SEOs and digital marketers everywhere have been awaiting the update to the SEOMoz ranking factor report since it was last updated in 2007 (it’s on a 2 year update cycle) and SEO has moved on a long way since then particularly with the growth in universal search and social media.
The new v3 Search Engine Ranking report was released in August 2009. I think this is essential reading for anyone involved “hands-on” on digital marketing whether you’re involved in design, content editing or traffic building. I think the new structure and inclusion of many more ranking factors make it a “must read”. I also have more specific advice on Google updates which affect SEO in 2009.
If you’re not familiar with it, it’s still worth downloading the v2 Search Engine Ranking report which I think is simpler and still valid for the main ranking factors, although it misses many of the details.
One of the first changes you will see is that there are more categories of ranking factors shown in the pie chart below with their relative importance assessed.
While this chart isn’t scientific since it’s only an aggregation of the opinions of the hundred reviewers, I think it is helpful since it highlights the range and importance of factors which search engines may take into account when ranking pages.
It shows clearly the importance of the trust of individual domains on which pages are located and external indications of the importance of pages by links from other sites and the hyperlink anchor text contained within them. The 15% figure for On-page keyword usage should help show those less familiar with SEO that on-page optimisation will play a relatively small part in overall SEO success.
How to read the report
In the previous report each ranking factor was assessed out of 5 which was a more intuitive way of assessing the factor. In the new report, I would advise not taking too much notice of the labels very high, high, moderate, low importance.
The contention / agreement figures based on the standard deviation aren’t that useful, perhaps highlighting lack of agreement, I would say any figure over 8% suggests reasonable agreement.
Yes, I would agree with the categorisation of very high and high in most cases, but some factors rated moderated (such as keyword use anywhere in the H1 headline tag) and low importance (use of external pointing links on the page) are well worth implementing in my experience.
The main SEO ranking factors
I have used the summary below of the main on and off-page SEO factors based on v2 ranking factors report on my training courses for the last couple of years on more general digital marketing training courses as a one page snapshot. I think I will continue doing so since it’s a great summary, but in this document I will highlight some of the interesting new factors to consider.
- <title> tag = 4.9/5
- Keyword frequency and density = 3.7/5
- Keyword in headings = <h1> = 3.1, <h2> = 2.8
- Keyword in document name = 2.8
- Meta name description = 2/5
- Meta name keywords = 1/5
This is useful to highlight the myth of the importance of meta tag which so many generalist marketers seem to cling to… I would rate the meta name factors even lower.
- Link anchor text contains keyword = 4.4/5
- More backlinks (higher PageRank)= 4/5
- Link Popularity within the Site’s Internal Link Structure=4/5
- Page assessed as a hub = 3.5/5
- Page assessed as an authority = 3.5/5
- Link velocity (rate at which changes) = 3.5/5
So finally onto the new categories and positive ranking factors to consider, I’ll pick out some of the less well-known factors which are new or covered differently from the previous reports.
1. On-page (keyword-specific ranking factors)
Keyword Use in the First 50-100 Words in HTML on the Page
45% moderate importance, 9.9% light consensus
This is well-known to most SEOs, but wasn’t highlighted in the original report
Keyword Use as the First Word(s) of the Title Tag
63% high importance, 11.3% light consensus
Likewise, well-known to most SEOs, but an example of a detail that’s in the new report but not the old.
Keyword Use in other Headline Tags (<h2> – <h6>)
35% low importance, 8% light consensus
This is an example of a factor that I think is underestimated and also produces much more readable copy, so should be recommended on online copywriting courses.
2. On-Page (Non-Keyword) Ranking Factors
Recency (freshness) of Page Creation
50% moderate importance, 10.5% moderate consensus
Google does seem to give a boost to new content which is why individual blog posts perform well before many links are accrued. This is sometimes known as the QDF (Query Deserves Freshness) factor.
Use of External-Pointing Links on the Page
37% low importance, 13.3% moderate contention
I believe editorial linking to other relevant pages on the site and external sites is really worthwhile for usability and SEO although this importance rating doesn’t suggest this.
3. Page-Specific Link Popularity Ranking Factors
I agree with the very high importance of these two factors:
Diversity of Link Sources (links from many unique root domains)
67% very high importance, 8.5% moderate consensus
Page-Specific TrustRank (whether the individual page has earned links from trusted sources)
65% very high importance, 8.7% moderate consensus
4. Site-Wide Link-Based Ranking Factors
Similar to the indidvidal page factors, trust for the site as a whole “domain importance” are key:
Trustworthiness of the Domain Based on Link Distance from Trusted Domains (e.g. TrustRank, Domain mozTrust, etc.)
66% very high importance, 9.5% light consensus
Global Link Popularity of the Domain Based on an Iterative Link Algorithm (e.g. PageRank on the domain graph, Domain mozRank, etc.)
64% high importance, 11% light consensus
5. Site-Wide (non-link based) Ranking Factors
Site Architecture of the Domain (whether intelligent, useful hierarchies are employed)
52% moderate importance, 13% moderate contention
6. Social Media/Social Graph Based Ranking Factors
I think the importance of these is underestimated and all site owners should think about the type of content which will attract bookmarks since these days many new pages are bookmarked or retweeted rather than having links to them. I was also surprised to see Google Bookmarks excluded – I would expect this to be more important since it’s data Google hold from the toolbar which they should be able to assess for gaming.
Examples of ratings:
Delicious Data About the Domain or Page
21% very minimal importance, 11.9% light consensus
StumbleUpon Data About the Domain or Page
19% very minimal importance, 12.3% moderate contention
7. Usage Data Ranking Factors
I and many other SEOs have long believed position relative clickthrough rates are important signals, so showing the importance of writing appealing titles and descriptions. These ratings suggest these are the case:
Historical Click-Through Rate from Search Results to the Exact Page/URL
42% low importance, 11.4% light consensus
Historical Click-Through Rate from Search Results to Pages on this Domain
39% low importance, 11.3% light consensus
The use of a generic term in association with the brand is a relatively new factor SEOs have been discussing with the Vince update which it’s good to see included also.
Search Queries for the Domain Name or Associated Brand
36% low importance, 12.3% moderate contention
8. Geo-Targeting Factors:
It’s good to see a separate section on these which is a must read for all marketing internationally.
The top 4 are most important here:
Country Code TLD of the Root Domain (e.g. .co.uk, .de, .fr, .com.au, etc.)
69% very high importance, 7.9% moderate consensus
Language of the Content Used on the Site
63% high importance, 9.3% light consensus
Links from Other Domains Targeted to the Country/Region
60% high importance, 10.3% light consensus
Geographic Location of the Host IP Address of the Domain
57% high importance, 12%.0 moderate contention