10 Things that DO NOT (Directly) Affect Your Google Rankings
What do the age of your site, your headline H1/H2 preference, bounce rate, and shared hosting all have in common? You might’ve gotten a hint from the title: not a single one of them directly affects your Google rankings. In this rather comforting Whiteboard Friday, Rand lists out ten factors commonly thought to influence your rankings that Google simply doesn’t care about.
Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about things that do not affect your Google rankings.
So it turns out lots of people have this idea that anything and everything that you do with your website or on the web could have an impact. Well, some things have an indirect impact and maybe even a few of these do. I’ll talk through those. But tons and tons of things that you do don’t directly affect your Google rankings. So I’ll try and walk through some of these that I’ve heard or seen questions about, especially in the recent past.
1. The age of your website.
First one, longstanding debate: the age of your website. Does Google care if you registered your site in 1998 or 2008 or 2016? No, they don’t care at all. They only care the degree to which your content actually helps people and that you have links and authority signals and those kinds of things. Granted, it is true there’s correlation going in this direction. If you started a site in 1998 and it’s still going strong today, chances are good that you’ve built up lots of links and authority and equity and all these kinds of signals that Google does care about.
But maybe you’ve just had a very successful first two years, and you only registered your site in 2015, and you’ve built up all those same signals. Google is actually probably going to reward that site even more, because it’s built up the same authority and influence in a very small period of time versus a much longer one.
2. Whether you do or don’t use Google apps and services.
So people worry that, “Oh, wait a minute. Can’t Google sort of monitor what’s going on with my Google Analytics account and see all my data there and AdSense? What if they can look inside Gmail or Google Docs?”
Google, first off, the engineers who work on these products and the engineers who work on search, most of them would quit right that day if they discovered that Google was peering into your Gmail account to discover that you had been buying shady links or that you didn’t look as authoritative as you really were on the web or these kinds of things. So don’t fear the use of these or the decision not to use them will hurt or harm your rankings in Google web search in any way. It won’t.
3. Likes, shares, plus-ones, tweet counts of your web pages.
So you have a Facebook counter on there, and it shows that you have 17,000 shares on that page. Wow, that’s a lot of shares. Does Google care? No, they don’t care at all. In fact, they’re not even looking at that or using it. But what if it turns out that many of those people who shared it on Facebook also did other activities that resulted in lots of browser activity and search activity, click-through activity, increased branding, lower pogo-sticking rates, brand preference for you in the search results, and links? Well, Google does care about a lot of those things. So indirectly, this can have an impact. Directly, no. Should you buy 10,000 Facebook shares? No, you should not.
4. What about raw bounce rate or time on site?
Well, this is sort of an interesting one. Let’s say you have a time on site of two minutes, and you look at your industry averages, your benchmarks, maybe via Google Analytics if you’ve opted in to sharing there, and you see that your industry benchmarks are actually lower than average. Is that going to hurt you in Google web search? Not necessarily. It could be the case that those visitors are coming from elsewhere. It could be the case that you are actually serving up a faster-loading site and you’re getting people to the information that they need more quickly, and so their time on site is slightly lower or maybe even their bounce rate is higher.
But so long as pogo-sticking type of activity, people bouncing back to the search results and choosing a different result because you didn’t actually answer their query, so long as that remains fine, you’re not in trouble here. So raw bounce rate, raw time on site, I wouldn’t worry too much about that.
5. The tech under your site’s hood.
6. Having or not having a knowledge panel on the right-hand side of the search results.
Sometimes you get that knowledge panel, and it shows around the web and some information sometimes from Wikipedia. What about site links, where you search for your brand name and you get branded site links? The first few sets of results are all from your own website, and they’re sort of indented. Does that impact your rankings? No, it does not. It doesn’t impact your rankings for any other search query anyway.
It could be that showing up here and it probably is that showing up here means you’re going to get a lot more of these clicks, a higher share of those clicks, and it’s a good thing. But does this impact your rankings for some other totally unbranded query to your site? No, it doesn’t at all. I wouldn’t stress too much. Over time, sites tend to build up site links and knowledge panels as their brands become bigger and as they become better known and as they get more coverage around the web and online and offline. So this is not something to stress about.
7. What about using shared hosting or some of the inexpensive hosting options out there?
Well, directly, this is not going to affect you unless it hurts load speed or up time. If it doesn’t hurt either of those things and they’re just as good as they were before or as they would be if you were paying more or using solo hosting, you’re just fine. Don’t worry about it.
8. Use of defaults that Google already assumes.
So when Google crawls a site, when they come to a site, if you don’t have a robots.txt file, or you have a robots.txt file but it doesn’t include any exclusions, any disallows, or they reach a page and it has no meta robots tag, they’re just going to assume that they get to crawl everything and that they should follow all the links.
Using things like the meta robots “index, follow” or using, on an individual link, a rel=follow inside the href tag, or in your robots.txt file specifying that Google can crawl everything, doesn’t boost anything. They just assume all those things by default. Using them in these places, saying yes, you can do the default thing, doesn’t give you any special benefit. It doesn’t hurt you, but it gives you no benefit. Google just doesn’t care.
9. Characters that you use as separators in your title element.
So the page title element sits in the header of a document, and it could be something like your brand name and then a separator and some words and phrases after it, or the other way around, words and phrases, separator, the brand name. Does it matter if that separator is the pipe bar or a hyphen or a colon or any other special character that you would like to use? No, Google does not care. You don’t need to worry about it. This is a personal preference issue.
Now, maybe you’ve found that one of these characters has a slightly better click-through rate and preference than another one. If you’ve found that, great. We have not seen one broadly on the web. Some people will say they particularly like the pipe over the hyphen. I don’t think it matters too much. I think it’s up to you.
10. What about using headlines and the H1, H2, H3 tags?
Well, I’ve heard this said: If you put your headline inside an H2 rather than an H1, Google will consider it a little less important. No, that is definitely not true. In fact, I’m not even sure the degree to which Google cares at all whether you use H1s or H2s or H3s, or whether they just look at the content and they say, “Well, this one is big and at the top and bold. That must be the headline, and that’s how we’re going to treat it. This one is lower down and smaller. We’re going to say that’s probably a sub-header.”
Whether you use an H5 or an H2 or an H3, that is your CSS on your site and up to you and your designers. It is still best practices in HTML to make sure that the headline, the biggest one is the H1. I would do that for design purposes and for having nice clean HTML and CSS, but I wouldn’t stress about it from Google’s perspective. If your designers tell you, “Hey, we can’t get that headline in H1. We’ve got to use the H2 because of how our style sheets are formatted.” Fine. No big deal. Don’t stress.
Normally on Whiteboard Friday, we would end right here. But today, I’d like to ask. These 10 are only the tip of the iceberg. So if you have others that you’ve seen people say, “Oh, wait a minute, is this a Google ranking factor?” and you think to yourself, “Ah, jeez, no, that’s not a ranking factor,” go ahead and leave them in the comments. We’d love to see them there and chat through and list all the different non-Google ranking factors.