Which Important Ranking Factors to Address? (Spoiler)

Ranking Factor Word Cloud

Many people seem to take their site management cues from what they see others focusing on. While that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re wrong, it can mean they’re spending their energy in the wrong places. For a long time after Google let it be known how important they were for rankings, links were the thing to chase (they still are, for most folks). Content quality became the watchword after Google said it was better to earn links than to build them. Mobile responsiveness became an issue after Google started stressing its importance (particularly when they said it could provide ranking benefits). Site speed became the objectif du jour after they said a slower site could rank lower.

Just about anything that can affect rankings (and more than a few things that don’t) has had its day in the sun at some point. The valid concerns continue to be valid – the others continue to be tail-chasing exercises. And ongoing efforts by a lot of serious practitioners to educate site-owners on which are which continue to be head-bangers.

Ranking has Changed

The thing that many people don’t seem to understand is that the impact of individual factors has diminished. That’s just simple math. If you start with, say, 200 factors and don’t allow for any weighting of those factors against each other, then each one would be 1/200th of the total ranking equation. Add another 50 factors to the pile and now each one would be worth only 1/250th of the total. Math, folks.

Sure, weighting can change, which could conceivably allow a factor to have the same importance as before, even after adding more factors to the mix. But I think that would apply only rarely, if ever. Essentially, what this means is that in order to accomplish for a site’s rankings what you could gain several years ago, you now have to have a broader focus – go after more factors.

The Promised Spoiler

My philosophy is to go after all of them – or at least as many as is practical. Since you’re likely to see smaller gains with individual wins, you need more small wins to get the prize, right? There’s not much to be gained by having killer content if your page takes 20 seconds to load… who’s likely to stick around long enough to ever read it?

So when you see a lot of chatter amongst SEOs and marketers regarding page-load speed, hreflang, mobile-first or some other factor they’re all chasing, consider what’s most important for your site. What will give you the most benefit and what will have little or no value? What will work best in conjunction with other factors? (Hint: Many things work better in conjunction with other things.) Then build your plan. But don’t waste your time on just one… ranking factors no longer work in a vacuum – you need to address several, if not all, of them.

How to Build a robots.txt File

First of all, it’s not a necessity for every website to have a robots.txt file. This file exists to tell the search engines you want them to limit their access to specific pages or directories of a website, so without one, the entire site would conceivably be indexed. It can address either all or just specific bots.

Depending upon the site, of course, allowing the search engine to index any and all pages could present a problem. For instance, if an ecommerce site with on-site search function doesn’t limit access at all, then every single search would result in a new URL being created – which could appear in Google’s search results (as well as any other search engine’s SERPs). This can easily result in a site with only 400-ish pages having tens of thousands of pages

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Do you Need a Site Audit?

A site audit can yield a lot of very valuable information to allow you to optimize your website effectively. But is the cost always justified? Perhaps not always, but I’d say usually, yes. A quick snapshot of your site can usually tell you if a deeper dig is called for.

If your mechanic proposes an engine overhaul before even checking under the hood, or your doctor suggests surgery before running any tests, you’d rightfully question their judgment, wouldn’t you? The same is true for a site audit. Any reputable SEO is going to have already taken at least a quick look at your site before making a recommendation for a site audit. If they’re quoting you a price before you’ve even shared your domain name, then run, don’t walk.

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