Ever wonder how Google decides to rank one website higher than another? The SEO experts at Searchmetrics have (a lot!) and they’ve just released a new report that provides interesting insights into what factors separate high-ranking pages (i.e., those that occupy the top 30 spots) from everybody else.
In a nutshell, the company analyzed 300,000 websites to see how various ranking factors correlated with search position and evaluated how their relative importance has changed over time. Many of the factors deal with technical details (e.g., URL length, https encryption, etc.) that are better left to your webmaster but several involve features and elements worth incorporating as you plan your web presence. Here are 5:
Length matters: Despite the common conception that people don’t read online, the research found that longer content correlates well with search rank. Compared to 2014, the average word count on pages in the top 10 search results increased around 25%, rising from 975 to 1,285 words. Presumably, longer content gives users what they’re looking for by providing more comprehensive information.
Time on site: The better the content, the more time visitors are likely to spend on your website, another factor that Google interprets favorably. Some of that can be attributed to length but you can also maximize this ‘dwell time’ by incorporating internal links, embedding videos and having an extensive gallery of before and after photos.
Mobile-friendliness: Responsive design, as it’s called, ensures websites automatically adjust page display to the corresponding end device (desktop, tablet, smartphone etc.). With mobile searches approaching, and in some cases overtaking, desktop searches, it’s more important than ever that your tech team optimizes your website for the full range of devices and search styles.
Don’t count on keywords: Just a few years ago, some SEOs would try to game the system by cramming search terms onto pages in the hopes of matching healthcare seekers’ search terms (aka keyword stuffing). That no longer works (and can even lead to penalties) so it’s better to focus on creating relevant, semantically dense (aka informative) content.
Backlinks will become less important: As with keywords, an excessive reliance on links from other websites (a tactic used to suggest authority) has prompted to Google to crack down. They still correlate well with search rank, says the report, but their importance is declining and will likely continue to do so going forward.
In search, change is the only constant
Even as the software engineers at Google update their algorithms to ensure searchers find the content they seek, SEOs are busy adapting their techniques in an effort to capitalize on the changes and generate higher search ranks. It’s a game of cat and mouse where the mice (SEOs) may win in the short term but the cat (Google) always wins in the end. The key to long-term survival is to work with your webmaster or marketing agency to ensure they’re addressing the changes, rather than trying to manipulate them.