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After the many Penguin and Panda updates, there’s been a lot of rumours around SEO and what exactly are the factors that search engine giant Google takes into account when ranking web pages. So, if you’re curious to know what web pages that are well-positioned by Google have in common, you should check out these recent studies that analyse the top organic ranking factors:

What I found to be surprising is just how much social media sites are taking the cake in these studies. While all three studies are worth checking out and analysing, I strongly recommend going through Searchmetrics’ 2013 Correlated Ranking Report as it outlines the top SEO ranking factors for Google’s organic search results.

Six key findings from Searchmetrics

1. Keyword domains and keyword links have lost relevance

Keyword domains and “keyword in the URL” have both been devalued by Google. While a couple of years ago, having your main keyword included in your web address might have impacted rankings, helping sites rank higher for specific searches, the ‘exact match domain’ (EMD) update by Google changed the rules. Searchmetrics’ report shows just that – that having a keyword in your domain name has a very low positive correlation, having dropped from a correlation of +0.04 in 2012 to an even lower 0.01 in 2013.

2. Brands are the exception to many rules

Searchmetrics’ study reveals that brands automatically rank higher in Google searches compared to non-brands. In addition, some factors that correlate with high ranking pages do not apply to pages from brands the same as they do for non-brands.

“Brands rank high even if they fail to fulfil some of the most basic principles of SEO,” explained Marcus Tober, Searchmetrics’ founder and CTO. “For example, pages from brands are positioned in or near the top of search results even if they have less text on the page and they don’t have keywords in the title.”

3. Social signals continue to correlate very well with better rankings

This is something I believe we were all expecting to see in Searchmetrics’ report, which is the impact of social signals in rankings. The study shows that web pages with high rankings show significantly more social signals, which leads to the conclusion that social signals do, in fact, influence rankings. By social signals I mean – Facebook likes and shares, Google+ ones, (re)tweets on Twitter and pins on Pinterest. In addition, Searchmetrics’ study found that Google plus ones influence rankings more any activity on other social media platforms so it may be time to learn how to create shareable content for Google+.

Don’t forget to check out our complete Social Media Guide to find out how to use and make the most of the top social media platforms on the web.

4. Good content is always important: it comes to quality!

No matter what Google’s future updates will be, content is and will always be King. Searchmetrics’ study shows that pages with more text and more images can lead to higher rankings as they are seen as an indicator of quality. Of course, ‘quality content’ refers to providing useful and interesting information to users, which they’ll want to share on their social media accounts.

5. The number of backlinks remains immensely important

While having as many links as you can get is not as important as it used to be, getting quality links from highly visible, high ranking pages is critical and can make the difference between a well-ranked page and a poorly placed one.

Any site’s backlink strategy should focus on having a “natural link profile” with backlinks from different and diverse sources. To achieve a “natural link profile” you need to get a natural-looking spread of links with different keywords in the anchor text and not one that looks fake as if it was artificially created by SEO “experts” with absolutely no strategy in mind. In addition, make sure you have a decent amount of ‘no-follow’ links as well as links that include neutral stopwords in the anchor text such as “and”, “to”, “in”.

6. On-page technology remains one of the basics

Although on-page elements are not among the factors that can help your web page rank higher (like having better backlinks or more Likes on Facebook), not having these elements – such as keywords in H1, H2 as well as a description on-page – can get your page demoted on Google. So, while on-page factors don’t improve rankings, they do ensure rankings don’t go south.

These are all great factors to consider if you’re trying to improve your site’s rankings or if you’re just getting started with a new website and want to ensure you’re focusing on the right things.

What do you think about Searchmetrics’ Google ranking factors?

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