Businesses generally take Google’s SEO guidelines as the gold standard for their marketing programs. Sure, there are other standards out there, generally for other, less popular search engines, but Google is top dog. The only problem is that the search engine is constantly changing its ranking standards, sending businesses scrambling, and leaving them uncertain as to what factors to prioritize. What, everyone wants to know, really matters to Google?

There’s no easy answer to the great rankings puzzle, but given long-term trends as well as recent changes, there are a few things we know for sure. So, before you scramble to respond to new SEO guidelines, take a moment to pause. 

These three factors continue to be among the most important, and making rash decisions about your marketing strategy is more likely to damage your site’s standing than help you keep up with the changes.

Lead With Location

Understanding Google’s Ranking ProcessAmong the many factors that Google takes into consideration when ranking web pages, location is a particularly important one. That’s because the search engine wants to ensure it’s delivering the most relevant search results possible, so ranking results for far off businesses is far from ideal. 

Key to this process is claiming your Google My Business listing and ensuring that your business’s address, hours, and contact information are listed correctly and consistently across all major sources.

Keep It Clean

Understanding Google’s Ranking ProcessOne of the major changes to Google’s search guidelines in recent years has been the introduction of linking and content rules meant to ensure integrity in the marketing process. Far from the keyword packing schemes of years ago, Google now requires websites to provide quality content that serves users, rather than simply enabling bots. If you’re concerned about how your website is performing  in Google’s algorithm, then, one of the best things you can do is to work with a white hat link building service to ensure your company is represented responsibly and in conjunction with other sources and sites that clients trust.

Speedy Responses

Understanding Google’s Ranking ProcessWe often think of user experience (UX) as a largely subjective concept. Yes, there are some choices we all recognize as detrimental, like seeing a site that appears to have time-traveled here from 1998, but overall who’s to say what makes good UX? In short, Google. 

Google’s algorithm factors in certain UX elements, like site speed, which has been part of the rankings since 2010 – and that makes sense. They recognize that people won’t stay on a site for very long, waiting for it to load, especially if it’s a random search result, rather than a site they use regularly. By weeding out sites that aren’t sufficiently responsive, Google ensures they aren’t leaving users frustrated.

Be Careful With Content

Understanding Google’s Ranking ProcessA final note on what drives Google search performance: while content is important, it’s long since become clear that good content on its own isn’t enough. Longer content also doesn’t perform better. At this point, the Google search algorithm is too finely honed to be tricked by writing schemes. It can tell if you’re linking to other relevant pages, whether you’ve copied content from elsewhere, and much more. Concise, high-value content is what will help your site rank. You can’t phone it in.

Google isn’t going to stop changing its ranking algorithm any time soon, and that’s because those changes aren’t just about irritating businesses trying to boost their marketing performance. Rather, if Google can’t deliver the best, most relevant results within the first few links, they know that users will go elsewhere. 

They’re trying to stay competitive, just like you are, so stay focused and stay on top.