SEO myths


With so much conflicting information on the internet, how can you be sure you get the real deal when it comes to Google’s ranking factors?

The simple answer is to find a genuine expert who knows his onions. In my case, I turn to Search Engine Journal for the low down on what’s what in the SEO world.

In a recent post they looked at the myth of Google’s 200 ranking factors, and more importantly, concentrated on the 11 that are confirmed ranking factors.

Rather than paraphrasing and only giving you half the story, here’s what Search Engine Journal had to say:

  1. HTTPS as a Google Ranking Factor

It’s not a significant factor, but it’s an easy one to confirm as Google did that for us on August 6, 2014, when they wrote in their blog:

“… we’re starting to use HTTPS as a ranking signal. For now, it’s only a very lightweight signal — affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content — while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS. But over time, we may decide to strengthen it …”

  1. Site Speed as a Google Ranking Factor

This one thankfully you can put in the “fact” category. Google announced it as a ranking factor as far back as 2010 when they stated:

“You may have heard that here at Google we’re obsessed with speed, in our products and on the web. As part of that effort, today we’re including a new signal in our search ranking algorithms: site speed.”

Interestingly, it wasn’t until July of this year that they started using it as a ranking factor for mobile.

Presumably, Google relied on desktop page speed until then, and the rollout of the mobile-first index has resulted in them adding in speed as a factor there.

  1. Title Tags as a Google Ranking Factor

Coming as no surprise is that title tags are a confirmed ranking factor.

We all knew it, but it makes the list of facts.

Google’s John Mueller confirmed it in a hangout a couple of years back.

  1. Mobile-Friendly as a Google Ranking Factor

Having a mobile version of your site is, to say the least, a ranking factor.

The only proof I think I need to include here is the rollout of the mobile-first index.

  1. PageRank as a Google Ranking Factor

PageRank made up the core of what Google was built on.

The initial idea was to use links essentially as votes, with some votes being more equal than others (i.e., stronger sites pass more weight).

The idea of PageRank lost its lustre in the hearts and minds of SEO pros when Google stopped updating the little green bar.

It’s hard to remember sometimes that all they stopped doing was showing us the value. Google still uses PageRank internally.

In fact, not long ago, we found out about an update to the initial PageRank patent.

The update extends the idea of PageRank to include trust signals.

If Google were no longer using PageRank, why would they update it? That’s right; they wouldn’t.

  1. Links as a Google Ranking Factor

If PageRank is a ranking factor, then by extension links are a ranking factor.

At some point in the future, the link calculations may be replaced by entity reference calculations, but that day is not today. At that time, the “fact” of links will simply become a “fact” of entities.

Links have been confirmed as a ranking factor many times over the years. From Matt Cutts mentioning in 2014 that they were likely to be around for many more years to its placement as a top three ranking signal shortly after RankBrain rolled out.

  1. Anchor Text as a Ranking Factor

I won’t be including aspects of links that are “a given” as facts, such as a link from an authority site being worth more than a link from a low-value directory or a new site. These are discussed in the PageRank and link discussions as a whole and confirmed there.

One signal that needs to be discussed, however, is anchor text.

Some have debated about whether anchor text is used as a signal – and certainly, the overuse of it can be detrimental (which unto itself should reinforce that it’s used as a signal).

However, what can’t be ignored is that anchor text is still mentioned in Google’s SEO Starter Guide – and it has been for years.

  1. Domain Authority as a Google Ranking Factor

If you follow the news and Google statements as closely as I do, you might be questioning the accuracy of this whole article.

After all, Mueller stated on Reddit:

Search engine journal image


So why would I list domain authority as a fact when Google is implying that it is not?

Because they’re calling a tom-A-to a tom-AH-to.

What Bill Hartzer was asking in the question was not about the Moz metric but about the idea that a domain carries authority and with it the strength to rank its pages.

Mueller dodged the question by referencing a Moz metric, and it was taken as a rebut of the idea as a whole.

In a Google Hangout, however, Mueller states:

“So that’s something where there’s a bit of both when it comes to ranking. It’s the pages individually, but also the site overall.”

I get that Mueller was trying to be a bit tongue-in-cheek in the Reddit AMA and don’t blame him for having fun with his reply.

It’s up to us to dig into the facts and thankfully they’re available if you do the research.

Now you know yet another fact about Google’s “200″ ranking factors.

  1. User Intent/Behavior as a Google Ranking Factor

User intent is more a grouping of signals than a signal itself, but we let that slide a bit above with links and we’ll have to do that same here.

The reason for grouping them is that they are factual as a group, but the individual signals within that group are, for the most part, unconfirmed and in some cases unknowable.

For evidence on user intent as a signal, one needs to consider RankBrain.

RankBrain is often considered a signal. I consider it more of an algorithm that interprets signals but that’s a semantic discussion.

What Google has said of RankBrain is:

“If RankBrain sees a word or phrase it isn’t familiar with, the machine can guess as to what words or phrases might have a similar meaning and filter the result accordingly, making it more effective at handling never-before-seen search queries.”

So, its purpose is not to act as a signal as we generally think of them, but rather to act as an interpreter between the search engine and the searcher, passing to the search engine the meaning of a query where the keywords themselves leave some ambiguity. Either way, user intent is being factored in.

Looking at aspects of user behaviour from the context of CTR, pogo-sticking(which is confirmed not a direct signal), etc. Google has not confirmed any of them as factors to the best of my knowledge.

This is not to say that they’re not used, but we’re talking about facts in this article, not scenarios we’re 99 per cent sure of or that they have patents around, as those aren’t facts.

  1. Geolocation as a Google Ranking Factor

I could link to a wide array of discussions and statements about geolocation and the idea that where you are in space and time impacts your results.

Or I could post the following image of a search I performed while hungry.

search engine journal 2


In case you couldn’t tell… I’m in Victoria.

Enough said.

  1. Over-Optimization as a Google Ranking Factor

Can you love so much that it hurts?

When it comes to your keywords and how you optimise them, you sure can.

Google’s Gary Illyes voiced in on the question on Twitter:

That is totally a thing, but I can’t think of a better name for it. It is literally optimising so much that eventually it starts hurting

So, over-optimisation is a ranking signal. A negative one, but a signal nonetheless.

I hope the gurus at Search Engine Journal have made things a bit clearer for you.