SEO Landscape for 2017 & Biggest Shifts in Ranking Factors over the past 3 years.

Ceri James & Gillian Meier of BlueMagnet discuss the biggest shifts in on-site, off-site and technical ranking factors in the past 3 years and provide valuable tips and insights into the SEO Ranking Factors predictions for 2017.

Watch the video or read the insights below.

What have been the most notable shifts in the SEO Ranking Factors in the past 3 years:

The weight has shifted quite a bit from off-site ranking factors to on-site factors. This means that website owners are a bit more in control of their SEO performance. However, this also means that Google is becoming a lot stricter with their on-site violation policies to ensure that webmasters can’t manipulate the rankings as easily as before.

Shift in On-Page SEO Ranking Factors

What are some of these violations that Google is penalizing and is it vastly different to previous years?

3 Years ago, there was still some weight placed on keywords tag optimisation. However the weighting for applying keywords to the meta data has decreased significantly. On the flip side however, when the keywords tag is used to stuff keywords into it, this sends strong negative signals to Google and could result in a website being flagged for over optimisation.

What has been one of the most significant shifts that SEO’s have noticed in respect to content?

Previously SEO’s would get away with writing thin, poor quality and often keyword stuffed blog posts or articles on websites that they were somehow fortunate enough to still rank for. 3 Years ago 500 words of thin content was the target, provided that it was optimised for the exact keyword that the website wanted to rank for. Now Google is demanding more insightful, valuable and rich content that provides true informative insights to the user. Pages with more than 1,200 words of user-friendly scannable content is by far out-ranking those sites with thin and invaluable blot posts. Content should rather be optimised for a theme or topic and not for an exact keyword.

What about engagement signals? Two years ago there was a lot of buzz around the bounce rate and how this might affect the rankings. Does this still seem like a strong factor in the ranking variables?

Engagement signals are still very important, however the weighting on bounce rate as a factor has dropped significantly in the past 2 years. This does not mean that companies should ignore the bounce rate as it still serves as a very valuable metric to measure the quality of your content. However engagement signals that SEO’s should pay attention to include those that indicate that the user has spent time consuming the content and has returned to the site for more insights. Social Signals are still valuable metrics to monitor as this indicates to Google that users enjoy the content enough to want to share it.

So on-site factors are becoming more important, however what, other than content, are some of the factors that have put SEO’s under pressure?

We see too many SEO’s focusing on the basic on-site HTML factors (such as Title Tag, Description Tag etc.) but neglecting the more technical or advanced HTML factors that could have a real positive impact on rankings, such as applying structured data mark-up to enable rich cards, rich snippets and rich answers to display on the search results pages. This offers the website more real estate on the search results pages and also renders a much richer result to the user which entices the them to click through to the website, thus increasing the click thru rate as another indication of value to Google.

Are backlinks still as necessary then if Google has all of these other engagement signals that it relies on?

Over the past 3 years Google has been working hard at fine-tuning their link spam filters and is still very strict about the quality of the backlinks that websites receive. Paid links and spammy links to a website can still hurt the website’s rankings quite substantially and it often takes months if not years for a website to fully recover from such a penalty.

Isn’t it  easier for an SEO to focus more on the On-Site & Technical areas that they can control rather risking being black-listed for a toxic looking backlink profile.

SEO isn’t an either or. On-site factors currently make up about 64% of the ranking factors. So even if you get all the on-page elements in place, you still need to drive authority and popularity to the site to make up the full 100%. An SEO should get all the basics in place on the website first and once the website itself is populated with relevant content – carefully matched to the market’s needs – and the site architecture is optimised correctly, then they will definitely have to kick into some form of an outreach strategy to increase the website’s authority. This doesn’t always however come in the form of just acquiring lots of low quality ‘free-for-all’ easy to get links. The more difficult it is to acquire a link, the less likely it will be for your competitors to get the same link. The harder it is to acquire a link, the more valuable it becomes.

BlueMagnet's Link Value Pyramid


Are there any other predictions or trends that you would advise other SEO’s to focus on in the coming year?

SEO’s should definitely focus on more structured data. Additionally, experts predict that HTTPS websites will become even more important – even for non-transactional sites. Google is placing a lot preference on ranking sites that demonstrate Expertise, Authority and Trust and a secure website goes a long way to demonstrating trust.

Other factors that will become increasingly important are primarily related to enhancing the user’s mobile experience. With Google’s recent announcement that it will make the mobile index its primary index, there is no doubt that speed and mobile friendly responsive websites are a necessity. Accelerated Mobile Pages will become a pre-requisite in optimising for the mobile experience and those websites who are geared for this will certainly reap the rewards long before their competitors do.

Final words of wisdom for SEO’s fr 2017:

Stop wasting  time with dated SEO. A little meta data optimisation and a few directory submissions here and there is not a sustainable SEO Strategy. If you’re not up-skilling yourself with the latest in technical architecture optimisation, structured data and accelerated mobile design, then you’ll soon find yourself losing significant market share to your more informed and proactive competitors.

To learn more about SEO, register for one of our upcoming SEO Professional Training courses.

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BlueMagnet is a digital marketing consultancy and training company specialising in performance based digital marketing. BlueManget specialises in Research, Strategy SEO, Social Media, Content and Paid media.