The SEO Signals

Google’s algorithm, known as Hummingbird, uses over 200 signals when determining rank.

The top three have been confirmed by Google - they’re nice like that: Content, Links, and RankBrain.


The adage “content is king” has been around for a while now — read Bill Gate’s essay Content is King and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how long. The reason you’ll hear this phrase a dozen times while researching SEO is because search engines take your content very seriously. Like Kristin Stewart serious. The quality of a page is related to the value the content can provide the user. If the content is irrelevant or not useful, Google won’t want to show it. Google and other search engines have evolved over the years to be intuned to what web users actually want. 

Content is likely the area you’ll spend most time thinking about when optimizing your site. Especially since you’ll be adding content for the lifetime of your site. You’ll want to start this process by deciding the keyword you’re targeting for a particular page. Keyword research will give you an idea of which terms you are most likely to rank for.

Once you’ve narrowed down which keyword each page is attempting to rank for you’ll want to make sure it appears in the important areas of the page. For instance, if you want to rank for “Improving Google Rank” make sure that phrase and close variations are used in the title of the page as well as throughout the content especially in places like your headlines or sub headlines. Be careful though, using your keyword too much is considered ‘keyword stuffing’ and will only lead to a penalization from Google. 

Generally, if you choose a topic your audience is interested in and is written so it provides value, your page should be optimized for search engines. Often times, overthinking is what gets you into trouble.


This ranking signal refers to backlinks from other sites. This is when another site creates a link directing to your site. The reason Google puts so much emphasis on backlinks is because this proves to them that your web page’s content is worth linking to. 

Don’t get excited though, you can’t get links from just any site.
You need to be linked by higher quality sites. Low quality sites aren’t going to do anything for you. So your friend’s nephew who builds websites as a hobby can’t mass produce websites in order to get more backlinks. That strategy is actually going to have the opposite affect.

It also helps to have links that are relevant to your own site. Relevant website backlinks add more authority to your own web pages for the same reason you’re more likely to trust your mechanic when discussing cars than you are to trust... well, me.

So how do we get these links? 

It’s not as easy as it once was. You can’t just purchase links on other sites anymore — that’s frowned upon and will do more harm than good. 

Quick history lesson: at one point in SEO history, buying links and creating link farms was the cool thing to do but Google figured it out and shut that mess down. So if you’re still doing that you might want to stop.

These days the process of gaining links is much more organic. If you create the content that provides value then users will link to it. That’s a very Field of Dreams way of looking at it but that’s the general theme. I can’t guarantee your content will be successful just like I can’t guarantee Ray Liotta will play catch with me, but one can dream.

To improve the odds of obtaining backlinks you’ll need to do some extra work. By utilizing social media or email marketing you increase the odds of someone seeing the content and sharing it. Website content can’t exist by itself, it needs a little help. It’s like building an amusement park on an island. You know the park is fun, but without roads leading in no one else is going to.

Another method of obtaining backlinks is to do some old-fashioned networking. By creating relationships with industry influencers you’ll be able to request backlinks or at least greatly improve the odds of them sharing it with their network.


Rank brain is a relatively new signal. RankBrain is a machine-learning artificial intelligence system that is used to help process search results. Its use provides more relevant search results for users. Basically, RankBrain teaches itself rather than having a human do it. 

There isn’t much known about the inner workings of RankBrain beside it being a part of the whole Hummingbird algorithm. The simplest way to look at it is that RankBrain provides results that are close to what was searched but not exact. If you’ve ever had that moment when you say, “That’s what I meant to say”; it’s like that. 

RankBrain is able to make connections between the words you use in search to determine what you are actually looking for. Since we have synonyms, homonyms, slang, and words that can be confused with other words, it makes it confusing to figure out what you want. RankBrain teaches itself to make connections between search queries to deliver a better experience.

So how does RankBrain benefit your site?

Instead of having to think of every possible search term combination and then fitting it into your content, RankBrain uses contextual clues to rank your page. This takes a little bit of pressure off of you when trying to squeeze your targeted keyword into your content more often than is necessary. If you are creating content intended for humans to enjoy it will also be optimized for search engines.

There are many more signals Google utilizes when ranking, but these three are the ones that matter most, so sayeth Google. 

If you are interested in optimizing your website, and would like help, please contact us. We like making sites that are optimized for people and robots, it just helps everybody.