Ranking The SEO Ranking Factors

Back in 2005, SEOmoz tried to assemble a list of all the possible search engine ranking factors out there and get various experts to rate them. I say tried to because while they had a list, and ratings, no one knows all the factors or exactly how each individual search engine chooses to use them. But I admired the determination. SEOmoz is back at it, with version two of the list now out. Some background about it here; the list is here, and some further observations by me are below.

There’s a lot to digest here. A lot. That’s why it’s particularly useful to make use of the "Top 10 Positive Factors" section at the top of the report. In fact, I wish the report had been organized this way, with an alternative list showing everything and buried away from those new to SEO. Give them the most important basics; don’t blind them with too much!

The most important factors based on expert voting are:

  1. Keyword Use in Title Tag
  2. Global Link Popularity of Site
  3. Anchor Text of Inbound Links
  4. Link Popularity within the Site’s Internal Link Structure
  5. Age of Site
  6. Topical Relevance of Inbound Links To Site
  7. Link Popularity of Site in Topical Community
  8. Server is Often Inaccessible to Bots
  9. Keyword Use in Body Text
  10. Global Link Popularity of Linking Site

Notice number one — that you have HTML title tags that reflect the key terms you want your page to be found for. That’s been the advice since I first starting writing about SEO back in 1996. Eleven years later — and even in the age of it’s all about links — it remains the top ranked tip by so many experts.

Now let’s flip the list around into how hard it is to control these factors:

Easy

  • Keyword Use in Title Tag: Totally in your control. We continue to have sites that get ranking boost just for making this change. Remember that Jason Calacanis challenge where SEO already has gotten him a traffic increase of 21 percent? That’s almost all down to title tag changes.
     
  • Link Popularity within the Site’s Internal Link Structure: This is easy in that you can link to your own pages in however you’d like. So do think carefully about how you link. Point to your own articles and describe them using the terms you want them found for. That can contribute.
     
  • Server is Often Inaccessible to Bots: If you can’t be indexed, you can’t rank. Keep your server online. But don’t freak. Being down on the odd occasion is unlikely to wipe you out.
     
  • Keyword Use in Body Text: This is basic. Want a page to be found for certain words? It continues to be good advice that you actually use those words on the page. Not 100 times in a row. Not for any particular "density." Just use them as it makes sense to use them.

Medium

  • Age of Site: Brand new site? Nothing you can do but get older, really, to control this. Some like to buy domains, but search engines can also detect transferred domains and count age from when the transfer happened. Google is the most noted for this. One thing you can do is register your domain for a long time, say five or ten years. That at least suggests you want to hold on to it more than the average person, so it might help.

Hard

  • Global Link Popularity of Site: You can’t do much here easily beyond building up good quality links. Get good links, and you should be helping your site mature. Links take work, but they’re worth it. See our link building and linkbait sections for some articles and advice on this.
     
  • Anchor Text of Inbound Links: Hard in that you can’t control exactly how people link. But doing things like thinking about how you name your pages or articles (or site), or how you pitch a link request, can have an influence. Remember that Google will now tell you the most popular anchor text used to point at you. Google Now Reporting Anchor Text Phrases explains this in more detail.
     
  • Topical Relevance of Inbound Links To Site: Are the sites linking to you related to what you are about? Hard to control, other than to make sure you are requesting links from sites that cover similar topics to you. That’s just good marketing, of course — but time consuming.
     
  • Link Popularity of Site in Topical Community: Pretty similar to the above.
     
  • Global Link Popularity of Linking Site: Is the site linking to you important? Then it can transmit that importance to you more than other sites might. This has been a known factor for years. It’s not about number of links. It’s about the quality (importance) and context (link text or anchor text) of those links.

In the report, note that there are comments for each of the factors from many of the experts that rated them (I was one of the 34 involved). These are great to read. But you won’t see all the comments unless you use the "Show the rest of the comments" links for each factor. So do it!

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | SEO: General

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • http://www.mblair.net/ mblair

    Kudos for SEOmoz. I enjoyed the original compilation and this one improves upon it significantly. These kinds of team efforts are exactly what the community needs more of.

  • CaptainObvious

    Great post and a good synopsis of primary strategies.

  • http://www.fortuneinteractive.com SEMLogic

    This is a very good compilation of SEO factor best practices from professionals in the community. I especially like the Easy-Medium-Hard breakdown. This is obviously the kind of information that is very important for SEO professionals to convey to clients. It’s great that you’ve pulled this all together in one place like this. Great work!

    “Best practices” lists and rules of thumb can be very useful. In my research, I’ve found that the influence of these various on-page and off-page factors varies from landscape to landscape. (A landscape is comprised of the competitors returned for a specific search query in a specific search engine.)

    Because search engines grade on a curve, which factors win the day can vary quite a bit. I have often found landscapes in which even the top ranked pages are abysmal even in the basics. If search engines used an absolute grading scale, the first page of results should be empty in such cases because no one made the grade.

    The goal is to be the curve buster by majoring in the majors not in the minors. What determines whether a particular factor is a major or minor is that landscape. In other words, what weighting there is among the “Top 10 Positive Factors” (and others) for that landscape tells you what you need to major in to do well for a particular keyphrase. It is not always going to be the same from keyphrase to keyphrase. Having that information enables you to better prioritize your efforts and spend less time guessing.

    That’s the essence of SEO Competitive Intelligence. That is the next important step beyond knowing the top positive factors.

  • http://blog.outer-court.com Philipp Lenssen

    I think the backlinks text depends a lot on your site name, as well as the title tag… it’s very much interrelated. If your site is called “Foo Bar” then a lot of people will use “foo” or “bar” or “foo bar” as anchor text when talking about your site. And if your RSS item title is “Foo” then a lot of automated tools will use this as anchor text. A strong related domain name, say FooBar.com, goes a long way as well in helping the relevant anchor text.

    In the end, creating accessible HTML the way it’s meant to be, and putting up interesting content — all SEO aside — is enough, and then you can let the web & the search engines do their magic based on that. And what else does “link popularity” mean but “people think your content is interesting”?

  • Steve Amundsen

    Thanks, Danny, for bringing attention to the SEO ranking basics that SEOmoz posted. I read with much interest the comments by the various submitters on what they think is the most important factor for high rankings in the search engines.

    I found it very interesting that even among these “experts” there seems to be a wide variation of what “works”. What was missing from this analysis IMHO, is that a website is not competing for rankings from the search engines themselves, but from the actual SERPs. Good, solid, competitive SEO intelligence applied is the real key. Sure, a lot of factors are analyzed and weighted, but the bottom line is we just have to be a little better than the website we are trying to outrank. Bruce Clay has said it best: “The least imperfect wins.” That means that if we are doing a lot of the “important” things better than our competitors, we win. It is a simple mantra, and I have seen it work many times for my clients.

    To suggest that the very most important thing for obtaining high rankings is the keyword in the title is a gross generalization. Case in point: search in Google for “SEO Blogs”. The second, fourth, fifth and eighth ranked sites don’t have that keyword in their titles. A quick search on “search engine optimization tools” also reveals that the only site that has that keyword in the title is the number one ranked site. And these sites are built by the “experts”.

    Is having the keyword in the title important? Yes. Is having the keyword in meta tags, H tags, and in well-written content important? Yes. Does Google look at and index keywords in assigning relevance? Yes. Are keyword backlinks from relevant sites important? Yes. What is really the most important? A website that converts. Good SEO cannot exist in a vacuum of ranking factors. If we are really doing a professional service for our clients then we cannot forget that the “bottom line” justifies our fees and makes our clients happy.

  • http://www.phatz.com christian griffith

    Am I a conspiracy theorist?
    —————————

    I can’t help but believe that with all the human intelligence under the hood at Google, these basics are continually monitored and consistent patterns acted upon.

    Certain industries must be noted:
    ———————————

    Thinking of industries such mortgage companies, I believe the benefits of ‘domain legacy’ would far outweigh those of simple title element (the correct terminology for what everyone is calling ‘title tag’) manipulation. Furthermore, I have to wonder if industries with a history of implementing spammy techniques are more carefully scrutinized by the search engines.

    It would certainly make sense.

    This would then lead to the idea that ranking algorithms could possibly be dynamic depending on the content focus of the site. This dynamic element could be based on a variety of possible factors…

    The funny thing is, SEOmoz’s post, while very good, is geared toward beginners who most likely have a new, or newer, site and thus won’t benefit from many of the concepts for a decent amount of time anyway.

    I can’t help but think that we are so busy trying to build our link base, authority and content archives for our own sites and status that we forget to break new ground in discussion – instead we hash out and repeat the same old concepts time and time again.

    the disease of the “top ten…”

    …I’m guilty of it too.

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