Search Engine Ranking Factors Based on Analyzed Data with Justen Hong
Backlinko.com recently conducted a study that analyzed a million Google search results to find what factors correlated with first-page rankings. It looked at website content and back links, and calculated factors like site speed. (See the study at https://backlinko.com/search-engine-ranking.) Here is what the study concluded.
- The study confirmed that the number-one ranking factor was the number of domains (different websites) that linked to a page. This means the page with the most inbound links from different domains ranked the highest. Most natural inbound links are typically gained by creating quality content. Therefore, you could argue that creating quality content is the most important ranking factor.
- The data show that a website’s overall link authority (as measured by Ahrefs.com) has a major effect on rankings. This means the links coming to your site need to be from quality websites (even better if their content is related to the same topic as yours). For instance, a site with 50 links from high-quality websites will rank better than a site with 500 links from low-quality websites. With that being said, be careful whom you acquire links from; a ton of links from poor websites can actually cause your site to drop in ranking. A good way to check this is to use a free domain name authority checker like https://www.seoreviewtools.com/website-authority-checker/ to check the score of the site you are trying to get a link from. Make sure that websites linking to you have a page/domain authority score of at least 30 or more. Scores above 40 are good, and anything above 50 is excellent.
- Content rated as “topically relevant” ranked better than content that didn’t cover a topic in depth. This means that webpages that focus on a single topic rank better than webpages that cover more broad subjects. For example, a webpage dedicated completely to panda bears with comprehensive, in-depth information would most likely rank higher for the search “panda bears” than a webpage dedicated to bears in general (even if the “general bear” article was on a higher domain authority site).
- SERP data from SEMRush.com showed that longer content tends to rank higher. First-page results on Google had an average of 1,890 words. Keep in mind that this 1,890-word copy is most likely informative and not just filler or fluff.
- HTTPS gave websites a small boost in rankings. Google has been pushing for webmasters to make their site secure using https as opposed to just http. To do this, you have to purchase a SSL certificate, install it on your server and configure your website. It can be pretty labor intensive. Keep in mind that if you do this, all your URLs will change since Google sees https://website.com and https://website.com as two different pages. Therefore, you need to do proper permanent redirects to make the transition. Because it gives you only a minor boost in rankings, and because it takes time to transition it properly, don’t make the switch unless your website is new or you are doing a complete redesign.
- SEO specialists have been pushing schema markup to make sites rank better for years, but this study proved it had no correlation with higher rankings. I wouldn’t be surprised if Google doesn’t add it to future algorithms. If you are interested in adding schema (also called structured data) to your website, you can use the Structured Data Markup Helper in Google’s Search Console (previously called Webmaster Tools).
- Content with at least one image ranked significantly better than content with no images at all. Adding more than one image did not make any difference. This means any page or blog post you want to rank well needs at least one image in it. It is also a good SEO practice to name the photo properly and always add an alt tag. It also helps if the image is properly optimized for the web, and is the smallest file size possible.
- The study showed that “title tag keyword optimization” is starting to lose some of its strength. It is still extremely important to have well-written title tags using the proper length (50 to 60 characters), but it seems they are not as powerful as they used to be.
- Site speed matters. Based on data from Alexa.com, pages on fast-loading websites rank much better than pages on slow-loading sites. You can check your website speed at Google’s PageSpeed Insights inside Google’s Search Console and on other sites like https://gtmetrix.com/.
- “Exact match anchor text” still has a strong influence on rankings. Even though Google has warned website owners not to abuse exact match anchor text, with its multiple Penguin algorithm updates, it appears to still be an important ranking factor. Exact match anchor text means that an inbound link to your website is the exact targeted term you want for a search. For example, if you are a wedding photographer in Chicago and your number-one targeted search term is “Chicago wedding photographers,” then a link from another website to yours with the text “Chicago wedding photographers” is more powerful than something like “Click here to visit the website.” With all this being said, you don’t want all your inbound links to have the exact same anchor text, because Google will see this as spammy and will most likely penalize your site. More importantly, the exact match anchor text better be from very high-quality websites with strong domain authority and be used sparingly, or you would be messing with what Google tells users not to do. I would be very cautious and even reluctant to use exact match anchor text.
- Data from SimilarWeb.com showed that websites with low bounce rates ranked higher. This strongly suggests that Google is using user data to rank websites, which is a long-time theory among SEO specialists. A bounce rate is when someone does a search, visits your website and leaves without interacting with it at all—meaning they do not click anything on the page or visit any other pages on your site. Google does keep in mind that the user may have found what they were looking for on that one page and left. But an excessive bounce rate most likely signals that your website is subpar. Even worse than a high bounce rate is excessive pogo-sticking. Pogo-sticking is when someone does a search, visits a page, hits the Back button and continues searching. Too many pogo sticks, and Google will most likely start to demote your site’s ranking.