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Top SEO Ranking Factors According to Tests

In our last post we talked about the fact that anyone who claims to be able to tell you what Google’s ranking factors are is full of crap. This week, we’re going to tell you why that’s not entirely true.

There are very well-funded and influential groups — Moz, SearchMetrics, SearchEngineLand, and so on — that make their money by constantly testing and researching Google’s results to attempt to discern what actually matters to rankings. Their findings are frequently at odds, but when they universally agree on something — and that the thing in question is important — you can be assured they’re probably right.

Here are some of the things that the top SEO researchers agree are important to your long-term position in the rankings*:

  • The clickthru rate of your existing listing on Google — the more clicks you get, the higher up the SERPs you rise, and vice versa. (This means setting up an amazingly good Title and Description metatag is really quite important.)
  • The relevance of your page’s content (specifically the text) to your industry. While individual keywords may not be as important as once believed, the text as a whole absolutely must be tightly industry-focused.
  • The number of unique domains that link to your content. In other words, having 17 links from wordpress.com is less powerful than having 1 link each from 17 different domains.
  • The SEO performance of the sites that link to you — the higher-ranking and wider-reaching the sites you get links from, the higher your place on the SERPs. So getting links from sites that are known to be good is important.
  • The ‘proof terms’ in place around your topic. A proof term is a word that firmly establishes what your content is about. For example, if the search term the end user typed in is “Gingerbread”, Google assumes they mean the food. But your site isn’t necessarily about the food just because you used the term, so they look for proof terms like ‘recipe,’ ‘house,’ and ‘cookie.’ They also look for words like ‘Android,’ ‘mobile,’ and ‘2.3’ so they know to exclude your page from the generic ‘gingerbread’ results and include them if the search term contains “OS” or “rootkit.”

Are there dozens more factors? Sure. Are these the leading factors that the latest research indicates are important to pay attention to? They are. So if you want your SEO team to focus on the important stuff, this is a pretty good place to start.

* We say long-term here because short-term results are designed to be much more sensitive to things like social media signals, but those initial signals are only useful for a week or two before they give ground to these more important, long-term factors.

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