corresponding desktop pages.
- Google saves time as they do not have to maintain multiple pages with the same content.
- Google do not have to redirect the users to a device optimized view reducing the load time for the website. This also helps in reducing errors and enhances user mobile experience.
- It saves resources as Google bot only needs to crawl your website once than having to crawl multiple times to retrieve different versions of the content. This increases the crawling efficiency and also helps Google index whole of website’s content and keep it fresh.
- It also helps them push for better app development for Google Play and to make money out of other content like TV shows, magazines, books, music that they have been feeling threatened about from competitors such as Amazon, Hulu and Apple App store.
If your website or WordPress theme is already mobile responsive, you will have nothing much to do to rank high assuming your mobile performance and speed is good. But, if your website is created ideally for the desktop audience, you need to resolve this issue as soon as possible.
How to Prepare your Website for the New Mobile Index
With Google trying to improve its mobile services through its New Mobile Index, it is important for website owners to adapt the website and SEO Strategy for a more mobile friendly world. It will force the e-commerce businesses to check exactly what they have been providing to their mobile users and how they can better optimize the experience of their mobile users. There needs to be a complete understanding of the way that the user interacts with your website using their smartphones.
Using a mobile-friendliness tool created by Google, you can get a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ answer to whether or not your website meets Google’s requirement of friendliness. Here, all url’s are evaluated individually using this tool thus, there is another easy way of checking your website. You can also check the performance of your website by searching for the website on your phone. This will help you see if all the pages are indexed to the domain and evaluate its mobile friendliness.
If you own a website who have ignored mobile considerations for long, you will no longer be able to do so. You will have to accept that mobile users are your dominant users and will have to make your website as responsive as possible. Once you do that, you will be able to see a shift in your website’s search ranking and traffic.
Now you have a full guide to ranking signals. As you have seen, there are differences between organic SEO and local SEO, and now that you know how to influence the factors that matter the most, you can fine-tune your campaigns to obtain amazing results.
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