Blog Post

Search Engine Ranking Factors Study Explained [VIDEO & INFOGRAPHIC]


Moz released their annual study recently on characteristics that a website might have that correlate with search engine ranking. There are many factors that are heavily evaluated, and because of the many algorithm updates search engines go through, the study is conducted frequently to keep up. This years study provides some insight into what search engines' algorithms might be looking for to rank websites higher than others. Watch today's video to find out which factors seem to correlate with high search rankings, and what you should be doing to stay ahead of the game.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Hello, and welcome to our video today where we’re going to be talking about Moz’s recent search engine ranking factor study. I’m Chad Hill and I have Adam Stetzer with me.

Good morning, Chad. I love these Moz studies because they ask all the experts across the country, the top people in SEO, the consultants, and the agencies to pool their collective knowledge and say, “Google won’t tell us exactly what makes your website rank. That’s part of their secret sauce, it’s a closely guarded secret. But, we’d like to pull all these heads together and do a structured survey to try and figure out what’s going on. So, I know we always love to get this data and love to dissect it for our viewers, and pretty much without exception, every couple years when they release this, Chad, it seems like backlinks are still the major driver of the Google algorithm, so today if you’re hoping for breaking news to say, “Moz has discovered it’s not links, sorry,” that is not the case. It’s still links, but they try to get deeper than that and get us to understand where Google has improved.

So, here are a couple statistics to open the conversation. They looked a lot at page authority and there’s been a lot of talk about domain authority over the last few years, but page authority also seems to be a top ranking factor. I want to discuss that and the implications. They highlight that on-page optimization is still very, very important. They talk about a lot of correlations, so it’s sometimes hard to wrap your head around this, but they say things like, “High-ranking sites are highly correlated with page-level link metrics.” So, Chad, I’d like to get into what we think that means. Page-level anchor text, so that’s a fancy way to say “the anchor text on your backlink,” is still very important. But again, they’re highlighting what page that’s on and whether that page carries any authority, he interaction of having anchor text on a page that itself has no authority versus one that does. They throw out, and this is going to be a little controversial, that Google +1s are very important. So, there are some of the higher-level takeaways from the Moz study. Let’s dissect it.

I agree, Adam, it really is interesting when we get these things. First of all, people have to really understand that Moz doesn’t know the algorithm. No one does. Google does, and that’s it. We know that there’s over 200 factors that go into the algorithm, and so really what this study is trying to sort of dissect that and understand, from a person who’s not in the inner workings of Google, what can we understand about what’s good, what helps the site rank better, and what doesn’t. A couple of things here are that what we want to do is use this to understand which tactics we should continue to work with, and which ones are not as effective. Adam, for example, mentioned the one about the Google Pluses, but what do we know about that?

Well, we’ve seen a study that basically debunks this correlation. I mean, the correlation’s there. Pages with a lot of +1s also rank very highly, so that’s correlation. But, correlation does not imply causation, and I think in another video, you can look it up, there was a study on Google +1s most recently that actually did a very nicely controlled study and actually demonstrated that there is no cause or relationship. Matt Cutts even chimed in on the design of the study, so that one’s strictly correlation. In other words, things that rank highly tend to get a lot of pluses, so if you want to go buy a lot of Google pluses, it’s not a good idea, not going to help you, waste of money, waste of time. So, we can kind of throw that one out the door. But, lets dive into some of these other ones. What do you think they’re getting at with this notion of page authority versus domain authority, anchor text, of course always a standby, but at at the page level is there anything we can take away there?

Yeah, well I think that we’ve always talked about the idea that if a page is deemed to be important, and that page is referencing another page, clearly that’s a much more powerful reference or vote, if you will, for the page receiving that link than a page that’s buried in the site somewhere that no one ever finds, so that’s clearly good. I think what’s interesting, Adam, is that a lot of the other factors we’re talking about here have to do with trying to understand the quality of the experience someone might have on the website. So, four other factors that popped up were authorship metrics, the correlation between authorship metrics and rankings, things like whether there are structured data, and Google plus. All of these factors are sort of the new factors we look at when deciding what changes we should be making and what things we should be focusing on. It does seem like increasing the authority and using things like the value of the authorship of a certain page seems to be gaining importance.

I agree, so lets try to get real practical for some of our small business, SEO guys, and internet marketers. If you score an opportunity to do a guest blog post on a domain that has nice high authority, lets say 45 or 50, the old thinking was, “Great! You’re getting some root domains used from that domain authority 50 site,” but I think what this is telling us is that if your post is buried deep, as you said ,Chad, and it doesn’t attract a lot of backlinks to that page, the page authority, even though the domain authority is quite high, could be quite low like a 10 or a 12. That really won’t help your rankings nearly as much as if that page gets a lot of action, attracts some of its own backlinks, and carries a domain authority that’s quite a bit higher. So, I think that’s some of the subtlety that Moz is implying is now in play, and I’m pretty sure Google didn’t have that sophistication several years ago. They’ve obviously been growing their algorithm and they’re starting to pay attention to the subtlety of what page you’re on and what backlinks that page itself was able to attract, which I think these data imply.

It’s interesting in that it really speaks to creating high quality stuff. If you’re just out there to score a link and then it just slips off the homepage into oblivion, what this data implies is that that’s not going to help you nearly as much. It doesn’t necessarily have to go viral. It just needs to be appreciated and earn a few backlinks, which we all know is a lot easier to do when it’s higher quality.

The other thing that strikes me here, Chad, is that these factors are not all that different from what they’ve always been. It’s still links, it’s still anchor, it’s still authority. But what they don’t really talk about here are the web spam filters. It almost feels to me, when I go through these algorithms, particularly in light of what’s happened in 2013, that there’s really two algorithms. There’s the core search engine ranking algorithm which Moz seems to have nailed here, but what they don’t really address is the anti-spam algorithm which seems to hover right behind it and say, “You’ve got all these things, but then we have a whole different set of criteria that try to figure out if it was natural or if it was contrived.” That seems like a whole other discussion, and as I want through these analyses, I realized that this isn’t in here and again speaks to why you want to do very high quality work and attract backlinks that have no discernible pattern because they are natural, it does spread, it’s certainly going to work in syndication, it’s not build it and they will come. But, it’s high quality with none of those yucky patterns that Google’s anti-spam filters would pick up.

You’re right. It seems like there’s the one that gives and the one that takes away. But as a kind of a final wrap-up, if you don’t understand anything that Adam and I just talked about, really at the end of the day, if you’re focusing on trying to really engage and enjoy the information that you’re posting on the web, then all of these factors are going to play into that. So, if you’re on a website that already has an audience, great. You’ve got a really big check on high domain authority website. If you then work to get your content in a place on that website where it’s going to get viewers and is probably going to earn some links, then again, check-mark. You’re on a high page authority within a high domain authority website. So, at the end of the day, if you really think about the audience, which is what we’ve been talking about lately, really think about your audience and try to get your audience to think about the information you’re publishing and syndicating, then 80% of what we’re talking about is going to be built right in there.

We’d like to hear your thoughts. What did you take away from the Moz study? Do you quote this with clients? Is it useful? What do you find confusing? And, as always, if you enjoyed this video, we sure hope you’ll subscribe and join us on the next one.

Comments (5)

  • Matt Reply

    i agree. After a ton of upheaval, ranking factors remain fundamentally the same

    10/10 at 09:25 PM
  • Jesse Reply

    Overall, Matt is right. To change things on a fundamental level, it will take a lot more over time.

    10/11 at 08:31 AM
  • scottjcamp Reply

    The ability to develop processes that allow you to create unique, informative, and engaging content in a repeatable and reliable way will be the "tie-breaker" between well optimized sites.

    10/11 at 09:32 AM
  • Terrance Reply

    The main factors will seem to always stay the same. They add more as the complexity of the web and social add ons become relevant. Always knowing that your on site is very important and is becoming an even greater factor.

    10/11 at 01:04 PM
  • Reply

    Update to this thread. On 1/19/2016, we switched from Moz to A h r e f s for domain metrics in the dashboard. Please see our Moz to A h r e f s system update post.

    02/17 at 10:08 AM

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