According to an annual search engine optimization (SEO) study, quality content has finally achieved the prominent position as a search ranking factor.

SEO consultancy and platform provider SearchMetrics released what it called its most ambitions study last week, measuring all of Google’s SEO ranking factors and finding a strong correlation between content and rankings.

“[Content is] no longer in addition to, but the main focus of, SEO,” SearchMetrics founder Marcus Tober wrote in the study. “[R]elevance is key. In all areas, the trend towards a natural structure is clear. Just as the quality of the link profile is better when designed, the overall content structure is better when it is easily understood and holistic.”

The SearchMetrics study, released Sept. 7, determined that quality content was crucial to search engine rankings in part by measuring Proof and Relative Terms, two factors based on word co-occurrence analysis. The study also showed that the length of content has increased, and that quality internal linking structure continues to be a critical element to SEO rankings.

Keyword use and balance onpage remain important to SEO rankings, according to the study. Keyword presence in the copy, title and description of the landing page should be done so as to avoid keyword stuffing. Site load speed was also found to be an important factor. “Good site architecture is the beginning and end of effective SEO,” wrote Tober.

Other findings included the continued importance of backlinks and user signals.

Tober wrote that the study showed backlink quantity and quality remained important to rankings. However, while backlink correlation to rankings has increased, the number of keyword backlinks in content has decreased. And interestingly, if not playing-field level, backlinks used by major brands appear to work differently than those for other URLs in search results (SERPs).

As for findings concerning user signals, SearchMetrics found that higher ranking sites enjoy both a better time-on-site and click-through rate. The bounce rate was also lower for sites with better rankings.

Social signals, on the other hand, slipped slightly as a ranking factor in the past year.

This year’s study of Google’s top 30 rankings for 10,000 keywords (covering 300,000 URLs) included many new factors in the analysis. Data on dozens of new characteristics such as bounce rates, time-on-site, and fresh links were added to the study, according to Tober.

“We have greatly expanded the number of features researched to analyze and evaluate what differentiates the higher-ranking sites in the top positions in Google from those that don’t quite make it,” Tober wrote in the study. “This year we have put more weight on average values of the features, as these produce a more accurate analysis in addition to the respective correlation values.”


The 2014 Rank Correlation Analysis and SEO Ranking Factors for Google U.S. Searchmetrics. September 7, 2014.