The last two years of SEO has seen more significant Google algorithm changes than ever before, as Google becomes more dynamic and focuses heavier on ensuring only high quality websites rank. With this in mind, it’s important to take a step back and review the overall SEO picture, instead of being caught up in the specifics of your website that can so often happen when you’re close to a project. Search Metrics have recently put together a blog post on rank correlations for Google USA in 2013 that provides some great insight for those looking to take a holistic approach to SEO (which you should be). If you’re an in-house SEO Manager, it’s important to ensure that you are taking a pro-active approach to SEO, and ticking all the quality boxes you can. The below graph is taken from the Search Metrics post of which they evaluated the top 30 results across 10,000 keywords and provides some great data:

us-ranking-factors-2013

It’s important to take into account that this graph is based on correlation. What does this mean? It means that the data doesn’t necessarily say that one factor is more important than another, it says that there were more occurrences of the factors higher on the list for results ranking higher in Google. Based on the results of the study, here’s a few key highlights that we took from it:

  1. H2 Headings Matter
    Websites that had an existence of a H2 Heading actually tended to rank higher than websites that didn’t. There’s large focus in SEO to focus predominantly on H1 Headings on a page and skip the H2’s. It could be considered that a page containing multiple headings (and likely more content) is of a higher quality. Ensure you don’t over-optimise your H2 Headings to be too similar to your H1, but be sure to include one for further targeting and page relevance.
  2. Social Media is a Must
    The biggest factor that was identified within the data for top ranking websites was the social signals surrounding a site. Google +, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter shares all occurred frequently for top ranking sites. Not only growing your fan base is important, but ensuring that you have social sharing buttons across all your pages and are creating content regularly that is engaging enough to be shared.
  3. Number of Backlinks Will Always Be Important
    There’s lots of talk about link building after Google has cracked down on low quality link building services, however the number of links a website has pointing to it still has a large impact on how your site ranks. Just make sure that you’re not building links using low quality services, over-optimised anchor text or from low quality websites. Focus on quality and continue to build your website’s authority.
  4. Nofollow Links Contribute to a Natural Link Profile
    Now before I elaborate, I do believe that this factor is more a correlation of high authority websites gaining more natural links from nofollow sources than a potential ranking factor, however the top ranking websites did have a larger percentage of nofollow backlinks, versus low ranking pages that didn’t. While I’ve stated that it’s likely more a correlation, it could certainly be considered an indicator of a natural link profile if there’s a decent percentage of nofollow links pointing to a website, so SEO’s shouldn’t shy away from acquiring nofollow links from good sources.

There’s heaps of great data in the table, to be interpreted as you see fit. The most useful interpretation of the data, is to identify the standards for high ranking websites and work on ensuring that your website also reflects this overall profile, both on-site and through external sources.