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The Ranking Factors to Pay Attention to This Year for SEM

August 22, 2015
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Everything in search engine marketing (SEM) is concerned with user experience. Is your website mobile responsive? Do you have quality content? Do you answer visitors’ questions?

All of those questions relate to the overall experience of a website, which is the ultimate ranking factor for SEM.

However, we’re going to break down five of the most important so you know where we stand in 2015 in regards to SEM and SEO, and the trajectory we’re on for the future.

Let’s take a deep dive into these ranking factors:

ranking factors

#1 – It Better Be Mobile Today

Did you know mobile searches surpassed desktop this year? Google confirmed mobile surpassed desktop earlier this year. This means mobile must take a higher precedence for all website owners because more people are surfing the web on their mobile device or tablet.

To neglect mobile traffic means you neglect at least 50% of traffic (depending on your niche) and in some cases, you could be missing out on upwards of 70% of traffic if you don’t have a mobile responsive website.

Gone are the days of only focusing on your desktop design. You absolutely must guarantee your mobile design is fluid, functional and not confusing.

Again, this plays into user experience, which is the overarching theme for all of these factors. If visitors land on your website and they have to finger pinch to zoom in and out, you can be assured they won’t remain on your website for long.

So what should you do if your website isn’t responsive?

  • Invest in making it responsive. Before you spend money on other online marketing tactics, spend money to make your website mobile friendly. You can expect to pay anywhere between $2,000-$7,000 to update your site, depending on the complexity.
  • If you can’t afford a complete mobile responsive site, you can get a mobile version of your current site developed for less. It won’t be as robust as a fully responsive site, but it is a step in the right direction. This might cost you somewhere in the hundreds of dollars up to $1,000.

Those are really your only two options because you don’t need to put this on the backburner.

Google already scared everyone with its “Mobilegeddon,” in which it broadcast that people would drop in rank if they didn’t have a mobile-responsive website by April 21. It was a slow start to the update, but now non-responsive websites are sliding down the ranks.

Bottom line – get responsive.

#2 – Yes, Quality Content is King

The phrase “content is king” is thrown around the SEM and online marketing community all too often. Some laugh at the phrase and others take it seriously. You should take it seriously.

Google released its Panda update back in 2011, but it was a serious update. The gist—Panda targeted websites with thin content, or spam content, that was only focused on getting the website ranked for different keywords.

It’s an update to filter out all of the poor quality websites that don’t add value to the searcher.

This update has caused one of the greatest shifts in all of the online marketing world. Quality content has always won and it’s now more important than ever.

Here’s an example:

You search for “how to build coffee table” on Google. If you click on a website and there’s only one or two paragraphs of text, nothing truly describing how to build a coffee table and certainly no photos. What are you going to do?

You just clicked back. Why?

You left because the site didn’t provide content of any value to you. You were hoping for some specs, a few photos, maybe a how-to video or something teaching you how to build a coffee table.

You must approach your content in the same way. If you only have a paragraph or two on some of your pages, it’s too thin. Expand your content and think, “what does the user intend to find on this page and am I providing what they need?”

If you’re not, take time to figure out what you need to add. Maybe it’s an FAQ section, photos, videos, infographics or just more text.

Again, consider your experience on websites and how you determine what is useful and what isn’t. Then apply that process to your own content and think of the user experience.

The better, more useful and engaging content you provide—the higher you will rank, the more traffic you will receive and hopefully more revenue for your business, organization or educational institute.

#3 – Can I Process Your Website Easily?

This one builds on the other two. Consider this: you developed a mobile-responsive website, you developed more content, but you can’t seem to get higher in rankings and your time-on-page metrics remain relatively low.


Well, you developed a mobile-responsive website, but is it easy to navigate? Is it easy to find your contact info? Is it easy to find answers to questions?

If not, then you have a usability flaw. Typically, what I see the most among clients is an issue with navigation. The navigation isn’t clearly highlighted or consistent, thus making it hard for me to get around the website and I eventually leave.

You can do a simple usability test by letting someone who has never seen the mobile website take a look at it and record what they find.

Okay, you updated your content with rich information and engaging material. However, you left big chunks of text and long paragraphs. How many people do you know enjoy reading big chunks of text? Not many, I suppose.

The most popular websites around—BuzzFeed, Mashable, Twitter—all use small bits of text. It’s easier to consume and people like it that way. It’s easier for scanning and finding exactly what you want without wearing out your eyes.

Do the same for your content. Break up big chunks of text and separate everything into smaller paragraphs. This will make your content much more consumable and easier to read across all devices.

In return, this will boost user engagement, their overall experience, and then you will grow in ranking.

#4 – Speed Up Your Website to 2-3 Seconds

The speed of your webpages does matter. Google can see how long it takes for a website to load, but more importantly, it can track the results of people exiting your website due to slow load times.

It’s a major factor since Google can track all of those metrics and determine how the experience you’re providing is suffering due to lack of speed.

You can test your website speed here:

Experts in SEO and SEM communities agree that website load speeds between 2 and 3 seconds are optimal. Much more than that and you’re going to see a reduction in traffic because people will bounce.

A blog by Kissmetrics provides great inside regarding how you can speed up your website and here are some highlights for you:

  • Get better website hosting. If you’re hosting on cheap plans from GoDaddy or BlueHost, then you’re causing yourself more problems. You need quality hosting because it will increase your overall speed.
  • Optimize your images—don’t post massive images on your website. A good rule of thumb: keep images below 1000px.
  • Add caching plugins or functionality to your website. Cache allows you browser to save elements of a website so it can load faster in the future. This speeds up the process for your browser each time.

#5 – Be Watching for HTTPS (Secure Sites)

If you do online banking or shopping, you’ve probably noticed the website begins with “https”—which indicates it’s a secure platform. Any website that accepts payment is secure with those certificates to protect your information.

While this is a huge deal for payment processing websites, it hasn’t been much of a big deal for other websites. However, with all of the hacks in the last few years, more and more websites are shifting to secure file transfers using https.

Google did announce back in August 2014 that it using https as a ranking signal, but as I’ve worked with 100 small business websites, I haven’t seen any slip in rankings due to a lack of https.

However, this is one to keep your eye on because I’m sure it will have a greater impact in the coming year. So, prepare to secure your website even more, not only to prevent hacks, but to keep up with ranking signals.

Let’s Recap:

So, which ranking factors do you need to pay attention to this year and in the years to come?

  • Mobile responsiveness—more users now search on mobile devices and expect mobile experiences.
  • Quality content—people expect quality content when they land on a website. Content that’s useful, beneficial and engaging.
  • Usability/readability—if people can’t use your website or consume the content easily, they will leave.
  • Website speed—people want fast websites and little wait time. Aim for 2-3 seconds of page load speed.
  • HTTPS—security is here and it will stay. While HTTPS isn’t causing most websites grief from a ranking standpoint, it will become a much larger factor.
  • All of these factors communicate the experience of your website to Google and other search engines. If you display a negative experience—poor on-page time, high bounce rate, low engagement, high exits, slow load speed—Google will drop you in rank.

    So get out there, get your mobile site going, get it secure, make it fast, develop rich content make sure people can find it and consume it.


About the Author

Trent Erwin is the Co-Owner of Genesis Net Development and has worked with more than 100 small businesses and organizations in web design, SEO, SEM and content marketing projects.


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