SEO Study: Falling Backlinks as a Ranking Factor

In a practice as complex and seemingly indecipherable as search engine optimization, clues gleaned from major ranking factor studies can shed some light. To that end, Searchmetrics, a search marketing company, released its annual Google Ranking Factors study this week.

Among the most important results, Searchmetrics addresses: content relevance and user intent; user signals from Google’s own set of products; technical and architectural factors; and backlinks. But wait, some of the findings will surprise you.

For example, although the quality and quantity of links entering your pages from other sites is still important, Searchmetrics finds that it is not the most important factor as it has been in the past. Depending on the search query entered by the user, the top search results may not have a greater number of links than other pages that rank.

Depending on the search query entered by the user, the top search results may not have a greater number of links than other pages that rank.

Searchmetrics attributes this decline in the importance of backlinks to the rise of mobile, citing the prevalence of social sharing and app usage on mobile as opposed to linking behaviors that have traditionally been the measure of value in web rankings. desktop computers. “Backlinks are still part of the algorithm, but they are now just one of many contributing factors and no longer the driving force that pushes web pages to the top of Google’s rankings,” Searchmetrics said.

Relevance and intent

A primary focus of the study, however, was content relevance and user intent. Depending on the keyword an individual searcher enters into the search bar and the personalization applied to that individual searcher, Google may judge that the intent of a keyword search is different and therefore the search page search results may also be different. It’s not new.

Google has been saying for years that SEO should focus less on the keyword and more on the relevance and value of the content to the user. However, the crossover point between keyword dependency and the primacy of content relevance has yet to be felt. Searchmetrics says that moment has arrived: “The keyword itself is therefore no longer the deciding factor in determining the actual ranking of a search query. search intent influences Google rankings.

To learn more about how content relevance and value are linked in the overall SEO picture, check out “SEO: Creating Great Content for Ecommerce.”

All of this assumes that a site is operating on a sound technical foundation that is optimal for ranking, and that the internal structure of the site is optimized to indicate the relevance and importance of its content. Technically, factors such as site speed, HTTPS hosting, file size, internal linking, and mobile compatibility all come into play here. In fact, Searchmetrics claims that this is the only area of ​​research that still relies on hard and fast rules at all levels: “Except for important technical standards, there are no longer any specific factors or universally valid reference values ​​for all online marketers and SEOs.

Multiple data sources

Searchmetrics also points to Google’s extensive set of products as feeders into ranking results, citing Google’s ability to pull user intent data signals from various products such as the Chrome browser, Google Analytics and the Android operating system on smartphones and tablets. By analyzing how people interact with different content on different Google products, it is “possible for search engines to draw precise conclusions about user satisfaction – and whether or not the search result is meeting their needs.” user intent”.

Finally, Searchmetrics announced the disbanding of its own annual analysis, in favor of a series of more focused white papers – which the company will launch next year – based on search ranking factors by industry. “Ranking factors that apply equally to all industries have ceased to exist. This is mainly because content requirements are highly dependent on different user intentions. This will be good news for e-commerce SEO, as their ranking results will no longer be skewed by other more content-intensive industries like healthcare.

Other interesting findings are as follows.

  • Brands go against the trend. The URLs with the highest content relevance are those in positions 3-6 – versus 1-2. Why? Because Google recognizes that well-known brands, which do not always have the highest ranking factors, earn clicks solely based on brand recognition or preference.
  • HTTPS rules. Nearly half of the top 10 web pages now use HTTPS encryption. This is an especially important finding for e-commerce sites.
  • High marks for social media. The correlation between social signals and Google ranking remained similar compared to previous years. Does this mean that strong success on Facebook or Twitter leads to high rankings? No. It just means that pages that tend to rank well also tend to perform well on social media.
  • High click-through rates. Pages in positions 1-3 have an average click-through rate of 36%. It’s 44% for the first position, 34% for the second position and 30% for the third position. Note that the percentages will add up to more than 100% for all positions because people may click multiple results on a search results page.
  • Keywords not always in title tags. In 2016, only 53% of the top 20 URLs included the keyword in their title. In e-commerce, this figure would drop to 43%, according to the Searchmetrics study.

For more details, download the full report, “Searchmetrics Ranking Factors – Rebooting for Relevance.” You might also be interested in the latest ranking factor study from Moz, another set of search marketing tools,”Search Engine Ranking Factors 2015.” Unfortunately, Moz only completes his study every two years; the most recent report is from 2015.

It is always important to consider the source of the data when discussing the results. Sharing information freely from the practice of SEO and the analysis of the resulting data is an honorable tradition carried on by industry leaders. However, this is not done entirely out of altruism.

Searchmetrics is one of the largest search marketing platforms in the United States. Its goal is presumably to recruit new subscribers to its service, in addition to providing the search industry with the information contained in this report. At the end, the report includes references to the tools offered by Searchmetrics that would make managing some of the most important SEO factors more effective and efficient. This article is not an endorsement of Searchmetrics or its toolset.

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