In addition to the three main categories of ranking factors, there are also a handful of “kinda sort of” ranking factors. These are typically things that can, maybe, a little bit, help your ranking in certain situations. Or sometimes things that Google has stated are ranking factors but there is little to no evidence that there actually is.
It’s worth being aware of these: maybe your site will fall into a category where this actually matters. Almost certainly you will come across posts claiming with confidence that these are ranking factors and you should implement them at once or else you’re a SEO fool — these latter will often offer to help for a fee.
Kinda Sort of Ranking Factors
- Domain Name: At one point in time, the domain name itself was a meaningful ranking factor. If the domain name exactly matched the keywords you were trying to rank for, you’d rank better just because of that: in the SEO world we call that an exact match domain (EMD). If we want to rank for Artisan Snowflakes and our site is www.artisansnowflakes.com, then that is an EMD. A PMD, or Partial Match Domain includes the keywords and some other stuff, like www.myartisansnowflakeshome.com.
It’s worth noting here that there are actually two separate advantages to EMDs and PMDs. One is the algorithmic boost, but another is that when people link to your site, the anchor text of the link usually ends up being the keywords you want to rank for. Thus artisansnowflakes.com has tons of anchor text links for “Artisan Snowflakes.”
The downside of EMDs is that you tend to lose brand User Metrics signals, and with brand signals growing in importance, it’s far better to have a strong brand name than an EMD for a site that is built to last. The actual ranking boost for a EMD is very small these days, and most of the advantage actually comes from the anchor text of links. In general, I do not advise pursuing EMDs. It’s a poor long-term strategy.
- Site Speed: Google has publicly said this is a ranking factor. It really isn’t, not at all (technically latency might matter, but not load time). By any practical measure or test, Google will not reward a faster site with better rankings.
But, there’s a great big but.
A much faster site will result in a better user experience resulting in more time on site and better conversions. It’s not a linear progression, but at certain plateaus, certain jumps up in load speed, it matters a lot. Heck, Amazon once said that on average every 100ms of load time cost them 1% in sales. And as we know, these User Metrics are watched by Google and thus those can influence your rankings.
- HTTPS: Google has said that making your site HTTPS secure by default will be rewarded by better rankings. It does not, at all. In fact a Googler later clarified that you would not see any boost to organic traffic for being secure.
In practice, if you move your non-HTTPS site to HTTPS, you can expect to see a drop of around 10% – 15% of your organic traffic for a period of 4-5 weeks after the change, after which your traffic will come back up as your rankings stabalize. Some sites see sustained ~5% or so loss of organic traffic, while others see a full recovery.
Only ecommerce sites or other sites that must have a security certificate should even consider HTTPS, and even then there is not, currently, any net gain. If you’re building a brand new ecommerce site, it’s definitely a good idea to start at HTTPS out of the gate. It’s always possible Google will make this an actual ranking signal at some point, and you can take advantage of certain technical advances available only to HTTPS.
- Mobile Friendly: Google has said that they give a ranking boost to sites that are mobile friendly, and there was even a name for the 2015 cutover to this algorithm change: Mobilegeddon.
In practice, I saw absolutely zero change in mobile rankings after Mobilegeddon, or the 2016 update. I carefully monitored mobile friendly and unfriendly pages on my own sites, and many competitors. There was no change. That said, some sites did report seeing meaningful ranking changes, particularly in the local SEO space. Mobile friendly sites also benefit from the “Mobile Friendly” tag in mobile searches — though currently that doesn’t seem to be driving any improved CTR. Google let’s you test whether your site is mobile friendly Here.
Most sites really should have a mobile-friendly website. But SEO is not the driving reason to do so.
- Freshness: For certain queries Google favors pages that have been updated recently. In extreme cases, like news, Google favors pages that are brand new (but from sites with good authority). Note that this is all query-based: if you’re searching for information on maple trees, the freshness of the content doesn’t matter. Similarly freshness does not appear to be a significant factor for most ecommerce searches.
Anything about news, current events, celebrities, or politics is likely to enjoy rankings boosts from recent updates. For other queries, which encompasses most sites on the internet, you can safely ignore freshness. it’s not the universal thing that so many SEOs think.