What you need to know about Search Engine Rankings 2015

The study is long, highly technical, and important.

We don’t just base this stuff off of opinion. Though we are confident in our expertise, we certainly rely on big data to bring insight to the way we optimize our clients. Since Google doesn’t really share their algorithm, this report – which gets released every other year – shows the data from an in-depth study into search engine rankings in attempts to surface best practices for optimizing websites. We always try to be one of the first to read the finished report. This year’s report is long and highly technical. So we’ve broken down the important stuff for you.

Google is Smarter Than Ever

We’ll continue to see lower correlations between on-page keyword use and rankings. This is most likely because Google is more intelligent about what pages mean (through related keywords, synonyms, close variants, and assets) without relying on exact keyword phrases. Because of this, user intent is factored into search just as much as the content to which those users are being referred.

Which means: at the end of the day – you should be writing content for the psychology of your Users – NOT to the metrics of a search engine.

Some of the Same…

Page length, hreflang use, and total number of links still show moderate association with Google rankings, though certainly less than they have in recent years. They also found that using HTTPS – or a secure certificate for your website – has a very low positive correlation. This doesn’t mean secure certificates aren’t still important. Users have grown accustomed to recognizing secure protocol. If you’re taking personal info, or payments, they’re a must have. Also, a low positive correlation is often seen in my mind to be a tie-breaker. Meaning websites that have secure protocol – with everything else exactly comparable – will rank better than their counterparts. Negatively associated factors include server response time and the total length of the URL.

In other words: Build your website properly. Consult professionals. That is, if you want to compete online.

Relevant and Authoritative links are still key

Despite many in the industry expecting different, the data continues to show some of the highest correlations between Google rankings and the number of links to a given page. Although not as strong as page-level link metrics, the overall links to a site’s root and subdomain showed a reasonably strong correlation to rankings. This definitely makes us conclude that links continue to play a prominent role in Google’s algorithm.

Meaning: Other websites referring to yours is digital word-of-mouth and it shows you are offering content of value.

Links go both ways.

Whether or not a link is relevant is determined by two things: the content on the source page, and the content of the “anchor text” – or where the link is pointing.  It is a natural phenomenon that occurs when people link out to other content on the web. Use of anchor text was another prominent feature of high-ranking results, with the number of unique domains linking with partial-match anchor text leading the way.

In Summary: Be sure to only link out to places that are going to support what you’re saying. If not, they’ll be worthless.

Don’t waste too much time & money on “Exact-Match” or specific Top-Level Domains.

Yes, there has always been decent correlation between exact-match domains (domains where the keyword matches the domain exactly, e.g. productnamegrandrapids.com) and rankings. However, if we dig deeper, this is most likely due to the prominence of anchor text, keyword usage, and other signals, instead of an algorithmic bias in favor of these domains. The study also showed minimal relationship with the type of top-level domain (.com, .org, etc.) and rankings in Google.

Bottom Line: Buy a domain for your brand, not for search engines.


Courtesy of Moz.com

The controversial correlation of Social Media and Rankings

While the number of social shares a page accumulates tends to show a positive correlation with rankings, there is strong reason to believe Google doesn’t use social share counts directly in its algorithm. Nevertheless, its obvious there are many secondary SEO benefits to be gained through successful social sharing.

The point: keep it up on social media. Though maybe not directly…It DOES help.

Keep your domain registration game tight

Time until domain registration expiration was definitely, if not moderately correlated with higher rankings, while private registration showed a small negative correlation.

Getting people to engage is the whole point

Engagement metrics from SimilarWeb showed that high rankings are attributed to pages with lower bounce rates, higher pageviews, and better time-on-site metrics.

Mobile, Mobile, Mobile

Obviously, right?


This stuff can be complicated. If you have any questions on any of it, REACH OUT! We’d be glad to go through it with you in person or on the phone.