30 Oct SEO Ranking Factors in 2017: What’s Important and What’s Not
What are the most crucial search engine ranking factors these days? Panelists at SMX East discussed their findings and provided practical advice for putting this data into action.
As technology advances, search engines can refine their ranking algorithms to better determine relevance and return results that better align with searcher intent.
Because these ranking algorithms are constantly being improved and refined, search engine ranking factors are always evolving. Factors that might once have had a huge impact on search rankings may no longer matter all that much, and new ranking factors (such as mobile-friendliness or HTTPS) can emerge to reflect changing technologies and user behaviors.
So, what are the most important ranking factors today, in 2017? A panel at SMX East, “SEO Ranking Factors in 2017: What’s Important and What’s Not,” sought to answer that question. This panel featured data from large-scale studies performed by SEMrush and Searchmetrics, as well as case studies and practical advice for adapting your SEO strategies to current realities.
SEMrush Ranking Factors 2.0
The first panelist was Olga Andrienko from SEMrush, who shared the results of a large-scale study on ranking factors that examined the top 100 positions for 600,000 keywords. Keywords were grouped by search volume into the following categories:
- Very High: 10,001 monthly searches and up
- High: 1,001 to 10,000 monthly searches
- Medium: 101 to 1,000 monthly searches
- Low: 1 to 100 monthly searches
SEMrush looked at on-page factors, referring domains and traffic data, then compiled their findings to see which ranking factors appeared to be the most important. Here were some of their findings:
Website security (HTTPS)
SEMrush found that 65 percent of domains in the top three positions for Very High volume keywords are already secure. Although it’s not a huge ranking factor, Andrienko recommended switching to HTTPS to help with conversions and building trust.
SEMrush found that content length generally had a positive correlation with search rankings; content for pages in the top three positions is 45 percent longer, on average, than content in the 20th position.
Even so, Andrienko did not recommend simply writing a ton of content in order to rank better — the key is to write sufficiently long content that is relevant and matches user intent. Look at what your competitors are doing, and figure out how you can create content that provides more value to users.
SEMrush had some interesting findings with relation to keywords. They found that:
- 35 percent of domains ranking for high-volume keywords don’t have the keyword in the title. This suggests that Google’s algorithms are getting better at understanding context/synonyms, and/or that keywords in the page title are becoming a less important ranking factor.
- Very few links contain a keyword in the anchor text — in fact, even among Very High volume keywords, only 8 percent of link anchors included a keyword. This may suggest that keywords in anchor text are not a major ranking factor, but it also might be a reflection of SEOs adhering more strictly to link-building best practices that see anchor text links as spammy.
SEMrush exclusively studied website traffic’s impact on rankings. They found that the number of visits matters for high-volume keywords.
Interestingly, search traffic specifically did not appear have any impact on rankings; however, direct traffic does.
The SEMrush study also looked at various user signals, including:
- bounce rate. Overall, bounce rate is low for the top three positions but gets higher as you go down — this could suggest that top-ranking sites have more relevant content, better site speed, higher user trust and so forth.
- pages per session. Higher pages per session correlates with rankings, too.
Andrienko suggested that Google does not directly take user signals into account, but that if they’re low, that means users aren’t engaging with your site as they should be.
High-quality link building is still super-important, both in terms of referring domains and “followed” backlinks. Andrienko noted that backlinks matter, especially for sites targeting keywords with fewer than 10,000 monthly searches.
What factor is most important?
Interestingly, SEMrush found that user signals and (direct) website traffic were actually the highest predictors of top rankings. Andrienko theorized that this was because top-ranking sites (i.e., those on page 1) are all doing on-page optimization well, meaning that Google needs new criteria to differentiate among these sites.
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