10 Modern SEO Ranking Factors Businesses Should Abide By
SEO is a multi-faceted channel. One that has evolved significantly from its so-called “silo” days. Companies must now evaluate, strategize and implement in accordance for optimal search visibility in the marketplace. In the U.S. alone, Google dominates 85% of the search market share. The #1 activity on a desktop, tablet or mobile device of U.S. internet users begins with a search for a product or service using Google.com.
During this past week, I was in the midst of prospecting. In essence, striving for a partnership with a major video production company as an outsourced Search provider. The course of our conversation was actually quite familiar to me. The principal of the company began to weave me into the current practices of their existing Search partner. As with so many other SEO/SEM and Search related conversations I’ve had over the last 10+ years, it went something along the lines of “We rank for these keywords…” and “These keywords helped us generate XXX revenue.”
Selling SEO/SEM/Search services is a giant pain in the butt. Having been in the Search realm for over 10 years, this has been a constant reminder for me. Most companies either have rudimentary knowledge of Search or establish unrealistic expectations that they will adhere to regardless. Every brand seeks ROI behind their investment, and most pursue instant gratification. Unfortunately, with SEO/SEM/Search, this can be difficult to accomplish. That is unless of course you operate an e-commerce platform where you sell a product or can establish direct attribution to your SEO/SEM/Search endeavors.
That’s just it! Correlation and attribution with SEO/SEM/Search is extremely difficult. Defining a success metric can most certainly establish some form of correlation and attribution for ROI sake. I talked about marketing ROI in a recent post.
The Thematic Clusters of SEO Ranking Factors
It’s important to understand that SEO is not just about keyword rankings and title tags. The changing consumer behavior, trends, and patterns in the marketplace are forcing Search to evolve. So much so, that Search as a channel may be rebranded to something completely different in the long-term. For the time being though, brands should acknowledge the multiple clusters that play key roles in the Search realm.
Domain-Level, Keyword-Agnostic (5.21%)
Keyword-rich domains still remain as key ranking factors as part of the SEO ecosystem. However, keyword-rich domains have not maintained the same high levels they could once expect. There are 3 significant components to pay attention to on the domain-level side of things.
- Domain Name Length – the length of your domain matters in Search. Not only from a ranking standpoint, but also usability. Think about your brand recognition and acknowledgement of customers in the marketplace. Does your domain name correlate and/or articulate the products or services offered? Is it concise or comprehensive? There are no specific character limits that would create the perfect domain name length. But you should give strong consideration to something that resonates with your brand. Something that your customers will also remember.
- TLD (Top Level Domain) Extension – .com domains are still extremely important. These are the ones that will also acquire the highest potential for organic optimization. Other TLD extensions such as .biz, .net, .co, to name a but few, are also gaining popularity. Make no mistake though, as things currently stand, .com TLD extensions still offer the highest ranking potential.
- HTTP Response Time – speed is a ranking factor. Google made this particular known nearly 6 years ago. It is mainly due to the fact that consumers seek faster access to information. Therefore, speed and ultimately HTTP response times, play a critical role in SEO rankings. So this is another critical factor that companies should put forth strong attention to detail to.
Domain-Level, Link Authority Features (20.94%)
Link building on the internet is equivalent to traditional relationship building. At the domain level, search engines such as Google pay particular attention to who you specifically associate your brand with on regular basis. For instance, relevance plays a huge role in link building, especially at the domain level. What other websites link to you and vice versa? Are they relevant to your company? Are these TLDs as authoritative as yours or do they offer less authority? These types of relationships are taken into consideration by search engine robots to determine your domain-level authority.
Disavowing links from being associated with your domain is an option that every brand should explore. This particular option is especially handy if you’ve determined that there are TLDs that are irrelevant to your brand. By putting forth disavow requests it can help your TLD retain its authority in the search realm.
Page-Level Link Features (19.15%)
This particular cluster of the Search pie is quite similar to domain-level link authority features. The exceptional parts are quantity of links, anchor text distribution, and quality of link sources. Let’s break each of these down a little bit further though.
- Quantity of Links – the internal and external link matrix of your individual website pages matters. The way they weave into each other internally helps establish that internal matrix of connectivity. From an external perspective at a page-level it’s important to establish an external matrix. That external matrix should connect your website’s internal pages with other supporting external pages on the website. This is typically focus on relevance and companionship with other entities.
- Anchor Text Distribution – internal and external anchor text usage stands of importance today in the search world. It helps search engine robots better understand the contextual importance of content and better position it within its repository. Then these pages become more accessible by search engine robots and ultimately users who seek such information.
- Quality of Link Sources – while backlinks, internal, and external matrixes matter it’s imperative to put forth strong consideration around quality of link sources. Are they relevant to specific pages on your website? Relevance of course being the keyword worth paying attention to significantly.
Page-Level Keywords & Content Features (14.94%)
Keyword inclusion and keyword density still matters in SEO. Topic modeling, quantity, and relevance also play a factorial role. This is where a valiant content marketing strategy can be extremely beneficial. Hence I mentioned above that SEO is a multi-faceted discipline. For this particular ranking cluster you should definitely consider the help of a content strategist. Particularly when it comes to defining relevant content that pertains to your target audience. This is something that search engine robots pay strong attention to these days.
Page-Level, Keyword-Agnostic Features (9.8%)
This particular factor is very similar to the one above. The exception is that it focuses more on keywords in conjunction with content. Content length, readability, and uniqueness are the determining factors. There are many theories and even success stories indicating that longer form content resonates more with online users. Longer form content tends to generate more interest and provide stronger value to users. The readability aspect assists with ensuring that content can be digested easily. Uniqueness on the other hand is a whole different story.
Truth be told 25% of content on the web today is repurposed. It is extremely hard to come up with authentic and unique content that nobody else has thought of already. Many other marketing professionals will go as far as stating that unique content is the basis of SEO these days. That is not entirely true but content does play a dominant role in organic rankings.
Domain-Level Brand Features (8.59%)
Offline brand mentions, news, press, traditional outlets and other entity associations, also play a key role in SERP rankings. If you’re avid on your Google Analytics activity, you may have noticed an rise in Direct Traffic. This is a result of offline mentions in your brand that are creating direct traffic activity. The quantification aspect of this type of behavior is practically non-existent. although from a Search perspective, it plays a factorial role in rankings. For instance, search engine robots take into consideration the Direct Traffic interactions with organic visitors. This particular activity is wrapped within the brand features and evaluated in terms of organic rankings.
Users, Traffic and Query Data (8.06%)
This particular cluster is of specific technical nature. Not many companies are aware of the fact that companies like Google take strong consideration of Google Chrome usage. Especially when it comes to the SERPs and organic rankings.
- Browsers – the type of browser someone uses to access Google particularly, is important and taken into consideration. Search giants like Google are heavily interested in accessibility of SERPs from a cross-browser standpoint. If users can not access a search engine from a specific browser, then that is problematic. It quite obviously limits traffic potential.
- Toolbars – many of these are still being used to this day. A portion of SERP rankings are reliant on toolbar usage. Not just any toolbars though. The Google toolbar (or any other browser for that matter,) and search engine takes it into consideration within its own algorithm.
- Queries CTR – a high CTR (click-thru rate) on a specific query, and one that pertains to a SERP and your ranking, is evaluated as part of the SEO algorithm. Higher CTR queries that provide better results in the SERPs might equate to specific pages being shown more often to users. This is where content and keywords can play a major role in CTR.
Social Metrics (7.24%)
It’s quite obvious that social signals are factorial with the Search algorithm. I mean, who can forget the Google+ days, right? Google took a stab at social networking but entered the game a little too late for sustainability. While Google+ grew faster than any other social media network, that wasn’t quite enough for it to sustain. The importance of social media metrics and signals in the SERPs, have doubled in terms of importance over last couple of years. Mainly due to the fact that social media helps spark new trends and patterns that impact Search behavior.
Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are the top 3 social media platforms that search engines like Google pay strong attention to. This is mainly due to the fact that these particular platforms are dominating the social space and boast large audiences. These particular audiences are comprised of consumers that impact Search trends and develop new patterns in the SERPs. Having a presence on these 3 social media networks though, is not enough. There must be proactive activity, value and insight that is enticing to users. Only then, search engines like Google can honor such behavior and factor within the Search algorithm.
Domain Level Keyword Usage (6.98%)
This one is a little tough. Based on internal research, MOZ’s Rand Fishkin indicates that keyword usage in TLDs still has merit. However, other Search experts like Neil Patel state that it’s a myth. It’s a bit hard to gauge. For the most part though, from a branding standpoint, it’s relevant to have a domain that is keyword-rich. Your domain should contain some keywords that include the product or service you offer. There is contextual value there from a SERP perspective and can help reel in additional traffic potential.
The Hard Cold Truth About SEO
SEO is hard and DIY SEO is even harder. It’s a constantly moving target, and difficult to maintain a steady pulse on the situation. That being said, after 10+ years of Search experience, I am still learning and even re-learning on daily basis. This is mainly due to the fact that consumers are frequently invoking new trends and patterns that affect Search behavior. The correlation between user intent and actual interfacing of search query data is difficult to pinpoint. Google has spent nearly two decades attempting to better understand the intent behind individual user search and to constantly improve the results they return.
What are your thoughts on the evolution of SEO/SEM/Search? Do you have any questions on where Search is now, or predictions on where it may be heading? Please share with us!
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