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Google search ranking factors no longer apply universally but must be analyzed on an industry-specific basis, says Searchmetrics in releasing its latest annual search rankings study [download page]. Still, it’s important to understand overall trends and general rankings factors, with this year’s final industry-wide edition indicating that “the most important ranking factor is content that is perfectly aligned to the user intention, together with an optimized page architecture.”
In other words, user signals – such as click-through rate – are tremendously important as a general search rankings factor. A new element introduced this year – content relevance – reflects a “dynamic between individual content relevance and user intent,” while technical factors are considered still a “prerequisite” for high rankings.
Shown below are several of the key results from the study, organized by subject matter. Refer to the chart above to see the full correlation values.
A quick note on interpreting correlation in this context: as explained by Searchmetrics:
“a high correlation indicates large differences in terms of the given ranking factor amongst the analyzed URLs, when ordered from position 1 to 20. This is not to be confused with the ranking factor’s importance.”
Readers are encouraged to review the methodology note at the end of this article as it contains more details from Searchmetrics about how to interpret the data.
The full report can be downloaded here.
Methodology Note: This explanation has been provided to MarketingCharts by Searchmetrics:
“Correlation coefficients are a starting point for understanding the importance of individual ranking factors – for example a high positive score means that more of a factor is present at successively higher positions. However, in each case, Searchmetrics takes a closer look at the relationship between the ranking factor and how it varies across positions 1 to 20 to help get a clearer sense of how important it is.
For example, certain technical factors may be present in nearly all results in the top 20, meaning there is a correlation coefficient of close to 0. This does not necessarily signify that these technical factors are unimportant – but rather that they are ever-present and potentially are a prerequisite for ranking in the top 20 positions.
For other factors (such as social signals) we measured huge positive increases in the factor at successively higher ranking positions. However, although the correlation coefficient is high –it does not necessarily mean that it’s a strong signal. The correlation coefficient just measures the differences of the ranking URLs with regard to the examined factor – it does not mean that Google is ranking these URLs more highly because of this factor.”
About the Data: Searchmetrics notes the following in its report:
“As in previous years, the general ranking factors and rank correlations are based on a set of 10,000 relevant keywords. For some factors, a more in-depth analysis required the definition of specially-defined keyword sets.
All correlations are always based on the complete dataset. In the past, we excluded Wikipedia results from some mean value calculations. We have now done this across the board for all factors, because Google’s ranking algorithm seems to apply non-standard criteria to the online encyclopedia.
Furthermore, median values are often provided, as these give a more accurate impression of the real trend, whereas mean values are sometimes disproportionately skewed by outlying values. Any exceptions are clearly indicated on the appropriate graphs. Wherever relevant and useful, we have also included a comparison with the previous year’s results.”
Many websites are facing serious or severe on-site SEO issues, SEMrush reveals in an audit of 100,000 websites and 450 million pages. In fact, 6 of the 10 most commonly-found problems are considered to be of the most severe variety, ranging from duplicate content and title tags to broken external links.
The most common problem is duplicate content, found on half of the websites sampled. While this doesn’t carry a penalty, SEMrush notes that it does affect choice of pages to rank for as well as the overall consumer experience.
The next-most common problem is the presence of images with missing ALT tags, with 45% of sampled websites having this problem. While not a severe problem, these can affect image search and are an important consideration now that visuals are taking a greater role in content marketing.
While not as prevalent an issue, the audit also found a more serious problem with images: 1 in 10 had broken internal images. Together with the more than one-third (35%) of sites with broken internal links and the quarter with broken external links, the results show that this is a fairly common issue that can affect page rankings and user experience.
On the topic of links, a recent study from Stone Temple Consulting suggests that they’re more important to SEO than might be thought. Indeed, while content quality is obviously critical, links are also a crucial ranking factor.
Returning to the SEMrush study, other severe issues found on websites include:
The full list of problems found can be seen in the chart above, and in the Infographic below...
With more details laid out in the SEMrush post accessible here.