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Ranking Factors Debate: Experts Share Practical Evidence #semrushchat

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Ranking Factors Debate: Experts Share Practical Evidence #semrushchat

Becky Shindell
Ranking Factors Debate: Experts Share Practical Evidence #semrushchat

Search engine optimization is a highly dynamic environment that evolves at a rapid pace. It aims at providing a smarter and more semantic search experience for its users and Google continues to introduce new algorithm updates and experiment within its mobile-first index. That is why we decided to delve deeper into the topic and analyze the top 100 positions for over 600,000 keywords worldwide for our first Ranking Factor Study.

In our SEMrush Chat, we picked five questions that correlate with this massive research to discuss ranking factors in 2017 with our chat guests:  

Q1: Decoding Google’s algorithm: based on your experience, what are the most important ranking factors?

  • Relevant, Well-Structured Content

Relevant, high-quality content that provides real value to your users is one of the most important SEO factors. That means that every single piece of content you produce should speak to your users as they navigate within their user journey. To make your content relevant, you need to invest your efforts in researching your topic and covering it in-depth to provide your users with a comprehensive answer to their questions. What’s more, it must be well-organized to make sure that your site visitors have a smooth experience, while consuming your content. Andy Drinkwater‏ @iqseo pointed out that content goes hand in hand with user satisfaction, which is another important ranking factor: “Make the content amazing and visitors will love you for it.”

  • Quality Backlinks

Backlinks remain one of the strongest Google ranking factors. However, over the years, the search engine has become proficient in detecting black hat SEO schemes and differentiating bad links from the good. To make sure your link building strategies contribute to your SEO efforts, you need to makes sure that your backlinks are coming from authoritative domains.

  • User Experience

As Andy Drinkwater‏ @iqseo said, user satisfaction is a ranking factor in Google’s search algorithm. Google has a clear idea of which pages and websites can satisfy their users. As the search engine improves its algorithms, it starts to pay more attention to user experience. Sites that are easy to use and navigate have a higher chance of getting to the top of the Google’s SERPs.

  • RankBrain

In 2016, Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, named the top three ranking factors: content, links, and RankBrain, the Google’s artificial intelligence system. Introduced in 2015, RankBrain was designed to better analyze the language of websites and better understand the meaning behind search queries that users type into the search box. RankBrain is a major influence in SEO.

  • E-A-T

In 2015, Google released its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, offering two measurements: E-A-T and YMYL. The first stands for “Expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness” and serves as a metric by which Google ranks pages. If you want your webpages to look favorably in Google’s eyes, you need to ensure that your content possesses a high level of E-A-T.

SEMrush Chat Recap Q1

During the discussion, we found out that the majority of our chat participants named high-quality content and links as the most important ranking factors.

It is by far not the ultimate search ranking factor, however, to come out ahead of the competition, it is important to pay attention to the elements on your site that are related to these crucial factors.

Q2: Google says HTTPS is not a ranking factor, but adoption rates are high. Does HTTPS lead to better rankings, traffic, and CTRs?

There have been many talks about HTTPS lately. Even though Google is not planning to increase the algorithmic reward for websites that are using HTTPS, we see the increasing number of sites that are marked with a green padlock on your browser's address bar.

We asked our chat participants about the impact HTTPS has on SEO in terms of better rankings, traffic, and click-through rates. Here’s what many of them answered:

Obviously, HTTPS is not a pure ranking factor. Even though nearly 45% and 50% of results in the first and second position respectively use HTTPS, we cannot attribute better rankings solely to encryption.

When it comes to traffic and CTRs, site owners that haven’t switched their sites to HTTPS, need to consider the following: when users are looking at the search results and see secure and non-secure sites, they are likely to choose the secure one, because they consider it as a signal of trust and authority. As a result, they will click on a site that’s using HTTPS.

HTTPS is especially important for eCommerce websites that collect users’ personal information, such as passwords, addresses, and credit card numbers. Because of the encryption added, it’s much more difficult for hackers to manipulate, spy on, or steal this highly-sensitive data. According to GlobalSign, 84% of buyers would abandon a purchase, if their data was sent over an insecure connection.  

Let’s sum up these key points:

SEMrush Chat Recap Q2

Our chat guests agreed that HTTPS is not necessarily a ranking factor, however, it helps you to keep up with Google’s requirements and make your site visitors feel safer.

Q3: 18% of domains ranking for high volume keywords don’t have keywords in title. Do keywords still matter as much as they used to?

During our research, we found that 18% of domains ranking for high volume keywords don’t have the keyword in the title. In fact, over the past few years, SEO has changed a lot. Because of these changes, search has become more sophisticated.

Some of our chat guests believe that keywords play a less important role today. Therefore, implementing outdated SEO tactics no longer works and, more importantly, can be risky for your website’s performance.

The need to use keywords on your page also depends on your domain. High-authority websites that post quality content relevant for a given term with quality links may rank well enough for those keywords that they didn’t even include on their webpage. On the other hand, Ryan Anderson‏ @officialryguy said that small brands shouldn’t ignore SEO basics:

You definitely don’t need to put the same keyword multiple times in your body text, because you can no longer game Google with keyword stuffing. What you need to do is to lay emphasis on relevance and placement over frequency.

You may have heard the term “semantic search.” Sergio Redondo explains that it comprises two important concepts, which are intent and context. User intent includes a lot more than keywords and describes what a person is looking for when they perform a search. Understanding intent behind your users’ queries can help you to provide them with the right content or the right offer at the right time. Search context describes everything that gives a user’s query a meaning. The purpose of semantic search is to provide searchers with the most relevant results, based on intent and context.

Tim Capper‏ @GuideTwit suggested paying attention to whether or not including a keyword in the title will benefit your users:  

Although keywords still matter, they don’t play as much of an important role as they used to. Marketers who have been too keyword-dependent in the past need to start learning new powerful tactics to improve their SEO.

SEMrush Chat Recap Q3

What is your opinion on the importance of keywords to search engine rankings? How large of a role do they actually play? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

Q4: Bounce rate is a lot lower for sites ranking in TOP-3. Which SEO fixes have decreased the bounce rate on your site?

Generally, bounce rate means that your website isn’t retaining your visitors. As a site owner, you want to make sure that once users land on your page, they are eager to visit even more pages of your site and push them in a direction to meet a conversion goal.

Here are a few useful ideas how to decrease your website's bounce rate:

  • Content That Answers Users’ Questions

The most obvious tip is to improve the content on your site. If you notice that some pieces of your content have a higher bounce rate along with a low average time on page, you probably need to optimize your content, making it more valuable to your site visitors. Make sure that it provides a clear answer to questions of your users who land on your page.

  • Internal Links

You can add links to other pages within your site to encourage visitors to navigate throughout your site. You need to think about other pages with content that your audience may be interested in. For example, at the end of your article you can add a block with a couple of related posts or something like: “If you liked this article, you may also like this.”

  • Strong Calls To Action

If your page lacks a clear, strong, and honest call to action, it will be much more difficult to keep your visitors on your site. You need to make sure that your users can easily find a CTA that helps them to get to the next stage of the funnel. Also, you should make sure that your CTA is relevant to your page. Irrelevant calls-to-action buttons may cause your visitors come to your site and bounce because the page doesn’t provide them with what they were expecting to see.

  • Speed Optimization

Most users decide whether or not they like a website within the first few first seconds, especially in the time of intense competition, when they have other sites to choose from. This means that you need to provide the best user experience. To speed up your site, you can use tools like Google PageSpeed, to view a list of fixes that can help you to improve your page load time.

Is a high bounce rate necessarily bad? George Aspland explains that sometimes it is not as bad as it seems. Website metrics, like bounce rate, need to be observed with a case-by-case approach. A web page can actually do a good enough job of providing users with what they were searching for without them needing to proceed further throughout your site. AJ Ghergich @SEO suggests using events and adjusted bounce rate in Google Analytics to get a deeper insight into your webpage’s performance.

These steps are simple, yet actionable tactics to make sure that users who land on your site will want to discover more about it and visit other pages.

SEMrush Chat Recap Q4

Keep satisfying your audience with useful content and greater user experience to make sure they will have no intention of leaving your site as soon as possible.

Q5: Which SEO or UX fix has had the biggest impact on the rankings of you/your client’s website?

Having a good UX in combination with strategic SEO implementation is a way to improve your site’s performance that can result in a significant boost for your organic rankings.

Our chat guests shared several examples of SEO and UX fixes that proved to deliver great results, in terms of site’s rankings.

  • Link Building

Strategic link building and earning is an effective way to increase organic rankings on a long-term basis. To learn how to effectively build relevant links, check out: “Content Marketing and SEO: How to Build Links in 2017.”

  • Restructuring Content

By using tools like SEMrush, you can conduct a thorough keyword research to discover new potential keywords to create better content. When doing research, you need to be able to distinguish different keyword types (informational, navigational, transactional, and commercial) and pick the ones that match what you’re trying to achieve.

  • Semantic Search

As mentioned earlier, site owners need to care about semantic search since Google and other search engines are becoming more proficient in understanding existing content and organizing it properly. When creating content, it's important to keep in mind that the most relevant piece of content is one that aligns with the user’s intent. LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) is a mathematical method that is used to determine the relationships between words and meanings in content. It helps the search engines to identify related keywords and synonyms to deliver the most accurate results. By amplifying your content with the right LSI keywords you can strengthen the context of your articles and posts to improve your chances of being noticed by the search engines.

  • Adding Product Filters (eCommerce)

An advanced product filter system helps your site visitors to easily search for the products on your site. When implemented properly, these product filters allow your potential customers to specify the items to just a few of them that best match their preferences and needs. As a result, their searching experience will be much more pleasant.

  • Fixing Hreflang Issues

Hreflang implementation mistakes can prevent Google from understanding which of your pages to index and display for a particular geographical region. To make sure that your content is being served to the relevant users who speak particular languages, you need to learn how to use the hreflang attribute correctly.

SEMrush Chat Recap Q5

Hopefully, the tips from this post will shed more light on ranking factors in 2017. We would like to thank everyone who was kind enough to take part in our discussion and share their experience!

Make sure to join us this Wednesday to discuss “Mobile SEO!”

Becky Shindell is the US Social Media Manager at SEMrush and host of the weekly #SEMrushchat. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter. You can find Becky at many of the US Digital Marketing Conferences, feel free to say hi!
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