What if someone gave you scientific data on what hundreds of sites are doing to get thousands of top keyword rankings on Google? Would you, or could you, make changes to your site to match the criteria for achieving these rankings? The data is now available. Searchmetrics has just released a new study, part of a multiyear longitudinal study on ranking factors, entitled “SEO Ranking Factors and Rank Correlations 2014—Google U.S.” In this lengthy whitepaper, there are some big takeaways and lots of guidance, which savvy search marketers will turn into action plans—or roadmaps for success, as I prefer to think of them. Here are some of the nuggets gleaned from the research:
- SEO Success Requires Vigilance—the study reinforces that good SEO is, in fact, the culmination of hundreds of tactical efforts, all executed precisely and flawlessly. SEO is changing and evolving so that tactics that garnered top rankings just a few years ago may not be as significant today; therefore, it is important to continuously tune your program based on precise new information.
- Basic SEO Is Not Enough—These are the stakes needed to even play at the table: robust site architecture with good internal links, short loading times and the presence of all relevant Meta tags, such as Title and Description. You cannot expect your basic optimization efforts to do all the work. They are just the foundation for search success.
- Bring on the Content—Content must be richer and longer. Most top-ranking pages include about 900 words, 17 sentences or so of real content. This content must engage the user, contain the keywords you are targeting and be highly readable by your audience. With Google moving to a holistic approach to page relevancy, so, too, must content creators. They need to include not just the keyword target, but other semantically relevant keywords. The days are long gone where keyword stuffing and pages of weak content with the same keyword repeated over and over were successful.
- Quality Links, Not Just Quantity—Success in Google has always required attention to the site’s linkage profile. Today, link-building should really be transformed into link-curation. The Searchmetrics report clearly emphasizes the importance of focusing on high-quality links and paying closer attention to internal linking structures. Most SEO efforts focus on external link-building and forget about removing broken, irrelevant and unnecessary links. These should be part of the basic “housekeeping” activities for the site.
- Social Media Just Give Signals—Social media provide valuable signals for Google as to the worth of your content. The Searchmetrics study has shown that these signals are less valuable to Google in 2014 compared to 2013. The jury is still out as to exactly how they contribute, but more shares and likes impact rankings positively. Make no mistake—social media likes, pins and mentions are not magic bullets for improving rankings. Social media provide Google signals as to how valuable users find the content on your site. Your efforts should be focused on the user.
- It Is All About the User—If you want to rank well, users must find your content interesting. The study found that URLs with top rankings had clickthrough rates (CTRs) of 32 percent and the 10th highest ranking URL had a 3 percent CTR. Users clicking through typically stay on the top-ranking pages 101 seconds and exhibit only a 37 percent bounce rate. Users stay longer on top-ranked pages—30 seconds longer than on a page in the 4th position. If your data shows that your pages have low clickthrough rates, short stays and high bounce rates, you cannot really expect top rankings. To put it bluntly, your pages are not worthy. The challenge is to use the information in the Searchmetrics study to improve your site’s performance. This means taking a long, hard look at what you are doing right and have a willingness to address issues that might be impairing your performance in search. Just remember, SEO success is hundreds of rapidly changing tactics, flawlessly executed.