Update to Moz SEO Ranking Factors recommendations

A summary of the 2015 ranking factors analysis


Recommended link: Moz SEO Ranking factors 2015 edition

SEOs everywhere have now been following the SEOmoz (now Moz) ranking factors for a very long time - I think I start recommending them in training ten years ago in 2005!

Over time, the analysis has become more complex with a move from trusted experts' opinion to additional correlation based analysis. In many ways, I prefer the original breakdown of on and off page factors for its simplicity - as shown below, but there are many more factors to consider now of course.

You can get the full detailed report from the link above. In this summary I highlight the main ranking factors, with a brief analysis of the implications for marketers who aren't full-time SEO.

The Experts' opinions on ranking factors

The best quick summary on ranking factors for non-specialists is, for me, still the Experts' analysis. Here's the latest from 2015, where respondents rated the relative levels of influence exerted by broad areas of ranking factors on a scale of 1 (not influential) to 10 (highly influential):

Moz 2015 SEO Ranking factors

This shows, according to Moz, that

  • 1. Links (to the domain overall and individual pages) are still believed to be the most important part of the algorithm. 'Link-building is not dead'  as some content marketers have proclaimed, but 'link earning' is where we should be focusing.
  • 2. Keyword usage on the page is still fundamental, and other than links is thought to be the most important type of factor.
  • 3. SEOs think social sharing has an influence but it is relatively low

Studies according to correlation studies

For the study, Dr. Peters examined the top 50 Google results of 16,521 search queries, resulting in over 700,000 unique URLs (methodology). Moz cautions, as Kristian Petterson does in this Smart Insights post that correlation does not equal causation. However, correlation studies give a quantitative method of showing the potential relative influence of different factors.

The full report has many correlations of which this analysis, at a page level shows that at page level overall page authority is most important, particularly unique linking domains, but with internal links having some influence.

Ranking factors page level 2015

There is also an even longer chart for the main on-page SEO factors see this LOOOONG chart.

This confirms that simple measures of the number of keywords like the number of keyword matches in the title or main heading doesn't have an influence as it would have in the early days of SEO. Instead, semantic similarity, as shown by techniques like Latent Dirichlet Allocation or TF*IDF are significant today. Essentially, this means that's it's important to not only target specific keywords in titles, headings or body text, but to clearly show the theme of a piece of content by using synonyms and related concepts for a theme. This LDA SEO analysis article on Moz explains more.

Further correlations based on site engagement (dwell time) show that these also have an influence as many have speculated since Google can detect time between queries.

Summary of ranking factors in 2015

There is a lot more depth in the full report, but if you don't have time, here is the infographic summary.


The main SEO ranking factors - 2007 style

For historical interest and to make this post more actionable, I have retained this summary from previous versions of this post since it could help newbies understand the SEO ranking factors better since it mentions specific 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 and books for a long time since they give a one-page snapshot. I continue to do so before showing the newer data since it shows the relative importance of factors like the title tag well and the relative unimportance of the meta keywords...

On-page optimisation:

  • <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.

Off-page optimisation:

  • 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

This Slideshare presentation from Mozcon is a good way to browse the latest correlations covering specific such as the type of anchor text which is most effective in ranking.

Share your thoughts

  • Thanks Dave. Gives good perspective. So ‘common sense’ basics still apply and keeping things ‘authentic’ and ‘natural’.

  • rakesh commented on October 3, 2013

    Is there anyone who have own seo concept to rank well on Google on globally because whenever I search for this I got only seomoz followers and according to me they made it very complicated as I think for a successful seo we need to focus very natural way ! and I would say this is one of copy paste article.

  • iMysecy commented on October 2, 2013

    tag and Link anchor text contains keyword are the most important part of SEO.

    Thanks for such a informative article Dave.

  • Good overview Dave! Like the pie chart, I think that the break down of the factors was helpful. Although with
    ” tag = 4.9/5
    * Keyword frequency and density = 3.7/5
    * Keyword in headings = = 3.1, = 2.8
    * Keyword in document name = 2.8
    * Meta name description = 2/5
    * Meta name keywords = 1/5″
    I was supprised that the meta description was put as more important than meta keyword, I thought that the description tatg was not used anymore.

    • Hi – the original score out of 5 are nearly 3 years old now and are based on many expert reviews.

      I would personally rate meta keywords as 0 and meta description as 1 – not because it has any ranking benefit in Google – neither of these ever have. Rather the description is in the SERPs so can encourage clickthrough and show the benefits of a site / brand.

    • I was surprised, too.

      As far as search rankings go, I would have both keywords and description at a 0. Neither has ANY effect on SERPs, so I don’t understand why anyone would give them any cred at all.

      If it was a ‘Traffic from Organic Listings’ then I would say that description provides click-through rate improvements, but it doesn’t effect rankings.

      • Yes agree, Michael, thanks for the comment. Of course the meta description does affect assessment of duplicate content, so it is worth keeping distinct for key pages for that reason as well as SERPs CTR.

  • Hi Dave – excellent aticle [as usual 😉 ]

    Sorry I’m late to the party on this one, but I just received the newsletter in which it is featured. I’ve a couple of points to add.

    First off – and I appreciate why it was not part of your article – but I always lead any SEO talk/seminar/etc on the choice of suitable/relevant keywords. Everything you quite rightly include as ‘on-page’ and some of the ‘off-page’ stuff all revolves around the keywords. It’s no good having ‘your’ choice of keyword in all the ‘right’ places if the target market is searching on other terms.

    Secondly, I am a great supporter of the concept that the search engines try to look at a website as a human does – and so the on-page aspects are common sense. Well … at least they are common sense to me, but then my introduction to the Internet was with a book publisher who was moving online circa 1996.

    This publishing background meant that when using basic html to build a website, it was ‘common sense’ to:

    * Include the subject of the page in the page title tag [the same as we did for a book chapter]
    * Include the subject in the content – how do you write about [for example] ‘super turbo widgets’ without without using the words ‘super turbo widgets’ in the text
    * Include the subject in the tag – it is the ‘headline’ of the page and so tells the reader what the page is about [paper-based publishing again]
    * Include the subject [eg super turbo widgets] in the meta tags as they describe the content of the page to the search engines [at least they used to do, but now-a-days the description tag’s role in SERPs should not be ignored]

    OK, so things might have moved on ‘off-site’, but these basic issues remain as a sound foundation for any other ‘advanced’ SEO efforts. I would even argue that some aspects of the off-site SEO will flow ‘naturally’ from getting these basics right. As Julia points out in her response, good content is essential, and good content will ‘naturally’ include the keywords – if it doesn’t, it’s talking about a different subject!

  • Dave – I think it will make a great article! I especially agree with the part about big up for other companies, think it helps to point to resources from others, especially when valuable. Also makes you more believable as a source if you are not constantly plugging your own content.
    Have seen very good results with how-to articles and top 10 lists of pointers and yes think nowadays the only problem with these is that they are becoming very popular so more effort is required to make your list unique, innovative and completely original. I think emphasis should be on encouraging feedback, edits or growth of the list from other users.
    I also like the controversy idea – sometimes inviting criticism and negative commentary makes the article so much more interesting as then it really becomes a discussion rather than one-sided view.
    Look forward to reading it!

  • Agree with both, great content really has to be the cornerstone not just for organic linkbuilding for SEO but, nowadays, for your website as a whole if you want to keep customers on the site for long enough to convert and to keep them coming back.
    I find that once my clients appreciate the importance of this and shift their focus to creating good content with industry writers or internal people who know their product and ideal clients inside out, they start to create ‘linkbait’ naturally and I just need to guide the optimisation process.
    Have seen great results with content that addresses key client concerns head on or explains and expands on areas of confusion or disagreement within the keyphrase area we are targeting – eg when a query has popped up on high traffic forums that a client can effectively resolve as an expert, we try and jump on it and create a resource around it to point to. If you get one of those right, you are discussed/linked to from highly relevant forums, discussion boards, articles, social networks etc.
    Dave – would love to read more from you on ways to maximise links from great content.

    • Thanks Julia,

      Always useful to have prompts to create posts to help others.

      On maximising links from content, I think getting links is trickier with the advent of Twitter, since many prefer to Tweet rather than blog and link back to source although this gives you one form of links from Twitter.

      Here are some top-of-mind ideas,

      Write articles, create tools, with link-building in mind – who is your target audience not only to read, but also to link to and bookmark
      Be useful – this is why lists to how-to-guides work well in B2B space – this is my preferred approach.
      Be controversial
      Mention, review or generally big-up other companies or people and they may link to you.
      Use a range of techniques, not just articles – SEOMoz has a great list of link-bait ideas, e.g. comprehensive diagrams/charts work for social media
      Viral seeding – seed your article to different sources, or break it down into different parts which are useful for and can be seeded to different audiences

      I’ll turn that into an article next month!

      What do you think Julia – what are your ideas?

  • Useful data from a technical perspective, but in my opinion there is still the question of how to get good links coming in… and the answer to that must surely lie in having great content – your site must be useful, interesting, relevant and unique. A good SEOr must know the above, but must focus on how to get the website owner to publish the right content. Do you agree?

    • Totally agree Elliot,

      With the many negative factors i didn’t discuss in this post, quality links are becoming more important all the time and the only way to get these is through quality content as I discussed in this post on Link building success.

      Also I think social media and bookmarking is under emphasised in the SEOmoz report and effective social media also requires quality content.

      I think the move to integrating SEO / social media as services for agencies and SEO/social media job roles for clients is a reflection of this trend.

      Perhaps I and others should write more on content / “linkbaiting” options!