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The Top Search Engine Ranking Factors in 2016

An overview of all key factors that determine your SEO ranking.

Having just finished reading a white paper by Searchmetrics on Search Ranking Factors and Rank Correlations, I thought I’d extract the main takeaways of this 78-page “big rock” and systematise them into a succinct overview below. This post outlines all key factors that go into search engine ranking at this point in time.

Please take note of the publishing date. Аs we’re well aware, Google algorithms change continuously and so do ranking factors and their importance.

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The Top SEO Ranking Factors structured in five categories:

1. User Experience:

  • Number of internal links
  • Number of images
  • Video integration
  • Responsive design
  • Mean font size
  • Interactive elements
  • Presence of unordered lists
  • Max bullets in list
  • Adlinks/Adsense
  • Click-through rate
  • Time on site
  • Bounce rate

Notes:

While the number of images posted on websites has grown as opposed to last year, the number of video integrations has fallen. This is largely associated with Google’s decision to only play video thumbnails in the SERPs for large video portals as of July 2014.

The percentage of websites in the top 30 rankings that integrate Google AdSense adverts has declined compared the previous year.

The content of higher ranking pages is better structured, contains more interactive elements and is thus more comprehensible and interpretable for both users as well as the bot.

The top positions were dominated by response sites and those which did not use Flash.

User signals are essential for your content and rankings. The reaction of users offers search engines direct feedback about user satisfaction with your content.

2. Technical:

  • Existence of description
  • Existence of H1
  • Existence of H2
  • Keyword in domain
  • HTTPS
  • Search volume of domain name
  • Domain SEO visibility
  • Ratio of homepages
  • Ratio of subdomains
  • Ratio of subdirectories
  • Domain is .com
  • File size
  • FLASH
  • Site speed
  • URL Length

Notes:

Technical factors remain a significant prerequisite for attaining higher rankings with good content and this is unlikely to change.

The importance of the factor “keyword” continues to decline heavily across most sectors.

An ever-increasing number of pages are highly optimised and feature a meta description along components such as H-tags. This entails improved crawlability for search engine bots and an enhanced user experience.

While page documents are generally becoming larger, interestingly the average loading time of the top 30 has fallen.

Domains with a high SEO visibility also have higher rankings with their URLs.

3. Content:

  • Word count
  • Keyword in description
  • Keywords in body
  • Keyword in internal links
  • Keyword in external links
  •  Flesch readability (sentence length and number of syllables per word in an equation to calculate reading ease)
  • Proof terms
  • Relevant terms

Notes:

Top 30-page content has become substantially more extensive; the average text length has increased yet again by roughly 25% in comparison to the previous year.

Likewise, the content has become more holistic. While the popularity of proof terms has remained unchanged at a high level, the percentage of pages that use relevant terms has increased.

Beside longer and more holistic content, the complexity of the content has decreased; according to the results of the Flesch readability analysis the texts are somewhat less demanding to read.

The significance of keywords in internal and external links has decreased.

Pages with the most relevant content for a search query are very likely to rank better.

Keywords are a natural part of content but are unimportant without relevant content and a logical context.

Relevance and text length often go hand in hand. Longer texts tend to perform better, whereby the sub-topics mentioned must also stay relevant.

4. Social Signals:

  • Facebook total
  • Google+
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest

Notes:

As expected, the correlations are still high.

The average number of signals per URL and position has increased considerably.

Nevertheless, the question about the actual impact of social signals on rankings remains. It is probable that social signals are one of several signals to show search engines where and what new and relevant content is.

5. Backlinks:

  • Number of backlinks
  • Referring domains
  • Backlinks with keyword in anchor text
  • Domain name in anchor text
  • Backlinks from news sites
  • Backlink age
  • Ratio links to homepage
  • No-follow backlink ratio

Notes:

Statistically, despite a decline, backlinks are still associated with higher search rankings. The correlations between the respective ranking factors are correspondingly high.

It is expected that the relevance of links will decline in favour of other factors in future. Even now links should be viewed in the context of social signals – a ranking signal but also to some degree more of a consequence of good rankings instead of their cause.

In the anchor text of the backlink, the domain name increasingly occurs instead of the keyword. At the same time, fewer backlinks have the homepage as the link target and increasingly refer to deep link URLs.

These changes may be related to the attempts by Google to combat “unnatural” link formation – such as penalties against link networks and their customers as well as the rollout of Penguin 3.0. • The proportion of no-follow backlinks has increased strongly compared to the previous year

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Conclusion

Create relevant content based on the search intention and type of the user, i.e. query type (transactional/informational etc.) and end device (desktop/mobile/tablet).

Think beyond keywords. The searches of users are varied, even if they may ultimately have similar intentions.

Structure topics in clusters of closely related terms and decided on an individual basis which topics belong together on a landing page, and which should have their own page. Working with mind maps and topic clouds is recommended as opposed to just lists.

Offer your content to readers/viewers at the highest possible technical specifications. Your content should be optimised for readability and ease of interpretation and should offer an optimal user experience by means of semiotics.

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