Understanding the ranking factors that affect search engine optimization can be one of the biggest steps to creating a real, viable search strategy.
That is because most businesses are not sure what they need to focus on for their strategy to work. Fortunately, Moz brought together some of the biggest experts in the industry to help businesses understand which attributes on your website help you rank the highest on Google.
Top 7 Search Engine Ranking Factors
#1 Page Length:
It has been shown again and again that page length on a site matters. Now, this is not to say you should just throw a bunch of words together in a random sequence and call it a blog post.
However, when all other things are equal, page length factors into your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. This is important for a few different reasons.
First, the longer your page, the more keywords and relevant information you include about the topic. A study from SerpIQ discovered first placed rankings generally had with an average of 2450 words (see table below).
Second, longer posts get shared more often. That makes sense, since if you create great content then people want to share it. If you create more great content, people want to share more of it.
While exceptions abound (Seth Godin), the key is to focus on how much your content provides value to users.
#2 Decreasing importance of Keywords:
Google’s Hummingbird algorithm for decreases the value of keywords.
Instead, they Google is attempting to understand the intent of each search on their site. Google wants to create a search engine that works more like a question and answer session.
A lot of this has to do with voice searches and the rise of mobile search engines. As we discussed in the Six Steps to Mobile Search Domination, users search differently on mobile phones.
Therefore, you need to start using Structured Data Markup on your site to take full advantage of these changes. This is part of the Schema rules Google, Bing, and Yahoo agreed on in 2011 to help them understand the intent of online searches.
#3 Links are still important:
Moz made it very clear in their report that the total number of links plays a moderate role in your pages search success. As they factored in the total number of links going back to a page, they still play a key role in Google’s search strategy.
The key to link building is that it should be a natural extension of your marketing efforts. Do not make it the focal point of what you do.
Great content and information create natural referral links from third party websites. The more helpful you are, the more other websites will refer back to your information.
For example, one of the best link building strategies comes from Brian Dean. His Skyscraper post shows the importance link building has when done right.
Furthermore, he provides a unique process to help search engine marketers build their links through quality content. Because of this value, he gets backlinks like the one we just provided him. It is natural and valuable to both of our readers.
#4 Anchor texts:
The next item of importance is not only how much link to you, but how they link to your website. Anchor texts are text based hyperlinks directing you to a specific website page.
They provide value for search engines, because linking back to the website with a relevant, specific anchor text demonstrates the value of a website. As long as the anchor text relates directly to the content on the page, it can increase the value of the link.
That is why Moz mentioned how the number of external links to a page with the partial or exact anchor text is in their words a “prominent feature of high-ranking results.”
In plain English; that is really good.
#5 Social Shares:
While Moz does not believe Google directly uses social share counts to determine a website rank, they do believe a website gets a number of secondary benefits from social sharing. This is generally an outgrowth of the great content you produce, as we discussed above.
Matt Cutts vouched for this, stating, “social media sites are treated like any other pages in their index.” Therefore, they do not count the number of shares, followers, or likes you have.
They do give you credit for a link back from Facebook and Twitter. Therefore, you can get the benefit from the social traffic.
A lot of people also view Google+ as a way for Google to track social signals without having to go through a third party source like Facebook or Twitter. That is one of the problems Matt Cutts addressed in the video above.
#6 Time until domain expires:
Here is one thing that we get conflicting information between Moz and Google. Moz said that there is a slight difference in the rankings for the time until a domain registration expires.
However, Matt Cutts discussed how domain time is not a ranking signal. Matt did mention how he likes to reserve a domain for 2-3 years at a time, so he does not lose the domain. Probably not a bad policy, but do not hinge your entire search strategy on domain expirations.
#7 Engagement metrics:
Google has made a big deal about providing accurate information to consumers. The way that they evaluate this information is by determining how current visitors interact with your website.
While not as important at the current moment as the quality of the content; page views, bounce rates, and time on site are significant indicators for Google.
Remember, Google uses your website as a conduit to help consumers find the information they want.
Therefore, if you do not keep them on the website longer, Google takes it as a sign your content is not interesting. By extension, they believe your site might not be the right fit for the specific keyword.
Therefore, it should not come as a shock that you need to have relevant and useful content for users. The more quality the content users can interact with, the more they stay on your site. You should break up the content on different pages, so they have reasons to surf your site longer.
That is part of the reason why sites who ranked number 1 stayed an average of 30 seconds longer than sites in position 4.
At the end of the day, what does it all mean?
Google is still in the process of changing how they rank your website. They are moving from the old ways of using keywords and links to new intuitive ways like content, mobile searches, and markup language.
However, the process is not happening immediately. That is good for small businesses looking to catch up on the latest search engine practices. However, you do not need to do it alone. If you need to update your ranking factors for 2015, contact us for help.