Just the Tip – What Are “Signals”?

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Posted on by Jason Cook
Categories: JTT - SEO, Just The Tip

We’ve defined SEO as “the process of optimizing signals both on and off a website, influencing how successfully that site can be found when someone searches particular keywords on Google”. So, what do we mean by ‘signals’?

We’re referring to ranking signals – characteristics or elements present on a website that a search engine recognizes – and then utilizes to calculate its rankings. In layman’s terms, signals are what makes your site look good or bad in the all-seeing eye of Google. If your site looks good, you’re viewed as a relevant authority and ranked higher in Google Search results. If not, you have problems.

But there are all kinds of signals. Content Signals. HTML Signals. Architecture Signals. Domain Signals. Granted, those are just broad strokes and we could break down each of them further – but we’re trying to keep things simple. Each of these signals is considered to be an ‘on-site’ factor – directly controllable by the site owners themselves. They speak to the quality and relevance of a site’s content and the ease of its user experience, as well as the site’s overall performance.

There are ‘off-site’ signals as well. But as with anything in SEO, they are constantly changing and evolving. Until recently, one might have emphasized the influence of social media activity and third party review sites like Yelp. While those are still influential to the individual user and can help to increase visibility (for better or worse), linking and citations currently provide more impactful search signals. When other sites link to yours it communicates the popularity and relevance of your content. And citations on those sites reinforce who and where you are.

As a business serving customers in a certain geographic area, you want to rank above your local competitors. You want prospective local customers to choose to do business with you, over anyone else. Your site and search rankings are a critical part of making that happen. And to perform well, you need to optimize your signals.

So what does optimization entail? In terms of content, it means creating unique, relevant and linkable content that supplies a specific demand. In terms of page architecture, it means using properly-formatted title tags, URL’s and incorporating image alt text. It’s a lot to take in, and these certainly aren’t light-switch fixes. But by following best SEO practices you’re far more likely to rank higher and improve traffic, with the potential of converting more customers and increasing sales over time.