More closely guarded than the recipe for Coca Cola are the algorithms Google uses to rank web pages. Over 200 factors are used by Google to determine which pages rank top and, whilst there’s no shortage of speculation, nobody – apart from a select few insiders at Google – truly know exactly what the magic mix is for a guaranteed top ranking.
Some of the most informed speculation comes from MOZ, who provide inbound marketing services and analytics to the search industry. Every two years since 2009 MOZ has conducted an extensive study to assess search engine ranking factors.
Findings from the latest MOZ study (the biggest to date) have been released. The study involved both getting the views from leading search marketers about the influence of over 90 ranking factors, plus an extensive correlation study to determine which features of websites and webpages are associated with higher search rankings.
Of course correlation is not causation, and so these factors are not definitive proof of what search engines use to rank websites. They simply show the characteristics of web pages that tend to rank higher. And whilst there’s not always fire where there’s smoke, this provides useful insights to SEOs working to improve the rankings and organic search performance of websites.
MOZ have published the infographic below which summarises the study findings. Boiled down, not much has changed from the findings of previous years. Quality content remains as important as ever, but links remain king and, despite what many may think, social metrics (Facebook Likes & Shares, Tweets, Google +1s etc) are at the bottom of the list.
Not surprisingly opinions from the expert survey and the correlation study findings generally overlap. However, they don’t always match. For example, on a scale from 1 (no direct influence) to 10 (strong influence), the survey assigns an importance of 5.14 to a page containing Schema.org or other structured data. However, the correlation study shows almost no correlation, with a correlation score of just 0.01 on a scale from -1.00 (no direct influence) to 1.00 (strong influence).
Why should you care?
If you’re a general marketer or website owner, then the in-depth details of this study are unlikely to be of great interest. However, what you should take from this is that SEO is highly complex and not an exact science. For SEO practitioners like ourselves this study is fascinating & provides useful information that can be used to inform and improve SEO practices.
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Mark is a Partner and Senior Consultant at SureFire which he founded back in 2002. Prior to establishing SureFire he worked for KPMG Consulting. Today Mark heads up SEO, embracing the challenges that can come with complex website implementations. Outside of work, his interests beyond his family are running, snowsports, diving and fishing (badly).