Google Mythbusters – The Value of Indirect Ranking Signals

In Common SEO Topicsby MediaVision

indirect ranking signals

When creating an SEO strategy, it is important to consider both direct and indirect ranking signals. In this blog post, we will be focusing on some of the most commonly used indirect ranking factors.


So what’s the difference between Direct & Indirect Ranking Signals?

Direct ranking signals are simply those that Google and other search engines actively include in their algorithms in order for them to be able to decide where a website ranks in the search results.

It’s a mistake to think that direct ranking signals form the whole picture, however, as indirect ranking signals play a significant, and often overlooked, role as well. Indirect ranking signals are those that Google usually tends to ignore. They include elements like social signals (if someone tweets about your website or tags you in an Instagram post) and readability, as well as things like Meta Descriptions and outbound links.

In the table below, you’ll see some examples of important direct and indirect ranking signals. For this blog post we will be discussing outbound links and meta tags, which are vitally important indirect ranking signals that can boost your website’s overall rank, as well as increase site traffic.

[table id=2 /]

*Disclaimer: Google is secretive about their algorithms and won’t reveal which exact factors are taken into account, the large majority of mentioned Google ranking factors are decided through general consensus in the industry and may not be 100% accurate.


Do outbound links actually impact your website’s rankings?

The positive effects that outbound links can have on a website are often overlooked or disregarded, in favour of what Google has confirmed as vital key ranking signals, but this is a big mistake. In a recent study by Reboot Online, it was proven that outbound links do indeed influence your site’s rankings in a positive way, if used correctly. This seems to contradict statements that John Mueller, a Webmaster trend analyst at Google, made in a recent Google hangout. Others, like Rand Fishkin of Moz had the following to say about the study on Twitter:

Rand Fishkin Reboot Online Tweet


Indirect ranking signals that directly impact SEO ranking signals

Meta tags are another important indirect ranking signal that the industry has been all abuzz about in the past few years. There are many different types of meta tags, but the most important ones to focus on are the title and description tags. In 2009 Google’s Matt Cutts has publicly stated that keyword and description tags do not affect a website’s ranking. However, several case studies have been done that prove that these meta tags can play a crucial role in your website ranking score and generate tons of organic traffic, if used wisely.

The easiest way to explain this is with an example. As previously mentioned meta descriptions are not part of the official Google ranking algorithm (whereas meta titles are). However, click through rates (CTR) to your website from Search Engine Result Pages (SERPS) are. Thus, meta descriptions must be optimized, as they appear directly in SERPs, and will therefore have a direct impact on the CTR. The time spent on the page and its bounce rate will be influenced by the information on the page and whether it delivers what you promised in your title and description or not.

It should be noted that Google will sometimes change your meta descriptions if they feel that the description you have provided isn’t relevant to the search query or the information contained on your page, or if it simply believes it could provide a better description. So it’s important to provide an accurate meta description that will accurately explain what the content is about, this will also increase the CTR, especially if it contains specific calls-to-action.


Lastly, some advice for successful direct and indirect link integration

SEO specialists have to realise that everything evolves, including the way that Google ranks pages. Brands should make use of various platforms, including their website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to communicate with their audiences and even more so now that Google is increasingly integrating social feeds into SERPs. Part of an SEO specialist’s job has to be to look at the bigger picture – they have to widen their perspective, both online as well as offline. This will ensure that the correct strategies are being implemented.

Traditional and social PR can have a tremendous impact on SEO, so PR teams need to work together with SEO to achieve greatness. Say for example, Kanye West tweets about a new brand; “X” sneakers. Millions of potential customers will see this. This will therefore increase brand “X’s” awareness, which will then lead to higher search volumes for brand “X”, which will, in turn increase brand “X’s” website ranking and thus, it’s traffic.

Even though it might be a little bit more complicated to track gains from indirect ranking signals, it really is worth the effort. It will just take a little bit more effort. You should ask yourself questions like; did the traffic to the website of brand “X” increase after their London Fashion Week show? Or what about after Justin Bieber posted a picture on Instagram wearing brand “X” sneakers? When focusing on what leads to improvements, measuring these types of indirect factors becomes easier.

If you pay close attention to these factors and are mindful of the differences between direct and indirect signals, as well as how the indirect ranking factors affect the direct ones, a creative all-inclusive SEO strategy can be formed. Ignoring indirect factors, however, will put you at a competitive disadvantage. Sometimes the indirect stuff can lead to greater short term results, just think about when Katy Perry tweeted about an Asian guy dancing, and Gangnam Style became a viral video.

If this post sparked your interest, be sure to check out our other link-related posts like when are internal links enough or if you would like to know how to determine if a bad link is, in fact, a bad link.


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