Major SEO and digital marketing company Searchmetrics has just released the 2015 results of its study into SEO ranking factors, i.e. what technical, marketing and social media measures have the greatest influence in where your website ranks in search engine results pages – SERPS. They enterprise platform looked at the top 30 search results for 10,000 keywords and 300,000 websites on Google. According to Marcus Tober, founder and chief technology officer at Searchmetrics, the findings simply confirm the current trends.
“Understanding user intention and creating unique, relevant content is more vital than ever before,” Tober says. “It is also visible that backlinks are continuing to decrease in relevance. Looking ahead, as the proportion of search queries from mobile devices continues to grow, it will be interesting to see what effect this has on the rankings.”
While the importance of backlinks is decreasing, factors such as mobile friendliness, Facebook likes and Tweets are growing in importance. However Searchmetrics identified the following six factors that affect search engine ranking:
Relevant, holistic content is more important than ever
Ranking factors including word count and Flesch readability both increased this year, indicating in general longer texts that are easier to read. The trend away from keywords and towards relevant content continues amongst high-ranking sites.
User experience – beyond the desktop
Responsive web design may be having a positive effect on rankings. Optimizing your site for different end devices will continue to grow in importance.
Keywords are becoming increasingly obsolete
Whether internal or external links or domain names, keyword correlations across the board are decreasing. Additionally, increasing numbers of high-ranking URLs are not using the corresponding keyword in the body or description.
Backlinks – correlations are decreasing
While backlinks still show quite high correlations with rankings, the times of unnatural link building and maybe of links in general are or may soon be over. In general, year-on-year correlations in this category are decreasing and data suggest that this downward trend is set to continue.
Social signals – a bonus for organic rankings
The question remains open as to exactly how social media signals such as likes, tweets and +1s boost rankings. Nevertheless, social signals remain important for brand awareness and help to drive organic traffic to top ranking sites.
Technical factors are still most important when it comes to ranking in Google. Compared with last year, the search volume of domain names has increased strongly. While brands often rank higher because of their inherent visibility, brand searches, with or without extra keywords, also influence non-branded searches.
Other positive ranking factors include a domain’s SEO visibility; the frequency of H2 tags, in addition to H1 and meta description; a strong-but-short URL, which is worth thousands of keywords; and site speed. In addition, HTTPS encryption, which Searchmetrics included in its analysis for the first time, also impacts sites positively, though it’s not necessary for sites that don’t deal in sensitive data.
On the other hand, Keyword domains are no longer the strong ranking factor they once were. In 2014, 9 percent of the URLs in the top 30 included a keyword in their domain, a number that decreased to 6 percent this year. The proportion of pages using Flash is also significantly lower in the first two SERPs on both desktop and mobile.
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