Search Metrics has prepared its SEO Ranking Factors based on the results of their study. They analyzed which factors are common for websites that are found in top 30 in Google.com and created an infographic that visualizes those ranking factors which correlate* the most with high ranking and those which don’t tend to be so important. I bet most of you have already read their report, thus I’ll focus on what I think are the most important ranking factors.
* Remember: high correlation doesn’t have to mean that some ranking factors do have anything in common with high rankings. Some factors that were analyzed don’t have to influence rankings at all, although in most cases their relation with ranking are highly possible. It’s all about correlation.
It’s time for me to say what I usually focus on.
OK, I say “user experience” and how many of you are now thinking about data from Google Analytics (bounce rate, time on website etc.)? You see, those data is not available for all websites, unlike data from the SERP. If you click any results in Google, you’ll see URL which contain http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1… – the last parameter in this piece of URL is “cd” which shows which position occupied by the website – in this case it was the 1st position. This means that Google aggregates all the data about CTR of websites found in Google, as well as information about how fast a user comes back to SERP after he isn’s satisfied with the results he’s found.
I can’t say Google doesn’t take into account the data from its other services such as Google Analytics. But in my opinion it’s much more possible that the most important data about CTR comes directly from Google and that those data influence rankings. After all it says whether a website trully deserves high position, or maybe it’s optimized for not appropriate keywords and thus such a result don’t respond user needs.
At the moment I can’t see the direct impact of social factors on Google rankings, apart from personalized results. So how can I explain high correlation of top positions with activity on Google+?
The first and most important thing is that Search Metrics (as well as MOZ.com which has also published its own studies on this subject) analyzed correlation of some factors with high rankings, instead their actual influence on position, which they were not able to do. The second thing is that the more popular the website is, the more often people talk about it on blogs, forums and social media. So high correlation of Google+ with high rankings may mean the opposite – it’s the high ranking that helped a website get popular.
Before I publish my ranking list, I need to emphasize that some differences between my approach to SEO and yours may result from the fact I do SEO in Poland. Every country has its characteristic approach to their work and possibilties so my experience may differ a bit from yours.
OK, here’s my ranking:
- keyword in anchor text – it’s still a factor I consider the most important. Of course I still remember to make my efforts look as natural as possible, try to earn links instead of getting it, and if I get it, I diversify the link sources, landing pages, anchor texts and 10 other elements so that Penguin still liked me. But it doesn’t change the fact that the strongest links are those with keywords, not with brand name. It doesn’t mean I focus on those ones but they still should be some percentage of links with keywords;
- title of landing page – it’s one of the factors that Google can take into account while checking the topical relationship between two websites. If I use anchor text “SEO blog” or “Blog about SEO” and the title of the website is “Lexy’s SEO blog”, the topical relationship is obvious. Such links also give much more boost in SERP, although anchor texts shouldn’t be identical as titles;
- source page level – the link is stronger if it’s placed on the homepage, instead of some deep page. It results from the way the PR flows internally – the higher level, the more PR the page gets from the homepage;
- source page quality – the stronger the source page is (lots of high quality BL, high PR etc.), the more link juice it can give by linking to other websites. It’s much more important to get 10 links from trusted sources rather than to get 100 link from comment spam or other sources that are overused by lots of SEOs;
- link freshness – a website with no or little new links tends to drop in rankings systematically, even if it has better parameters than the competition. If you have such a website, try to get a few strong links and see what happens next. It doesn’t need much time to see the results and the website should jump in rankings, no matter if the link will have a keyword in anchor text or not.
If it comes to getting backlinks, I always have to make a choice of wheter I want a strong link or the one that will not turn the Penguin’s radar on. That’s why I don’t limit my efforts to the factors mentioned above, but try to use all my knowledge and experience to get the best possible results.
Actually, I should start from on-site optimization instead of backlinks, as in my opinion optimization is crucial while planning the SEO strategy. The better optimization is done, the less backlinks I need and the more time I can spend on finding its trusted sources or making relationships.
Here’s my ranking:
- keyword in title tag – it’s the first place I put the most important keyword. I should also mention I always try to follow my 3 rules: 1. the most important keyword should be placed at the beginning of the title, 2. the most important keyphrase should not be distracted (if it’s “Real estate Warsaw”, it should be placed in title in the same form, not “Real estate (houses and apartments) in Warsaw”), 3. keywords should be placed in appropriate order (ie. “Real estate Warsaw” instead of “Warsaw – real estate”). When it’s hard to follow all 3 rules at once, usually the last one has higher priority than the 1st one so I prefer to keep order in keywords rather than to put the most important one at the same beginning of the title;
- unique content – that’s one of the basic rules I follow, not only because of Panda, but because users are frustrated when they find the same article on 10 websites. However, the situation looks a bit different in case of e-commerce websites when it’s really hard to provide unique descriptions for all products and when users are more interested in the price, not the fact if the description was provided by the producer. Unfortunately, in this case I don’t support Panda’s approach as it can punish a popular e-commerce website only because producer’s description… but that’s the topic for another article so let’s get back to my ranking factors list;
- appropriate internal linking – internal links ensure the PR flow on the whole website. If it’s done right, with higher priority to more important pages and with the use of the best possible keywords in anchor texts, it’ll have a great effect on positions of most of pages. Don’t believe it? Choose the page that doesn’t rank in Google and link it from the homepage with the most important keywords. You won’t have to wait long for the boost in ranking;
- keywords in body – it’s so logical, isn’t it? You don’t even have to repeat the most popular keywords lots of times as Google is smart enough if you put it only when it’s necessary from the user perspective. It’s also important to use the main form of keywords, it’s variation (ie. in Polish there are 7 variations of each noun so you won’t use the same word in every sentence) or synonyms;
- SEO-friendly URL structure – in my opinion it’s important because such a structure doesn’t cause problems with duplication, as opposed to URLs with lots of parameters when Google doesn’t know if it’s still the same page or another one. So that’s the main reason I put this factor in my ranking.
That’s all for now. I’ll be more than happy to know your opinion both about my ranking factors, and about your experience on this topic.