Welcome to my first SEO Short – looking at the difference between direct and indirect ranking factors on Google. Each post in this series lays out an easily digestible bite of SEO theory while encouraging further discussion. Treat this post like a Q and A; please comment any thoughts or feedback to make this series as good as possible.
What is a indirect ranking factor – why would you implement practices which aren’t directly helping your SEO? Good, natural SEO is a long process. That’s largely due to how important it is to tweak indirect ranking factors; eventually you’ll find the magic combination optimal to your website.
It’s easy to get mixed up between direct and indirect factors. Google have done their best to keep the secret sauce behind their algorithm a mystery but you can learn a lot about best practices by knowing what doesn’t work and why. Often nobody knows if a factor is direct or indirect or how they work on Google’s end. All too often ‘SEO gurus’ are afraid of telling their readership they don’t know everything so indirect search metrics are an under discussed subject.
Indirect ranking factors are just as powerful (if not more so) than their direct cousins. Indirect factors generally work by leveraging several other direct ranking factors. Unfortunately you can’t tell from correlation studies alone if a ranking factor is direct or indirect making it hard to study exactly how a ranking factor works.
What Do We Know About Direct and Indirect Ranking Factors?
- Did you know that bounce rate probably isn’t a direct ranking factor – instead search engines appear to use ‘Dwell time‘.
- Your meta description is a powerful indirect ranking factor. Keywords in your description change nothing; what’s important is writing compellingly for the indirect effect on clickthrough rate.
- Your page title is a very powerful direct ranking factor. Like your meta description it also drives clickthrough rate and time on site. Click through rate is such a powerful factor that optimising your title and description is one of the most vital parts of on page SEO.
- Page speed isn’t a direct factor. You can get a penalty for having a slow site but it’s unlikely, according to Google only 1% of the slowest sites get this penalty. Your website can be faster than your competition’s, that won’t help you outrank them if you have poor user experience in other respects.
- Social signals apparently aren’t direct factors but they do correlate very strongly with high rankings and backlinks. This is a staple of many other indirect ranking factors.
Length of text has always had a strong correlation with high ranking on Google. The SEO community has been split over whether this is a direct or indirect effect. Last year Google’s made a ‘machine learning’ (artificial intelligence) update to their algorithm called RankBrain. A lot of highly relevant pages with short content have started ranking very highly for various searches.
The increased exposure that short content is now getting is likely directly caused by the RankBrain update. If you are looking for a specific answer you don’t want to waste time searching through thousands of words of fluff. Google is now literally learning to better itself.
Lots of SEO best practices won’t directly help you get to the top of Google. They help people engage with your site better and that in turn helps you build your authority. The benefit of being an authority site, along with giving great user experience through content and layout is what will get you to the top of Google in the long run. Ranking highly for one search result generates exposure, more backlinks and a larger audience improving your SEO across the board.
Google have well over 200 factors in their 2016 algorithm. We don’t know what all these factors are. If you want your site the best it can be you have to test everything you can – the true meaning of search engine optimisation. What works for you?
If you enjoyed reading this, please read my next SEO Short – Question Everything!