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Quality content and other on-page factors have become increasingly important for SEO in recent years thanks to Google’s various algorithm updates aimed at cracking down on spammers and sites that offer a poor user experience.

And a new report from Searchmetrics shows just how the influence of on-page SEO has changed in the past 12 months by examining the correlation of various factors with high Google rankings. 

Virtually all criteria – ranging from the image count to Adlinks – have apparently increased in importance, with a site’s word count showing the biggest difference compared to last year.

‘Title character length’ is one of only two factors showing a slightly negative correlation, however this can be interpreted positively: the shorter the page title of a document, the better the ranking.

Correlation changes since 2012

The report gives a full run through of the important factors, but here’s a look at a few of the ones that jumped out. The research is based on analysis of 10,000 search terms from Google UK, using the first three pages of results.

It’s important to point out that the findings are a correlation rather than causation, but it does seem to suggest that there’s some relationship between search rankings and the various different factors.

Word count

Looking more closely at word count as a factor, the report shows that pages that rank in top positions have a higher word count than websites positioned at the lower end of SERPs.

The one anomaly is the presence of brand sites, which occupy a hallowed place at the very top of Google search results.

Brand websites seem to have lower word counts on average than search results on the first SERP. Consequently pages ranked first have 407 words on average, which is 120 words less than pages ranked 2nd (529 words).

Internal links

The report shows that pages appearing at the top of search results tend to have a greater number of internal links than pages achieving lower rankings. The anomaly is again brand websites.

However it’s not just about the sheer number of links on each page - internally-linked keywords as a link text play a role in the optimal distribution of the ‘link juice’.

The current rule of thumb suggests using ‘hard’ links internally (i.e. with keywords) and ‘soft’ links externally (i.e. generic/stop words/more words in the anchor, brand links, etc.).

Advertising less negative than before

In last year’s report there was clearly a negative correlation with advertising integration and good search rankings – even for AdSense, Google’s own ad product.

In effect, this meant that well-ranked sites had fewer adverts than those that ranked lower. The situation has now changed somewhat so these correlations are close to neutral.

David Moth

Published 2 August, 2013 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

1684 more posts from this author

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Nick Stamoulis

I would imagine that the more words a site has on a page the more valuable the content (in theory) becomes. Granted, you could have 10000 words of nothing but more content usually means more information and more value to the readers, and therefore the search engines.

about 3 years ago

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Kent

Nick has it. Valuable, authorative and well strategized content is often verbose, hence word count. Paying a cheap copywriter to write 1000 words of nothing over 300 words of nothing isn't going to change anything.

about 3 years ago

Emma North

Emma North, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

On-page factors have definitely become more important but there has also been a shift in the types of off-page factors which carry weight; none more than the rise in value of social signals which will almost certainly continue to grow in significance.

That said, content quality and quantity is still the big thing. However seeing as this is based on the logic that lots of content, 300+ words per page, provides user value and meets the users needs. Even if the content is good quality, it might not always meet there need. If I'm looking for "cheap engagement rings", I almost certainly don't want 300 words about cheap engagement rings; I probably just want to browse products or buy.

The key to serving users needs in search results is understanding user intent and this is the shift we're seeing in the search engines' strategies.

about 3 years ago

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Daniel persson

Thank you for this information, it´s completly new to me. I gonna do some changes to my site after reading this.

about 3 years ago

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Shelley Slater

Emma, I can see a need for content on the cheap engagement rings pages. People in that price bracket often want reassurance that they're getting the most for their engagement ring money, as they want to impress the person who is to receive the ring. On the product pages, a good description of each ring, along with information on what makes it good value compared to others (or not) would be of interest to shoppers. A blog that talks about how to buy a cheap engagement ring, alternatives to traditional diamonds, etc. would also be useful and of interest to the user.

This approach then satisfies the Google need for content, along with helping the user experience and filling the search intent (to find a cheap engagement ring).

about 3 years ago

Antoine Becaglia

Antoine Becaglia, Digital Strategist at WebPropaganda Ltd

We kept on telling our clients about the THUMB rule, even when others were dismissing its importance...On-page factors were always important for high search rankings...Who said the opposite?

about 3 years ago

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Adam Pritchard

You raise an interesting point about eCommerce content which is not too difficult to overcome.

On one hand Google seems to want lots of content, on the other hand you want to make the shopping experience more sensory and visual - so your site design needs to be about balance. You can contain rafts of content in tabular or JavaScript-based design where it doesn't dominate but can still be easily found. Keep your large zoomable photos and impacting short sentences, but provide deeper info lower down. And remember not to copy 'too much' manufacturer content (indeed be as unique as possible) as plagiarism will gain you no ranks at all.

Good planning and wireframing will maintain a beautiful design without visually overloading the page with words.

about 3 years ago

Emma North

Emma North, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

Shelley, I completely agree with you and perhaps that wasn't the best example; my point is that content is less important for some searches and pages than for others and that other factors should have increased weight for pages where content is not the primary need of the user. I completely agree that having content on those pages adds value and it's always possible to add enough content to a page to satisfy search engines at the same time, but some pages will always be more dependent on content than others.

about 3 years ago

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Shelley Slater

Emma, I understand - and agree with what you're saying.

about 3 years ago

Jon Harrison

Jon Harrison, Freelance SEO Consultant at SEO Company Edinburgh

interesting data, I also noticed Google announced the recognition of in depth articles using data mark up. Which suggests its trying to pull the decent posts to one side for people to search through. Removing the whole brand thing.

about 3 years ago

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