2015-2016 Search Engine Ranking Factors for Your Business

How to Rank Better on Google 2015-16

SEO Moz (authority on the search engine industry) released their 2015 Search Engine Ranking Factors study last week. So why have I dubbed it for 2016 as well? Because everyone reviewing the study will take note and adjust (or maintain) their SEO strategy accordingly for the year ahead, ultimately dictating their 2016 online marketing plan.  The report itself has compiled relevant results from a survey of over 150 industry leading experts (my survey must have been lost in the mail) on over 90 ranking factors.

The study is accessible for all to view, but to save you the time I’ve broken down everything that you, the business owner, needs to know.

Key Takeaways from the 2015 Search Engine Ranking Factors Study

1. Inbound Links from High Authority Websites Still Trumps All

On a scale of 1 (not influential to search rank) to 10 (highly influential) Domain Level Link Features leads the pack with a score of 8.22. This refers to your website’s link/citation metrics – the quality and quantity of links on high-authority domains (namely noted by high PageRank and Domain Authority) that point back to your website. Coming in second with a score of 8.19 are Page Level Link Features which reference the linking root domains and the respective PageRank, anchor text distribution, and overall quality (or spamminess) of the page linking back to your website. What these two scores indicate, is that your SEO strategy for the year ahead should focus on attaining links on high-value websites. This ranking factor isn’t going anywhere any time soon. But remember, link building should not violate Google’s webmaster guidelines regarding link schemes and instead be content driven (read next).

2. Content Quality, Relevance, and Semantic Association is the Core

While a strong backlink profile (item #1 above) is the leading ranking factor, it cannot occur without the right mix of keyword conscious content on your website. Page Level Keyword Content-Based Features scored a 7.87 on the study. Consider that Google uses a topic-modelling algorithm, observing the pages on a website to determine content by looking at topic structure which includes the intended topics per-page, per-page topic distribution, and the per-page per-word topic assignments. To help Google determine that your webpage matches the intent of a search query you need to ensure that your content is actually relevant to the keywords used to optimize the page.

Also remain cognizant of content length and readability (don’t try to get away with poorly written keyword stuffed articles) which is a part of the Page Level Agnostic Features ranking factor (noted below). It’s important to note that you should not confuse readability as it relates to your users. Readability here refers to how Google bots read your content. To them, too many words in a sentence (run-on sentences) AND too many syllables in a word (excessive abuse of colorful terminology) deems something less readable, as does poor grammar and spelling.

3. You Won’t Get Off by Avoiding the Technicalities

The study delivered a score of 6.55 for Page Level Keyword Agnostic Features. This includes the technical nitty gritty that also helps topic-modelling determine keyword meaning and page relevance through structured data markup and Open Graph markup and also considers items such as load speed, HTTPS and the aforementioned content length and readability.

4. You Need to Engage Users from Search to Site Navigation

Engagement and Traffic/Query Data (6.55 score) as a ranking factor requires two things of you. First, you need to increase the click-through rate of your website’s results on a Google search engine results page in order to maintain and improve upon the existing rank. This means having a carefully crafted title tag (the title of a page that Google delivers to searchers) AND meta-description (the actionable sentence listed below the title that encourages users to click-through). Second, you need to control the clickstream – a measure of what users are doing when they arrive on your website. Provide them with a seamless and logical navigation path from page to page and you’ll take advantage of this ranking factor.

5. Offsite Marketing Will Have a Bigger and Bigger Impact on Search Engine Rank

Take note of this one. Getting your brand/domain-name (one in the same, hopefully) mentioned on high-authority websites (news/media/press) even without a link back to your website (known as an implied link or brand mention) will help your site rank better in search.  Google did not file this patent on implied links for no reason. I fully believe that Google is already considering these brand mentions in their search rank, as do the authorities in the Moz study which gives Domain Level Brand Metrics a score of 5.88. This is also why business owners need to stop obsessing over including keywords in their domain name and instead use their brand name in their URL, focusing on building the brand as a traditional business has always done. Otherwise, social networking (more on this below), offline marketing, and public relations will serve you well in getting your brand/domain picked up by online media.

6. At the Very Least, Social Media is the Tie-Breaker

Page Level Social Metrics, the quantity and quality of social media activity related to your website’s social media profiles, scored on the lower end at 3.98/10. Don’t discount it. Competitive businesses end up mimicking one another’s core SEO strategy but copycatting social media is less clear cut because the audience (customers) dictates the success. Think of social media metrics as the tie-breaker. When all else is equal (SEO) and your social efforts are better than that of your competitors your website will reap the benefit with an improved search rank.

Some of the above may have been a little full of jargon to digest as a business owner looking to boost your rank in search. If you have any questions about what you’ve read, feel free to contact me anytime to clarify.

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