Google’s John Mueller, Gary Illyes and Martin Splitt released another podcast this morning. This one they covered a bunch of topics including rendering with SEO but also John Mueller kind of had a rant on ranking factors. It is fun to listen to, so I recommend it.
The rant starts at about 14 minutes and 19 seconds into the podcast:
Here is the transcript if you do not want to listen:
John Mueller: [00:14:19] Okay. Speaking of ranking factors.
Martin Splitt: [00:14:29] Oh oh!
John Mueller: [00:14:31] Well, okay. It’s kind of a tricky topic in that I see people write about this all the time externally. I see us using that as well. We use it when we talked about the page experience benchmark where we said this would be a ranking factor. And then obviously the next question from everyone is like, well, how strong of a ranking factor is it?
Do I have to like throw away my website and just make a fast empty page instead? And obviously that doesn’t make any sense either. So I think there are two mental models I have when it comes to ranking factors in general, on the one hand search is not a science. I think that’s really important to keep in mind in the sense that there is no absolute truth out there with regards to which page should be ranking for which query.
But rather, these are things that can change over time. These are things, things where people are working on it to keep improving things. And sometimes you can have discussions with smart people about which of these pages should be ranking first. Or if we have two very similar pages, should they be both ranking or should only one of them be ranking?
Like those are like very, I know interesting discussions to have, but it’s all based on kind of, I dunno, opinions and kind of ambiguous information that you have from the web. So that’s kind of the one thing. And the other thing is that there’s so many different ways to reach a final result in search.
It’s not that every site has to do the same thing. So I use a mental model of something like a neural network, which is not how we would do this in Search, but it kind of helps me in that we take the query that our user has, and we try to understand it and split it up into lots of small parts and these small kind of signals that we have from what the user is looking for, they go through this big network where different knots along the way kind of left the individual parts pass, or they kind of reroute them a little bit. And in the end, we come up with a simple ranking for the different webpages for that kind of a query. And when you have this kind of a network, there are lots of different paths that could lead through that dental work that end up with the same result.
So it’s not that every site has to do the same thing, but rather there are multiple ways to get there and you don’t have to blindly follow just one ranking factor to get to the end result. And it’s also not the case that any particular kind of factor within this big network is the one deciding factor or that you can say that this factor plays a 10% role because maybe for some sites, for some queries, it doesn’t play a role at all. And maybe for other sites, for other queries, it’s the deciding factor. It’s really hard to say kind of how to keep those together. So this kind of big network thing also changes over time, of course, as we try to improve our Search results and essentially we try to optimize how we understand the query.
We try to optimize how we understand kind of the routing between the query and the Search results and these kinds of changes take place all the time and the best way for a website to kind of remain in a stable position, which is not guaranteed at all, is really to make sure that you have a wide variety of different factors that you work on and kind of keep this diversity of your website upright. So similar to how you might want to improve diversity in a team to get different viewpoints. That’s the same thing that you’d want to see on a website so that regardless of how things are routed through this network to find the Search results, we can understand that this website is relevant in different ways.
And all of these add up into kind of telling us that it’s actually relevant for a particular query. So that’s all to kind of say that it’s really, really hard to take any particular element and say, this has such and such an effect on the search results. And similarly, it’s pretty much impossible to kind of go from the other way around and say, well, looking at the Search results, I can tell that this particular Search results factor is this important or more important than this other factor, because it’s really not the case that you can kind of route things backwards and say, well, looking forward, it goes like this and looking backward, it’s exactly the same route because there’s just so many different ways to get to the end result. So that’s kind of my short monologue on ranking factors. I think it’s worthwhile to keep in mind that when you talk about ranking factors externally, there are lots of different ways to get there.
And it’s not something that you can just kind of deduce into one specific element or kind of simplifying into an ordered list of elements that you need to check off, but rather you need to make sure that your website is good in a variety of different ways. And don’t just blindly focus on one particular element and then try to make that element look natural so that it’s like, hopefully the algorithms won’t think that I’m trying to do something sneaky here, but instead, just make sure that everything is kind of natural.
The whole podcast is just fun to listen to but this was a good segment from it.
Forum discussion at Twitter.