If you haven’t reviewed your SEO strategy recently, you probably should. SEO is changing–a lot. SEMrush just came out with its Ranking Factors Study 2.0. The search marketing company analyzed the top 100 search results for 600,000 keywords to reverse-engineer what the highest ranking pages have in common. The results may surprise you. Here’s a summary and some tips for how to rank higher in each area.
- Direct traffic. The amount of direct traffic to a site is the #1 ranking factor, according to the study. This means your SEO strategy should include things like short, catchy URLs that people can remember; lots of backlinks on other sites that go directly to your site; direct emails with links back to your website; and retargeting that gets clicks to your site. Anything that gets people directly to your site will help.
- The second most influential ranking factor is time spent on your site. The average page view is 15 seconds. That won’t help you rank higher than your competition. Tips to increasing the length of visits includes using longer form content (text and video); decluttering your site of irrelevant images and text that confuse (or annoy) visitors; and reduce page loading times (most visitors leave if a page takes longer than two seconds to load).
- The third most influential factor in search results is the number of pages per session that visitors view. A best practice here is to use internal links to make it easy for people to dig deeper into a topic, validate the claims you’re making, and compare products and solutions. Linking to definitions of technical terms, ti explanations of complex processes, and to resources for further reading can make it easy for people to find the information that they are looking for on your site rather than going elsewhere.
- The fourth most influential factor in search results is your site’s bounce rate. A bounce happens when someone exits a website after visiting only a single page. One of the biggest causes of high bounce rates is slow page loading time, especially on mobile devices. As mentioned, most people expect a page to load in under two seconds. There are a lot of ways to reduce loading times, some more obvious (compressing images) than others (minifying code). Check out this article on Website Performance Optimization Tools.
- Tied for fifth place among search ranking influencers are four factors related to backlinks. Backlinks are links to your site from other reputable websites. The number of backlinks to your site will boost your SEO cred, the number of referring domains, the number of IP addresses linking to your site (20 backlinks from 20 sites is better than 20 backlinks from one site), and the number of backlinks that “follow,” or transfer some of their SEO cred to your site are all equally important. The easiest way to start building backlinks is to work with partners to make sure you link to one another’s sites, write articles for publication on websites and include your company URL, and guest blog for other businesses.
- The sixth most important ranking factor is security–namely, if your website uses SSL to encrypt communications (your address starts with HTTPS), you will be favored by Google over sites that don’t. Be secure!
What’s Not as Important
Surprisingly, one of the least influential ranking factors in the study were keywords. This used to be where companies focus most. “The on-page SEO factors such as the presence of keywords in title, meta description and body of the text proved to be significantly less influential than other factors, however the adoption rate is impressive — keyword usage is one of the most popular SEO techniques,” the study said. Maybe because on-page best practices are so widely implemented they no longer set sites apart. It might be a mistake to omit a keyword strategy in your SEO plan, but keywords not as useful as they once were.
Perform Regular Audits
It’s important to perform regular SEO audits to ensure your site is using the SEO best practices that matter most. Most SEO experts recommend an annual audit that compares your site against best practices and against competitors. While it’s not fun to find out your rankings have slipped, you will be equipped with the information and tools you need to improve your rankings.