We Analyzed 1 Million Google Search Results. Here’s What We Learned About SEO

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We recently analyzed 1 million Google search results to answer the question:

Which factors correlate with first page search engine rankings?

We looked at content. We looked at backlinks. We even looked at site speed.

With the help of Eric Van Buskirk and our data partners1, we uncovered some interesting findings.

And today I’m going to share what we found with you.

Here is a Summary of Our Key Findings:

1. Backlinks remain an extremely important Google ranking factor. We found the number of domains linking to a page correlated with rankings more than any other factor.

2. Our data also shows that a site’s overall link authority (as measured by Ahrefs Domain Rating) strongly correlates with higher rankings.

3. We discovered that content rated as “topically relevant” (via MarketMuse), significantly outperformed content that didn’t cover a topic in-depth. Therefore, publishing focused content that covers a single topic may help with rankings.

4. Based on SERP data from SEMRush, we found that longer content tends to rank higher in Google’s search results. The average Google first page result contains 1,890 words.

5. HTTPS had a reasonably strong correlation with first page Google rankings. This wasn’t surprising as Google has confirmed HTTPS as a ranking signal.

6. Despite the buzz around Schema, our data shows that use of Schema markup doesn’t correlate with higher rankings.

7. Content with at least one image significantly outperformed content without any images. However, we didn’t find that adding additional images influenced rankings.

8. We found a very small relationship between title tag keyword optimization and ranking. This correlation was significantly smaller than we expected, which may reflect Google’s move to Semantic Search.

9. Site speed matters. Based on data from Alexa, pages on fast-loading sites rank significantly higher than pages on slow-loading sites.

10. Despite Google’s many Penguin updates, exact match anchor text appears to have a strong influence on rankings.

11. Using data from SimilarWeb, we found that low bounce rate was associated with higher Google rankings.

We have detailed data and information of our findings below.

New Bonus Section: Get access to a free search engine ranking factors bonus section. This section includes a PDF checklist, a step-by-step case study, in-depth tutorials, and more. Click here to get access to the bonus section.

The Number of Referring Domains Has a Very Strong Influence on Rankings

You may have heard that getting backlinks from the same domain has diminishing returns.

In other words, it’s better to get 10 links from 10 different sites than 10 links from the same domain.

According to our analysis, this appears to be the case. We found that domain diversity has a substantial impact on rankings.

05_Number of Referring Domains_line

Google wants to see several different sites endorsing your page. And the more domains that link to you, the more endorsements you have in the eyes of Google.

In fact, the number of unique referring domains was the strongest correlation in our entire study.

Key Takeaway: Getting links from a diverse group of domains is extremely important for SEO.

Authoritative Domains Tend to Rank Higher in Google’s Search Results

Not surprisingly, we found that a website’s overall link authority (measured using Ahrefs Domain Rating) was strongly tied to Google rankings:

08_Domain Link Authority (AHREFs Domain Rating)_line

In fact, a website’s overall authority had a stronger correlation to rankings than the authority of the page.

In other words, the domain that your page lives on is more important than the page itself.

Key Takeaway: Increasing the number of links to your site may improve rankings for other pages on your site.

Publishing Comprehensive, In-Depth Topical Content May Improve Rankings

In the early days of SEO, Google would determine a page’s topic by looking strictly at the keywords that appeared on the page.

If the keyword appeared on the page X number of times, Google would determine that the page was about that keyword. Today, thanks largely to the Hummingbird Algorithm, Google now understands the topic of every page.

For example, when you search for “who was the director of back to the future”…

google search for hummingbird

…Google doesn’t look for pages that contain the keyword “who was the director of Back to the Future”.

Instead, it understands the meaning of the question, and provides an answer:

google knowledge graph

As you might expect, this has a significant impact on how we optimize our content for SEO. In theory, Google should prefer content that covers a single topic in-depth.

But does the data agree with that assumption?

To find out we used MarketMuse to analyze 10,000 of the URLs from our data set for “Topical Authority”.

And we discovered that comprehensive content significantly outperformed shallow content.

07_Content Topic Authority (MarketMuse Data)_line

This is interesting. But how do you write content that Google considers comprehensive?

Let’s look at two examples from our data set to find out.

First, we have this article on the Daily Press about the Busch Gardens fun card:

example of page with low topical authority

This page has many of the traditional metrics that result in first page rankings. For example, the page uses the keyword in the title tag and the H1 tag. Also, the domain (Dailypress.com) is very authoritative (Ahrefs Domain Rating of 64).

However, this page ranks only #10 for the keyword: “Busch Gardens fun card”.

google ranking number 10 on first page

This low ranking is partly due to the fact the content on the page has a very low Topical Authority score.

On the flip side, we have this page about making Balinese satay sauce.

comprehensive topic content

This page provides a wealth of information on satay sauce. This piece of content covers the history of satay sauce in Indonesia, how the sauce is used, a recipe, and even provides nutrition facts.

Even though this page doesn’t use the term “Indonesian Satay Sauce” anywhere on the page, it ranks on the first page for that keyword:

google hummingbird ranking

Part of the explanation for that ranking is that this page has a high Topical Authority for the topic: “Indonesian Satay Sauce”.

Key Takeaway: Writing comprehensive, in-depth content can help you rank higher in Google.

Long-Form Ranks Higher in Google’s Search Results Than Short-Form Content

Does long-form content outperform short, 200-word blog posts?

We turned to our data set to find out.

After removing outliers from our data (pages that contained fewer than 51 words and more than 9999 words), we discovered that pages with longer content ranked significantly better than short content.

02_Content Total Word Count_line

In fact, the average word count of a Google first page result is 1,890 words.

Previous search engine ranking factors studies found that longer content performed better in Google.

This correlation could be due to the fact that longer content generates significantly more social shares. Or it could be an inherent preference in Google for longer articles.

Another theory is that longer content boosts your page’s topical relevancy, which gives Google a deeper understanding of your content’s topic.

Also, long-form content’s ranking advantage could simply reflect site owners that care about publishing excellent content. This being a correlation study, it’s impossible for us to pinpoint why longer content performs so well in terms of search engine rankings.

However, when you combine our data with what’s already out there, it paints a clear picture that long-form content is best for SEO.

Key Takeaway: Long-form content ranks higher in Google’s search results than short-form content. The average word count of a Google first page result is 1,890 words.

HTTPS is Moderately Correlated with Higher Rankings

Last year Google called on webmasters to switch their sites over to secure HTTPS. They even called HTTPS a “ranking signal“.

What does our data say?

Although not a super-strong correlation, we did find that HTTPS correlated with higher rankings on Google’s first page.

Use of HTTPS_line

Does this mean you should make the switch to HTTPS today? Obviously, the decision is yours. But switching your site to HTTPS is a serious project that can cause serious technical headaches.

Before you make the plunge to HTTPS, check out these guidelines from Google.

Key Takeaway: Because the association between HTTPS and ranking wasn’t especially strong — and the fact that switching to HTTPS is a resource-intensive project — we don’t recommend switching to HTTPS solely for SEO. But if you’re launching a new site, you want to have HTTPS in place on day one.

There is No Correlation Between Schema Markup and Rankings

There’s been a lot of buzz about Schema markup and SEO.

The theory goes something like this:

Schema markup gives search engines a better understanding of what your content means. This deeper understanding will encourage them to show your site to more people.

For example, you can use the <name> structured data tag to let Google know that when you use the word “Star Wars”, you’re referring to the original movie title…not the franchise in general:

schema markup example 2

Or you can use Schema to show ratings for products on your ecommerce site:

schema star ratings

All of these things should help with your rankings. In fact, Google’s John Mueller hinted that they might use structured data as a ranking signal in the future.

However, according to our analysis, the presence of structured data had no relationship with Google rankings.

Presense-of-Schema-Markup_line

Key Takeaway: Feel free to use structured data on your site. But don’t expect it to have an impact on your rankings.

Shorter URLs Tend to Rank Better than Long URLs

I typically recommended that people use short URLs for the sake of better on-page SEO.

Why?

There are two reasons:

First, a short URL like backlinko.com/my-post is easier for Google to understand than backlinko.com/1/12/2016/blog/category/this-is-the-title-of-my-blog-post.

In fact, according to Google’s Matt Cutts, after 5 words in your URL:

“[Google] algorithms typically will just weight those words less and just not give you as much credit.”

And our data supports the use of shorter URLs.

URL Length_line

Fortunately, this guideline is easy to put into practice. Whenever you publish a new piece of content, make the URL short and sweet.

If you use WordPress, you can set your permalink structure to “post name”:

wordpress URL permalinks

Then, whenever you write a post, modify the URL to include a few words:

changing the url

Quick word of warning: make sure the new permalinks only apply to future posts. If you change the permalinks for older posts it can cause serious SEO-related issues.

For example, the URL for my post: 21 Actionable SEO Techniques You Can Use Right Now is simply my target keyword:

google url

Second, a long URL tends to point to a page that’s several clicks from the homepage. That usually means that there’s less authority flowing to that page. Less authority means lower rankings.

For example, this URL to an iPad product page on BestBuy.com represents a page that’s far removed from the site’s authoritative homepage:

long url

Key Takeaway: Use short URLs whenever possible as they may give Google a better understanding about your page’s true topic.

Content With At Least One Image Ranks Higher Than Content That Lacks an Image
(But Using Lots of Images Doesn’t Make a Difference)

Industry studies have found that image-rich pages tend to generate more total views and social shares.

This suggests that including lots of images in your content can boost shares, which should therefore improve Google rankings.

To measure the impact of image use on rankings we looked at the presence or absence of an image in the body of the page (in other words, in the content of the page).

According to our data, using at least one image in your content is significantly better than having no image at all.

Content Contains At Least 1 Image_line

However, when we looked at the link between the total number of images and rankings, we didn’t find any correlation.

This suggests that there’s a point of diminishing returns when it comes to image usage and rankings.

Key Takeaway: Using a single image is clearly better than zero images. Including lots of images doesn’t seem to have an impact on search engine rankings.

Using An (Exact) Keyword in Your Page’s Title Tag Has a Small Correlation With Rankings

Since the early days of search engines the title tag has been (by far) the most important on-page SEO element.

Because your title tag gives people (and search engines) an overview of your page’s overall topic, the words that appear in your title tag have long had a significant impact on rankings.

However, we wanted to see whether or not Google’s move towards Semantic Search has made the title tag any less important.

We found that title tag keyword usage still slightly correlates with rankings. However, it had a much smaller relationship than we anticipated.

Keyword-Appears-in-Title-Tag-(Exact-Match)_line

This finding suggests that Google doesn’t need to see the exact keyword in your title tag to understand your page’s topic.

For example, here are the top six results for the keyword “list building”.

google top 6 results 1

Note how three of the top six results (including the #1 result) don’t contain the exact keyword “list building” in their title tag.

google top 6 results

This is a reflection of Google moving away from exact keyword usage to Semantic Search.

Key Takeaway: Including your target keyword in your title tag may help with rankings for that keyword. However, because of Semantic Search, the impact doesn’t appear to be nearly as great as it once was.

Pages On Fast-Loading Websites Rank Significantly Higher than Pages On Slow-Loading Websites

Since 2010, Google has used site speed as an official ranking signal.

But we were curious:

How much does site speed impact rankings?

We used Alexa’s domain speed to analyze the median load time of 1 million domains from our data set. In other words, we didn’t directly measure the loading speed of the individual pages in our data set. We simply looked at the average loading speed across the entire domain.

And we found a strong correlation between site speed and Google rankings:

Average Page Load Spead (for URL's domain)_line

Again, this is simply a correlation. Could it be that site owners that optimize for speed also optimize for SEO? Sure.

But having a fast-loading site certainty won’t hurt your SEO. So it makes sense to speed things up.

Key Takeaway: Fast-loading websites are significantly more likely to rank in Google.

More Total Backlinks = Higher Rankings

There’s been a lot of buzz about new ranking signals (like social signals) that search engines use today. Many have even gone on to say that backlinks are becoming less important.

We were curious to see whether or not Google still used the sheer number of backlinks as an algorithmic ranking signal.

To measure this, we used the Ahrefs API to determine the total number of backlinks pointing to each page in our data set.

We found that pages with the highest number total backlinks tended to rank best in Google.

13_Total-External-Backlinks_line

Even though Google continues to add diversity to its algorithm, it appears that backlinks remain a critical ranking signal.

Key Takeaway: Pages with more backlinks tend to rank higher than pages with fewer backlinks.

Google Rankings Are Closely Tied to a Page’s Overall Link Authority

In addition to total backlinks, we wanted to answer the question:

Does a page’s overall authority influence rankings?

Most SEOs agree that backlink quality is just as important as backlink quantity.

In other words, it’s typically better to get a single link from an authoritative page than 100 links from 100 low-quality pages.

And our data supports this:

Webpage Link Authority (Ahrefs URL Rating)_line

According to Ahrefs’s measure of link authority (URL Rating), authoritative pages outrank pages with little link authority. However, this correlation wasn’t as strong as the impact of the total amount of referring domains.

Key Takeaway: The overall link authority of your page matters.

Exact Match Anchor Text Significantly Correlates With Rankings

Since Google released its Penguin update in 2012, many SEO professionals have advised against building backlinks with exact match anchor text. However, several search engine ranking studies have found that anchor text is still important.

That’s why we wanted to investigate whether or not anchor text remained an important ranking signal.

Our research shows that exact match anchor text strongly correlates with rankings.

In the early days of SEO, building backlinks with exact match anchor text was a very effective approach. For example, if you wanted to rank for the keyword “online flower delivery” you would make sure your links had anchor text like this:

example of exact match anchor text

However, Google has likely cracked down on this practice, starting with the initial Penguin update. For that reason, we don’t recommend building links that use exact match anchor text, despite the fact that it appears to have a strong impact on rankings.

Key Takeaway: Backlinks with exact match anchor text robustly correlate with rankings. However, because of the risk in exact match anchor text links, we don’t advise utilizing exact match anchor text as an SEO tactic.

Low Bounce Rates Are Strongly Associated With Higher Google Rankings

Many people in the SEO world have speculated that Google uses “user experience signals” (like bounce rate, time on site and SERP click-through-rate) as ranking factors.

To test this theory, we pulled 100,000 websites from our data set and analyzed them in SimilarWeb.

Specifically, we analyzed three user experience signals: bounce rate, time on site and SERP CTR.

We discovered that websites with low average bounce rates are strongly correlated with higher rankings.

Bounce-Rate_line

Please keep in mind that we aren’t suggesting that low bounce rates cause higher rankings.

Google may use bounce rate as a ranking signal (although they have previously denied it). Or it may be the fact that high-quality content keeps people more engaged. Therefore lower bounce rate is a byproduct of high-quality content, which Google does measure.

As this is a correlation study, it’s impossible to determine from our data alone.

Key Takeaway: Google may use bounce rate as a ranking signal. Or it may be a case of a correlation not equaling causation.

Conclusion

Special thanks to our data partners: SEMRush, Ahrefs, MarketMuse and SimilarWeb for making this study possible.

I also want to thank Eric Van Buskirk of ClickStream (Project Director), Zach Russell (Lead Developer), and Qi Zhao (Head Data Scientist) for their contributions.

Also, if you’d like to learn more about how we collected and analyzed our data, here is a link to our study methods.

And if you want help implementing these findings, then make sure to get access to the free search engine ranking factors bonus section.

Click the image below and enter your email to get access:

search engine ranking bonus section
      1. Good to see some of the data backing up the claims so many folks make, amazing work by you and the other contributors. In the end, it appears that long form quality content and citations are still the most valuable signals.

      2. “4. Based on SERP data from SEMRush, we found that longer content tends to rank higher in Google’s search results. The average Google first page result contains 1,890 words.” –> Does this mean ALL words on the page, including product descriptions etc.?

        1. I’m also curious about this topic. Nearly all websites have navigational links, excerpts of related content, author bios and so on. Together, they can add a significant amount of words to any webpage.

          I’m not disputing that longer articles tend to rank better. We see that every day.

          But did the study measure article lenght or whole page word count?

          1. The study likely measured whole page word count, there are a number of free tools online for counting words on a page and most of them pick up any and every word including navigation, author bios etc. 🙂

    1. Yo Yo Chase.

      Soooooooooooooooo, I’ve got to ask.

      Did any of these make you say “sayyyyyyyyy what”

      For Me:

      When I read “Despite the buzz around Schema, our data shows that use of Schema markup doesn’t correlate with higher rankings.”

      I figured there would be more value with SCHEMA relating back to SEO. I mean other factors can play into too.

      Thanks,

      Chris Pontine

        1. Lots of value here, but the schema finding in particular is one where I have to wonder if the industry/vertical may make a difference. After getting to know the search results around a few hundred travel related terms, one of the key patterns to emerge was that 2 of the sites that appeared in the top 3 for a majority of the search terms were also the only 2 sites using schema markup on the core content (not just basics like breadcrumbs or site type). I haven’t done as much research, but I’d imagine recipe sites would show a similar pattern.

          In the travel search case, for all but a few of the terms, external links weren’t much of a factor for anyone on the first page. Internal links, and on page factors (including schema) played a larger role. I don’t think Google has an entirely different algorithm by vertical, but I think there are some where the absence of links – especially to detail pages – is natural and other factors play more of a role.

          1. Schema still has indirect value in many verticals (like travel as you mentioned), since adding the markup will get you star ratings and such displayed in SERPs.

          2. Of course if Schema drives a higher CTR, this gives you more potential for people to see and link to your content, driving rankings. It also potentially means attracting more relevant traffic (e.g., showing prices might deter the wrong audience from visiting), in which case bounce rates might go down. So there are different ways to look at the value here. We should also remember that someone using Schema may be more prone to using other SEO techniques, which is why a larger study like this one is useful for weeding out exceptions.

            Good point on some verticals naturally having fewer / more links on certain types of pages.

        2. The content of the answer box for the question ‘who was the director of Back to the Future’ is often sourced from Schema markup. That’s my understanding of the situation anyway.

    2. Hey Brian. I’m a reluctant study of SEO. I’m a business owner first and foremost and kinda despise having to handle our SEO. But its just too expensive and confusing to outsource for our 3 person company. Your post and emails have made it possible for me to evaluate what parts of SEO are important to my business right now and which are not. Most SEO’s and web marketers want to sell me a bunch of stuff that I didn’t understand or even need in the past. Now I can converse with people in your world and direct them properly on the projects I wish to outsource in the future. Until now, SEO has been a part of my business I pour money into and get zero results and heaps of excuses from my contractors (14 years and counting) Your info is really helpful. Thanks.

    3. Thank you for this fantastic piece of work. I also find by the way that the keyword in the domain name is still an important ranking factor even though Google mentioned several times its loosing importance. Not as just yet. I have several sites that rank just because the keyword is in the domain. What’s your take on this?

  1. This ROCKS Brian! #shared wow just goes to show you not only need to build authoritative Backlinko but you need good, relevant on-site content for people to stay to make a good blend for success in the SERPs.

      1. Nope, my opinion…

        Darren nailed it!

        I’ve read a few of your posts, and that term should definitely be renamed:

        ‘Authoritative Backlinko – Formerly Known as —>>> (authoritative backlinks)’

        Seriously 😉

      1. Could it be that some of the sites who rank high with exact match anchor text have not yet been penalized?

        I mean what is your protection from skewness and what is your R-squared in this data set?

        I’m not saying you’re wrong, your findings are probably true, however, there may be a possibility that remnants of an old ranking factor still lingers and will not be as beneficial going forward.

        1. That could be, Robin. But with 3+ years of Google Penguin updates, I doubt too many sites that used manipulative anchor text are still around.

          Also, keep in mind there are pages with a lot of legit exact match anchors. So they wouldn’t be penalized.

  2. Fantastic study! I don’t think I ever shared an SEO article on my Facebook but you have won sir. I hate when people obsess over Schema markup. It is interesting to see bounce rate coorelates with higher rankings. I guess it is because those are more high quality pages as well…

    I think the hardest thing for SEO is deciding on anchor text. Yes it helps, but who wants to be the guy who hurts his clients. Even though it helps I am of the mindset to play it safe…

    1. Thanks Ronald.

      I’m with you 100%. Schema is nice to have. Nothing wrong with it. But it won’t magically boost your rankings.

      1. The Schema points are interesting, but not surprising. We’ve used it since day dot and have never seen it boost rankings, we have however seen sharp increases to click through rates for products, thus still reccomend adding it where possible.

    1. Thanks Mitesh. It looks like it still helps Google understand a page’s topic. They probably didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water!

    1. Thanks Rob. Oh man, let’s just say we had a team of people work really, really hard for a really, really long time. To my knowledge that’s the only way to get things done!

    2. As part of the team, I can say Brian could write a novella (are those non fiction as well?) about how this was done. The number of servers, CPUs, scripts, late nights, API calls for data, etc.: this was a project full of big numbers: 1,000,000 results and several data partners was just part of that.

      1. Who pays for all this?

        How does this relatively short article produce a return on the investment required to do the research?

        1. It drives newsletter registrations, builds personal brand, and pushes business to “partners”, which is the whole point!

      1. Even if the HTTPS ranking improvements were worth 5%, it’s still appears as loss for most sites because of the ~10 – 15% authority lost from site wide redirects. Doesn’t equate to a winning proposition, not to mention the potential disasters that can come from a botched implemntation.

    1. They seem to ignore the fact that sites using https might in general, just be higher quality sites which the admins put a lot of time into.
      The fact that they are secure may actually have no influence at all, just that sites with better quality content are more likely to be secure.
      Since the advent of free ssl certs I’ve switched a lot of sites to secure and none of them have seen any change in ranking.

  3. Hi Brian,

    Very nice case of study. It just confirms our thoughts.

    I have two question regarding your graphics:
    1.What do you mean by “Percent of pages” in “Content contains at least 1 image” graphic?
    2. What do you mean by “Average domain rating” in “Total external backlinks” graphic? I know backlinks are counted as K, not DR on Ahrefs.

    Thank you,
    Jeffrey

  4. I’m glad you used and referenced MarketMuse for some of this research. For building a content plan and analyzing existing content around topical authority, there is no better tool that I’ve found to do this type of work. It’s made a huge difference for my organic traffic growth and has fit in perfectly with the rest of my SEO tech stack.

    1. That’s good to hear, Michael. Yup, their tool is great and came in handy for this study. The type of stuff they’re doing is definitely the future of on-page SEO.

  5. Hi Brian

    What a great way to start 2016 🙂

    There’s so much in here I’ve bookmarked it and will keep referring back.

    The ‘topically relevant’ content indicator is fascinating – meaning if you totally own any given search subject with a massive resource (and then promote it), you’re more than likely going to come out on top. Now where have I heard of a technique about how to do that before?!

    Superb stuff as always.

    Cheers!

    Loz

  6. Hello Brian,

    Another great post. Last time I read off-page SEO guide on your blog and now you share this amazing article about search engine ranking.

    These days I am working on improving my content quality by adding more valuable and fresh content. It’s a great opportunity to add more LSI search terms 🙂

    Writing Linkable content can attract lots of high-quality links for your blog and this is what I’m focusing on this year.

    Thanks for your SEO guides.

    Your regular reader,
    Ankit Singla

  7. Hi Brian,

    Can you tell us a bit more about the data that was used?

    For example on finding #1, the number of domains linking to a website correlated with high rankings. However this is strongly influenced by the authority of those domains, ip-address (c-classes), link placement, age of domain, etc. etc.

    Has that been taken into account?

    Thanks in advance,
    Elion

    1. Hi Elion,

      Great question. You’re 100% right. There are always a number of other factors that go into something like that. For this study we looked at that one factor. As you said, there are other possible contributors there too.

    1. Hey Pat, Good question. Actually, we did. But we weren’t confident with the data so we decided not to publish it. And considering we used SEMRush (which searches with desktop), it wasn’t clear what was happening there.

    2. Pat, we started with actually 1MM keywords and 10MM web pages. Semrush does it’s crawl on desktop pages. We tried to see if the presence of schema markup helped in the desktop rankings, but for sure the did not– as one would suspect. If our “sample” were mobile pages, It would be completely different.

      1. Thanks to both of you,
        I was asking because over here in the uk we’ve noticed a definite seo uptick for sites when they improve speed, but doesn’t seem to be much effect when mobile useability is improved

        1. Thanks for asking Pat… I also had the question about the importance of mobile usability and responsive design – specifically to the desktop rankings. Brian and Eric: did you see that at all in your analysis?

          1. Jack, because our 1 million results came from desktop searches we didn’t have any mobile data to work with.

  8. Brian, Thanks for making this great information available. Would be interested to know if you tested for other factors and then left them out because they didn’t correlate? Either way thanks again.

    1. You’re welcome, David. We did test a few that either didn’t correlate or were simply hard to measure (like whether or not a content contained a video).

      1. Hi,
        thanks a lot for your work. Can you please also publish the list of factors you also tested and didn’t publish and tell the reason why? I think it is nearly as interesting to know which factors don’t correlate. Also I would be interested to know about the correlation with video. I could imagine, as there is a correlation with images, there is also one with videos.
        Regards
        Sascha

        1. You’re welcome, Sascha. That’s something we may publish in the future as an update to this guide. But for version 1.0 I just wanted to give people the highlights.

    1. I’d say it’s not very important, but it can help. Google called it a “tiebreaker” ranking factor. That sounds about right.

      1. A “tiebreaker” ranking factor… what a perfect way to explain the importance of that factor without exaggerating it. It may not necessarily rank your site higher on its own, BUT if you and a competing site have put in equal SEO efforts… your SSL certificate will prevail!

      1. What’s the difference between Alchemy API and Market Muse? As far as I can understand Market Muse gives a particular score and topic gap suggestions right? Is it looking for a patterns as most used terminology (including LSI) on specific topic (by analyzing X number of pages on the web covering the same topic, or maybe even specific phrases in a given html element), OR has nothing to do with that, and it’s more “What other relevant topic (in terms of new post-if I can phrase it like that) can I cover”?
        p.s The Backlinko Crawler <— epic name 🙂

        1. Hi Wizz,

          Thanks – excellent question. In short, MarketMuse uses machine learning to construct a knowledge graph showing semantic relevance, similar to how Google does this analysis. AlchemyAPI does not have a product of this nature.

          If you have any further questions, please contact us at [email protected] and we’ll gladly set a call to discuss in more detail.

          Thanks,
          Aki

          Co-Founder / Chief Product Officer
          MarketMuse

  9. I always get excited when you publish Brian, yet again you’ve not let us down. So much useful information here and I’ll be reading it over a few more times (at least).

    Cheers,
    Lewis.

  10. Nice, work. Lot’s of cool info, but I have a concern.

    Would it not have been more useful to show what the top ranking page for Busch Fun Card is, and what their content looks like versus a site ranking at #10 for the same keyword search. The same for Indonesian Satay Sauce. What is the #1 site doing? Doing a quick search shows that both the #1 rankings for both these phrases have thin content, but strong domains. It’s like comparing apples and oranges.

    When comparing the performance of the Busch Fun Card and the Indonesian Satay sauce, both are performing relatively the same, from what the images show. Dailypress is ranking at #10 and the Satay sauce article is ranking at #7. With this logic, having a good Title tag and thin content performs just slightly worse than having still a decent Title tag and great content.

    1. Thanks User. Good point there.

      The reason I used those two examples is that the Busch Fun Card page has a lot of the traditional SEO metrics that should help it rank. But it’s #10. The satay sauce article was used because it’s #7 for a keyword that it’s not “optimized” for. If it was #7 for it’s target keyword, I’d be with you 100%. Does that make sense?

  11. Brian – thank you for putting this together. Excellent work. You already know what I’m about to write 🙂 The key takeaways are not surprises. They are validation for those of us who have pursued specific strategies for years based on big picture experience, client results, and “gut feeling”. Data is nice to have, but as always, can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Again I thank you for the time and dedication it took to put this together. This page and your work will be helpful when clients ask me why I’m so confident about my beliefs 🙂

    1. You’re welcome, Eric.

      Like you, I wasn’t surprised with most of the findings (I did, however, think that having more images would help with rankings). But in terms of the link data, that goes to show that the “SEO/link building is dead” crowd isn’t basing their approach on what’s working right now. And right now it’s still about backlinks.

  12. I figured Google’s transition to semantic search would continue to drive down the importance of stacking exact keywords on a page. I’m glad you showed us that comprehensive pages do better for SEO. (Also, I’m glad I learned how to make a satay sauce.) You rock. Thanks for the analysis!

      1. Charles, Brian,

        With Hummingbird and RankBrain, I believe Google is showing us that semantic relevance & semantic optimization is here to stay.

  13. Brian, you’re a data hound. I’m glad you do this because I sure don’t.

    I have 2 sites with more than 100K monthly organic search visitors so this data is important.

    Question for you: You don’t mention anything about social signals. From your research did you notice any correlation between social signals and rankings?

    In my experience, social shares can help. For example, some of my best ranking content has tens of thousands of shares. I’ve never built backlinks. It’s just popular. Obviously I can’t conclude social shares ranked the posts, but I’ve noticed correlations.

    1. Jon, yup, I’m all about the data. Otherwise it’s just guessing 🙂

      We didn’t look at social shares but it may be something we look into soon. Should be interesting because I’ve noticed social shares make a short-term difference.

    1. You’re welcome, Jeffrey. Yup, it’s important to make the data practical and actionable. Otherwise it’s hard to implement.

  14. Hi Brian,

    Surprised to see Schema mark up not contributing as much to ranking signals. It is something I certainly recommend clients use on their site especially around reviews and events.

    I’m also a big fan of topic content and covering more then a handful of keywords, your research gladly backs that up. I’m working on a new client and looking at their content vs. a top competitor although the site is beautiful the other guys have nailed it with topic wide content. I’m hoping to merge beauty with content in the very near future.

    Have you seen other rich media playing a role in performance?

    Thanks for the email.

    Richard

    1. Hey Richard, there’s nothing wrong with using or recommending Schema. It may help with CTR, which can bring in more traffic.

      Do you mean the use of videos, charts, quizzes etc.?

      1. Hey Brian,

        Thanks for replying.

        Yep spot on, video, infographics, quizzes etc. Aside from an increase in dwell time and engagement does inclusion of different media in your opinion signal to the search engines investment and quality content?

  15. Wow! Brian, thanks for this insightful post. Backlinks used to be a no-go area for me in the past. But, when I started following your posts, it became easier. I have learnt a lot of strategies from you and I will share my results with you pretty soon. Thanks.

  16. Excellent post Brian, I strongly believe that the key takeaway from this and most SEO related posts is that the only content which will rank high on search engines is awesome content, in-depth content.

    I suspect that most of the rest of the results are a question of correlating to awesome content as opposed to causation

    For example, sites who are able to generate awesome content, are typically well funded. They would thus be able to afford

    1. Great infrastructure (hence fast websites)
    2. SSL on their site

    David

    1. Well said, David. I couldn’t agree with that takeaway any more.

      And I agree with points #1 and #2. Being a correlation study it’s impossible to say if site speed and/or HTTPS are a direct signal or a byproduct of something else.

  17. Great article as always! I’m really looking forward to seeing how these results track over time. I noticed that this data was produced in the first week of December 2015 and that Google released a core update to the algorithm in earlier this month. I’m curioous to see what happens to your findings in relation to this.

    I was also surprised by how little structured data has to do with rankings. I’m interested to know what impact they have on click through rates.

    Again, Great Article!

    1. Good question, Noah. According to what I’ve read (and my own study of the update) the update shuffled things around and then put things back to normal…minus a few victims (like the atlantic).

  18. This is spectacular Bryan. I do have a question on bounce rates.

    Do you think Google looks at the type of page visited in determining the quality of a bounce?

    For example, if a user first arrives to a blog post, reads it, then submits a signup form for the newsletter. After they submit the signup form, they are directed to a “thank you” page. They then leave the site. (No real value for the user on the second pageview)

    Then if there is another user who arrives to the blog post, reads it, then clicks on a related post in the sidebar. They read the next post and then leave the site. (More value for the user on the second pageview than the first example)

    Even though both of these visits had 0% bounce rate, the 2nd visitor should be more valuable in terms of interaction with the site since it was a willing action they did in order to make it to the second page they visited. Whereas the first visitor was essentially forced there by submitting the form when the form could have just used some sort of ajax/javascript to say thanks for subscribing on the current page.

    Or does it not matter how they get to that second pageview?

    Hopefully this makes sense and if so, would love to hear your thoughts.

    1. Thanks Chris.
      I’m not sure they use bounce rate alone. As you said, there are different types of bounces. Each one can indicate a totally different experience. So I’d say they use bounces along with things like dwell time to get a picture of how people interact with your page.

  19. Nice work Brian.

    Bounce rate is the interesting one. I would still say that the type of bounce that will hurt is when someone clicks back to the search results and continues to click through other results (i.e. not satisfying the query) rather than the bounce rate shown in analytics (which is not to say that’s not something we should all be working to lower). Sites like wikipedia I would imagine have a pretty high bounce rate.

    The other issue is when a searcher is in research mode, say searching for “cheapest widget”. In this case they are likely to click through a number of results as part of their research process.

    On the flip side, a “how to” query with a bounce and continued searches would indicate that the site has not answered the query and perhaps should move down the rankings.

    I guess that’s why they are investing so much in their AI/machine learning.

    Agree that anchor text clearly still has an influence on rankings (assuming strong metrics in other areas).

    1. Thanks David.

      Yup, that finding stood out to me too. Like you, I’m not 100% sure if and how they use bounce rate. It’s probably highly contextual and tied in with other quality signals (like dwell time).

  20. Hey Brian,
    Fabulous Post as usual but I think schema and use of images is indirectly related to higher rankings because a rich snippets in SERP automatically get more clicks(CTR) and lots of images helps to engage the visitors ( which leads to dwell time or user satisfaction).
    And I think CTR, User satisfaction and brand mention are the 3 most important ranking factors in coming days.

    1. Pankaj, our results indicate that GOOG does not care about presence of schema as a ranking factor. On reason is that some site do a horrible job of using it and actually create problems for the system and other sites could use it for black hat. So, where it counts is conversion from SERP! We all know that has a big impact.

  21. Hi Brian,

    thanks for such a comprehensive article. I have wondered about the long URL’s for awhile. I’d love to get your opinion on a recent occurrence. I know you are busy! My site was listed on the home page of a huge site as “One of Our Favorite Blogs” The site is now out of business and I lost over 20k anchor links in one day when they removed everything. My traffic has plummeted and I’m wondering if I will recover over time or is this my new reality.

    1. You’re welcome, Lori. It sounds like that site was propping up your rankings. I’d definitely start building a bunch more (white hat) links to make some of that up.

  22. Wow… What a revealing post and Hugely informative.

    I really thought that ‘quality’ links would outdo ‘quantity’ links but hey…

    This sure clears up and corrects what I took for granted.

    Thank you

    1. Christian,

      We didn’t look at quality “head on.” That would actually be tough to isolate. However, the highest singe ranking factor was unique domains linking. That says a lot about quality not being as important. There’s a very concise chart on the method and results section and you’ll see how important each factor is relative to others factors. A “.1” shows exactly 2X as much importance in our study as a “.05”
      http://backlinko.com/wpcontent/uploads/2016/01/Backlinko_Ranking_Factors_Study_Methods.pdf

  23. Thanks Brian.

    I’d love to see a case-study on decreasing bounce rate and increasing time on site / dwell time. Better yet – an actionable guide would be fantastic!

  24. Outstanding information. Thank you so much Brian. We have been using your recommendations for 18 months now and get more than 60 000 unique viewers per month. This new article represents the SEO Bible for us really!

  25. Great article as always 🙂 Would like to know about the age of the domain and site description, are they important in ranking in today?

  26. That was amazing Brian! ~ I really liked the way you structured this post. Very well organized and written up in a very concise fashion. Placing up the summary at the beginning of the article is a huge time saver. It allows us to understand what is coming up before reading everything up.

    I would like also to comment on the topic of “relevancy”. Basically, from the results of our SEO agency, we found that closely related topics also correlates well together. For example, If your website is specializing in Web Development and Marketing, you can still get a good mark on the relevancy scale in both areas provided that you have decent content that supports both topics. In addition of course to the long list of quality, social, and traffic signals.

    Speaking of bounce rates, you were right on that. Lower bounce rates results in higher rankings provided that the other signals are met. It is not on the top of the scale but it has a good effect. It has more of a local effect than an international global effect. Lower bounce rates in USA do not affect much the rankings of your website in Google Germany for example.

    In addition to all that, we totally agree that related images and quality videos also play an important role in both rankings and conversion.

    We hope to get more awesome content from you in the future. Thank you very much.

    1. Thanks Roland.

      Interesting stuff there. It’s always good to hear what agencies find because they work with clients in many different verticals.

      That’s true. The bounce rate metric (if it’s real) is keyword-specific as well. I have some data on this that I shared in last week’s newsletter.

  27. And i can assure you one thing Brian, one factor that you didn’t include on this guide. if you keep doing posts like this, you actually will rank #1 on everyone’s mental search engine as favorited seo blog.

    Haha,Thanks!!

    1. Thanks Gabby. I’ve never been a huge believer in complex site architecture. I think it can help in some instances (like with ecommerce sites), but it usually just causes issues.

  28. This is very interesting:

    “The quality of your backlinks is important, but not as important as the total number of referring domains.”

    I was working on the assumption that a small handful of high quality links was what I needed to rank – but now I think I need links for the sake of links? (non-spammy) quality web 2.0s etc

    1. Matt, according to our data both our important. It doesn’t look to be enough to get one super-duper authoritative link. As long as they’re all legit (as in not web 2.0s), then I’d take a link where I can get it.

  29. Amazing data Brian, thanks. One thing I find confusing is the perceived importance of long form content. If I search for local web designers, the top 2 results or almost identical in that they have next to no textual content, just links and to service pages and CTA’s. Does this mean your data is always relative to the competition for a given search. So in my example, these sites are likely to have a lower bounce rate for the home page and Google is giving more weight to that factor for that search?

    1. You’re welcome, Nick. Keep in mind we analyzed 1 million URLs. So there are always bound to be exceptions like that. We looked at an average across the whole set of data.

  30. Hey Brian

    Great article – your rock, as always!

    I was expecting mention of social signals and their importance. Do they correlate and influence the rankings or are they just a good byproduct of good content and many backlinks. Would really like to hear your current opinion on this.

    Cheers

    1. I try, Admir 🙂

      That’s something we may look at in the future as social signals are very controversial in the SEO world.

  31. Amazing post Brian! About exact match anchor text… Say your site already as a big link profile. 30%+ branded links. Building 20-30 high quality exact Match anchor text links won’t put Google on alert surely? It will be less than 1-2% of total anchor text for the site. So can we also say building more links enabled you to have more exact match anchor text links without being punished?

  32. Love the data! Found it really interesting for total backlinks, how steep the slope is ranking vs. total backlinks.

    Curious did you notice any trends of what type of content tends to rank higher? ie. how to articles, expanded lists etc…

  33. Brian, I love the depth of your articles. I keep coming back to your blog for “more” because you aren’t posting some theory but rather facts.

    Great write up on SEO here and although I believe I am doing well with everything mentioned here (except https) I realize I need to work harder on getting quality backlinks 😉

  34. Brian,

    Thanks for putting this together. I am noting below a summary of your summary as “to do’s”.

    Get diversified anchor text backlinks (certain % being exact match) & Increase your Ahrefs Domain Rating. Create topically in-depth content averaging 1,890 words with a HTTPS website that loads fast with a low bounce rate, and include at least 1 image in your content.

        1. No worries, Anthony. I recommend a mix of bare URL, brand name anchors etc. That being said, you shouldn’t really have too much control over your anchor text. Those types of links tend to be on the grey/black hat side of things.

    1. One thing we didn’t look at but could, it topical coverage of an entire website vs. one page. We expect you’d see a FAR bigger relationship there, and were actually a bit surprised to see this strong signal on just one page. Google is the greatest AI machine on the planet. They look for the entire topic coverage across a site via semantic analysis.

  35. Awesome article Brian… Yeah I have heard it before that https is a social signal… But I have two questions here, first of all SSL certificate costs too much, it is hard to afford for niche/micro niche bloggers. And if I buy it, will I loss ranking at the very first? Cause all my backlinks are for http://sample.com, Should I change them all from http to https? Thanks in advance.

    1. Hey Jared, you have noooo idea 🙂

      I don’t think that will kill your SEO. But according to our data, whenever possible, you want to use short-ish URLs.

      1. Good question, Callum. We actually looked at the URL after the top level extension. So we started counting after the first “/”.

  36. Brian, great and useful study…
    However, I do not agree with some points…

    1. HTTP/HTTPS. Your said, that “HTTPS had a reasonably strong correlation”. But in fact, you see SSL certificates on the top ranked domains in Google just because they are top brands. And anything else. You didn’t compare THE CHANGES before https and after https.
    Few month ago we’ve made in-house study. We took historical data from all data set we have and find domains that moved to https. And after this we’ve compared overall visibility changes after moving to ssl with other domains. Fluctuation was nearly identical. Data set of http->https domains was 500+ domains.

    2. Bounce rate.
    Similarweb shows you OVERALL domain bounce rate, time on site and page views.
    In fact, it is also all about brands… Big brands (and yes, they will top ranked if they have relevant content for specific keyword) have LOWER bounce rate… Just because they have such amount of loyal and returning visitors that generates low bounce rate in overall score. It’s just my opinion, I haven’t study for this theory (if you will be interested we can do some study together in this field).

    1. Thanks Nick.

      Good points.

      1. Very interesting finding there. That’s why correlation studies have their limitations.
      2. I’m not sold big brands=lower bounce rate. Especially because Google only measures traffic from Google itself, which is a mix of new and returning visitors.

    2. Nick,

      RE: SimilarWeb. Yep, domain level results. There are no data providers out their that have info on a page level. However, domain level say plenty about the page level when their are 1,000,000 unique pages and over 1/4 MM unique domains. I can’t think of any other reason why these low bounce rate sites would perform better. For sure they are more often sites with a more loyal following. But that could be a local rock bank with following of 40 people or a local hardware store.

  37. Hi Brian,
    You truely are the SEO rockstar 🙂

    Transforming advanced theory to a language that everyone understands, AND covers all areas thoroughly. In other words you make long and boring articles exting and packed with nutrion. No, I`m not asking you to marry me 😉

  38. Thanks for putting this together Brian and co! It’s always great to see data driven answers rather than just speculation and regurgitated best practices.

    My biggest takeaway was # of total referring domains > quality of backlinks. That changes a lot for how my team and I approach link building moving forward.

    1. You’re welcome, Emil. Keep in mind we didn’t look at individual link quality…just the overall link authority of the page. I edited the guide to make that more clear. Both are important.

  39. This has been extremely informative. I was most intrigued by the Exact Match Anchor Text study. If it relates so strongly to higher rankings, why is it still so dangerous to use?

    Google is clearly using it in their algorithm to determine where to rank pages, so is it more of a “have a delicate touch” when it comes to this? Or is it an “Avoid at all costs” type of risk?

    I would be very curious about testing this and seeing what level Exact Match Anchors will hurt you. What if we could use EMA and sprinkle it with some closely related keywords as anchors as well?

    Very cool stuff here Brian, and shout out to all the people that helped and the data partners.

    1. Ryan, it’s dangerous mostly because of Penguin. A lot of people mix in exact match anchors, but I prefer to stay on the same side. 99% chance a few exact match anchor are OK. But that 1% is a penalty.

  40. Authoritative, expert advice that makes sense of the SEO art… Well documented, well written and extremely useful. Thanks for sharing! @johnjbrussell

  41. Excellent post as always Brian!

    Out of curiosity – did you find any correlation between outbound links to authoritative sources, and rankings?

    Callum

  42. Brian,

    Your new Google ranking factors study is incredibly valuable.

    These data confirm the relative importance of ranking factors that you sense when managing a website but can’t prove without the enormous sample size you collected or the valuable analysis you provided.

    I love the chart design you’re using too.

    What do you recommend one should do if they’ve been using a /yyyy/mm/dd/post-name/ format for blog posts? Does it make sense to shorten the permalink structure by changing a day and post name format to post name only and then set up 301 redirects for existing blog posts?

    Thanks again for this outstanding post.

    – Cody

    1. Thanks Cody. I appreciate that.

      Good question. I recommend changing new blog posts to a simpler structure (but leave the old ones as-is).

  43. Hi Brian.
    That is a very valuable study.
    The high correlation of exact anchor text and the high value of a large volume of backlinks (from different domains) are the most interesting for me.

    Thx for the great report.

    1. Thanks Dan!

      Actually, that’s something we’re going to potentially look at in the future (using SEMRush’s data). Like you, I was curious about that.

  44. Great Brain, incredible research about this post. This is the quality that made you different from others, you see those points which usually other marketers neglect or don’t care much about them.

    Thanks for sharing this post and let us know what we need to care when write a post.

    1. Thanks Umesh. I’m competing in a competitive space. So I need to work my butt off to stand out. And I’m happy to do it 🙂

  45. Thanks for this post and all of the time you spent with this research, Brian.

    One word of caution to everyone , including me. It’s easy to think there is a causation when it’s really only an association. As you point out, many factors are involved.

    1. You’re welcome, Bruce.

      Well said. I tried to sprinkle that word of caution throughout the post as a gentle reminder.

  46. Social signals do matter nowadays but its good to know that backlinks do play the major part for the ranking for the website.

    I think backlinks will always play a significant role with rankings of a website in the future as well.

    Thanks for the great detailed post.

    1. Perhaps we’ll have a chance to match our 1MM domains to social signals. It’s celar that social STILL is not a ranking factor. Other studies show this. Social is an indirect way to rank: people learn about your website or web page and then may link to it.

  47. The biggest suprise for me and for us at Bartlett was the seemingly non-correlation on Schema and rankings. From what we have seen we are thinking this could change in the future.

    It would be interesting to see if schema has any correlation with increased clicks.

  48. Brian,
    As a Business Analyst, web developer and gamification expert, I totally appreciate the way in which you displayed and explained your data research concisely and visually. Great work.

  49. I can agree with the vast majority of things and especially confirm that also for no English markets, exact text in title (point 7 in this post) is not so strong ranking factor like before semantic search.

    1. Great point Todorovic! It might be interesting in future for us to look at “semantic matches” in the titles and see how they rank. However, it would be challenging since semantic requires context. How do look at “rice” and know if it’s the food or the university? The title would need context.

  50. Great post. It seems SEO isn’t changing as much as people say, it’s just getting more specific. I’m curious about the amount of backlinks to rankings though…do you have any more data such as referring domains, subnets, and anchor text? Keep em coming!

    1. Ryan, I never used the word “proof” once in the report. We simply looked at correlations and reported on what we found.

  51. Brian, very informative article as usual! I always have such a hard time weighing out the pros and cons of exact match anchor texts. Any more advice on when you should use them?

  52. Great post and excellent case study, Brian!

    Although the findings may be obvious to those of us who build links and monitor rankings for a living, a study like this does a great service to the industry as a whole and especially for those who are skeptical.

    Was wondering if you found any correlation to higher rankings if the linking site was “topically relevant”?

    Thanks again!

    1. Thanks David. Yup, no surprises here either. I guess we’ve both seen firsthand that links still work.

      We actually didn’t look into that. That would be a cool thing to investigate in a future study.

  53. Brian, quality share and some real gems to takeaway – exact match anchor text info makes interesting read as well as long form content and topical subject point, top value for SEO community, thanks for share and hard work gone into it

  54. This is a fantastic case Study. I read the entire article without taking a break. Brian I use the date and time url. Can I change it to the one you suggested in the article?Brian my blog is related to automotive news and its not possible for us to write in-depth article on everyday news. Most of the times it is in between 300 – 400 words. I have published some long articles but most sites in the auto space which cover daily news do a 300- 400 word articles and some big sites in this domain also rank no 1 even with a 250 word article. So I kind of don`t agree with you completely when you say longer articles rank well.

    1. Eshwar, if you’re having success with shorter articles, go for it. Longer content is just one of many potential factors that Google uses.

  55. Brian, thanks for your typical great style comprehensive article .
    I’m a big fan of your blog and have it for a tabletop book for SEO. I more than a year watching a particular keyword. Last days I notice that some sites do not meet any of the criteria specified by you, which I think is 100% correct. But search results does not conform with criteria at all – http://backlinko.com/google-ranking-factors
    I studied in depth the main sites and find that the only difference is that they use Schema.org and Rich Snippets unlike other sites. This leads me to believe that the presence of Rich Snippet is important. Sure appreciate your ment more than mine, but what else could it be? I checked all the sites considered by the indicators you give us…

    1. You’re welcome. It could be a correlation vs. causation issue. Sites with rich snippets are more authoritative, for example.

  56. As someone who has followed SEO for a few years now, none of the things listed here really surprised me. However, it’s nice to see recommendations backed up with data. One thing I found interesting was that the Daily Press example you gave now doesn’t even seen to rank for that term. I did find it doing by adding “daily press” to the query, and I’m amazed that it even ranked on the first page. It’s not even 100 words long!

  57. Hi Brain,

    Just wondering when you say :
    2. Our data also shows that a site’s overall link authority (as measured by Ahrefs Domain Rating) strongly correlates with higher rankings.
    Would that mean that other tools like MOZ and Majestic should be forgotten?

    Wouldn’t mind you writing a post on how you analyze the back-links and competition before you target a keyword.!
    Well Knowing you, that most probably been done already.

    Have a Good One Great post by the way. Just a heads up you have the number 2 twice in the summery of the post when you number everything.

    Regards

    Pierre Goldman

    1. Hi Pierre, we’re definitely not saying to forget those tools. But we used Aherfs so we can only speak to that data.

      1. Hi Brian,

        Whoops i got the i and the e mixed up, sorry about that even though you are a brain, hahah.
        Okay cool, Still want to see a post about how you analyse the back-links and the competition before you dive into a keyword.
        Have a good one.
        greetings from South Africa .

  58. EPIC! 😀

    Very interesting stats, Brian.

    I figured the exact keyword in the title tag doesn’t have much weight anymore.

    The HTTPS thing…had no idea. It must be hard as f*** to change it though, eh?

    Quality links, though, still at the top. Do you think that’ll ever change?

    1. Yup, changing to HTTPS is hard and probably not worth it for SEO. I don’t see quality links ever becoming a trivial issue with SEO.

  59. Great read Brain!

    Your in-depth analysis of Google search engine ranking is appreciated and thanks for revealing the factors that influence the SERP.

    Good that the well-known facts for higher search engine rankings like fast loading site, short URL, no. of Backlinks and the posts with images keep trending, but I’m wondering how Schema Mark up has no relation with SERPs.

    Anyway, thanks for putting your great efforts in telling the crucial matters to get good ranking on Google, have a good day ahead.

  60. Great study. Really helpful as always. Thanks Brian.

    What’s general range of words for the long form content? Will it hurt to be too long, like over 5000 words? Other than slow loading 🙂

    1. Also, our results are from @SEMrush data rankings. The pull these as “logged out” of local and look and search results from a national level (in our case USA, but we could have even done the whole study as logged in from Hong Kong!)

  61. Thank you Brian, this is incredibly valuable.

    How would you recommend balancing the very high correlation of the NUMBER of domains linking to a page vs. the value of authoritative domains.

    I definitely don’t want poison links pointing to my site, but this to me suggests that even a low authority site link is worth pursuing.

    Am I interpreting this right?

    Thanks,
    Beth

    1. You’re welcome, Beth. I wouldn’t built links from low quality sites just for the sake of getting more referring domains. However, you may want to be a bit less picky in terms of a site’s authority.

    2. Beth, you can also see the relative importance of our factors in the chart in the “methodology” sheet. You’ll notice there that diversity of links, for example, is the most important ranking factor we found.

  62. HI Brian,

    Great piece of research man! I’m so glad that I implemented a few things in your analysis a year ago. I find the Title tag part most interesting and very true….because I have “SEO Web Designers” as my domain/brand name (hint: it’s not a keyword I’m optimizing for), yet, other more authoritative sites outrank me for it…which kinda sucks.

    Thanks for another great read!

  63. Excellent article!
    Confirms the theory thats long content helps to related better the topic than doing stuffing keywords.
    Regards from Spain (Granada ;)).

  64. Hi Brian,

    This is really good coming from you, and obviously, the takeaways are not so surprising. More of what you validate are based on quality, with a few exceptions.

    But I have one question, though I understand that there are dozens of different tools available to handle specific task, but I’m wonering why do you depend on Ahref and not Moz for domain and page authority data analyzing?

    Preference or reliability?

    Thanks, waiting for your reply.

    1. Thanks Shamsudeen.

      It was a mix of both. We decided to go with Ahrefs mostly because they have the largest and freshest index.

  65. Thanks for the wonderful and fairly easy to understand information Brian. So, does it make sense to combine a few shorter blogs or pages on closely related topics to get to about 1890 words?
    Is relying on a “good” from Yoast in a word press website, sufficient or do we want to go beyond that and follow as many of your pointers as possible?
    What is the easiest way for us to get some quality back links?

  66. Hey Brian,

    Excellent stuff here.

    I was surprised (sorta) about the exact keyword. With regards to Hubspot and SPI, they don’t even have it in their URL. I guess that it matters MORE to talk in detail about the general subject and be as thorough as possible.

    Also surprised about the images one. But I guess more images wouldn’t matter to Google as much as it’ll matter to the reader.

    Superb stuff here, Brian.

    – Andrew

  67. Hey Brian,

    Great article kind sir:

    In regards to “Shorter URLs Tend to Rank Better than Long URLs”3

    I’ve been really focusing on getting to the point in my URL.

    It almost makes me CRINGE when I see a bunch of unneeded letters and numbers in URL.

    Glad to see it holds value in doing this.

    Thanks,

    Chris Pontine

  68. Brian,

    You’re good at every topic, when it comes to SEO and ranking.

    You’re absolutely right with these data research and I completely agree that these factors are most important for every SEO professionals to rank any keywords.

    Have a wonderful week.

  69. Nice job Brian. I know how much work goes into researching, then writing a post like this. I think some of the correlation is directly related to legacy SEO practices. For example, it stands to reason that sites that have been practicing SEO for years would have a number of EMAT links and anchor text in title tags. Not to diminish the value of your findings, people need to understand these are correlations and not necessarily the result of cause and effect. Keep up the great work!

  70. What I find funny is, my competitor has maybe 2-3 links total according to moz and majesticSEO. He is posting REALLY thin content with max 300 words. I am ranking WAY behind him for both my domains that I am trying to rank the same Keywords for. I have some good backlinks, my content is twice as long, including images, written by myself (in german though). Also, my Domain Authority is higher as well as the majestic metrics. I have no Idea whats wrong. I am NOT spamming aff links, i have 1 image and one widget to amazon, exactly like my competitor.

    I have no idea whats wrong, anybody an idea?

    1. @Wolfgag – your competitor could be building links on a private blog network that blocks backlink research tools like Majestic, Ahrefs, Moz, etc. This means the links will not show up when you search their URL using these tools.

      1. I’ve been curious about PBNs. One particular marketer I know openly encourages using it to rank sites fast. So it does work does it? I’ve read that it’s kinda like grey hat/black hat stuff and would eventually land your site in trouble with search engines. Is that true?

        1. Some are making it work, but they’re skating under Google’s radar. And they do rank fast but that doesn’t mean those rankings will stick.

          Most people recommending this type of thing have a Webmaster account full of penalized domains. The reality is that it’s not just about what works today, it’s about what will/won’t work in the future.

          If you use a PBN and Google rumbles it like they have done with pretty much all public PBN’s, you’ll get a penalty. And recovering is a difficult process. The cost/time involved for some isn’t worth going through the process so some marketers just move on. Although some businesses can’t just drop the domain and startup a new site.

          A lot of folks I know who used to use PBN’s have stopped, in favor of building a long term business.

  71. I was surprised by the Schema findings. I’d been under the impression that this directly leads to better rankings.

    Great resource, Brian!

  72. Outstanding post (as always) – I agree massively about diversity in referring domains in backlink profiles. I see lots of sites with lots of backlinks ranking lower than sites with fewer backlinks but a closer to 1:1 ratio of backlinks:referring domains.

    I’ll be sharing this post around – people need to see this!

  73. Hi Brian
    Excellent post. Top stuff.
    “…number of domains linking to a page correlated with rankings more than any other factor.”
    If it’s a choice between 2 links on one DA70 domain — OR 1 on the DA70 and the other on DA35, which is better?

  74. The only thing which is stil unclear, is how do you outrank a high DA page, which loads faster and has 1000 times more backlinks?
    Because I just did it once, and it doesn’t make sense, although my bounce rate is very low…

  75. Hi Brian, really great article! There are a lot of things to consider changing on my site after I read this case study. I wanted to know do you have any suggestions on how many words should I use for my URL permalinks?

    1. Thanks Ivailo. I don’t have any exact figure to provide. You don’t need to make them super-short. But just be weary of a 45 character URL.

  76. Thanks for sharing this great post!
    Question: Google declared that they are not using Google Analytics data for SEO. Considering bounce rate, how Google use the data if the visitors use Firefox, Bing etc…?

  77. Hi Brian, great guide. https is easy to implement on a WordPress site, and free. Use cloudflare’s free plan and switch on https in the options, and one free plugin, WordPress HTTPS, to change all internal URLs to https. Job done.

  78. Excellent post as usual Brian, Thank you for that!
    Just asking: Do you think that some ranking factors may already have changed due to apparent “G – Core” algo update on/about 1/9/2016?

  79. Hey Brian

    Great … I would say article but it’s more of a white paper

    It’s also great to see big G favouring a more detailed high quality content approach- it helps your site actually be more authoritative for your reader, but also provides the reader a greater experience

    Off topic and I think it was Joanna Weise who mentioned it but your copywriting skill is highly underrated – there was a butt load of technical information here and at no point did it not flow easily down the page, but it was explained in detail without overwhelm and high retention for what could easily have been a face melter of information …
    Keep on crushing it

    Dan

    1. Thanks Daniel. Yup, it’s definitely more of a white paper than a blog post.

      I’m with you: for guys like us that work hard on our content, the future it looking bright!

      🙂

    2. Daniel, one thing to also consider is that we’re just looking at one page in the results. Not a whole domain’s ability to rank. So, which factors across a whole domain pull ranking up? Age, yes. No spam links to any page. Yes. Then you look at comprehensive, holistic quality coverage of topics, brand signals and many are seeing that is next most important after covering “your bases.” Google is the smartest AI robot on the planet! They know semantics better than humans!

  80. Awesome read.. I think you did an amazing job but summing it up so nicely, I am recently studying SEO more and more to get a better strategy for my business and I think yours was a good help

  81. Awesome Brian. I doubt any SEO has conducted this kind of a study before.This is invaluable. Are you suggesting to not to use exact match anchor text at all or it can be done maintaining a certain percentage? I guess you meant the later.

  82. Hey Brian,

    As always, killer piece. I think I may have read a lot of similar findings from another study, but seeing these from you kinda solidifies what I saw a couple months back.

    What I’m wondering is how some of these factors compare against one another. For example, I work with a ton of smaller brands who sometimes compete for customers from an SEO and real life perspective. My question is if it’s possible to go up against a site in your vertical with a significantly higher DA/# of referring domains who’s organic search landing page is severely under optimized, but you have a page which goes into intensive detail and all on-page factors are satisfied.

    Understandably, to give your content the best shot, you need to go heavy on promotion. Any thoughts on this would be incredible of you!

    1. Thanks Stephen.

      It’s hard to say because Google uses 200+ factors. This study looked at around 15. But it IS possible to beat them. To do it you need to do everything right on that page. If you’re the best result for that keyword, Google can usually figure it out.

  83. WOW !!!

    This is great!! Thanx very much, and it’s free.
    I am only a beginner in seo, but this study showed me what to do.

    I’m doing to concentrate on:
    1. Backlinks – Yes, your guestographic method is what I will use (I made my own Infographic on Canva, and learned a lot, and will now start sending those e-mails)
    4. Longer content – More research and develop a deeper love for my keyboard.

    Thank you again.

    Janco

  84. Regardless of the causes and effects, here’s what I’ve learnt from this collaborated study, with the order of relevance in that order:

    1) Find ways to obtain backlinks (with relevant anchors) from quality domains.
    2) Produce engaging, comprehensive, authoritative content with 1890 words or more – preferably with at least 1 image.
    3) Use short URL which includes only the primary / secondary keywords – if possible.
    4) Use HTTPS – if manageable.

    Thanks Brian and Eric. Looking forward to what we can learn this year. SEO can only get more and more interesting as the internet becomes increasingly sophisticated.

    Tom

  85. Awesome article to read. I will share it across to my friends. This one and 1 regarding “On page SEO” are the best articles on your site. I always used that as checklist.

  86. Thanks Brian for astonishing facts and your research! In my opinion, this article corresponds to all your observations 🙂 You have 3,000 words, exact match of words in anchors, fast loading speed and so on. Having your own site or blog, you have to remember and use these 11 tips for a successful SEO.

    You may remember that not long time ago I also conducted research of your blog and blogs of other online experts: Neil Patel, Bryan Harris, Ramsay Taplin, Robbie Richards.

    I’ve analyzed your top articles and have come to similar conclusions.

    1. If you are involved in the sphere of online marketing, your articles should be no less than 3,000-4,000 words.

    2. As regards short URLs: Neil Patel is the only one who does not comply with this rule. However, it is not such a significant factor since there are numerous links to his blog.

    3. I’ve noticed that all five experts had no more than 56 characters in the Title tag and 113 of them in Meta Description (and yet, many people do not use it).

    4. It is important to use outbound links! Neil Patel on average has 91 outbound links! And you, Brian, have 19 of them.

    5. On average, one image is used per 100 words!

    6. Alt tag is hardly used by anyone, along with the key in the image file name (except for you, Brian).

    7. Hosting and loading speed are definitely significant factors, since you, Brian, have the fastest loading speed of all the experts (then Neil and Bryan Harris come with the same hosting).

    8. The main indicator of high positions is certainly backlinks. This dependence is clearly seen when you analyze the top most visited articles.

    9. Twitter and Facebook are the main sources of social traffic (especially in the area of ​online marketing).

    10. Friendship and mutually beneficial relationship are​ the most important factor! It is clearly seen between you (the experts), since you constantly refer to each other.

    11. If you are a beginner, it is always necessary to use guest posts in your strategy. All 5 experts started with plenty of guest posts.

    I hope my research will be useful for your readers as well!

    1. You’re welcome, Michael. Great insights here! Should be required reading for anyone that wants more traffic from their blog.

  87. Hey Brian,

    Thanks again for publishing your research. Wonderful stuff.

    Am interpreting the charts regarding backlinks correctly? Do they really show that to be in the top 3 search results you have to have 10,000 or more backlinks?

    How are we supposed to do that? I don’t have the time to send out an outreach emails to 10,000 or more blogs. Any suggestions?

    1. Hey Stephen, I wouldn’t get too caught up with the exact numbers. Every keyword and industry is different. That was just an average. Just build as many as you need to hit the #1 ranking for your target keyword.

    2. Stephan, remember that we’re looking at a slice of all search results (1MM). Much of the SERP are dominated by the top 5000 websites, so their massive numbers bring that average up. The average here is important mostly to look at the relative total at each rank.

  88. Great research & post Brian (& team!)
    Lots of comments ref schema. Must say, for how simple it is to add, has to be worth it for the extra real estate + potential CTR.
    Did i read correctly in the comments that you think links only 10% of SEO? I would still think it was more, but i don’t have the massive data like yourself.
    Finally, this is all about ranking as high as possible, did the results show any insights into CTR % per position? We hear vastly diff numbers for this ( even as low as 5%!!! for #1).
    Liam

  89. Brian, thanks for sharing this great post.

    The thing that jumped out to me was that 1 image does make a lot of difference.
    Wondering if anywhere you looked at mobile vs desktop as part of your research?

    Madrid

  90. This article is epic!
    It is one thing to know you should use certain SEO techniques but it is enlightening to see the actual data and results with an explanation of why you do something to improve SEO. This has been a great learning experience for me! I really love articles like this that explain the purpose and show real-life results!
    Thanks to you and the team Brian for doing the research and representing it in simple format.

    1. I agree 100%. Sometimes the “why” makes the “how” much more impactful. Especially when it’s backed by actual data.

  91. Great case study write up! My experience confirms your findings. However I’ve read case studies that deliver conflicting results on the relationship between schema.org markup and Google rankings. What are your true thought on its relevancy as a ranking factor now and in the future?

    1. Thanks Bethany. I haven’t seen a case study where adding Schema boosted rankings. I’m sure there are some out there, but because I haven’t seen them, I can’t really comment on it. But I’d say that based on this data and my experience Schema is nice…but overrated.

  92. Brian
    Great post as always.
    You mentioned the url length was important, but what about how the page’s lineage relates to other pages. for example, if I had two pages about coffee ( coffee drinking, and coffee roasting) and I am looking to build a page about drinking roasted coffee, does google put emphasis on which page you chose to be the parent of the drinking roasted coffee page? so to be clear, does it matter which one I chose to be the parent, or should I chose the page I want to be more important?
    thanks

    1. Kirk, thanks. I think I know what you mean. If so, I wouldn’t worry about parent pages unless you have an ecommerce site. Otherwise you really don’t need categories in your URLs.

  93. Great report Brian, thanks! I’m wondering – you say “it paints a clear picture that long-form content is best for SEO” – this of course applies to blog-oriented websites. What about product or service oriented sites where the marketing guidelines are to keep it simple and short? And what about the trend towards chunking a home page into several short sections with images and icons to help users digest the information without having to read lots of text? Seems counter-intuitive for this application. Do you have any comments about that? Thanks again!

    1. Hey Ian. All I can say is that longer content tends to work best in general. As you pointed out, there are exceptions to this rule. It’s all about doing what makes sense for your business.

  94. Hi Brian, thanks for the article – very informative as usual.

    However I am a little confused that people are saying 1 good back link is better than 100’s. However your test seems to show that a lot of links still correlates with ranking high.

    I find it hard to believe that the 35k + links of a 1st page result are all high quality links, which leads me to assume that spam still has a place in rankings then?

    1. You’re welcome, Harry. My take is that both link quality and quantity matter. Keep in mind that getting lots of links also boosts the odds that you get some good ones too.

  95. Hi Brian,

    This is a fantastic read. What’s your take on pages linking out to authoritative sources within the content as a trust signal?

    Cheers,
    Jamie

  96. Great research Brian and the team! 😀

    I would just to comment on the https part. I’ve been working on an ecommerce site. There’s a problem with the connection of paypal and https connection. Could somebody confirms on this?

  97. Thanks for taking the time to do this analysis Brian. Look forward to your analysis on social shares as you mentioned in other comments this is something you will look at as well. Ever since the first penguin update in 2012 we have seen (authority, relevancy, and social) be a good standard to go by for better rankings especially with local seo with citations included as well. From a social share standpoint it would also be interesting to see correlation of not just content being shared or how often its shared (tweeted ect..) but the effect of social backlinks or % of social backlinks of the sites that rank vs ones that don’t.

    1. No problem, TJ.

      You’re right: there’s a lot to look at in terms of social signals and SEO. It’s something I’ll probably work on in the future.

  98. Hi Brian , SEO has changed in different ways. Thanks for insightful post.

    I would like to share my accidental experience. When I made a custom cms for one of our client, accidentally we forgot to code for unique title on title tag so it resolved duplicate title aall over the websites and it had over 100 pages within month. Later I came to know that Google crawled with unique title for each page.

    That was unique.

      1. While Coding, we forgot to get the Unique title on tag, so the website had same title (website name) all over, in every pages.

        Later we found that titles shown on Google search was those we used on heading(h1, h2 ) tags, so they were all unique, at least in Google searches.

  99. Hi Brian,

    Thanks for the research and I got a lot from it truly.
    Its a surprise that google ranks higher long form content over shorts.
    Its because these days people do not tend to read long articles that’s why we forecast video will be the main content in the web in 10 years. Our attention span gets shorter and shorter, however google wants longer content? Its a bit conflict for me. Is there any other reason for this, also do you have any research or data about Video SEO?

    Thanks from NZ

  100. Awesome in depth SEO studies you have there for SEO trend in 2016. I will use them for my client’s site and mine too.

    I know that relevancy is more than important than authority for backlinks. But the ones with both relevancy and authority are the ones that will matter the most.

    Thank you Brian for sharing this important information with us. Will learn more from you.

  101. Thanks Brian!

    Valuable (once again) stuff from you. Great insight here.

    So I have question.

    I know some pros give advice for noobs that they must not concentrate about SEO at the first. Is it really like that?

    If you give them advice too, what is the first or maybe important task to do (of course from your study) that they can benefit from for long-term SEO process.

    Thanks and many thumbs for your effort to reveal that study,

    Cheers

    Ian

    1. Ian, that actually isn’t terrible advice. For a new blogger they may want to focus their time and energy on content, building relationships etc. I wouldn’t ignore SEO, but I wouldn’t make it my focus on day 1.

  102. Once again a killer article!

    Interesting about schema, but could you argue that the value it can add, such as increased CTR, may in turn correlate to improved rankings?

    As such, even though it doesn’t seem to be an SEO must have as your data showed, it is still worthwhile to implement.

    I kind of feel like schema is in the same boat as HTTPS once was, in the fact that it is a technical luxury which doesn’t directly translate into results, yet….

    1. Thanks Ben. I would have thought that myself. But if that was the case then this data would have shown higher rankings for sites that contain schema (schema=higher CTR=higher avg. rankings).

      But yeah, it probably does boost CTR, which means it’s worth putting into practice. It definitely doesn’t hurt!

    2. Ben, another consideration we had is that so many website implement schema POORLY (for example) that they could even be hurting themselves a little bit. Schema is also very dependent on the type of content on your site. B2B sites, for example, don’t have as much opportunity in general to use it wisely.

  103. Hi Brian, i would like to thank you so much for your study, if it reached Brazil, it will reach the world :). I knew that exact match had a strong correlation by working with some websites and niches. Glad to see that it is proven by your research.

    1. You’re welcome, Jeferson. I’ve also seen first-hand that exact match anchors make a difference. So it was interesting that it was confirmed in this study.

  104. Hey Brian,

    I have learnt alot from your post and guides. I always try to implement as much as I can on my blog.
    I had never thought HTTPS could be a ranking factor. Again new learning 🙂 Hope more traffic and sales in 2016.

  105. Yes, I agree with you brian

    We are starting our projects with low length of contents without schema at the beginning of april, at the middle of june we understood that schema and content marketing will plays a vital role in SEO so that we hardly working for nearly 3 months for the content and Schema works. At the end of September we upload our fresh lengthy contents with schema markup to our website now we got a better rankings in Google. Hope soon we will get the first place in google.

    Thanks and Regards,
    Lakshmi.

  106. Brian first i must say thanks for this article. Next i must say you just nailed it. Recently i noticed my website speed was poor but i felt it wasn’t a big deal. On this i am now very unconfortable with.
    I already began suspecting that exact match keyword thing clearly Google is getting smarter and smarter by the day. I recently saw website ranking number one for a term with no exact match on his title. However, just like you said it had the most relevant topical content on the subject that day i began wondering whether Google now employs staffs to read articles before ranking them lol. Seriously because that website was worth the number one spot but was not really “S E O ed” for it just a little.
    So thanks again keep rolling these quality stuff out

    1. You’re welcome, Johnny. Yup, I’ve seen quite a few examples of that exact thing. It looks like the mighty title tag isn’t as important as it once was.

  107. Awesome resource for all SEOs out there, tremendous work!

    Thanks a lot!

    Really curious about word count though, as I could not find detailed information about it either here or on the methodology:
    Do you disregard anchor text (Or any other type of text for that matters – drop down ‘See more’ menus or others) when crawling the page to determine the word count or is it all included?

    1. You’re welcome, Simon. Good question. We only looked at the body of the page. In other words, the main content (not the header etc.).

  108. This ‘Semantic Search’ is going to be one of the best thing happening to the searching – for both readers & content publishers. And this is one of the strongest answer to the one who’d always talk of the keyword density at the first place as a prime ranking signal. Personally, I never believed in meeting keyword density, instead, I’d use natural writing and and synonyms wherever possible so as to not to sound REPETITIVE.

    I maintain a regional language blog apart from standard English. And I always have tough time deciding for keywords for title, url and other crucial places. Even though my Title (in Hindi) will always be different from URL (in English), I still see google giving me some love. It would be interesting to note if their algorithm is also looking up in translation and equivalent stuffs and showing up in result.

    Will still conclude with ‘White Hat Anthem’ – Write for Human, Not for Spiders !

  109. I’m interested in this part: Use short URLs whenever possible as they may give Google a better understanding about your page’s true topic.

    If a website uses good categorization, it should help Google understand your page’s true topic, should it not? For example; site.com/toys/bears says more about the bear toys then site.com/bears/ ?

    Also I understand that the closer you are to the homepage, the pages will be more important. But how about amount of pages lower in hierarchy, does this help the categorie? In the above example; does having alot of pages behind site.com/toys/.. help the ‘toys’ page?

    If this is true, then perhaps it is smart to use a good categorization within you website, not only for visitors but also for the sake of SEO?

    Would love to hear your comment!

    1. That’s the theory, Klaas. But I haven’t seen that play out (and our data suggests that URL categorization may not be very important). Google usually has enough info on the page itself to understand what it’s about. They don’t need URL categories to help them anymore.

  110. Wow. So good article! I just wonder if research based on USA only or on tge other region/country specified websites too? Curious about how Google adapts it’s algorithm in different language environment.

      1. Lukasz, we just need to do our own research in Poland 😉 I believe that semantic search and hummingbird-related factors aren’t so strong on our market because Google doesn’t understand it so well. And the voice search isn’t (probably) as popular in Poland as it is in US. I’ve done some research on long queries like “what is …” or “who is…” and let me just say that results weren’t satysfing… 🙂

  111. Thanks for sharing the results of your detailed research Brian. It actually clears the air on myths and realities in the SEO world. Have bookmarked it to refer to it again and again.

    If I may take this opportunity to ask, does no-follow links from other websites also contribute to increase the domain authority of a website?

  112. Now, this is called a “Master Piece” , Don’t want to thank you (as i already thanked you before for a million times, the stock just ended)

  113. Studying 1 Million search results is insane. Thanks a lot for doing this. Just a question regarding exact match keywords linking. Are you suggesting to ignore it or to keep least percentage of such linking?

    Thanks again!

    1. You’re welcome, Harsh. I’m saying that you should be happy when you get an exact match anchor text link. But I wouldn’t go out of your way to build them.

  114. Hi Brian.

    Thanks for this wonderful post.

    I have a question about URL factor.

    What would happen if the authority site link is longer but non-authoritative site has a shorter URL (as shown in the article)?

    The reason I ask this is because will URL length give a site edge over an authoritative site?

    Don’t you think this would be a bit unfair to the authority site to lose out on ranking because of just URL?

    1. You’re welcome, Mohammad. Keep in mind that URL length is just one factor (out of 200). So it’s not a huge difference-maker.

  115. Great read!

    As always it would be good to get into the detail for instance:

    https – for what types of queries? transactional ones?
    exact anchor text – for what types of queries? brand or info?
    url length – what types of queries?
    number of linking domains – is it perhaps not the number but simply those with large numbers just happen to contain some strong linkers?
    bounce rate – nah – too easily manipulated with page design (Wait till you see what happens next / SEO’s hate her…).

    Anyway – great read on the correlations you saw and I’m not in the least surprised at the lack of schema correlation.

    🙂

  116. Hi Brian. I would like to join all those grateful people for this excellent job of yours, that certainly is an important contribution for those who are dedicated to SEO.
    Many thanks!!! 🙂

  117. Brian, the length of the content you discussed don’t seem to effect much. As I have seen so many sites which are still ranking with 400 words and other are 800-900 words not ranked in top 3.

    I think with length, backlink also matters. And if you have high backlinks but length of article is 400 words, then It can still rank.

    What you say?

    1. Rahul, keep in mind that content length is just one factor (out of 200). So you can rank a 5 word site with enough of the other 199 working in your favor.

          1. Cheers Brian – and did you take any measure of the variability of that? I’m wondering if that average is a useful estimate or if there is actually massive variability (which is my suspicion, albeit one based on very little actual testing!).

          2. Toby, that’s a good question. So you mean that perhaps we should have taken the median as opposed to the average. With 1 million results you definitely see some variability, but much less than with a smaller sample size.

  118. Hey Brian,

    I really love your blog and some things of these surprised me a lot. So thanks for that info :).
    I have 1 question about schema. How can I use this on my wp website? Is there a plugin for it? I looked for it but couldn’t find it 🙂

  119. Wow! This is so interesting!

    I was taken by surprise by quite a few items, especially the part highlighting the small relationship between title tag keyword optimization and ranking, as well as the exact keyword match in the title tag!

    I actually joked with my colleague and told her that everything I know seemed to be lies.

    Luckily, there are items on the list that I am aware of so it was nice to get confirmation that what I do actually works.

    Thank you so much for this!

  120. Hey Brian, amazing post – thanks for this. How many hours did this take you to do??

    Question about data sources – I noticed that you said you used SEMRush for this data? From a handful of sites that I’ve looked at in both SEMRush and Ahrefs, SEMRush seemed to be significantly less accurate than Ahrefs.

    For example for one site (not an extremely high traffic site – global rank of ~7M), SEMRush showed only 2 backlinks, whereas Ahrefs found 166 (with 32 referring domains).

    Also I noticed on the ahrefs.com home page your testimonial where you said that Ahrefs was significantly better than all the other tools out there.

    1. Thanks Kalen. Combined with the team, over 350 hours.

      We used SEMRush data for the keywords/SERPs. We used Ahrefs for backlinks.

      1. SEMrush is the undisputed leader for keyword research data provider/software (excluding enterprise Sass companies like Conductor). Most would say ahrefs is the leader in everything to do with links. The two are not quite direct competitors (I worked at semrush). SEMrush is well aware that their info on links is a fraction of ahrefs. So, we chose the best data provider for all our tests. There were 5 of them including Alexa.

  121. Great, great, GREAT work Brian. Curious…. just shared this on Linkedin.

    1) How come no LinkedIn share button?
    2) Where’s your company page so I link to it in the post?

  122. Thanks for the great insights.
    I have a few specific questions to some of your points:
    1. Backlinks: Do social shares count as backlinks? If yes, how authoritative are they? I ask because in my country and industry (IT industry in Germany – not to be confused with “Tech”) you get significantly less social shares, no matter how great your content is or how “engaging” you formulate your social media posts.
    2. Does Ahref provide domain rating by language or country/region?
    3. Marketmuse currently only analyses English language content. Do you know tools which offer the same for other languages, e.g. German?
    4. Is there a tool to count all words on a page? I know the lenght of my blog posts, but not the amount of words of the framework (Menus, descriptions etc.) What if I write a short and precise article of maybe 600 words which contains all the same crucial and detailed information as a longform article with lots of blabla inbetween and 1300 words? My German audience wants to have lots of details (probably more than the average American reader) but wants to have it extremely condensed in order to not “waste time”.
    10. I wonder what impact these changes have to SEO in other languages (especially those languages where exact keywords change with almost every type of sentence building so it is difficult to have exact match keywords in your anchor text).

    1. Dennis,

      1. Backlinks: Do social shares count as backlinks?

      They don’t.
      2. Does Ahref provide domain rating by language or country/region?
      Have a look at their website: ahrefs.com
      3. Marketmuse currently only analyses English language content. Do you know tools which offer the same for other languages, e.g. German?
      Their software is super cutting edge. This kind of software only came out in last 6 months. I’d guess other languages would have their own software until the market matures a little.

      4. Is there a tool to count all words on a page? I know the lenght of my blog posts, but not the amount of words of the framework (Menus, descriptions etc.) What if I write a short and precise article of maybe 600 words which contains all the same crucial and detailed information as a longform article with lots of blabla inbetween and 1300 words? My German audience wants to have lots of details (probably more than the average American reader) but wants to have it extremely condensed in order to not “waste time”.

      There are several tools. I think you could find them by googling. I can’t think of the names offhand but that’s how I found them.

      I wonder what impact these changes have to SEO in other languages (especially those languages where exact keywords change with almost every type of sentence building so it is difficult to have exact match keywords in your anchor text).

      We haven’t heard of that issue of exact match changing so much more in other languages. I used to work at SEMrush, and dealt with a lot of large websites in Europe but that didn’t come up.

  123. Interesting data on the use of Schema. As someone involved heavily in local SEO we have seen it have a significant impact when it comes to local searches and make sure we implement it on every local website we do.
    I guess that just highlights how diverse SEO is and you always need to put things into context with your goals.

    1. Clive, good call re: local searches. Our keywords were a huge mix, so Schema might be more important for local searches (for example, company hours, location etc.)

      1. Clive, also remember that we were only looking at the “universal” results SEMrush pulls. So maps were essentially “out of the equation” here.

  124. Awesome article/findings and great value to SEO community. Love that you pointed out EMAT is still highly correlated but didn’t advocate going out and building a bunch. 🙂

    1. Cheers Dustin. I learned that lesson the hard way with Penguin 1.0. I don’t want other people to get hammered like I did. It’s been white hat ever since!

  125. Awesome stuff again Brian, thanks for sharing!

    Always get excited when I see a new article is up!

    Just one thing I thought I’d point out – I’d maybe be careful with regards to changing the permalink structure. I may be mistaken, but I think that if you simply change the structure using the wordpress options, it alters the permalinks for previous posts too, not just future ones.

    So unless you use a 310 redirect plugin or edit the .htaccess file, I’m pretty sure you would lose any inbound links to those posts…

    1. Thanks Luke. Good call there. I forgot to mention only to apply that to newer posts. Just added a little word of warning.

  126. Great post! …, but it is sad to see as the highest number of backlinks is the most important thing to be ranked in the top positions, this is an invitation for the gurus of the BHS, insn’t?. At the same time, it is terrifying to see how the efforts dedicated to the optimizing of the Onpage Seo -as it may be a good meta-title, keyword density or meta-description- do not have almost value in that ranking, likewise the Schema Markup we thought that it would have a significant weight, even Google encourages us to use it for to gain positions and improve the user experience… Great article but bad news, in my opinion…

    1. That’s one way of looking at it, Jorge. Fortunately, with updates like Penguin, it’s really hard to spam your way to the top. Those links have to be legit.

  127. I follow your blog religiously. I’m a new travel blogger and many of the terms that you use are new for me. I actually read and reread some of your posts and research further. In this case, I’m glad to read that shorter links are better. A few months back when I was setting up my blog, I change the permalink structure to post name. However, from time to time I wondered if it was the right decision considering many famous travel bloggers have longer links with their dates. Looks like I’m doing something right because some of my posts have started showing on google’s first page. 🙂 I’m glad that a friend shared your webpage with me during my early blogging days.

  128. Great post, Brian.

    This is honestly the best post I’ve ever read in 2016. I think it’s the time to update the post “On-Page SEO: Anatomy of a Perfectly Optimized Page” based on this data.

    One question, what’s your suggestion for lowering the bounce rate?

    Thanks for sharing this awesome post. I will read it again and again.

  129. Thanks for that post. I’ve just took some of those great data backed insights and presented to my readers and clients. Of course with natural (sic!) link to your content and recommendation to read the whole article. That’s how good UX and great, in-depth content helps to get backlinks ;))))

  130. An extremely thorough article. I enjoyed reading it. I am also one who now changed “post name” permalink. Does time spent on a page or on the site have any bearing on ranking? I see Alexa keeps track of that. Thank you!

    1. Richard, great. Just make sure changing that didn’t mess up your older articles.

      We didn’t measure time spend on page, actually. Maybe next time.

  131. Hi Brian,

    Really nice work (and should be hard).

    Have been reading your posts for 2 years and it really help me a lot in seo and link building.

    Cheers

  132. As usual, great post Brian! I’ll be sure to share it again with the team.

    We’re based over here in Brisbane, Australia, and when it comes to SEO, we’ve found that keywords can still be massive ranking factors, even more so than links in many cases – this depends on the niche and level of competition, of course.

    1. Thanks David. I also think keywords still matter in the US market as well. But as you said, for more competitive spaces, you need links top.

  133. Noticeably absent was the effective strategy of using WordPress blog comment spam links to rank #1 for any keyword position in Google.

    Surprised to see that not mentioned here (if not the entire focus of the article). Still works wonders for me.

    Kidding of course…

    Great write up Brian.

  134. Interesting findings Brian, there is no reason to disagree without any findings, however I would like to know how many websites you actually used to findout exact match anchor text in back links. Google is about launch further penguin updates and with many experts from Industry pointing their views on this topic that it can harm your website, did you find any correlation in % like after this % or no. of backlinks with exact match now its turn to move to some long tail anchors.

    Please suggest.

  135. wow.. 1 Million search results.

    Many SEO experts are suggesting to write a long article from months, so I am not surprised with that conclusion, but Schema is not playing any role in SEO made me say “CRAP.”

    We have made all our sites Schema compatible and getting good results as well, but your study said that it’s not playing any role.

    I will try to build next niche sites without schema and see if they still rank well.

    Thanks for such a mind blowing case study.

  136. Another great post, Brian.

    Question: I know Ahrefs Domain Authority was used in this study but in your day to day SEO, what set of metrics do you typically use in assessing domain/page authority? Moz, Ahrefs or Majestic?

  137. Hi Brian,
    You have done an extraordinary work. I can understand how much effort you might have put to get these details. Your work has helped many SEO professionals to understand & plan accordingly based on your results.
    Thank you very much for your wonderful work and I really appreciate everyone who participated in this project.

  138. Hi Brian, Nice work – one of the things that is of interest to me is back link quality, I have been trying to increase the number of back links to my site, a lot of other sites want a reciprocal back link, if I give a reciprocal back link does that downgrade the quality of the back link ? also a lot of sites want this to be put on my home page, As I am a shop I don’t want the home page cluttered with a lot of back links to other peoples sites is there a neat way of doing this ?

  139. Hi Brian,

    Thanks for putting it together and sharing with everybody. Backlinks are still as important as they’ve ever been, just a lot harder to achieve! 🙂

  140. Hi Brian,
    Excellent work. I surprised with short Urls tend to rank better than long Urls.
    I observed long form articles gets better rank than short form articles that’s why recently I started publishing articles having 2000 words minimum.
    Thanks
    Srikanth.

  141. Hey Brian

    I appreciate these kind of articles because they give me the things that I should focus on while trying to rank my site on google & get more traffic of course.

    Now, Did you delete the sidebar or it’s just me ? 🙂

  142. Hello Brain,

    Special thanks for this creative case study. You mention that number of baklinks= higher ranking. I want to know what would be criteria of the website from that we accept backlinks. Like DA, PA and page rank…

  143. Brian, I don’t think so that longer content performs well every time. Let’s take example of “Shoutmeloud”. On this blog, most of the posts are less than 1000 words, instead this blog is getting 80% traffic from search engine.

  144. Nice study, but shame you didn’t give social signals any focus. With this latest Google update, the only commonality I’m seeing in sites that are new to page one in my niches are lots of social signals (around 100 per post). Doesn’t seem to matter if they are obviously from junk accounts or real ones either. Granted, things are always in flux for a while after an update is announced.

    1. Since we examined what may be the single biggest sample of SERPs ever for a ranking study, to my knowledge, we couldn’t hit everything. The challenge with social is that it is the biggest example of finding correlations that don’t show actual causation. It has great indirect effects on ranking.

  145. As usual you bring the heat! Nice job on pulling together an enormous amount of data to create some important SEO foundations.

    What I love best about coming to your blog and ready blog posts just like this one is that you practice what you preach. If you look at every article on your blog it’s powerful. Your site has an incredibly high domain authority and it’s because you are focused, calculated and consistent with your own advice. Well played and congrats on a great resource.

  146. For someone who gets frustrated learning SEO, I can’t say how well you teach it in a way to make it simple to understand. I know you’re extremely busy but I have two quickies. Why are all your title tags H2 in this post, I thought that was a no-no. Secondly, should I be doing a schema markup for a small business I work with to show location and phone number in searches?
    Thanks again for rocking, not a bad post to date.

  147. Hi Brian,

    If usually you do great content, this is something one step up, Congratulation!

    I’ve being surprised about Title. I thought it was more important have the keyword and with backlinks that are still important.

    Thanks for share this information!

  148. Brian, your post has many important stats that helped me to clear some SEO buzz.
    But one thing is missing here: Social Signals, do they impact on rankings? What are your thoughts on it?

  149. Hi Brian,
    Thanks million for such a great seo analysis in 2016. I have learned some from your highlights. What i am interested in is “exact match anchor text”. As you declared correlation is high with exact match anchor we have risk of penguin or related updates. But if it still works do you offer to focus exact match backlinks?

  150. This case show that Google is moving towards much more semantic than ever before. It shows also that “hard” seo tactics based on “links links links” are less important that content and care of the website as whole.

  151. What a great piece of work! Only downside is it shows me how far I still have to go on my sites if I hope to struggle up the rankings. But you have provided some wonderful signposts to help me on my journey. Many thanks.

  152. Hi Brian,

    Another great piece of work that is very useful and informative.

    I am a seo novice and I am trying to establish websites of my own on the net and I have a couple of questions for you:

    1. I view so many websites with screen wide pictures above the fold, I find this really annoying because I have to scroll down before I find the information I need. I’d rather see some text above the fold telling me what the site is about and instantly grabbing me with a relevant headline. Is this a relevant ranking factor and do you think google will punish sites that do this?

    2. Secondly, I sell products online that are based around Effective Microorganisms @ http://www.shop.embiotechsolutions.co.uk, they are a niche group of products that have multiple applications eg. EM Ceramics can be used as a water butt treatment or as a central heating inhibitor. In your post, you say to write 1800 words of content, how am I going to achieve this for these two applications?

    I look forward to your response!

    Keep up the good work.

    Regards

    Alistair

    1. Thanks Alistair. 1. I agree. I think those pages will have more bounces, which Google will consider. 2. Not sure how to hit 1800 words…that’s your job 🙂

  153. Great post Brian. I appreciate all the time you put into creating this.

    I do have a concern.

    It seems as if the most important thing that we need to know about this study, wasn’t even mentioned.

    Context.

    What is the context of the study?

    Without knowing more about the search phrases in the 1mil that were looked at, it isn’t nearly as helpful.

    How so?

    I work with local clients.

    Much of what I read here does not apply to local search results.

    Looking for a dentist in Dallas?

    I see very very little correlation with local search results and:

    —-the amount of text on a page
    —-the number of backlinks
    —-https

    and a much higher correlation with
    —-keyword and title tag

    So, based on what I read in this post, I’m assuming (though I don’t want to do that), that your data was looking at national/international terms only and not geographically specific terms, is that right?

    In my opinion, if you don’t parse these out, as well as buyer specific terms, then the data is flawed. Because as we know, for these types of queries Google will display results differently.

    Thoughts?

    1. Thanks Tyson. Because we used 1 million keywords we had a mix of different results. As you said, if we had focused strictly on local keywords then we may have found very different results.

  154. Interesting findings regarding the page title. I wonder if keywords in the h1 tag are becoming more important. A know a lot of people use different page titles than h1s to boost SEO.

    1. Darren, I usually just make my H1 the same as my title. If the title isn’t as important it implies the H1 is even less so.

  155. Thanks for putting all this data together for us. It is greatly appreciated!

    One thing I noticed was on the ‘Title’ section: Note how three of the top six results (including the #1 result) don’t contain the exact keyword “list building” in their title tag.

    If you visit the first site, ‘list building 101:’ is the first part of the title. Google just doesn’t show the full title. This could make including the title keyword more important than mentioned as this could have happened on may search results in the test.

    1. You’re welcome, Greg. Good catch there. In our study we looked at the title on the page itself, so this didn’t influence our data.

  156. One thing that would be great to investigate is if there is a correlation of ranking position with the diversity of your backlink profile, i.g. domains with backlinks to many subpages outperforming domains with backlinks to few individual pages.

  157. Very thorough article. I wonder how changing permalink structure in WordPress can only apply to new pages. Is that the default?

    Also curious if https is really useful on a site that doesn’t share user information other than a contact form.

  158. Fantastic information I really love it. The way you explain is very simple and easy to understand. But I have one problem. I am going to build a site for my products basically I am a supplier and do not have long articles for posts to rank higher. This thing is not useful in supply business. What do I do ?

  159. Hey Brian,

    Great piece of work, really enjoyed the information you and your team have provided here. I have one question “is there any correlation between ranking and UX of the website?”

    hope to hear your thoughts on it.

    Thanks

  160. I just wanted to say a big thanks to Brian, Eric and the team for a comprehensive and well-balanced piece of research – there are some valuable insights and confirmations in there. I suspect there’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears that’s gone into this (“we recently analyzed 1 million Google search results”). Thank you!

  161. Brian, solid work there, thanks! Btw your kindness of replying to each comment is also done with SEO in mind, right? People are motivated to leave a comment because they see you always answer. So there’s more topic relevant content, more engagement, etc. Thumbs up 🙂

  162. Hi Brian,

    Excellent post with extremely valuable statistics on current ranking trends.

    This has reference to point #7 “Content with at least one image significantly outperformed content without any images”.

    When you say content with one image, does it mean image with the relevant alt tag OR alt tag is not very relevant as a ranking factor?

    What did you find out?

    Thanks
    Raj

  163. This article confirmed I’m doing things right except for the lenght of my articles which are only 500-600 words but in my niche in my country that’s not a problem too rank since all my competitors only create articles with a maximum of 600 words also.

    These things like article lenght needed to rank all depend on your competition and niche.It’s not the same for every website

    By the way,I think your domain age is also a very important ranking factor but you can’t test them all since there are 200 ranking factors.

    Regards

  164. Hello Brain,

    An extremely thorough article. I enjoyed reading it. Backlinks are still as important as they’ve ever been, just a lot harder to achieve! Great idea, thanks for putting in the work and sharing it! Thanks a lot 🙂

    1. You’re welcome, Timothy. That’s right: the only thing that’s changed is the type of backlinks you need to get (contextual, white hat links). Not easy!

  165. Brian, did you look at isolating keywords with commercial intent (adwords bidding competitiveness, say) for even transaction intent (buy/cheap/affordable) against content length?

    In my experience content length is very important for some queries but plenty of my clients rank 1-3 for competitive keywords that have high transactional intent with embarrassingly little text on the page.

    “best blue widget” may have significantly higher word count than “buy blue widget”. Also, doubling down on the schema question, product/ecommerce sites, travel and SaaS verticals seem to be dominated with schema review markup.

    1. Jonah, we didn’t look at that in particular. But with 1 million keywords, we had a mix of keywords with and without strong commercial intent.

  166. Very inspiring article and should change an opinion on some procedures doing until now. Although it is harder to write an article ten times longer other tips are easy to be incorporated and make sense.

  167. Very timely article Brian

    I feel like I’ve been getting pulled back and forth lately with all the conflicting information out there on the SEO front to what I want to prioritize on my to-do list. When you pull together an article like this it really helps. Not sure how I came upon the post today in my feeds, but I’m glad I did and appreciate your efforts in making something useful that have definitely swayed some of my previous assumptions.