Google reveals top 3 ranking signals

Last year Google stated that it considers RankBrain – it’s machine learning technology – to be the third most important search ranking factor. Whilst this information led to much speculation about what exactly RankBrain is and does, many were more concerned with another question; if RankBrain is only the third most important signal, then what are the other two?

Until last month, this wasn’t information that Google seemed ready to divulge, even after repeated questioning. However, in Q&A with Google’s Search Quality team, the top two signals were finally revealed; links, and content.

This information doesn’t exactly come as a huge surprise; Google has driven in the importance of “quality content” and linkbuilding for years.

Plus, given that RankBrain isn’t so much a signal as a system that uses signals, and that links and content are influenced by a number factors, this is just the latest in Google’s long list of vague announcements.

Google updates search quality guidelines

Google has released another version of it’s search quality rater guidelines, less than 6 months after the release of the previous document.

The documents don’t appear to be too different from those released back in November 2015, with many sections remaining unchanged, and others receiving only slight tweaks.

However, a number of areas appear to have been de-emphasised. Supplementary Content, the potential negative or positive effects of which have been explored in previous documents , now receives much less attention.

On the other hand, areas such as local search – now termed “Visit-in-person” in the updated guidelines – have been emphasised and redrafted. Mobile also receives more attention, with more illustrations of high and poor quality search activity using Mobile search as an example.

Other sections have been completely cut, leading some to believe that Google no longer requires human evaluation of these factors, relying solely on algorithmic evaluation. If anything, the revision of the guidelines so soon after the previous release also illustrates the constantly evolving nature of natural search.

My Business ranking factors documented

Google has updated it’s help section on improving local rankings, vastly expanding on the previous document with a number of more in depth pieces of advice.

Whilst much of this appears to be common sense – ensure your business is verified, make sure to post accurate opening hours, respond to reviews, add photos of your business – it’s good to have what Google considers important for local business search in writing in one place.

The section frequently mentions and stresses the importance of three factors when creating My Business listings; relevance, distance, and prominence. A listing has relevance if it closely matches the terms users are searching for. Distance refers to how close a listing is from the terms users are searching for; e.g. are users searching for a different location than that stated in the listing? Prominence relates to how well known a business is, and takes into account existing offsite information such as reviews and articles and how these can positively affect local rankings.