Want to find out why your competitor’s page is No. 1 in Google organic SERPs? Well, now you can! (To the extent that Google is willing to tell you, anyway.)
That’s because Google yesterday announced a feature that shows a selection of reasons for ranking individual pages in SERPs, bringing some much-needed transparency to search.
This feature is a section called ‘Your search & this result’ but it doesn’t have a catchy name yet, so we’re calling it the ‘Ranking Factors Box’, simply because, well, it’s a box that displays ranking factors!
The Ranking Factors Box is an extension of the ‘About this result’ box, which is accessible by clicking the ‘three vertical dots’ at the end of a search result and was originally launched back in February of this year.
Where is the Ranking Factors Box currently live?
According to Barry Schwartz’s excellent overview for Search Engine Land, the feature is currently live for around 10% of English-language queries in the USA, and Google aims to have it 100% live by next week for both mobile and desktop.
When will the Ranking Factors Box be available outside of the US?
Google’s own page says:
“This expansion of About This Result is rolling out in English in the U.S. to start, and we look forward to bringing this and other related features to more people in the coming months.”
Google, ‘Learn more – and get more – from Search‘
However, after witnessing the glacial pace of other rollouts (I’m looking at you, Local Services Ads) some are understandably not holding their breath on playing with this feature any time soon.
Like most things with Google Search, it'll probably be about another 12 months before we even see that in the UK 😅
— 🏆 Geoff Jackson 🏆 (@zigojacko) July 23, 2021
Want to see this in action outside the US? If you can’t wait to find out why your page ranks, try out BrightLocal’s free Local Search Results Checker tool, which emulates a location to show results as if you were there!
What sort of information does the Ranking Factors Box show?
In the aforementioned Search Engine Land piece, Barry Schwartz discovered the following (non-exhaustive) list of factors as reasons for ranking a page:
- Search terms that appear in the result
- Search terms related to your search
- Other websites with your search terms link to this result
- This result has images related to your search
- This result is [Language]
- This result is relevant for searches in [region]
I’d encourage you to head over to his post for more detail on each of these.
How are SEOs reacting to the Ranking Factors Box?
It’s my tendency to catastrophize (I more charitably call it ‘black-sky thinking’), so my initial response to the announcement was to immediately decry the end of SEO as we know it.
I figured that with potential SEO clients now being able to see why they rank, and getting keyword ideas from competitors right there in the SERP, smaller businesses would have much less need to invest in assistance with understanding their online visibility.
Luckily, I’m alone in my cries of “Ranknarok is here!” (hat tip to my colleague, Mark Crowe, for that one). Judging by the online response to the Search Engine Land piece, SEOs are split between being excited…
This is a big deal. Google now providing details about why it chose to rank certain results. More transparency in the SERPs. https://t.co/NCBan3B9Th pic.twitter.com/k99QAJV9p6
— Lily Ray 😏 (@lilyraynyc) July 22, 2021
Secret sauce stays secret while providing crumbs of transparency for legal protection against lawsuits & more EU fines. Defensive moat against breaking up big tech gets another sandbag. 👩🏼⚖️ https://t.co/bTTrxTRqN7
— Andrew McGarry (@beyondcontent) July 23, 2021
But are they really though? I mean they kinda are but not really, aren't they? https://t.co/9OGPZnttNx
— Martin Nolan (@nolano89) July 22, 2021
Don’t let your hot take cool down: let us know what you think in the comments below!
What does this mean for SEO?
While I’m cautiously optimistic about the positives of such transparency, I personally share Mordy Oberstein’s concerns about a race to the bottom:
I don't know how I feel about this.
I LOVE the transparency.
I am afraid it will result in SEOs thinking too linearly about Search. https://t.co/cOeGjbYLfd
— Mordy Oberstein 🇺🇦 (@MordyOberstein) July 22, 2021
I’ve been in this business long enough—*strokes gray beard*—to know that your average SEO will do anything to make their job easier. (Understandably—it’s not an easy gig!)
My concern is that easy access to the keywords that Google itself says will lead to a top spot will just mean SEOs optimising for the same few terms and chasing the same links; potentially to the point that high-ranking websites are indistinguishable from one another.
However, this is precisely why having access to digital marketing tools like rank trackers, keyword research tools and the like could become, if anything, more important.
Free access to this information technically leads to all parties playing on a level playing field, and so it’s more critical than ever to one-up your competitors. And that’s true whether you’re an in-house marketer for a small business, or a nationwide digital marketing agency.
Besides, Google might be telling you which keywords are leading to a result, but it’s not telling you how to optimise for those keywords, how to structure your site’s architecture around them, or how to get those all-important links.
This is where creative SEOs, and the tools they use to get more insights than their competitors, can truly shine.
Will we develop new SEO practices thanks to this update? Probably not. None of the ranking factors uncovered so far are a surprise, but this does provide fantastic ammunition for anyone looking to prove the worth of optimization to their clients.
What does this mean for local SEO?
“Yadda yadda organic SERPs blah blah whatever…” I know, I know: you’re here to find out about how this impacts local search and your local business clients.
If we’re talking purely about Google My Business rankings in the Local Finder and Google Maps, then no, this doesn’t really change anything. Google’s organic and local algorithms function separately, and this feature isn’t available in the Local Pack… yet (who knows?!)
As with anything Google, it’s always good to consider what even a small change might bring. Knowing that Google is starting to take transparency of search results seriously (perhaps at the behest of its army of lawyers, perhaps not), could mean that SERP transparency could be coming to the local pack?
After all, Google has already made a start on this by including ‘justifications’ in local SERPs, using info from everything from Google My Business Services, to customers reviews, to the content of the linked website, in order to show the searcher why it’s shared a particular local business.
What do local SEOs say about the Ranking Factors Box?
Whether or not this update was going to impact local search right away, I was still interested in the opinions of the local search community, and so reached out to some local SEO pros to get their takes.
Their responses range from interested and intrigued to the comparatively unruffled:
“It’s important to remember that most searchers won’t know this exists, and don’t really care about how things rank. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine thought Google ranked results alphabetically! So I think this is only really going to be of interest to SEOs. For SEOs, though, there is a lot they could do with this information: it’s great for looking at the competition in SERPs and seeing what you need in your content to compete, it highlights the importance of geo-focusing your content for local SEO, and can help with image optimization. It also proves, once and for all, that links do matter to Google. And we might finally be able to see why that terrible website ranks higher in the search results!”
Andy Simpson, Digital Law Marketing
“I think it’s interesting that Google is showing their cards by showing why a search result was ranked the way it was. I feel like they could be doing it for a couple of reasons: 1. It could be to give everyday users a better idea of the difference in ads and search results (although, people would have to know to click on the three dots and I doubt a lot of non-marketers will do that). 2. Maybe they are trying to help marketers a bit? Either way, I’ll be very curious to see if it sticks around.”
Niki Mosier, AgentSync
“As SEO’s, it seems to me that this feature has the potential to help provide additional insight when trying to reverse-engineer why a competitor is outranking you. I don’t think it would be wise to base a full strategy on the data, but at the very least it provides one more data point to consider, which is a good thing. Google’s never going to give us the inner workings of its mind, but when we take all the available information, we can make better decisions for ourselves and the businesses we work with.”
Colan Nielsen, Sterling Sky
“I like that Google is doing this but I don’t think it changes our approach to SEO. I’m guessing someone is going to figure out a way to scrape this info and package it as some cool new tool to improve your rankings, but it’s really just ‘SEO with training wheels’, and the wheels are plastic.”
Andrew Shotland, Local SEO Guide
“At a high level, I doubt that it’s going to be anything insightful – it’ll likely be just the basics, so it might be cool for someone who doesn’t know SEO, but will likely be painfully obvious to anyone who knows how Google works.”
Greg Gifford, SearchLab
What this all means for Google and SEOs remains to be seen, but while it’s a feature that’s left many cold, I do believe it signals a seachange for Google’s relationship with SEOs.
Now almost slyly acknowledging the practice in a format accessible to all (who know to look for it, admittedly), Google might be warming to the good that most SEOs try to do in their work.
Agree? Disagree? Impatiently waiting to see this feature for yourself and just want to vent? May I cordially invite you to the comments below?