Searchmetrics has released their Ranking Factors Study for 2014 based on the calculations they did with their own data set. While analysis of data and trends helps business owners understand and set a barometer for their SEO efforts, remember correlation does not imply causation, because not anyone outside of Google engineers can truly know what ranking factors and variables play into their search engine algorithm. What we can do is look at the trends and get a good grasp on good practices and what “tactics” to avoid using.
One of the shifts this year, due to Hummingbird, Panda, Penguin, etc., is a shift of focus on how the content within your website is presented. Major emphasis is on the content. Other factors becoming more important are User Interaction and the technical quality of sites.
- Content – Content may still be king, but now you cannot rely on badly written content. Gone are the days of saying your keywords in 100 different ways and ranking well. You would be better served to write very semantically comprehensive content that would flow as natural as the spoken language. Google didn’t shift its architecture to Hummingbird if it did not want to use that new technology to “figure out” what you mean when you enter a search query. This is also a by-product of Google’s shift to cater to more mobile, location-specific, on-the-go search queries. The type of queries that you would make on your cell phone, when you want an answer quickly. So there is no more need to say “car loans”, “auto finance”, “vehicle purchasing options”, etc., because Google views those key phrases as one theme — that you want to know or find a place that would give you money for a car. Concentrating on the overall theme of your content will do more wonders for your ranking than spending countless hours researching what keywords will be the best bang for the buck. That’s what SEM is for 😉
- User Interaction – Google is in the business of providing its searchers the best possible answer. (Well, that and selling ads, but this post is about the organic side.) They have been said to be tracking user interaction stats that show what happens when a user clicks on a search engine result that leads to your website. If a large percentage of users click on your website and instantly go back to Google’s search results page, then this interaction tells Google that your website might not be a good match for that user’s query. On the other hand, if a user clicks on the link to your website from Google and doesn’t come back to Google for a long amount of time, then Google deduces that the user has more than likely found what they were looking for, thus giving your site an uptick in ranking factors. If a large percentage of users do the same thing, then, depending on other ranking factors, your position in the search results will go up. This type of ranking factor plays into the “authority” that Google likes to see in websites. So make catchy, in-depth, authoritative content that keeps searchers on your site.
- Technical Ability – With the shift to cater to mobile and tablet users, websites are not only expected to have relevant, compelling content, but also the ability to serve that content based on device and with blazing speed. What this means is that your website has to be technically current. It has to either be responsive, or have another version specifically for mobile, tablets, etc. You have to also have website coding that is small and efficient. Gone are the days of Flash intros, landing pages with huge graphics and bells and whistles that don’t add value to what the point of your website is. It also means that you have to pay attention to where you host your website, and the web hosting company’s ability to serve the site up quickly. There are many ways to help make your website load quicker, whether it be through CDN’s, smaller code, and better hosting options, and all of these options will give you a better ranking factor and set you apart from your competitors’ old, slow-loading, and technically horrible sites.
The assumption that Google and other search engines make is that, if you have a well-written, compelling site that serves all users, regardless of device, at a blazing fast speed, then the other ranking factors will fall in line. These sites usually organically gain backlinks, social mentions and buzz. Remember that a good foundation is always paramount to what your site can serve and do, and it is better to get everything in your control working correctly before worrying about the outside factors that may help improve your rank.
You can read more in-depth, comprehensive reporting by downloading the study from Searchmetrics.