What does Google’s 3 pillars of search tell us about SEO?

You may or not be aware that there is an interesting legal action against Google that kicked off in January 2023.
In a nutshell, the Justice Department has teamed up with Attorneys General of several US states to sue Google for monopolising advertising technologies. The accusation is that Google bullied their way into a dominant position and used anti-competitive, exclusionary and unlawful conduct to prevent any competitors threatening their nice little earner.
It is interesting on many fronts but of particular interest to SEO geeks such as myself is the supporting evidence that has surfaced during the process.
One such piece of evidence is an internal Google document that oulines their ‘3 Pillars of Ranking’:

On-page SEO
I think the first pillar is fairly self explanatory and justifies all on-page SEO initiatives. To be honest, no great surprises here as there can be no argument that what you say on your website is a fundamental factor in what you are likely to rank for.
I thought link building was dead?
The ‘Anchors’ pillar is an interesting one and is relevant to my recent post about the death of link building (or not?). I should point out that this particular document dates back to 2016, so may well be outdated, but it supports the argument that I made in my earlier post that links are still very important for search engine optimisation.
‘What the Web says about the document’ could arguably be interpreted in a few ways, but it must surely indicate that the nature and (probably) the volume of links pointing at any web page is a core metric that Google uses to assess its quality and thereby determine whether it deserves to perform well in the SERPs?
Further evidence, in my humble opinion, that you should probably ignore anyone telling you that link building is dead.
User interactions?
The third pillar is also interesting in my humble opinion. I don’t really want to start the debate about whether Google Analytics data is used in Google’s ranking algorithm, but GA would surely be incredibly valuable data to gauge a web page’s quality? If it is one of Google’s three core pillars, you have to suspect that GA data my be part of the equation?
Ignoring that debate, the ‘user interactions’ are actually all about user behaviour on the SERPs. By analysing user behaviour, e.g. mouse movements, scrolling, clicks and follow up search queries, Google is able to make fairly informed assessments of the quality of the user experience.  In other words, which sites / pages are obviously making more impact in the SERPs and which appear to satisfy the search users’ needs?
In my eyes, it shows how important fundamental on-page SEO is, most notably considerations such as meta descriptions and page titles.
You may have read that meta descriptions are irrelevant to SEO? Another death sentence that I have never really agreed with.  Whilst it is true that meta descriptions are not a direct ranking factor, I have always believed that it is worth spending effort on crafting alluring summaries as it can have a significant impact on click through rates on the SERPs. This must surely lead to improved rankings over time if the ‘3 pillars’ slide is true?
The same is true of page titles, which are a direct ranking factor but thinking hard about your page titles also can have a huge impact on click through rates and ultimately rankings.
Watch this space
I don’t think that the ‘3 pillars of ranking’ has really changed my opinion on any aspect of Google’s operation but it is interesting to see it in black and white. I will continue to keep an eye on the court proceedings and share any insight that is of interest to fellow SEO bods, so watch this space…


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