It’s come round to that time of year again where the big players in the Search Marketing (SEO) world have analysed website data and reported on what they think Google use to rank websites based on the correlation of data and ranking position they analysed.
So what are the influencers?
As we are all well aware no one knows exactly how Google ranks a website and what indicators they use. What we do know is it’s based on algorithms and we are told Google use over 200 website signals to serve the correct intent to the user query.
Here at The Whole Caboodle, we keep our finger on the pulse of the Search Marketing world and like to know what the industry experts are talking about. So we’ve taken it upon ourselves to compare both reports to see if/what discrepancies there are between the two reports and if both companies agree or disagree on what helps towards ranking a website.
- Technical Indicators
- User Experience Indicators
- Content Indicators
- Social Signal Indicators
- Mobile Traffic
- Caboodle Conclusion
We shall start by looking at the technical indicators that Search Metrics and Moz feel are ranking factors. We have only included what Search Metrics and Moz have replicated in their individual reports. Each report shows data they have correlated that the other hasn’t looked at or taken into account.
- Meta Description – Influencer
- H1 Existence – Influencer
- Keyword in Domain – Low Influencer
- Https – Becoming a larger Influencer
- Domain is .com – Partial Influencer
- Site Speed – High Influencer
- Url Length – Influencer
- Keyword in Title – Low Influencer
- H1 Title – Low Influencer
- Keyword in Domain – High Influencer
- Https – Low Influencer (tie-breaker)
- Domain is .com – Partial Influencer
- Site Speed (Server Response Time) – Low Influencer
- Url Length – Very Low Influencer
Looking at the above technical indicators that both Search Metrics and Moz attribute influencers to, they come up with roughly the same conclusion bar a few. The 2 discrepancies for me are the separate views on ‘Https’ and ‘Site Speed’.
- Site Speed or as Moz calls it ‘Server Response Time’, is measured slightly differently between companies but their views are totally different. Moz class this as a low influencer, there is no other mention of site speed in their 2015 report. Search Metrics class Site Speed as a high influencer, going into great detail of what load time data they recorder in ranking position. Top 30 load time is 1.2 seconds and the Top 10 is 1.16 seconds.
“We would agree with Search Metrics as a quick load time contributes to User Experience, not making the user wait for your site to load.”
- Https has always split the sides to go encrypted or not for webmasters, and it seems to have had the same effect on our 2 industry experts. Their decision differ by quite a bit, Moz class the Https as a very low influencer, they feel it’s a tie-breaker indicator that may just get you the edge between position 1 & 2. Where Search Metrics seem to be sat on the other fence. They feel that Https is an influencer and is only going to become more and more of a factor as time goes on.
“We would agree with Search Metrics, at The Whole Caboodle because when Google launched the article about Https we felt that this is going to become a very positive ranking factor. Especially as Google are wanting to make the internet a much safer place to search and provide personal details over the ethernet.”
An interesting factor is the Top Level Domains be it .com, .org, .net, .info, .edu and .local and what influence these have on your websites rankings. Both Search Metrics and Moz say that there is little to no influence on rankings. It is interesting to note that the Top Level Domains ranking in the top 30 81% are .com (according to search metrics)
Moz also included in their report which I felt landed under the technical umbrella where ‘Time Since Domain Created’ and ‘Time Until Domain Registration Expires’. According to Moz these are both ranking influencers.
- Time Since Domain Created – High Influencer
- Time Until Domain Registration Expires – Influencer
We have known Domain Age has always been mentioned as a ranking factor but ‘Time Until Domain Expires’ is a new ranking factor to me. It’s an interesting point Moz make as a company serious about their brand and existing for many years doesn’t want a short term lease on their domain. Only fly by night websites will look at having a short period of time on their domain name. It would also be an easy influencer for Google to collate the information on your domain name.
User Experience Indicators
User experience is an important factor as we want users to stay active and read and interact with the site. Whether that’s purchasing from an eCommerce site, reading content, learning more about the company, filling in your details or submitting your email to a company. Moz and Search Metrics have outlined a few influencers from ‘User Experience’, it looks like Search Metrics has gone into User Experience in more depth than Moz.
- Number of Internal Links – Influencer
- Google AdSense – Low Influencer
- Number of Internal Links – Influencer
- Google AdSense – Low Influencer
Number of Internal Links isn’t just based on the quantity of internal links dotted around your site it’s based on quality and quantity. The view is that internal linking needs to be relevant to where you are potential sending your users. In the research the number of internal links has risen from 2014 – 2015. Top 10 positions from 131 to 150 and Top 30 positions 115 – 132. But the quality has also improved, when we talk about internal links we don’t just mean links in the body of text, we are talking header, footer, left and right hand side as well as the content body. Think before you internally link.
The above are the only influencers that the two companies both analysed data for. Search Metrics went into more detail on User Experience, we have outlined below some of the main influencers that Search Metrics correlated.
- Responsive design – One that Google has given a nudge towards in the past.
- AdLinks/Adsense – Yes you have guesse, it’s no secret, too many adverts will make users go elsewhere. Google gives negative ratings to heavy amount of advertisements above the fold or any advert that impairs the main content view.
- Click-Through Rate (CTR) – This factor is very important for a site and ties in very nicely with bounce rate. Google wants to know that the user search query was met with a sufficient result. CTR and Bounce Rate will help Google determine a proportion of the satisfaction on the user. Search Metrics have found through data analysis the higher the click through rate the higher you’re ranked in Google To optimise the above you should look at improving your Meta Data and possibly start using Schema.org to improve your appearance in SERPs.
- Bounce Rate – As mentioned above it’s a great User Experience signal, and it’s an indicator that shows if a user has found the information they are looking for.
- Time On Site – This is another indicator that has shown through research the longer on a page the higher position in Google. This for us is a difficult one as we feel its industry relevant. Some websites don’t warrant who has been on them for long as they will give you the information you are looking for instantly, like Lottery numbers. The other side to this is sites like booking a holiday or researching a new car you’re bound to be on these pages a longer time than other industries.
If you aren’t aware or you have lived under a stone for the last 3 years in the SEO world, content is the King. We know this as anyone and everyone in the Search Marketing world talks about it on their blogs, white papers, webinars or even Mozs very own mozinars. When people say content is king they don’t mean you need to dump hundreds of words on a page that don’t really mean anything, you need to be structured with what you are saying, have a natural flow and not focus on stuffing keywords in every other sentence. Google is now smart enough to know when keyword stuffing is happening and it knows when certain words are related to your target keyword ‘Proof Terms’ and ‘Relevant’ terms (yes the machine is learning).
- Keywords in the Body – Influencer, much lower now as it’s about quality not keyword stuffing.
- Keywords in Description – Low Influencer, the relevance of keywords in Meta Descriptions has been falling each year according to Search Metrics data.
- Keyword in External Links – Influencer approaching a low Influencer, Keyword anchor text is dropping year on year from the Search Metrics data.
- Keywords in the Body – Influencer
- Keywords in Description – Low Influencer
- Keyword in External Links – High Influencer
As we can see above the Search Marketing groups do agree with each other on the above points and how they influence SERPs results. But each company does go in-depth further, just not down the same influencer path.
We will look at the other influencers Search Metrics collated data on below:
- Keywords in Internal Links – Influencer, they mention in their results how this data has dropped since the previous year but is still an important factor in rankings.
We would agree with what Search Metrics are saying her as a good internal linking structure around relevant keywords will certainly help improve your SERPs results.
- Word Count – Influencer, but this needs special consideration as the word count has gone up since 2014 but the correlation has dropped slightly since 2014. Search Metrics say “Longer content has become standard”.
We feel this is true, and webmasters are striving to add more detailed content to their sites to provide the answers to the SERPs queries. Plus, everyone in the SEO industry is telling anyone that will listen that their content needs to be longer. Not just longer, well-structured and concise.
Looking at what other influencers Moz collated data on for Content Indicators. They seem to concentrate on a lot of language differentials and relevance scores, this goes into quite a bit of detail and this article is already long enough. To view more on Moz Content Indicators take a look at their Search Engine Ranking Factors 2015.
Social Signal IndicatorsNow this is a bit of grey area as there is no significant proof or a definitive answer from Google that social signals are used as ranking indicators. Never the less, we feel social signals are important as it can indicate if people/customers are interacting with your site and its content. If they are you know you are on a winning formula.
Let’s take a look at what social signals both Moz and Search Metrics have analysed data on and see what they agree on or more than likely don’t agree on.
- Facebook (Number of Likes & Shares) – High Influencer
- Twitter (Number of Tweets & RTs) – Influencer, data shows a drop in correlation compared to 2014
- Google+ (Number of +1’s) – High Influencer
- Pinterest (Number of Pins) – Medium Influencer
All above factors correlate strongly with high rankings in SERP’
- Facebook Total Count – High Influencer
- Shares on Google+ – High Influencer
- Facebook Share Count – High Influencer
- Facebook Like Count – High Influencer
- Facebook Comments Count – High Influencer
- Shares on Twitter – Medium Influencer
- Share on Pinterest – Medium Influencer
- Facebook Click Count – Influencer
- Shares on LinkedIn – Influencer
- Facebook Comments Box Count – Low Influencer.
Its interesting that Moz went into detail about the individual aspects of each social channel analysing the individual data signals like Likes, RT’s, Comments etc. Moz’s results show some of the highest values in their study. They seem to give greater weight to Facebook and Google+ over any other Social Channel, the same goes for Search Metrics. They clearly agree that social has some influence be it to your rankings or just proving you’re a relevant brand to the consumer.
There we have it 2 of the main players in the Search Marketing arena have laid their analysis out for all to see. We can see how each company differs on how to analyse data and what influences Google SERPs. We have come across a few influencers that they both agree on in our comparison between Search Metrics and Moz. Now where do we go from here? As an agency you should be looking to see what these main players are telling us and trying to implement them into our daily monthly SEO plan. We are never going to know what indicators Google use, unless someone from Google slips up and leaves an important laptop on a train, I do think these 2 companies are getting close to discovering what Google knows with their vast research.
As everything is always based in the US it seems so is this data that Search Metrics measured. As we have all known and seen in Google Analytics that Mobile traffic is on the increase and this is no secret but would you know by how much?
Search Metrics has analysed US data and shown that mobile traffic has increased by 10% in 2013 to 25% in 2015. Along with this data Google also announced after analysing their own data that “more Google Searches take place on mobile devices than desktops in 10 countries including US and Japan.” Mobiles are making it much easier for users to browse and search the internet with larger screens and smarter phones. Imagine the days of the Nokia 7110 or the Matrix phone the Nokia 8110 they were impossible to try access the internet on.
Google has been monitoring this increase in mobile activity over the years and has decided to do something about it, they announce the Mobile algorithm update would happen on 21st April 2015. We never saw a dramatic effect in search results once the roll out was completed, everyone was sure there would be a visible effect somewhere. We feel that it’s wasn’t as dramatic as the #Mobilegeddon hashtag made it out to be because webmasters were made aware of the pending update. This way they could actually do something about their website and making it ‘mobile-friendly’ compatible. We can see in the Search Metrics graph below that the number of sites that gained the mobile friendly tag has risen in 2015. We can see that in the Top 10 ranking positions on average are 77% and in the Top 30 an average of 78%.
We felt this was an interesting portion of Search Metrics study as we previously said we haven’t seen what effects the Mobilegeddon rollout had on search results. And after we looked at the mobile update in a previous blog post we thought it was worthwhile adding this data to this article.
After reviewing both these reports, analysing their data and comparing it against the two guru’s reports we can conclude that the overall results are completely different. There is some data that has produced similar results but then the attribution of how much of an influencer the agreed influencer has is different. That’s Search Marketing for you, you can carry out tests and analyse data aiming to find the same conclusion (what influences SEO) and come out with completely different results, even if its data driven or opinion lead. This is because the SEO world is moving at such a fast pace at the moment, Google are constantly tweaking and developing how SERPs are delivered to the intended users and how they use website indicators to produce these results.
Even though Search Metrics and Moz have their own analysing tools and have been around for years producing results and compiling data across tens of thousands of websites across the internet. These two giant companies still can’t put their finger on exactly what Google are actually doing to create the results in SERPs and how they are using their unique algorithms. They can just speculate like they have done in these reports from the data they have collected.
Overall here at The Whole Caboodle we feel the most concise report is delivered by Search Metrics, as they do one every year. We feel the way they analyse their data and produce their annual graph report is visually pleasing. Not only this they seem to analyse a much larger demographic of websites across the whole internet compared to Moz. Search Metrics may produce a more fascinating report if they left out the huge brands like Wikipedia as we feel these large brands don’t replicate the everyday business fighting for position online. If a brand like Wikipedia changed something across their site, like they did with Https this has a huge influence on search results as well as the reports.
We aren’t here to pick fault with Search Metrics and Moz as we are grateful for what they do, with their blogs, tools and research papers. Without these 2 companies the SEO industry wouldn’t be what it is today.
Written by Craig