SEO ranking factors 2014 – takeouts from latest Searchmetrics report

| 29 Sep, 2014

To help you understand the Searchmetrics ranking report, UK Managing Director Matt Owen gives you the key takeouts.

Video Transcription

The Searchmetrics ranking report has become a bit of an annual event in the SEO industry now. What the report does is it aggregates a massive amount of data from the Searchmetrics technical platform, and it paints an interesting picture around the key factors that influence website performance from a natural search point of view. This can cover all kinds of things from onsite content to backlinks to use of H1s to social signals.

There are loads and loads of factors. It's interesting insight for anybody who's involved in the SEO industry, whether you're a CMO or an SEO expert, into what really matters and what you should focus on in SEO for 2014 and beyond.

Outguessing Google is the secret sauce of SEO We have to try to understand what factors Google is looking at and tailor our clients' strategies accordingly. Google will never tell us. Why would they? Because if they made it clear how their algorithm works we'd constantly be beating the algorithm. Absolutely the report helps us understand where to focus both tactically and more strategically for our client campaigns.

Onsite factors in 2014 are interesting. Quite rightly, onsite and offsite have always been viewed as two parts of a joined up strategy. What the report tells us about the 2014 landscape is that a key thing is around site speed. We've always known that the performance of your site in terms of how quickly it loads into the browser has been a key SEO factor.

Google's messaging has always been about usability and about a great user experience. This year for the first time according to the Searchmetrics data, site speed is the top contributing factor to positive SEO performance across sites. We think that's partly due to the increased emphasis on mobile browsing. Clearly, if you're on a handheld device across a 3G connection, speed of performance is really important to that user experience. That's really interesting.

Other onsite factors to mention, one of the key things is historically we've seen a decline in the relevance of exact match domains. That's where you have the word car insurance in your domain name, and this year it's now correlating as a negative ranking factor. In other words, if you're about to launch a new domain or you're thinking about a new brand, think beyond this kind of expertscaffolding.com kind of approach, because it's probably going to be a negative factor for you in the future.

Site speed is also interesting from an enterprise point of view. Maybe smaller brands with less complicated websites tend to have less problems in the area of site speed. When we look at a big ecommerce site or a very big established brand with a lot of security, for example, often the site speed issue has been a problem for these kinds of sites, because the infrastructure has been bogged down by hierarchical issues or by issues from legacy technical platforms.

It sends a clear message to the technical teams for our clients, which is we have to look at these kinds of site performance issues whether that means code cleaning up, looking at content delivery networks. These things are very important factors now and can no longer be ignored.

Content comes across in the report as an absolutely critical issue. I know this is clear to anyone who's worked in SEO that content is important. What the Searchmetrics report tells us for 2014 is that looking at user signals, and specifically this has to do with click through rate on the SERPS page and then the bounce rate - how long you stay on the site, there's now a clear correlation that sites that rank in the top five positions have very positive user signals. This is the top content related correlation.

That, again, relates very much to what Google has always said. If you create a great site with great relevant content then that's going to improve your search ratings.

At a more detailed viewpoint this means that, for example, if you have onsite content, think about enriching it with things that encourage longer dwell time. Video content is a good example. If somebody wants to watch a video for a couple of minutes on your site, that's going to help that signal.

There's another interesting finding in the report that technical readability - for example, using something like a flesch, F-L-E-S-C-H, score to score your content - creates a positive correlation as well. What we can see there is the algorithm is constantly refining itself to recognise better and better quality content, and it is then rewarding brands who invest in that content with better rankings as well.

Page rank is still alive and well. Backlinks are still a key contributor to the visibility of your website. Larry Page was right all along. That's good news. Thank you, Larry.

I think what's changed very much, and the report clearly indicates this, is that the algorithm is now much better at spotting and understanding manufactured patterns. It's much better to think about your content strategy to encourage links naturally, and if these links are nofollow links, if they're links just containing brand name, if they're links that are quite diverse in terms of the anchor text, that's all really good, because that's exactly what we want to encourage.

We want your content to encourage linking from sites where it's not about an exact match anchor text on car insurance, I know I keep saying car insurance, or foreign holiday. That's not going to work for you anymore. In fact, there are negative correlations now between too many exact match anchor text links and the visibility of your site. It's all about diversity and ensuring that your content strategy is encouraged to get as many relevant but links of a diverse nature back to your site again.

The Searchmetrics report is incredibly comprehensive. Do download it. It's available from their .com website. We're a Searchmetrics partner by the way, so we love to see this kind of output from Searchmetrics.

If there's anything missing, I think Google quite recently has been talking about the relationship between having HTTPS domains, that's on a secure socket layer, and this is all about their privacy policy. Matt Cutt has published some information about this. Although Google will never say this explicitly, I think there is an inference that HTTPS content may assist your site in ranking a little bit better. That's not referenced at all in the Searchmetrics data, but, hey, that's a single data point amongst hundreds.

We think it's an interesting report and a must read if you're into SEO. Hopefully, you found this summary to be interesting. Thanks a lot.

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