The Google Algorithm in 2015: Future Ranking Factors

Getting to the top of the SERPs ain’t easy. With over 200 factors in the Google ranking algorithm, it’s hard to stay on top of what factors actually influence rankings. I want to give you a leg up heading into the new decade, so let’s take a look at some factors that may end up influencing rankings in the future.

Page Load Speed

As Mike Calabrese posted last week, page load speed has a definite affect on conversion rate. Numerous studies have shown that faster load times increase user retention and activity.

There have been whispers over the last few years that page load speed would be added to the ranking algorithm, and it’s looking more and more like a possibility. After all, it already is a factor in the calculation of quality score for AdWords.

Before yesterday I might have put this probability at 80 percent, but Google just announced that average page load speed now appears within their webmaster central dashboard. I’d say its nearly a certainty now. Look for this to take effect as soon as 2010.

What You Can Do Now

  • Head to Webmaster Central and see how your site stacks up. The report is called “Site Performance” and can be found in the “Labs” section
  • Follow recommendations from Google. Some common fixes include enabling gzip compression, minimizing DNS lookups, and combining JavaScript and CSS files
  • Download YSlow for Firefox and put your site through the test
  • Start saving for a faster host and content management system!

W3C Validation

W3C validation is all about using proper web grammar in your markup. Achieving full W3C validation is not all that easy, especially for many eCommerce stores on complex platforms.

The SEM folks weren’t positive about whether or not this already was a factor until Matt Cutts cleared things up earlier this year. At the moment, whether or not your website validates according to W3C’s standards is not a factor.

Google’s reasoning for not factoring this into search rankings is that there is a bit of a disconnect between compatibility and validation. In short, they would rather a site is compatible in all browsers and mediums, than if it just validated. After all, Google.com does not validate…

What You Can Do Now

  • Head to the W3C Validator and see how your site stacks up
  • Don’t go nuts investing time and money in validating, but if your site has a ton of errors compared to your competitors, you may want to take some action

Web References

If links to your company’s website counts as a “vote”, shouldn’t a mention (without a link) on NYTimes.com mean something? That is the idea behind a web reference. Basically, it would be another factor that determines “buzz”.

Google already factors these link-less references for their local results, so to assume that it will be utilized for regular search rankings at some point isn’t that much of a gamble. That said, this data may end up being useless when viewed on a wide scale. You can imagine a scenario where site A’s difference in web references over site B is pretty proportional to the difference in links.

What You Can Do Now

  • Generate discussion! Essentially anything you would do to build links would work in building web references

Social Media Factors

If 2009 was the year social media took center stage for the user, 2010 is already shaping up to be the year it gains some traction with the search engines. No one denies that Twitter and Facebook hold some valuable information in the user-generated content found within those sites. The problem is sorting through the muck.

The big two have made efforts to rank statuses and tweets internally with features like Facebook’s “Like” and Twitter’s “ReTweet.” These may end up being a precursor to determining the importance of an individual status message, which could pave the way for incorporation into the ranking algorithm.

In a sense social results are already included in Google results within their social search experiment. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this implemented on a grander scale, as seen below:

What You Can Do Now

  • Get Social. Build up a following of customers and friends and start communicating
  • Include links to your company Twitter and Facebook page on your website, encouraging people to connect

Click Through Rate

CTR is a gigantic factor in the AdWords quality score algorithm. Google values well written ad text very highly for paid ads, and though it isn’t yet a ranking factor, they may very well be tracking CTR for organic results already.

Including CTR as a factor makes sense. If 95% of searchers skip the first result for a particular query, Google could assume that the first result is not as relevant as originally determined.

What You Can Do Now

  • Spruce up those titles and meta descriptions!
  • Make sure to include some of your unique value propositions like free shipping, or brands carried

Search Wiki Edits

Search Wiki is the Google feature that allows users to shoot results to the top, make comments, or delete them all together. It is on by default for all accounts and caused a bit of an uproar when first launched for fear that Joe User could influence results.

Google was quick to state that edits made by users only affect that user’s results. However, with Search Wiki being live for just over a year now, you might imagine that they’ve amassed a large amount of data. If an alarming amount of people delete a result for a particular query, shouldn’t Google take action themselves? Maybe Search Wiki data isn’t used to determine all out result removal, but rather fits into the algorithm as a small adjustment.

What You Can Do Now

  • Provide valuable content!
  • Take inventory of your pages in the index. Are there old or unwanted pages? Perhaps some pages aren’t included that should be?

In Conclusion

Keep in mind that my probability percentages are just my best estimates, and I could be dead wrong. However, many of the action items above are great things to do for your site at anytime, regardless of whether it will have an affect on your rank.

Update

I wanted to quickly add another factor that I’m not sure how I left out! That is:

Bounce Rate

Google is more than capable of tracking bounce rate from a search result page. You can imagine a scenario in which a significant portion of searchers bounce off the first result and stay on the second for a particular query. One could hardly blame Google for ultimately bumping the second result to the first spot for this.

Smart webmasters keep a close eye on their bounce rates because a high bounce rate should raise a number of red flags. Some of the factors that contribute to a bounce include slow load, irrelevance, perceived untrustworthiness, or the lack of a clear next step.