Since 2012, Searchmetrics has developed a report that looks at the ranking factors that Google uses which can help content marketers, webmasters, and SEO specialists to focus on those important criteria when developing content for websites, social media platforms, articles and blogs.
I’ve been keeping a close eye on this space for nearly two decades and in 2011, I summarized all of SEO into the 5 R’s of search marketing that were evergreen and constant. Focus on how content on your site must be (1) Relevant and build your (2) Reputation. It must also be (3) Remarkable, (4) Readable, and of sufficient (5) Reach.
As you go through the ranking factors, see how neatly they all fit within the 5 R’s. The report focuses on user experience, content, social signals, backlinks and technical aspects. It includes information on which ranking factors are important this year, how these have changed and developed from previous years, and the benchmarks for the top 10 search results.
In terms of the on-page factors not directly linked with a page’s content:
- These factors are the factors that contribute to the search engine crawlers “reading your website.”
- The factor “keyword” is diminishing in importance. Google, like people, understands semantics, and they want you to develop content that is interesting to read, not stuffed with repetitive keywords.
- Pages continue to be highly optimized and have a meta description and H-tags. These are some of the fundamentals to basic SEO. This is where you want to pay attention to the factors that will make your text skimmable and scannable.
- While page documents are increasing, loading time is decreasing.
- Domains with a high SEO visibility have higher rankings with their URLs. They have built up a reputation in the search engine.
- Good URLs have the equivalent worth to thousands of keywords.
This is a new section this year, reflecting the emphasis on the user experience as it relates to design and usability as well as on-page optimization. The findings are:
- More images are being used on websites, but there are fewer videos, relating to Google’s decision to only play video thumbnails in the SERPs.
- There are fewer websites in the top 30 rankings that include Google AdSense advertisements. Don’t distract your users with ads that don’t improve their experience.
- Higher ranking pages have better formatted pages with more interactive elements that are easy for both the user and bot to understand. They’re also more effortless for reading, which shows the value of creating text that is skimmable, scannable, and chunked for comprehension.
- The top ranking sites were responsive sites that did not use Flash.
- User signals are playing a bigger role in relation to content and rankings. This is the most critical signal for relevance that Google has. These signals could include your users’ click-through behavior on SERPs, data collected from users through a browser like Chrome, data collected in aggregate through Google Analytics, aggregated Gmail history, and all the personalized search history they have on that individual visitor, among others.
User signals – CTR, time on site, bounce rate – are becoming increasingly important for search engines because these are a way to find out if the user was satisfied with their search experience. The availability of big data is assisting search engines in enhancing the experience provided.
Relevant content is king and has usurped keywords as the most vital factor for rankings. Here’s what the findings say:
- There is more content; however, it is not just quantity for the sake of volume, but for the sake of helping your prospect’s buy.
- Content has been simplified so that it is easier to read.
- Pages with the most relevant content most often rank higher.
The correlation between more social signals and higher ranking URLs continues to be of great importance and shows the importance of reach. Other findings include:
- There is a significant increase in the average number of social signals per URL and in corresponding ranking.
- Social signals are involved in brand awareness, domain performance, and direct traffic.
- Further research is still needed in this area to better understand the value of social signals on rankings. It is still believed that there are still other signals that are imperative to showing search engines where there is relevant content.
The overall belief is that backlinks are losing their power to influence the rankings because other factors will play a greater role in the future. Here are the other conclusions:
- The domain name is more often found in the backlink’s anchor text than a keyword.
- More backlinks refer to deep-link URLs, rather than the home page.
- Thematically-related domains are now more often mentioning a domain or brand without having them linked.
- There are more no-follow backlinks than the previous year.
- Many of the changes related to backlinks might be tied to Google’s attempts to stop “unnatural” link formation.
With these findings, Searchmetrics has recommended focusing on creating relevant content that reflects people’s needs, search focus and devices used; moving beyond keywords because search intentions are often much more complex and diversified; leveraging mind maps and topic clouds, rather than using lists of keywords and subjects; and creating readable content that’s structured in an attractive, digestible way.
I am hoping this will get people seeing that success in SEO is a long-term investment, not some short-term project or gimmick. The process of planning and developing with search in mind is a dynamic process that requires regular review and adjustment to ensure that strategies and tactics still reflect the needs, wants, and behaviors of the target audience.
In the next year or two, as the growth in mobile usage continues to rise at a meteoric pace, I highly suggest you invest the resources into improving how users are finding and interacting with your content through mobile devices. Even though conversion rates are lower on mobile devices, a lot of the research in search begins there. Those who understand this mobile-only design philosophy will have opportunities to see significant gains on all sides of their digital presence. Keep in mind that if you delight your visitors while they are researching on mobile, it will be much easier to have them come back to convert on a desktop or an in-store experience.