This month Moz released the results of their exhaustive study of what makes some pages and sites rank, while others labor in search engine obscurity.
While immensely useful and always insightful, this document can be overwhelming to those not familiar with SEO and stats lingo.
But even if we don’t fully grasp the implications, content marketers and social media gurus still need to take its results into account.
To help non-SEO specialists stay focused, we’ve put together the key ranking factors from the Moz report that apply to content and social media, including what you should be doing about them.
Content-Driven Ranking Factors
For anybody who once had to figure out how to cram multiple variations of a keyword onto a single page in the name of SEO, there’s good news: Moz is consistently reporting lower correlations between on page keyword use and rankings.
So keyword stuffing is going the way of the dinosaur. What’s taking its place? User intent.
According to Moz, “matching user intent of utmost importance.” Basically, we need to be creating content that answers real questions, not just steering the conversation to ourselves and/or our products at every opportunity.
These are the first five page-level keyword usage features in Moz’s list, and as you can see query to document relevance score (at least this version of that score) is more important than number of keyword matches in body text.
There are other versions of the query-document relevance score that appear to be less important than the number of on-page uses of a keyword, but the trend remains clear: be user-driven, not keyword-driven.
Additionally, the number of keyword matches in your H1 tags actually has a negative score, which means it has little direct influence on higher rankings:
It should also be noted that the number of keyword matches in your title is just above the number in your H1 tags, making it the lowest ranked factor on this list that doesn’t have a negative score.
What actually matters much more than the number of keyword matches is the similarity between a user’s query and your title, description, URL, and H1s.
What to Do:
Find out what questions people are asking, and answer them on your website. Consider keywords, but only as a means to identify the right content to provide. You want to get found, but you also want to be a valuable resource. Right now SEO and content marketing work best when we find that healthy balance.
Link-Driven Ranking Factors
There’s been a lot of talk about semantic search, a post-linkbuilding SEO world, and fancy techniques like co-occurrence and co-citation, but in 2015 it appears that links are still the 400-pound SEO gorrilla.
The Moz report doesn’t mince words: “the data continues to show some of the highest correlations between Google rankings and the number of links to a given page”
This number includes internal and external links, so make sure you have an internal linking strategy as well as a link-earning plan. Your best results are likely to come from identifying your best content on a particular topic and driving internal links to those pages.
But, as with on-page keyword factors, your main goal should be to provide value to your readers. Any links that you use need to provide new information, give some background, or cite your sources.
Don’t link just for the sake of linking.
And, when it comes to anchor text, it appears that partial matches have surpassed exact matches as having the highest correlation to strong search engine rankings.
So if I was linking to this article on Moz’s SEO rankings, I’d be better off using “article on Moz’s SEO rankings” as my anchor text. It’s clear about where the link will take those who click on it, and it isn’t stuff full of keywords.
What to do: Link to add value, but to do so with your own content strategy in mind. Create a flow of traffic to your highest value pages to make them work harder. And, of course, don’t forget the time honored tactics of off-page linkbuilding.
Engagement Metrics That Influence SEO
Content marketers are used to getting judged based on engagement with our content, so we’re hopefully already maximizing these factors to the best of our abilities.
In order of highest to lowest correlation with high search result rankings, the Moz report looks like this:
- Search visits from the most recent month
- Total visits from the most recent month
- Total visits from 2 months ago
- Search visits from 2 months ago
- Direct visits from most recent month
- Direct visits from 2 months ago
- Time on site
- Bounce rate
What to do: Focus your efforts on your highest value pages and drive traffic to them via emails and social media. Ensure that your site encourages multiple page views and repeat visits.
Social Signals and Search Results: A Prioritized List
With tweets officially appearing in live desktop search results, social media marketers are becoming even more enmeshed in the SEO web (Welcome, everyone).
From the Moz data, it looks like Facebook is the most important social signal right now: it accounts for five of the top 11 social signals. This data, however, is from pre-tweet in search result times.
We’ll all have to keep an eye on Twitter’s emerging impact as tweets show up with increasing frequency on our SERPs.
Coming in at the second most popular ranking correlation seems to be the black sheep of the social media family: Google+.
In third place we have Twitter, followed by Pinterest and LinkedIn.
This is a fairly truncated list of social media channels, which doesn’t seem to lend credence to the temptation to jump on every single new social channel in the name of “SEO.”
If you need a way to prioritize your efforts, here’s the Moz ranking factors:
- Facebook total count
- Shares on Google+
- Facebook share count
- Facebook like count
- Facebook comment count
- Shares on twitter
- Number of mentions of the full domain name in FWE (Fresh Web Explorer)
- Shares on Pinterest
- Number of mentions of the domain name in FWE
- Facebook click count
- Shares on LinkedIn
What to do: Experiment with Facebook to try and garner engagement without being shackled to the channel for your conversions. When it’s time to choose your next social media channel, hit one of the big four: Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest.
What the Search Engine Experts Have to Say
Moz also polled a whole bunch of really smart search engine optimization gurus to find out what they think the most important ranking signals are in multiple categories. We’re going to focus on the ones that are relevant to content and social.
Scores are on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being unimportant, and 10 being very important.
On-page Keyword Features
Highest influence: Keyword present in title element, 8.34
Lowest influence: Keyword present in specific HTML elements (bold, italic, li, a, etc.), 4.16
Page-level Link-Based Features
Highest influence: Raw quantity of links from high-authority sites, 7.78
Lowest influence: Sentiment of the external links pointing the page, 3.85
Page-level Social Features
Highest influence: Engagement with content/URL on social networks, 3.87
Lowest influence: Upvotes for the page on social sites, 2.7
Page-level Keyword-agnostic Features
Highest influence: Uniqueness of the content on the page, 7.85
Lowest influence: Page contains Open Graph data and/or Twitter cards, 3.64
Why Non-SEOs Don’t Need to Fear Ranking Factors
When you read things like “Query-Document relevance score using Language Model (Dirichlet smoothing) on the Moz Rankings Report, it’s easy to throw your hands up and walk away from technical SEO.
But here’s the “problem”: in 2012 alone Google released 665 improvements to their search algorithm.
That’s over one update EVERYDAY.
For content marketers and those running social media campaigns, it’s okay if we can’t join an argument about whether BM25 or Absolute discount gives a more accurate relevance score.
All we have to do is make good content and help people share it, and most of the time our search results will reward us.
Sure we’ve also got to have sites that are mobile friendly, easy to use, and load quickly, along with a host of other back-end ranking requirements. But for the most part, we do our jobs, Google does theirs, and good content wins.
As the famous search engine specialist Rand Fishkin has said, “You may feel smugly satisfied that your own SEO knowledge exceeded that of your competitor, or of their SEO consultants, but smug satisfaction does not raise rankings.”