Searchmetrics just released a fantastic, totally free, fact-filled white paper called:
"SEO Ranking Factors and Rank Correlations 2014 - Google U.S."
That might sound boring, but I read all 83 pages of this darn thing, and it was simply fascinating.
(I am not an affiliate, I don't even know these guys. But I love 'em.)
If you sell SEO services in any capacity, the proof in these charts will help close more sales than you'd believe. I already sent this to our customer support and sales people to study in detail.
NOTE: For the record, this study is full of correlations they've detected, but it's nowhere near guaranteed that these are all ranking factors. Only Google has access to the true algorithm. That said, you are a smart person, and as a smart person I know you will get a lot out of it.
Ok, let's talk about what's inside...
Click-Through Rate's Importance is Literally Off the Chart
Having a great headline is 2x more important for ranking than the next closest factor. Nothing else even compares. Google tests everything, and when searchers are interested in your page, Google will reward you handsomely.
Similarly, if you have an absolutely terrible headline, it will take an absurd amount of link building to get it to stick to the front page. Beware!
Build Long Mega-Pages, Over 975 Words
Whereas we used to be able to rank short, keyword-targeted pages all day long, Google has drastically adjusted what they consider "great content." It's now more important than ever that you include a bunch of topically related information and keywords in your content.
You want your page to be a holistic representation of the keyword and the entire topic that surrounds it (think Wikipedia) rather than just being about the particular keyword itself. This goes hand in hand with the fact that the average word count of a high-ranking page is up to 975 (and that's the average!)
So if you have a bunch of shorter articles that are each built around a single keyword (the way we used to do it, in little interlinked silos), then you'd likely be better off combining all those articles into a few mega-pages that encompass the entire topic. Those pages can rank for multiple keywords so long as you have your Titles, H2's and Meta Descriptions done properly.
Think about it this way... Google is absolutely in love with ranking Wikipedia pages, so why wouldn't you style your content similarly to how they do it? They put everything related to one topic on a single, often very long page.
(By the way, if you need lots of quality content, I really feel that our writers offer the best value you'll find anywhere. Learn more at TestedContent.com
Raw Number of Backlinks is Still the #1 Off-Page Factor
Quality backlinks are obviously important to ranking.
However, I see a lot of SEO's swinging a little too far in the opposite direction since the Penguin hammer came down.
Over the past year, I've heard from so many people "All you need are a couple really good links." Well, this study shows that that's simply not the case. It might get you towards the first page, but it usually won't get you to the top.
Searchmetrics shows, without a doubt, that higher-ranking pages have MORE links than their competitors across the board. Bulk link building is not going anywhere... and if you're trying to rank a page that sits on an authority domain (Amazon, Youtube etc.) it's still practically the Wild West in terms of what automated backlinks can accomplish.
(Side note: You might have noticed that Google+ is ranked above backlinks in correlation, and that is an off-page factor. However, if you read the full study, they go to great lengths to discuss social signals, how complicated of a factor they are to measure, and the fact that Google explicitly came out and said they don't use social signals as a ranking factor. So they're a giant question mark. On top of that, we're seeing great success right now ranking pages without any social whatsoever.)
Nofollow Links Help
This answers an eternal argument. Many people complain about nofollow links, or say they have no value so there's no point in getting them. However, smart SEOs have been continuing to acquire nofollow links practically from the beginning.
Not only does it look unnatural to have 100% followed links, but we've seen multiple case studies demonstrating that nofollow links can help a page rank all by themselves.
Searchmetrics says: "Good ranking pages have a significantly higher proportion of ... no-follow links in their backlink profile"
Press Releases Are Awesome
"Backlinks from News Domains" was one of the most highly correlated factors, tied with "Having New Backlinks" which is obviously important too.
This obviously goes hand in hand with nofollow links being a positive factor, since most press releases are nofollow.
I'm tempted to go off into a tangent related to the new information I've been learning about what happened when PRWeb and some of the other big press release companies got penalized a few months ago. However, I'm going to do that as an entirely separate report in the near future, so stay tuned.
For the time being, I'll simply say that we're getting great results with PressAdvantage.com right now, both in terms of ranking the releases themselves and getting SEO benefits from the backlinks. Join here!
Shoot for a 25% Ratio of Keyworded Anchor Texts
Ever since Penguin, people have been extremely cautious about building anchor-texted backlinks directly to their money site (and for good reason.) However, I've heard all sorts of answers when it comes to the "proper" ratio of anchor-texted links.
As with everything, moderation is key. It'll be tough to rank if you don't put any keywords into your anchors. However, too many can easily set off a penguin penalty.
According to SearchMetrics, the right balance falls somewhere in the 20-30% range. This of course varies by keyword, so if you want to be super-careful, use Majestic SEO to look up the approximate ratios of the other sites ranking in your niche. But based on this study, you generally want to shoot for around 25%.
Just be careful not to get too high (that goes for you college kids, too!) … if you do, just build a bunch of branded or naked links without anchor text until you get your ratios back into the target zone.
Keyworded Domain Name / URL is No Longer a Factor At All
Anybody who owns a fancy, million-dollar exact match domain took a huge hit this year.
It is, however, still important to have the keyword in the title, H1, body and meta description.
Vary Your Backlinks As Much As Possible (Duh)
There are a number of graphs related to this topic, so I'll just sum them all up here.
Use stop words in your anchor texts
Use multiple words in your anchors.. at least 2
Get some nofollow links
Continuously get fresh, new links every month
Get links from tons of referring domains
Get links from news domains
Link deep into your site (not just to the homepage)
Use lots of branded anchors (yourdomain.tld, yourdomain) -- at least 15% of your total links
Smaller Page File Sizes Rank Better for Mobile Searches
This is especially important for local business websites. Keep your page sizes low.
...and, that's all for now.