Businesses that haven’t assessed their website’s search engine optimization (SEO) performance might want do to so. A recent report from the search marketing experts at SEMrush found that the factors influencing search engine results–ranking factors used to determine which pages rise to the top of search results–have changed. Businesses that thought they had their SEO covered may want to take a look with a fresh SEO audit of their websites.
To learn more about what an SEO audit involves and how much it might cost, visit our SEO Audit service page.
Changing SEO Ranking Factors
SEMrush analyzed the top 100 search results of more than 600,000 keywords and crunched the data to determine what the highest ranking web pages had in common. The company then used this information to determine the most important factors influencing search engine results. The study analyzed results for high-volume and low-volume searches, and for long tail and short head keywords.
Direct Search Matters Most
Easily the most significant factor in search engine results was the number of direct website visits a site received. “Direct website traffic is the most influential ranking factor,” the report said. “That is, when many users go to a website directly it is a good sign to Google that the domain has high authority and value.”
A direct visit means there was no search involved in finding a site, and no referring page or social media post. Essentially, users manually entered the site’s address or selected it from a bookmark. This is an easy metric to measure in Google Analytics, and one that SEO audits have paid little attention to in the past.
User Experience Metrics
The second most influential factors influencing search results have to do with user experience–bounce rates, number of pages visited, and the duration of visits. These are signals that users are highly engaged. Websites that people find, remain on, and click through rank higher than pages that may have more visits but less engagement. These are also factors that haven’t been primary in SEO audits.
Keywords Less Important
Most SEO audits of the past have focused on traditional on-page SEO best practices. Aligning pages around keywords, URLs, titles, tags and meta descriptions all echoing the theme of the page was thought to be the starting place for successful search marketing. SEMrush found that keyword best practices are the least influential factor in search results.
Influencing the Influencers
There are off-page SEO practices that can improve direct traffic and user experience. Using short, memorable web addresses can increase direct traffic. For example, when people remember a business or product but not the web address, they may search for the company and then click on a link. That is not direct traffic but the result of organic search. Also, factors like page speed and mobile-friendliness can play a huge role in user experience. Slow pages are likely to be abandoned, increasing bounce rates and reducing visit duration and the number of pages viewed. Check out this article about website performance optimization.
Backlinks Still Import
Backlinks from relevant, credible websites are still important in search engine rankings, and the SEMrush study found multiple backlink issues tied for fifth place in influence. The number of backlinks, the number of different sites that link back to your site, and the relevance of the backlink site and anchor text all factor into measuring backlink quality and influence or rankings.
Audit What Matters Most
SEO audits are only effective if they measure what really matters to search engines. It is important to stay up-to-date on search engine ranking factors to make sure you are measuring your site against the factors that search engines pay the most attention to. If you rely on your website for traffic, leads and sales, and if you haven’t performed a thorough SEO audit on your site recently, it might be a good idea to do so.