Pull up a chair, this is a big one.
This is, perhaps, the Google algorithm change with the biggest impact on both SEO writers and business owners alike.
Courtesy of a brand-new study by SEMrush, we now know what truly matters when it comes to ranking higher.
In order to compile this amazing report, the researchers at SEMrush analyzed data from 600,000 global keywords. The results came from a machine-learning algorithm that managed to determine the factors that influence positions in SERPs. The methodology is complex, but I won’t bore you with it – you can read about it in the study. We have more important stuff to dissect right now.
Let’s dive it.
You have to be popular to gain…popularity
Yes, that’s the newest, biggest Google paradox.
Out of the 12 factors Google analyzed, direct traffic seems to be the most important one. In other words, the more visits your website gets, the higher it will rank.
Important: search traffic does not seem to count toward improving your ranking. This is why it is not the only thing you should focus on if you want to drive…organic traffic. I know, it’s paradoxical.
But bear with me.
Social traffic, referral and direct traffic are key elements in boosting your page ranking. Most importantly, when you get to the top, you can’t stop focusing on them. You need to keep your direct, referral and social traffic constant lest you lose your position.
Rumors about traffic volume have been circulating for ages in the SEO world. And most experts have dismissed them quickly, saying that newbies always get a fair chance.
The SEMrush study is here to prove the opposite.
Aside from traffic, other factors that influence a page’s rankings are: the time spent on the website, the number of pages each user visited per session, the content length and the bounce rate. Website security (HTTPS) is important, but doesn’t have a big effect on rankings. The same goes for adding videos to your website – nice to have (always!), but not imperative for SEO.
So what can you do to boost your ranking in this brave new world?
Glad you asked!
Let’s take a look at some of the things you can influence:
I’ve said it before: content marketing and SEO go together, not separately. And Google just confirmed it.
According to SEMrush, domains that rank within the top three results have an average bounce rate of 49 percent. This means that you need to work hard to reduce your bounce rate as much as possible. This always means offering top quality content.
No shortcuts, no compromises. You need the kind of content that keeps people engaged and wanting for more. This way, people spend more time on your website (a huge factor in ranking) and click on more pages.
The SEMrush research also proved that on-page SEO has less importance than we might have thought. As much as 18 percent of websites ranking for high volume keywords don’t have said keywords in the body.
What does this mean?
Again, that it’s not content who’s king. It’s quality content.
For instance, whenever I hire new SEO copywriters for my agency, I make sure they are well-versed in marketing first and foremost. And only then I ask about their SEO knowledge.
That’s because SEO tools and tactics can be easily taught, especially to a savvy marketer. But the basics of marketing and creating content that engages different types of audiences are tougher to crack.
Another factor that weighs a lot in your page ranking is content length. According to SEMrush, top three websites have content that is 45 percent longer than websites in the 20th position. Again, the case for long-form content is made. We advise all our clients to aim for posts that are at least 1,000 words long. Ideally, you should aim for 2,000-plus words for every five pieces of content you produce.
I noticed an incredible jump in organic traffic for three of my clients who went from the classic 500-word blog post to 1,5000 posts. And the boost was almost instantaneous – it took less than one month for organic traffic to increase by 20 percent.
You want as many websites to link to yours as possible. SEMrush discovered that 10,000 is the difference in the number of referring domains between the first and the 10th position. But don’t go for just any websites. Look for those with high domain authority and avoid the ones with poor authority.
No, not every link is a good link, just like not all advertising is good advertising. When a lot of spammy websites link to you, this is a red flag for Google. Whatever you do, don’t try to do link exchanges or, worse, buy links.
Instead, you can try guest posting on authority websites. Plus, whenever you mention an industry thought leader in your articles, give them a shout out on social media or via e-mail. They might want to brag about it on their own website.
Ultimately, it all goes back to content. If yours is valuable and informative, people will link to it, thus boosting your number of referrals and, consequently, your page ranking.
3. Content marketing
I’ve pleaded for quality content for years – ever since I set foot in this industry. But what good is great content if it’s not marketed properly?
Google seems to agree with me. This is why social traffic weighs heavily in page rankings. For most of our clients and for our own blog we use the Pareto principle when it comes to content marketing – we spend 20 percent of our time creating it and 80 percent promoting it.
Social media and e-mail campaigns are both crucial for gaining the type of traffic that brings you even more traffic. The organic kind, this time.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
Yes, the findings in the SEMrush report are surprising. But we can’t say that we haven’t been expecting them.
It’s been years since Google announced that it will value quality content above all else. And here it is: search engines have gotten smart enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. The dawn of a new era has just been announced: it’s an era in which you either invest in great content, or you make room for someone who does.
There’s no middle ground.