The Top SEO Ranking Factors for 2023: How to Rank Well with the Right SEO Strategy
The new year is nearly here which means it’s time to look at scoping out a new keyword ranking strategy and a wider SEO plan for 2023. We saw a lot of important changes to Google’s algorithm and ranking signals in 2022, including the Helpful Content Update, mobile search changes, and the September Core Update. All of these affect SEO approaches, making it all the more important to tailor your SEO strategy for 2023.
In this article, we’re going to explore ranking factors as a whole, what has historically worked, and what the golden ticket to SEO success for 2023 will be given the myriad of technical changes the search engine implemented in 2022.
What are Google ranking factors?
Google ranking factors are what the search engine judges you on to decide where you’ll appear on the results page – if at all. Ideally, you want to appear on page one, with as high of a position as possible. Unfortunately, there are a lot of ranking factors Google looks at, meaning it’s often easier said than done to get into the coveted top three results.
The things Google looks at and considers ranking factors cover four main bases: website content, technical site health, user signals, and link profiles. Google will scour your site and assess the quality and relevance of the content, how healthy your site is (e.g., site speed and broken links), user signals (e.g., bounce rate, average time on page etc.), and what your internal linking structure is like compared to your backlink profile.
Why are Google ranking factors so important?
Once all of the above ranking factors have been taken into consideration, Google will decide where to rank you on SERPs. The worse you score in each category, the lower down the rankings you can expect to be. It’s relatively easy to fall down due to the spinning plate nature of SEO, which is why developing a watertight strategy is essential to make sure you cover all bases.
The trouble is, Google likes to change the requirements of each ranking factor fairly frequently, making it even harder to keep on top of everything year on year. For example, once upon a time, keyword spamming was a widely used and largely rewarded strategy, but as the years have gone on, Google has taken a no-tolerance approach to this method, forcing marketers to really focus on the quality of their content and avoid keyword stuffing in order to stay afloat.
The key thing to remember about ranking factors is that you could do really well in three areas, but trailing behind on one factor could pull you down entirely. As an example, you could have excellent quality content, a strong linking profile, and good user signals, but if you have a number of technical site health issues, you could find that your rankings suffer as a result.
In a nutshell, you need to be performing well across all ranking factors if you want to appear high up on SERPs. The incentive to secure top ranking is increasing brand awareness, generating leads, and securing new conversions, all of which will help your business thrive.
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Google ranking factors to prioritise in 2023
Whilst Google generally maintains stability across what the ranking factors are, the way they’re implemented changes year on year depending on Google’s updates and preferences. A prime example of this is content. For a long time, generic content written to please the algorithm was generally okay, but in summer of 2022, Google changed the game and established that content has to be ‘helpful’ for the user. This is not only to improve the user experience and ensure questions are answered properly, but also to reward content creators and ensure those who put the work in get rewarded for their efforts.
So, with all of the changes that have been made to the algorithm in 2022, what should you be prioritising for your SEO strategy in 2023 to rank better?
Link building has been a core factor for website rankings for a number of years now, but as new techniques have made themselves known, it’s something that has been neglected by marketers. Link building can be relatively easy to do, and has a significant impact on your SERPs standing, so it makes sense that you channel a lot of effort into creating a robust link strategy.
Your link strategy should comprise two parts: internal and external. Firstly, you need to ensure that each page on your website has a link to somewhere else on your website – preferably a page with a high domain authority. This will give other pages more authority and make your site more usable as a result. CTAs are a good way to weave links in if you’re unsure.
Your external backlink strategy should focus on getting links from other high ranking websites with a good domain authority to your site. For example, if you curate a press release that gets picked up by a newspaper or media outlet, work to get a link from their site to yours.
Combined, internal and external linking are excellent tools to increase your overall site authority and bolster your rankings. As you come up with new pages from your content strategy, and publicise news about upcoming changes to your business and things to shout about (such as awards), you can start to plan and build out your link strategy.
E-A-T was first mentioned in 2018 and has since become a more familiar and popular term, but there are still a large number of marketers who don’t know what it is or the value it holds. In a nutshell, E-A-T means expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. Google will look at your content and determine whether you are experts in your field, hold authority, and are trustworthy.
The key to succeeding with E-A-T is to produce high quality content that isn’t plagiarised, incorrect, or written by novices. You’ll want to offer expert insights, have reviews or endorsements from industry professionals, backlinks from reputable sources, and a good level of user trust.
That being said, E-A-T is more applicable to some sectors than others. If you provide products, services, or advice about things like finance, healthcare, the law, animals, or any subject where people need reliable information, you’ll want to take a deep-dive into E-A-T. On the other hand, if your website has a more casual nature, like publishing listicles of funny things, E-A-T will be less relevant.
On the whole, though, E-A-T is considered a ranking factor, but on a more human level. This means because expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness are largely subjective, it’s not easy for Google to quantify these factors, so E-A-T isn’t a direct ranking factor. However, Google uses things like links and user interactions to determine E-A-T in the same way a human would, albeit through AI, and therefore in that sense, it’s a ranking factor.
For more clarity, Danny Sullivan, Public Liaison of Search at Google, tweeted:
“Is E-A-T a ranking factor? Not if you mean there’s some technical thing like with speed that we can measure directly.
We do use a variety of signals as a proxy to tell if content seems to match E-A-T as humans would assess it.
In that regard, yeah, it’s a ranking factor.”
So, if Google says it’s a ranking factor, you need to channel your efforts into it, and 2023 is the perfect time to start.
What’s becoming clear as time goes on is that Google is looking long and hard at the quality of content. With this in mind, writing to achieve a featured snippet is an excellent way to improve your organic rankings and get higher CTRs, without necessarily sitting in the top spot.
A featured snippet appears above organic results in position 0. The relevant page might not sit in position 1, but if the information on the page is short, concise, direct, optimised, and answers the users question quickly, the relevant highlighted excerpt will appear above everything else on SERPs.
Google says: “When we recognize that a query asks a question, we programmatically detect pages that answer the user’s question, and display a top result as a featured snippet in the search results.”
What’s interesting about featured snippets is that they have their own set of ranking factors, and site authority isn’t one. If your site doesn’t have a strong domain authority yet, you can still slide to the top of SERPs and benefit from increased traffic if you secure a featured snippet. As long as your content is relevant, has a keyword, and is informational, (images can also help increase your chances), you can get a featured snippet.
The more people come to your site and read your information, or the more people refer back to your site as a source, the higher your domain authority will climb, and this is a key ranking factor overall, thus the relevance of writing content with a featured snippet in mind.
The final tip we have to take you into 2023 is to look at content/topic clusters. Content clusters are how you show Google that you’re knowledgeable on a certain topic because you have lots of content about it.
You’ve probably gathered by now that Google is a big fan of websites being able to answer user’s questions – all of them. By having lots of supporting content around one topic that answers all the questions a user might ask, you’re showing Google that you know your stuff and you’ve covered all bases, giving you extra brownie points for improved user experience, too.
Content clusters work in this way:
You take a landing page and build supporting content that is relevant that you can link back. In the example above, the workout equipment landing page would have a link-back in several blogs all about workouts. The supporting content needs to be relevant to the landing page and answer key questions. For example, the 20-minute HIIT workout blog could have subheadings such as:
- What is a HIIT workout?
- What workout equipment is needed for a HIIT workout?
- How long should a HIIT workout be?
- How often should you do HIIT workouts?
These are questions that people will be asking, and there’s plenty of opportunity to link back to the main workout equipment page. By doing this, you’re pre-empting what people might ask and answering the questions for them without them needing to do multiple searches. You’re also building authority to the landing page as a result, and this will help with overall rankings.
At The Brains, we go heavy with content clusters for our clients who come to us for content marketing support, and this is one of the core ways we’re able to drive results and get rankings quickly.
SEO is an ever-changing game and what works one year might not work another. On the whole, though, 2023 is set to build on the foundations of user experience, so as long as your strategy is focused on users and not pleasing the algorithm, you should see some success.
It’s important to remember that on 1st July 2023, GA3 will be phased out and GA4 will be universally implemented. You won’t be able to see historical data from GA4 come July, so make sure you’re preparing for this change in advance and start the process of tracking data in GA4 as soon as your new SEO strategy kicks in in January. If not, you won’t be able to compare year-on-year results or see if your strategy is working.
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