Google Ranking Factors for SEO

February 23, 2012 - by Andy · Filed Under SEO Leave a Comment 
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    How Does Google Rank Websites in 2012?

    I like to think of Google as a massive super computer that runs an algorithm to rank websites in order and return the most “relevant” results.

    The secret to ranking #1 is to understand exactly what the Google algorithm wants and provide that. It’s in Google’s interest to keep the algorithm a secret so it can stop the manipulation of the search results. Remember, if an awful site is returned #1 for a search query it makes Google look stupid. Google is fiercely trying to protect its image as being the most advanced and relevant search engine. If you make Google look stupid, you are at odds with Google and they will want you gone.

    Every time someone searches a query in Google, I like to think that Google makes a list of all the pages that are relevant to that search term.  It then takes this list of all of the relevant pages returned and analyses them for the 200+ signals/ranking factors. Each ranking factor is weighted differently. So for example, the most important ranking factor is the quantity and quality of incoming links to a certain page. Links to a page will have a lot more impact on your ranking than say site load speed, although both are a ranking factor.

    In total there are 200+ signals/ranking factors, only a handful of them are weighted heavily. In order to rank highly in Google you need to understand which ranking factors are important, then you need to make sure you score higher on them than the competition.

    Google Ranking Factors 2012

    Every two years SEOmoz does a study of search engine ranking factors. They get together with over 100 industry experts and decide upon the most important ranking signals.  In 2011 they introduced correlation data analysis to scientifically back up the 100+ industry expert’s. My opinion is that this is the best insight you can get into how Google works and is definitely a must read for anyone trying to reverse engineer the Google machine.

    To summarize the SEOmoz ranking factors study, the main factors (In order of importance) that determine a sites ranking are the following:

    1)    Page level link metrics: These are the link metrics of an individual page on the web. Key factors include: Page authority (SEOMOZ toolbar metric), # of linking root domains, Link anchor text etc. In layman’s terms, the most important factor for ranking a webpage in Google is the quality and quantity of external links to that individual page from other pages on the web.

    2)    Domain level link authority features: These are the link metrics of the domain as a whole. Google doesn’t just count the links to that individual page; it also takes into account links to all the pages on that domain. In simple terms, a page on Amazon.com could rank high on page 1 based on the domain authority only. Whereas the exact same page on joeschmoeblog.com wouldn’t appear anywhere in the rankings. This is because amazon.com has thousands of authoritative links to its overall domain whereas joeschmoeblog.com has few in comparison.

    3)    Page level keyword usage: This takes into account metrics based around the keyword term appearing in various parts of the HTML code of an individual page. For example, the KW being the first word in the <title> tag of a page, the KW appearing in the page URL,  the number of KW repetitions in the body text and the KW appearing in the alt attribute of an image are all deemed to be important.

    4)    Domain level keyword usage: This relates to the domain or subdomain name.  Exact match .com domain names IE MyKeyword.com appear to be highly correlated with rankings. Whereas partially having your KW’s in the domain name helps, but not as much. I liken having an exact match domain to having a 10-20% advantage on your competition. It doesn’t mean you are going to rank #1 automatically, it just means you will have an easier time doing so than your competition.

    5)    Social metrics: Recently Google finally admitted that they have been using social metrics as a ranking factor.  Social metrics mean tweets on Twitter, Facebook shares and Google +1’s. At this current time it is mostly agreed that +1’s, Tweets and Facebook shares do not play an as large role as external links. However, in the coming months and years many SEO’s expect that social metrics will become more and more important. I have done some experiments with getting +1’s, shares and tweets. I have found that tweets and re-tweets have been the most beneficial to my rankings. Google may treat peoples twitter pages similar to how they treat linking root domains. So say your content gets 100 re-tweets, this may be treated similar to getting 100 unique linking root domains. I say MAY loosely because there are not many people publishing studies on the effect of tweets on rankings; these are just the results I have experienced. Similarly, Google had admitted that they don’t count all tweets the same and calculate the value based on the authority of each individual user. So a tweet from Obama will obviously have more effect that a tweet from some random dude with no followers.

    6)    Domain level brand metrics: Search volume for a brand name appears to be some kind of quality signal, although I am unsure how much it is weighted. High brand mentions and searches for brand name could also make Google think your site is important.

    7)    Page level keyword agnostic features:  These are non KW and non link metrics of an individual page. Examples include, Uniqueness of content on page, freshness of content of the page, presence of links to the page from other pages on the same domain (IE internal linking structure), length of content on page etc.

    8)    Page level traffic / query data:  Includes signals such as click through rate from the Google results page, bounce rate of the page and time spent on site. Many SEO’s think these factors are not necessarily important for ranking higher but as signals of quality. What I mean by this is that if you score very low in comparison to the other results it could be a sign of poor quality and could lead to being filtered from the results. To avoid triggering a filter like this, all you need to do is build a great website that people love to spend time visiting.

    9)    Domain level keyword agnostic features: These are quality signals for the domain as a whole. They take into account stuff like uniqueness of content across the whole domain, freshness of content, bounce rate for the site, aggregated CTR from the serps etc. Negative ranking factors include an excessively long domain.

    From the above and the SEOMoz ranking factors study we can draw the following conclusions.

    1)    The quantity of linking root domains is very important when it comes to ranking highly. Both on a domain level and a page level.  You need to get more links to your domain and more links to your pages than your competition.

    2)    It is not just about the quantity, it’s also about the quality of those links. A decent metric for evaluating the value of an external link is the SEOMoz toolbar page authority metric. As an example I would much prefer 5 PA70 links than 500 PA20 links, all other things being equal.

    3)    Exact match link anchor text appears to correlated less than partial match anchor text. I build links with a wide range of anchors, not only does it look more natural, it also allows you to rank for more modifiers of a particular keyword. Some SEO’s suggest that it’s best to build the majority of your links using a single anchor. Evidence is now coming to light showing that this is not the best practice.

    4)    Exact match domains appear to be important but less so than before. Having a domain with your primary keywords in it is still important, so is having an exact match domain. However, you can definitely overcome having a weak domain by getting many authoritative links. I liken having an exact match domain to having a head start. If you have an exact match domain you will have to do less work to see the same results as your competition.

    5)    Social metrics count: Facebook shares are highly correlated with rankings although I think this might be more correlation than causation. What I mean by this is that pages with a high number of Facebook shares tend to be well linked to pages. Either way, getting Facebook shares and tweets from authority users will only have a positive impact on rankings and traffic.

    6)    Page authority and domain authority are good metrics. Both of these metrics are displayed on the free version of the SEOMOz toolbar and are highly correlated with rankings. Whenever I am thinking of ranking for a search term, I pull up the search results page for the term and see what the PA and DA authority scores are for the websites that are ranking highly. I also look at the quantity of unique linking root domains, Facebook shares and tweets (Pro version) for each of the pages. This then gives me a good idea of how hard it would be to rank for that particular term.

    So if that wasn’t clear enough to you. It’s basically all about links. It was all about links in 2004, it’s still all about links in 2011, and I bet money on it still being mostly about links in 2015. The only thing that has changed in the past years is that Google changed the way it evaluates links and is becoming more advanced in its methods of link filtering.

    My Conclusion:  In order to rank highly today and in the future all you need to do is the following:

    1)    Build an awesome site, one that humans love to visit: Not only will this keep Google happy; it will also make your users happy. It is good for business, period. I build sites that rank for product and service names in Google. This is what primarily brings in the money. However, on the same site I also build amazing content pages that bring me additional traffic. These pages contain information that people find interesting and want to share with others. It will make users more likely to come back to your site and buy something in the future. Take AffiliateFYI.com as an example. I provide good value in the content and advice I give. People who visit my site bookmark it, subscribe to my list and contact me for more information. I make money not just based on my rankings, but also on the value I offer others.  I try to replicate this in whatever niche/industry I am in. If you don’t have some kind of traffic retention strategy your business will grow only grow as fast as you can increase your traffic. If you get visitors to return to your website daily/weekly then you have multiple opportunities to sell them a product.

    2)    Build tons of links: Get high quality, medium quality and low quality links to your pages. Don’t be link racist, some links might not count but will most likely not hurt you. Don’t get too many links with the same anchor text or you might trip a filter and get a penalty. Also, try not to only go after low quality links. Try to get high quality links to your site when possible. The more diverse your link profile, the easier it will be to ride out algorithm changes.

    Start developing social metrics: This is just my personal opinion, I feel like in the next 5 years social metrics and user metrics will start to become more and more important. When this day comes you don’t want to be left out in the dark and unprepared. Besides, social shares can bring you more traffic. Placing a Facebook like button, Google +1 button and re-tweet button next to your awesome piece of content is not a hard thing to do and will start to develop your social media footprint.

    If you are in a niche where it’s typically hard to get social likes. Say you have a site that sells vagina cream, (LOL, Who would want to share that on their Facebook wall?) then you could consider gaming social metrics by buying tweets, likes and +1’s.

    Follow Me on Twitter @AffiliateFYI for Even More Affiliate, Business and SEO Updates!

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