Matt Peters presented his report on the 2013 Search Engine Ranking Factors at MozCon yesterday.  This report consists of data correlations combined with a survey of 120 SEO professionals to come up with what the SEO community feels are the top ranking factors that Google is looking for in 2013.

While most of this data is only relevant to SEO professionals or people who love statistics and data, it still gives small business owners a good insight to what they can do to help out their own business’ presence online. If you know what Google considers important, it helps you decide what you should focus your efforts (and spending) on.

Important Ranking Factors (according to survey respondents)


Domain level authority link metrics / Page-Level Link Metrics

Looking at this chart, the top factor that SEOs still think is important is the number of links that are coming in to your website.  Having natural links (non-paid, non-spam) coming in to both home page and content pages is still an integral part of Google’s algorithm and helps the search engine calculate your authority and knowledge on individual search queries.

Takeaway: Links still matter as long as they are natural and not spam

Page-Level Keyword & Content-Based / Keyword-Agnostic Features / User Usage & Traffic/Query Data

Second most important factor in this survey is how well optimized your pages are for your certain niche. Having good content that is consistent with your keyword strategies has been, and always will be part of what Google uses to determine how your web page should rank. The other on-page content factor in this is how “fresh” or new your content is. It also relates to how much content you produce about your certain keywords. The last content factor Google considers is if a user clicks on your search results, how long does he stay on your page before bouncing back to the search results.

Takeaway: Have fresh and new content that demonstrates to the user and the search engine that you are relevant and authoritative for the search query you are ranked for.

Page-Level Social Metrics

This factor is where some SEOs disagree.  Some think that the number of re-tweets, Facebook shares, and Google +1s play into Google’s ranking factors, while others think these have no bearing on SEO at all.  While, for now, it might not be an important ranking factor, the future of search is getting more semantic, and you and your circle of friends, co-workers, and family members will be a factor in delivering you the most relevant results.  Think of it as an algorithmic “word-of-mouth” signal.  If it is more relevant to your circle, then the search engines will think it will be more relevant to you.

Takeaway: Use social media to your advantage; it isn’t always about doing things that affect the now, but building your online presence for the future also.  The extra traffic and exposure from social media can be just as important as the SEO.

Domain Level Keyword Usage / Domain Level Keyword-Agnostic Features

Exact match and partial match domain names have been losing a lot of relevance as Google releases new changes to their algorithm.  You can no longer simply use keywords in your domain and expect it to rank just based on the url itself if your webpage is thin on content and other signals.  Google likes and prefers brands and branded content. This doesn’t mean that your small business can’t be a “brand” for your niche.

Takeaway: Stop worrying about getting that perfect keyword rich domain name; it doesn’t factor much into ranking factors, and will continue to matter less and less as Google’s algorithm changes.

 The Future of SEO


The SEO professionals surveyed were also asked what ranking factors they think will be important in the future.  It’s no surprise that the most important factors are actually the most beneficial to the user.  Good content, naturally optimized on-page elements and user experience have always been and will always be good factors to concentrate on. The continued melding of SEO, Social Media, and User Experience is what Google hopes to use to clean up the internet and weed out irrelevant and spam sites.  Authority will also play a big role in the future of rankings.  Google would like to limit spammers and black-hat SEOs by trying to tie content on the web to its respective author or brand.

Takeaway: Ranking factors for 2013 and beyond haven’t changed much in the eyes of Google.  They are still looking for new, relevant content to promote on the web over the spam and thin pages.  Small business owners should build their presence just as they build their business – using good ethical tactics and hard work.  Not only is this better for the internet as a whole in the future, but it’s critical in keeping your hard work from being penalized by Google. 

Here is the in-depth report with statistical data and explanations for those who want to dig in deeper