Google Ranking Factors – The End as We Know Them

For Lawyers, Doctors, and Dentists

This is the second of a three-part update on SEO in 2017, and follows up Why Long Tail SEO is Better Than Fixating on Prized Keyword Phrases.  To provide additional perspective on SEO trends, I thought it would be helpful to share insights from a highly recognized SEO-industry authority, SearchMetrics, an enterprise platform for SEO, content marketing and social media agencies.

SearchMetrics, which annually publishes its highly anticipated Google Ranking Factors study (published in December), indicated that its 2016 report will be the last time it will publish the study in its traditional form.

The end of ranking factors as we know them

“Whilst general ranking factors and rank correlations provide a broad overview of which search elements tend to be the most important, and how the best-ranking landing pages vary regarding these elements, they can no longer be considered universally applicable for all webmasters. Ranking factors that apply equally to all industries have ceased to exist. This is primarily because the content requirements depend so heavily on different user intentions.”

SearchMetrics describes the evolution of Google’s indexing as one that was once considered “static” to one that has become “fluid,” and a future that may be described as adaptable.

“What was once a slow, clunky algorithm that needed updating one step at a time has now become a fluid, highly complex organism that changes continuously.”

With the evolution of Google’s learning machine algorithm (incorporating RankBrain), we anticipate changes will occur more fluidly and organically, rather than the previous large, broad-sweeping Google updates we have seen in the past.

SearchMetrics indicates that industry-specific studies, which have unique content, user activities and website architecture, will be more relevant than “across-the-board” ranking factors. 

However, for those of you who would like to see the results of their last ranking factor study, I will share an overview of some its 2016 findings.

  1. Content - Higher performing desktop content is longer than mobile content (about 30 percent longer)
  2. Headings – Top URLs utilize optimized headings and subheadings (H1, H2)
  3. Keywords – With RankBrain, individual keywords tend have secondary importance and is giving way to more holistic relevant text
  4. User Experience – User activity elements continue to have a growing influence on Google ranking
    1. Average time on site for top domains is over 3 minutes
    2. Average bounce rate is under 50 percent (46%)
    3. Increased use of  “structured data,” such as lists and bullet points to improve user experience
    4. Mobile pages load about second faster than desktop
  5. Security - Nearly half of the top 10 ranking sites use HTTPS encryption
  6. Social Media – Social signals continue to have similar high correlation to Google rankings compare to recent years
  7. Backlinks – Although backlinks continue to correlate highly with search engine ranking, their impact seems to point to a declining trend.

Pages from Ranking Factors Infographic.jpg

Although there are some differences in the 2016 ranking factor study compared to previous years, there isn’t any one significant, game-changing SEO element.  The biggest takeaway is that more and more focus needs to be put on the ever-changing end user.  This includes their search patterns, how they consume content, technology they utilize, and the type and level of information they consider “relevant” to what they are seeking. 

SEO is no longer a static algorithm with static keyword phrases and optimization.  Your ongoing tracking and SEO strategies need to reflect these changes.

If you would like more details on how your target audiences are searching and how to address these moving targets, call us at (303) 233-3886.  Or email us. We specialize in: