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Google’s Technical Ranking Factors: SEO Strategy & Tactics – Part 1

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Episode Overview

What are the technical content and external ranking factors that impact the visibility and performance of your website? Top industry SEOs Jordan Koene and Sebastien Edgar of Searchmetrics take a deep dive, examining the strategies and optimization tactics that can profoundly impact web traffic and your business.

In this podcast, we cover:

  • The importance of crawlability, and Google’s ability to access the web content of your entire site
  • How the technical capabilities at the mobile level are driving rankings and results
  • What metrics matter when you’re optimizing technical ranking factors
  • Why monitoring is crucial
  • What is the role of splog, log file, server logs, log file analysis for addressing errors quickly

GUESTS & RESOURCES:

Episode Transcript

Benjamin:                     Welcome to ranking factors month on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro, and this month, we’re going to take a deep dive into the weeds to examine the technical content and external ranking factors that impact your visibility. Joining us today are two of Search Metrics’ best and brightest SEOs.

Benjamin:                     Jordan Koene is a world-renowned SEO Strategist, and the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc., and Sebastien Edgar is Searchmetrics’ Enterprise SEO Consulting team lead, and one of our most savvy technical SEOs. And today, Jordan and Sebastien are going to walk us through with some of the important technical ranking factors that you need to be aware of.

Benjamin:                     But before we get started, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We’re an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence, and make data-driven decision.

Benjamin:                     And as part of our ranking factors month, we would like to welcome you, our loyal podcast listeners, to an upcoming webinar where we’ll discuss the evolution of custom ranking factors with machine learning. Our webinar is going to happen on April 25th, and we’d love for you to join our discussion about how a new generation of machine learning technology is evolving to provide on-demand and domain-specific ranking factors that are shaping the future of SEO.

Benjamin:                     To register for our custom ranking factors webinar, go to searchmetrics.com/webinar. Okay, on with the show. Here’s my conversation with Searchmetrics’ own, Jordan Koene and Sebastien Edgar.

Benjamin:                     Jordan and Sebastien, welcome to our first three person Voices of Search episode.

Jordan:                         Hey, super excited here Ben, this is going to be great.

Benjamin:                     I’m not expecting this to be a disaster at all, Sebastien, welcome to the show as well.

Sebastian:                     Hey, thank you very much, awesome to be here, thanks for thanks for the second invite, I’m looking forward to this great technical conversation.

Benjamin:                     Yeah, so I’m excited to have you both here, and, and, really the reason why we invited you on is, when we discuss ranking factors and how they’re prioritized, it is as much about strategy and understanding your business as it is actually doing the optimizations. So, Jordan, I’m going to start off with a question for you, just- help me think about ranking factors from a high level, and how do you prioritize some of the various ranking factors?

Jordan:                         So this is something we’ve been studying at Searchmetrics for almost a decade now, and, we’ve always been in this mission to have data to better understand how Google’s prioritizing their changes, and their algorithm, and the priorities of their algorithm, and that’s why we have ranking factors. Ranking factors help us interpret and understand how Google is making these decisions.

Jordan:                         And so, our data has shown, especially in the technical side of things, that there’s really three core priorities around technical, technical SEO ranking factors, and those include speed, which is no surprise, we talked about that a lot on the show Ben, and we had a lot of guests talking about speed, so, that’s, that’s the first one, no brainer.

Jordan:                         Crawlability, so basically the ability for Google to access, your content and access not only a specific page, but really, it’s about the ability for Google to access all your content. And then, lastly, it’s really around, mobile, factors, and that’s just … again, I think we just, we just finished up with mobile week.

Benjamin:                     Mobile month!

Jordan:                         Mobile month, sorry! It’s really the essence of where search has gone over the last 12 months, and it’s focused on the mobile capabilities of sites, and we’re at that place now where the technical capabilities on a mobile level, specifically, are driving rankings and results.

Benjamin:                     So the interesting thing to me about how you’ve sort of combined all of the various technical ranking factors into these three budgets, is you said, “speed, probability, and mobile.” And, I think of it as, crawlability first, can Google get access to the pages? Are they performant? And then, are they able to show up everywhere?

Benjamin:                     So I think of crawlability, speed, and mobile, you listed them in a different order, is that because speed is the most important, then crawlability, then mobile?

Jordan:                         Yeah.

Benjamin:                     Or, are they actually prioritized?

Jordan:                         That’s it, that’s such a great question Ben, because we’re here to talk about ranking factors, right? And so, when you look at it from, say, the perspective of Google’s ability to educate sites on how to make SEO happen and the basics of SEO, you’re absolutely right. If you are a new SEO, and you are, you are learning about SEO right now, accessibility is the most important and- priority for you.

Jordan:                         And so, we are looking at this from a ranking factor perspective, and that is … a specific science around, what is driving position one versus position two? What’s helping these sites rank higher?

Benjamin:                     Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jordan:                         And in that instance, speed is number one.

Benjamin:                     Ah, interesting. So basically, if it’s maybe a new SEO, they think about it the way that I do. Or, even if it’s a new site, you need to get Google to crawl your site first before speed and mobile matters. But for mature properties, for the enterprise level companies that Searchmetrics supports, making sure that speed is optimized actually matters more than the crawl or the mobile accessibility.

Jordan:                         Correct.

Benjamin:                     Okay. Let’s move on and, and talk a little bit about some of the analysis that we do with these ranking factors. Sebastien, I want to hear from you, let’s talk a little bit about data, what metrics matter and what do you look at when you’re optimizing technical ranking factors for some of Searchmetrics’ customers?

Sebastian:                     Yeah, absolutely. So, one of the things that I do want to mention with the technical, and how as the Technical SEO I look at things, the first thing to kind of piggyback on one of Jordan’s comments here, regarding speed and crawl, actually where it is at in prioritization lists. If we look at speed on its own, speed is something that you want to optimize to make the users happy, right?

Sebastian:                     And then when you look at crawl perspective, you’re essentially optimizing for crawl to make almost Google happy, right, so there’s  this sort of disparity between … and it’s almost Google saying,  “Hey, we want to make sure that the users are happy,” so therefore, speed becomes one of the main, or even the most number one ranking factor, and then afterwards, okay, well, I still want to make sure that you make us happy, because … one of the key things that I think a lot of people forget about, and the reason behind, crawl bandwidth and why crawl optimization is so important, is, whenever Google crawls a site or your own website, it actually spends money, right.

Sebastian:                     With server power, server bandwidth and what not. So, you have a badly optimized website, from a crawl perspective, you’re literally making Google waste its own money, therefore, you’re not making it happy, so it is in your best interest to essentially make Google save money in that respect.

Benjamin:                     Makes sense.

Jordan:                         Yeah.

Sebastian:                     So having said that, some of the main data sets that I look at, especially from a crawl perspective, so actually let me start there, since this is kind of where I ended one of my favorite tools and, and specifically data sets, is using so, utilizing log files and server logs, to get an idea into how Google is exactly hitting your website, how is Google going on your website and how is it crawling your website?

Sebastian:                     This is, this is almost the first line of defense by, by having this disability, you’re actually able to really see how Google is going on your website and, essentially, is it happy or not happy? You could say.

Benjamin:                     How do you determine what is happiness for Google, is it just the time it takes for them to work through the server, or is there something more complex?

Sebastian:                     Yeah, absolutely. This is- it’s a little bit of a loaded question there, so I’m going to trim it down as best as I can here. So, one of … and, the ratio of happiness is going to depend on your own website, so let’s just say that you are a very. Very large scale e-commerce website with, let’s just say millions and millions of indexable or crawlable pages, if you know that you have millions of pages but Google is only hitting your sites, your site only a few thousand times, let’s say, a week, you know you have a problem, that means that it is actually not discovering most of your content out there.

Sebastian:                     So that’s one sign of unhappiness.

Benjamin:                     Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Sebastian:                     Another one would be, for example, the time it takes, just in general, a lot of it, with crawl logs, you get an idea also of speed.

Benjamin:                     Mm-hmm (affirmative) So essentially what you’re saying is that, you can judge whether Google is, and I’m using air quotes that people can’t see, but if Google is “happy”, based on the percentage of your site that they’re crawling, and how quickly it’s able to just bust through the entire site. If you have a big site, and it’s just- n- going straight through it, and they’re getting to every page, Google’s giving ya the thumbs up saying, “we know what’s on here, we’re, we’re just crushing it.” If they’re just scratching the surface, basically Google is saying, “hey this is too much work for us, we’re outta here.”

Jordan:                         One way to look at it is, this, accessibility index, right  … what percent of the site are they crawling, how frequently are they crawling and, and you can almost create your own formula behind accessibility, and, are they really getting to the depths of your site, and- and accessing content that you find valuable for Google to be rendering to users.

Jordan:                         And then the next phase there, as I’m sure Sebastien is going to jump into is, the more definitive qualifiers, things errors and issues, that’s kind of the more, you know–that’s very black and white.

Benjamin:                     Okay, so, essentially you can optimize based on your internal benchmarks, which percentage of the site are they covering, times, how quickly it’s taking, and you basically can create your own algorithm to understand the sort of basic server level data. Jordan mentioned things crawl error. Sebastien tell me about how you look at some of the things the errors, the more black and white.

Sebastian:                     Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Benjamin:                     Issues that you’re running into. What data are you looking at there?

Sebastian:                     Yeah. Absolutely, absolutely. So, the crawl errors, I’m going to say that this, this is really going to be the most basic of technical monitoring, you know. It’s if you’re monitoring your server logs and your crawl logs, but you’re not monitoring your actual crawl errors, and by that, I mean, your 400 errors, or 500 errors, and so on and so forth.

Sebastian:                     You may want to go the other way around, you may want to start at the basics, so. And what that is, is for example, ensuring that whenever Google hits the site, it’s not getting too many 404: Not Founds. Or even worse, any errors in the 500 regions, so anything, a 503, for example, which means that, essentially, the server is down.

Sebastian:                     When that happens, this is where it gets very, very interesting, and I don’t want to get too into the nitty gritty, but if you have a website that has too many of these, sort of  500 slash server errors, it is going to dramatically and drastically impact your website’s crawl performance, and over time we have noticed with some of our clients, impact on traffic as well.

Sebastian:                     So at the very least, you want to make sure that you have visibility over that. One way we go about it is, at least with Searchmetrics, luckily we do have a tool called Visibility Guard, and essentially it monitors, you can choose either a few hundred pages, or a few thousand pages that day, to ensure that there are one of these, bad surprises when you wake up one morning.

Sebastian:                     Last thing you want is, suddenly you have let’s say 10,500 errors, and just completely stops going on your website. So that initial monitoring is going to be extremely, crucial. And then once you have that down, this is when you want to be sure that you’re looking at the more complex items such as, splog, log file, server logs, little bit of log file analysis, to make sure that, okay, well, I know that Google is able to go on my site properly because, I don’t have logs because, I don’t have a lot of 503s.

Sebastian:                     No, but let’s make sure that my crawl bandwidth or, let me say, my crawl efficiency, is kosher, is looking good, that Google is able to go through my website and in an efficient manner, without it using too much of its own bandwidth, therefore, spending a lot of money.

Benjamin:                     So, what I’m hearing is that really the trick here is, is mostly about monitoring, and not necessarily around interpreting the data. It’s making sure that you’re addressing when you get an error quickly and understanding that they’re happening. And that’s.

Sebastian:                     Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Benjamin:                     One of the things that Searchmetrics is, efficient for is, when there’s an error, we’re going to let you know as soon as it happens … the other way around this is more of a manual process, I assume you’re just going at webmaster tools and checking every once in a while to see if there are errors. Is it as simple as what I’m saying?

Sebastian:                     So the latter piece, yes. You can, you can use, I said, either the Visibility Guard, or any crawler, but you can also go and insert and that will tell you an idea of your 404s or soft core 404s, or 500. And this is a lot, this kind of, easy peasy stuff that yes, we said, you check off the list and there we go.

Sebastian:                     And that’s not … the crawl bandwidth stuff using the log files and server logs, it’s a little bit, that’s a little bit tougher, because as Jordan mentioned, that’s going to depend on which … on the website that you’re working on, and the bandwidth and how it’s being used defers a loss, if not as figuring out the crawl errors piece.

Jordan:                         So there’s a good way of looking at these different topics. One of them is, when you look at, say crawl bandwidth, it’s really about a performance indicator, so, how well are we performing, which is why we, we to make things an accessibility index, are you a A-B-C-D-F, right? Are you failing at this or are you very successful at having Google crawl your site?

Jordan:                         As opposed to these monitoring initiatives, which happened both in crawling, but also speed. Speed is a huge monitoring area where you’re monitoring how your speed is fluctuating over time, and over time you want that speed to improve, and that monitoring effort is more around protecting, it’s a defensive position of protecting and ensuring that Google is seeing the best side of your site.

Benjamin:                     So, let me just summarize some of the things that we’ve said, because I think that this is a big and important topic. There are specific ranking factors that you can group together, and the biggest priority one is, how fast is your speed? Right? How are you able to get your content to the end user, Google is going to prioritize your site the most, if you’re able to nail site speed.

Benjamin:                     Crawlability. How easily is Google able to understand what content is on your site, and third, how is your site going to be able to be formatted so it can fit every type of experience between mobile and desktop? And, the data we’re looking at is a couple of different formats, right, you’re looking at your server data to understand how Google is consuming your content, how much of it they’re consuming, how quickly Google can get through the content, you’re looking at whether there are crawl errors, and you’re also monitoring your sites to make sure that it is performant, and you’re trying to monitor your site speed as well.

Benjamin:                     There’s multiple different tools, Searchmetrics included, that can help you monitor each one of those bits of data. Guys, in terms of the ranking factors and the data that you look at, do you have any other comments, anything else that we should cover?

Jordan:                         A couple of things here to really home in on is that parts of this conversation are about strategy, and parts of this conversation are about data and the use of data, or in other words, tactics. And so I think it’s really important for our listeners to understand that, we’re kind of combining some of those as we talk about ranking factors, and hopefully you, you identify a strategy and then use some of the tactics as Sebastien and I discussed and improve your overall technical SEO performance.

Benjamin:                     Sebastien, any last comments?

Sebastian:                     Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that, I wanted to mention at the beginning is, when we started talking about the, technical ranking factors in general, I think there’s been a pretty crazy evolution of that in… first of all, but also, in terms of being an SEO.

Sebastian:                     A few years ago, and when I mean a few years ago, let’s say, five, six, seven years ago, a lot of people considered themselves talked about Technical SEO, really, stayed within let’s say  the front end side, you know, metadata, and the more, simplistic items or the initial code base and what not.

Sebastian:                     A as you’ve noticed for today, we’ve dug a lot deeper into a specific website, and into specific data sets. And so, really the thing here is, when you’re starting off an SEO or even if you’re an experienced SEO, and you’re getting into this conversation of technical SEO … there is a need that is starting to build, of having this ability to speak with developers, and … you don’t necessarily need to know how to code, absolutely not.

Sebastian:                     But I do believe that you need to have this ability to speak with developers in terms of, okay well this is how my website, should be structured, these are the sort of issues that are happening, and that are hindering my page read, for example. We might talk about that later on in a second episode, but things such as caching and support that really are very, very technical and almost, developer style.

Sebastian:                     But, SEOs these days should have a pretty deep understanding as to how at least they work and how they impact search engines.

Benjamin:                     So I think that’s a perfect lead in to tomorrow’s episode where we’re going to be talking about technical debt, and some of the optimization tactics. And now that we’ve laid the baselines in terms of, what are the priority ranking factors, and what are the data that you can use … tomorrow we’re going to be talking about what do you do when you run into some of these problems when you’re dealing with an older website, and how do you make sure that your website is performant.

Benjamin:                     So that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast, thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, Searchmetrics CEO, and Sebastien Edgar, our Services team lead. We’d love to continue the conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan or Sebastien, you can find a link to their LinkedIn profiles in our show notes.

Benjamin:                     You can contact Jordan on Twitter, where his handle is “jtkoene”, and Sebastien doesn’t use Twitter, but you can probably find him at one of the three wine bars in San Mateo.

Sebastian:                     (laughs)

Benjamin:                     If you have general marketing questions, or if you want to talk to me about this podcast, you can find my contact information in the show notes or you can send me a tweet @benjshap. If you’re interested in attending our custom ranking factors webinar, it’s happening on April 25th. You can sign up by heading over to searchmetrics.com/webinar.

Benjamin:                     And if you this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow morning, when we discuss how to optimize your site when considering technical ranking factors.

Benjamin:                     Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast and you’re feeling generous, we’d love for you to leave us a review in the Apple iTunes store. Okay. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.