February 19, 2016

The Power of Indirect SEO Ranking Signals


This is the latest installment of our Delucchi Plus blog feature, On The Brink, in which our Digital Analyst Manager and resident Batman expert Jonathan Brinksman breaks down the latest and greatest trends in digital marketing. Whether you’re a seasoned expert or total newbie, Jonathan will be offering expert, accessible insight into the ever-changing digital world.

Google says a lot of things. Sometimes, Google will even say what their ranking algorithm is. Whenever Google says that, you should listen.

As we all know, though, SEO is pretty complicated. It’s never as simple as just listening to Google. Bear with me. We’ll make it there, but first we have to talk about direct ranking signals.

What are direct SEO ranking signals?

To contextualize this, we’re talking strictly Google (sorry, Bing). In terms of definition, direct SEO ranking signals are exactly that – signals that Google and other search engines actively incorporate into their algorithm to determine where domains rank in the search results.

Tangibly, there are a lot of these signals. I’m talking over 200 of them.

9 times out of 10, when people are referring to technical SEO, they mean manipulating or setting these signals that Google actively uses, and hoping this will help increase the SEO traffic their website sees. Good news: It does exactly this.

Unfortunately, that’s really only half the battle. The most overlooked ranking signals are indirect.

What are indirect SEO ranking signals?

Indirect ranking signals are ones that Google either never talks about, or has blatantly stated they don’t use in their algorithms; things like social signals (shout out to you, Twitter), or Meta Descriptions.

Don’t let that fool you, though; these factors are just as important.

Indirect SEO ranking factors directly impact direct SEO ranking factors.
Let me give you an example: Meta Descriptions, as I’ve mentioned above, are officially not ranking factors in Google’s algorithm.

Clicks on your website in the SERPs (search engine results pages) are, however.

Some people will tell you not to spend time optimizing your Meta Descriptions, since those aren’t direct ranking factors. These people aren’t considering that Meta Descriptions – because they appear in the search results – can directly impact the clicks that those results receive.

If you spend the time optimizing your Meta Descriptions, you’ll provide a better user-experience, and signal to the user more readily that your content is qualified for their query, and you’ll be more likely to get that click.

For the record, this exact scenario is something Delucchi Plus has been preaching about for some time.

Somewhat serendipitously, MOZ just released a new Whiteboard Friday that does a far better job of explaining the myriad of possible indirect SEO ranking factors than I am capable of in this humble blog post.

How to Impact SEO Ranking Signals

I know what you’re thinking: this is complicated. SPOILER ALERT, it is. If you weren’t ready for SEO to be a constantly evolving beast, you shouldn’t be in this business. However, once the technical aspects of SEO are complete (IE meta tags and keyword strategy), you can follow these simple rules.

1. SEO in 2016 is digital project management.
You’re communicating across a lot of channels: your website, your Facebook page, your blog, even your Tumblr (if you’re in middle school, I guess). Part of your job as an SEO technician should be to look beyond the website to all of your branded content – both online and offline – to make sure that it’s informed by your keyword strategy. This helps probably a lot more than we’ll ever be able to prove.

2. Traditional PR impacts SEO.
Influencers are just that: influential. A solid traditional PR and communications strategy can help you get in front of a much more qualified audience, which increases brand awareness, which impacts search volume for your brand, which then increases the likelihood of your brand being associated with additional search terms, which increases your ranking, which increases your website’s SEO traffic. Boom. Mic drop.

3. Social signals matter to SEO.
Same PR argument, different channel. [Picks up Mic.] [Drops it again.]

4. It’s difficult to give indirect ranking signals credit for SEO gains.
Just because it’s hard to give something credit, doesn’t mean it’s not important. Still, try looking for correlations in data: Did your SEO traffic increase after you visited an industry conference? What about after your blog post got Tweeted out by an industry big-wig? Follow the white rabbit.