Google has made some changes to their ranking systems documentation and helpful content guidance pages which has caused confusion within the SEO community.
In this article we explain the changes, why they were made, and what this means for your SEO strategy moving forward.
What’s changed & why the confusion?
At the end of April 2023 – the following 4 ranking systems were removed from Google’s ranking system documentation list:
The removal of these ranking systems also came after Google’s announcement that they were changing their guidance around helpful content creation – stating that page experience will play a part in how content is considered helpful.
This led to users assuming both page experience and the other ‘systems’ had become obsolete – or that a major reshuffle was at hand.
However, Google later clarified via Twitter that they were never systems in the first place – but signals as part of a wider system. Realising in hindsight that featuring them on the systems list was misleading; they removed Page Experience, Mobile Friendly, Page Speed and Secure Sites.
Google ranking systems vs ranking signals – what’s the difference?
Google ranking systems are parts of the core algorithm used by Google to determine the relevance and importance of websites and web pages in its search results.
These ranking systems use various factors and signals such as keywords, links, user behaviour, and content quality to determine the relevance and authority of a website or web page in relation to a particular search query.
The ranking systems analyse the content on a web page and compare it to other similar pages on the web to determine how useful and relevant the page is to a user's search query.
Ranking signals feed into the factors that make up a ranking system – and there are hundreds of factors that are considered by Google to assess the relevance and quality of content before determining where it will rank in SERPs, and even more signals which can also affect other factors.
These signals can include both on-page factors such as content quality, keyword relevance, and user experience, as well as off-page factors such as backlinks, content engagement and the overall online reputation of the website.
So what is the significance of Page Experience being considered a signal rather than system?
With Page Experience, Mobile-friendly, Page Speed and Secure Sites all being ‘demoted’ to a signal and the new guidance that Page Experience influences what makes content helpful in Google’s eyes shows that Google wants us to consider content creation holistically.
Before, it was easy to get caught up on the numbers in Page Experience, Page Speed etc, when they only made up a very small weighting that determined rank.
Now, it’s clear that quality, helpful content remains the best way to improve the rank of your website – and satisfying Google’s E-E-A-T Search Quality Guidelines is essential.
TDMP’s Head of SEO, David, comments: For a number of years, based on our research and experience, we found that engagement was always a more important factor in driving rank and that the ever-diminishing returns of getting improved CWV scores (with caveats) was not the way to go to get visibility. Our focus has always been on addressing issues which improve rank rather than following the trend of the season with regard to SEO - the fundamentals need to be strong; namely backlink profile, technical (including UX) and content. These three pillars have always been key and Google are effectively ‘outing’ those agencies that focus on less effective (and more expensive!) techniques.
Next steps: Page Experience, Mobile Usability, CWV and HTTPS top level analysis
In their Search Central Blog, Google announced that in the coming months, the Page Experience report within Search Console will transform into a new page that links to their general guidance about page experience, along with a dashboard-view of the individual Core Web Vitals and HTTPS reports that will remain in Search Console.
As a result, Page Experience isn’t going anywhere – but the way we think about it is changing. It will likely become a more top-level metric that incorporates other Google factors including CWV and HTTPS, helping SEOs approach ranking signals holistically.
Also starting December 1, 2023, Google will be retiring Search Console's "Mobile Usability" report, the Mobile-Friendly Test tool and Mobile-Friendly Test API. But warn that this doesn't mean mobile usability isn't important for success with Google Search – and remains a part of their page experience guidance.
If you’re unsure what the above changes mean for your digital marketing strategy, contact us today.