For several years, Searchmetrics has been compiling reports on Google ranking factors to help developers and SEOs understand what the search giant is looking for.
Their latest report focuses on user experience, content, social signals, backlinks, and technical aspects.
Here’s a quick summary to give you an idea of what’s going on.
In this case, the user experience focuses on design, usability and on-page optimization.
- The use of images on websites is increasing, but there are fewer videos as a direct result of Google’s decision to play only video thumbnails in the SERPs.
- The top 30 rankings contain fewer sites that carry Google AdSense ads, proving that you shouldn’t distract your users with ads that don’t improve their user experience.
- The highest ranking pages are those that contain interactive elements that are easy to understand and offer chunked text that can be skimmed and scanned.
- Top-ranked sites are responsive and don’t use Flash
- User signals play a larger role, such as SERP click behavior, data collected through Google Analytics, personalized search, Gmail history, and browser data.
The old adage “content is king” still holds true, plus relevant content has usurped keywords as the most important factor for rankings.
- Sites now contain more content, but the volume should be directly related to helping your prospects buy, not just word count.
- The content must be easy to read.
- Pages with the most relevant content rank first
There is a direct correlation between social signals and top ranking URLs.
- Significant increase in the average number of social signals per URL and corresponding ranking
- Social signals are involved in brand awareness, domain performance, and direct traffic
Backlinks are thought to be losing their power to influence rankings as other factors start to play a bigger role.
- Domain names are found more often in backlink anchor text than in a keyword
- More backlinks refer to deep link URLs instead of the home page
- There are more no-follow links than before
- Much of these changes could be a direct response to Google’s attempt to stop “unnatural” link information.
These relate to factors on the page that are not directly linked to the content of a page, but contribute to the search engine reading your site.
- Keywords are losing importance. Google understands semantics and wants you to develop content that is interesting to read, not chock-full of repetitive keywords.
- Basics like highly optimized pages, meta descriptions, and H tags are very important as they help make your pages readable and scannable.
- Loading times will have an impact
- Domains with high SEO visibility have higher rankings with their URLs (have built a good search engine reputation)
The report is packed with great advice, especially the part about the declining role of keywords as a ranking factor. Hopefully that will mean we can say goodbye to those horrible sites that fill every inch of their design with keywords.
You can get the full report here.