We Analyzed 11.8 Million Google Search Results. Here’s What We Learned About SEO

We Analyzed 11.8 Million Google Search ResultsHere’s What We Learned About SEO

Search engine ranking  – hero image
Brian Dean

by Brian Dean · Updated Apr. 28, 2020

We recently analyzed 11.8 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 page speed.

With the help of our data partner Ahrefs, 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. Our data shows that a site’s overall link authority (as measured by Ahrefs Domain Rating) strongly correlates with higher rankings.

2. Pages with lots of backlinks rank above pages that don’t have as many backlinks. In fact, the #1 result in Google has an average of 3.8x more backlinks than positions #2-#10.

3. Comprehensive content with a high “Content Grade” (via Clearscope), significantly outperformed content that didn’t cover a topic in-depth.

4. We found no correlation between page loading speed (as measured by Alexa) and first page Google rankings.

5. Getting backlinks from multiple different sites appear to be important for SEO. We found the number of domains linking to a page had a correlation with rankings.

6. The vast majority of title tags in Google exactly or partially match the keyword that they rank for. However, we found essentially zero correlation between using a keyword in your title tag and higher rankings on the first page.

7. Page authority (as measured by Ahrefs URL Rating) weakly correlates with rankings.

8. We discovered that word count was evenly distributed among the top 10 results. The average Google first page result contains 1,447 words.

9. HTML page size does not have any correlation with rankings. In other words, heavy pages have the same chance to rank as light pages.

10. We found a very slight correlation between URL length and rankings. Specifically, short URLs tend to have a slight ranking advantage over longer URLs.

11. Our data shows that use of Schema markup does not correlate with higher rankings.

12. Websites with above-average “time on site” tend to rank higher in Google. Specifically, increasing time on site by 3 seconds correlates to ranking a single position higher in the search results.

We have detailed data and information of our findings below.

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

We found that a website’s overall link authority (measured using Ahrefs Domain Rating) correlates to higher first page Google rankings:

Ahrefs – Domain rating correlates with higher first page Google rankings

And in general, average Domain Rating increases by SERP position.

Average domain rating increases by SERP position

In other words, the higher you go on the first page, the higher Domain Rating tends to be.

In fact, a website’s overall authority had a stronger correlation to rankings than the authority of the page itself (URL Rating).

Key Takeaway: Higher Domain Ratings correlate with higher rankings on Google’s first page. Therefore, domains have a significant advantage in the SERPs.

One of the most interesting findings from this analysis was that very few pages have any backlinks.

In fact, we found that approximately 95% of all pages have zero backlinks.

The vast majority of pages have zero backlinks

This finding is in-line with this Backlinko-BuzzSumo analysis of 912 million blog posts, which found that 94% of all content has zero backlinks.

In fact, so few pages had any backlinks that “zero backlink” pages were beginning to skew the data. So for this ranking factor we decided to run this particular analysis excluding pages with zero backlinks.

Perhaps not surprisingly, we discovered that pages with the highest number of total backlinks tended to rank best in Google.

Top ranking pages have more backlinks than lower ranking page

We also found that the #1 results has an average of 3.8x more backlinks than the results rankings #2-#10.

The number one result in Google has almost 4X more backlinks than-position 2-10

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

Comprehensive Content Strongly Correlates With Higher Rankings

Many SEO experts claim that comprehensive content performs best in Google.

Put another way: content that covers an entire topic on a single page may have a direct or indirect relationship with rankings.

We decided to put this assumption to the test. Specifically, we ran a subset of our full 11.8M URL dataset through the content analysis tool Clearscope.io.

Our analysis found a clear correlation between “Content Grade” and Google rankings in both desktop and mobile results.

Higher Clearscope content grades correlate with higher Google rankings

In fact, when looking at the top 30 results, increasing Content Grade by 1 approximates to increasing rankings by one position. Which suggests a significant relationship.

For example, take this page from PaleoLeap.com:

PaleoLeap – Paleo breakfast ideas post

This page has many of the traditional metrics that typically correlate with high Google rankings. For example, the page uses the exact keyword in the page’s title tag and the H1 tag. Also, the domain is very authoritative (Ahrefs Domain Rating of 73).

However, this page ranks only #9 for the keyword: “Paleo diet breakfasts”.

PaleoLeap post – Google SERP

Sure enough, this page also has a relatively low Content Grade.

Paleo breakfast ideas – Content grade

Whether comprehensive content directly impacts rankings is unclear.

It could be that Google has an inherent preference for content that they deem comprehensive. Or it may be that users are more satisfied with search results that give them a full answer to their query.

As this is a correlation study, it’s impossible to determine the underlying reason behind this relationship from our data alone.

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

Page Loading Speed Does Not Have a Correlation With Rankings

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

And Google’s more recent speed-related update, the 2018 “Speed Update”, was designed to provide mobile searchers with faster-loading pages.

Google blog – Using page speed in mobile search

However, we wanted to know:

Does site speed correlate with actual Google 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.

Overall, we found zero correlation between site speed and Google rankings:

Page loading speed does not correlate with first page Google rankings

At first glance, this finding may come as a surprise. After all, PageSpeed is a confirmed Google ranking signal. Knowing that, you would expect that faster pages would generally outrank slower ones.

However, the data paints a different picture. And when you dig a little bit deeper, this lack of relationship makes sense.

When Google announced their Speed Update, they made sure to point out that this update largely affected extremely slow pages.

Speed update only affecting slow pages

And that the update as a whole may not be that impactful.

Speed update only affecting small percentage of queries

In short, Google’s algorithm appears to downrank extremely slow pages vs. benefit fast ones.

And our analysis found that the average page loading speed for a first page result is 1.65 seconds.

Median page loading speed for Googles top 10 results is under 2 seconds

Our previous site speed analysis found that the average page took 10 seconds to load on desktop and 27 seconds to load on mobile.

Mean fully loaded speed on desktop and mobile

Compared to that benchmark, a 1.65 second average loading speed is extremely fast.

And because the top 10 results tend to load relatively quickly, they don’t appear to be impacted by Google’s various speed updates.

Key Takeaway: The average Google first page result loads in 1.65 seconds. However, we found no correlation between site speed and Google rankings.

The Number of Referring Domains Appears to Have an Influence on Rankings

Many SEO experts agree that getting multiple 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.

Top ranking pages have more referring domains than lower ranking pages

Just like with backlinks, the top results tend to have more linking domains than those towards the bottom of the first page.

The number 1 result in Google has 3X more referring domains than positions 2-10

Key Takeaway: Getting links from a diverse group of domains appears to be important for SEO.

Most Title Tags on Google’s First Page Contain Keywords That Are an Exact or Partial Match of That Search

Since the early days of search engines, the title tag has been considered 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 should presumably have a significant impact on rankings.

In fact, Google’s own Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide recommends writing title tags that describe what that page is all about.

Google support – Choosing titles

Sure enough, we found that most title tags on the first page of Google contain all or part of the keyword that they rank for.

Most titles contain 65 to 85 percent of the keyword

While most pages that rank for a keyword have that keyword in their title tag, a keyword-optimized title tag doesn’t appear to correlate with higher rankings on the first page.

Keyword optimized title tags don't correlate with higher first page Google rankings

In fact, our linear model predicts a very small relationship between title tag matching and rankings (only a 1% difference between the #1 and #10 result).

It appears that a keyword-rich title tag may be a “ticket to entry” that can help you get to the first page.

However, once you’re on the first page, using the exact keyword in your title doesn’t appear to help you climb the rankings. That’s where other factors (like backlinks, user experience signals and Domain Authority) appear to play a large role.

Key Takeaway: Pages in Google’s top 10 results contain 65% to 85% of the keywords that they’re ranking for in their title tag. However, we found very little (if any) correlation between keyword-optimized title tags and higher rankings on the first page.

Keyword-Optimized H1 Tags Don’t Correlate With Higher First Page Rankings

Similar to our title tag findings, most pages in Google’s results have a matching keyword in the page’s H1 tag.

Most H1 tags contain 60 to 80 percent of the keyword

Also, keyword-matched H1s have essentially no relationship with higher Google rankings.

Keyword optimized H1 tags don't correlate with higher first page Google rankings

Key Takeaway: Like with title tag optimization, H1s may be a “ticket to entry” factor that can help you crack Google’s first page. However, keyword-rich H1s may not be strong enough of a ranking signal to help a page move up the first page results.

Webpage Authority (URL Rating) Has a Slight Correlation With Higher Rankings

In addition to Domain Rating, we wanted to answer the question:

Does a page’s overall link authority influence rankings?

In other words, is it more important to get backlinks to a specific page? Or is a site’s overall domain authority more important?

To find out, we looked at the correlation of page authority (measured by Ahrefs URL Rating) and rankings.

While we did find that URL Rating and rankings were tied, the relationship was small.

Pages ranked 1-6 have a median URL Rating of 12. The median URL Rating of 7-10 is 11

Specifically, pages that rank in the top 6 have a slightly higher URL Rating (12) compared to pages that rank 7-10 (11).

However, this correlation wasn’t as strong as the impact of a site’s Domain Rating on rankings.

As a whole, most URL Ratings are similar among the top 10.

URL rating is similar among the top 10 results in google 11 on average

And across all of the pages in our data set, we found that the average URL Rating of a first page result in Google was 11.2.

Key Takeaway: The link authority of each individual page on your site appears to have a relatively small impact on rankings compared to your site’s overall domain authority.

The Mean Word Count of a Google First Page Result Is 1,447 Words

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

Other industry studies, like this one, have found that longer content tends to accumulate more backlinks compared to short blog posts.

Long form content generates more backlinks than short blog posts

Indeed, we discovered that content that’s ranking in Google tends to be on the long side.

Overall, the average word count of a Google top 10 result is 1,447 words.

However, despite the fact that long-form content tends to be best for link building, we found no direct relationship between word count and rankings.

Average content word count of the top 10 results is evenly distributed

This may be due to the fact that, like with keyword-optimized title tags, long-form content can help you crack the first page. But it won’t help you once you get there.

This being a correlation study, it’s impossible for us to pinpoint why long-form content tends to appear on Google’s first page.

Key Takeaway: Pages with higher word count appear to have the same chance of ranking highly on the first page compared to pages with a lower word count. The mean word count of a Google first page result is 1,447 words.

Page HTML Size Has No Relationship With Rankings

Does having a lean page (in terms of total bytes) affect your Google rankings?

According to this analysis, no.

We found no correlation between page size and rankings.

Page HTML size has no relationship with rankings

People in the SEO community have speculated that larger pages with bloated HTML are at a disadvantage.

SEO community on bloated HTML

However, according to the pages in our analysis, page size can’t be tied to rankings.

Key Takeaway: Page size doesn’t appear to have an impact on Google rankings.

Short URLs Tend to Rank Slightly Better than Long URLs

Google recommends using “Simple URLs” and specifically advises against “extremely long” URLs.

Google support – Simple headlines

However, these recommendations appear to be more geared towards optimizing URLs for user experience than SEO.

Which is why we set out to investigate the connection between URL length and rankings.

We did in fact find that short URLs rank above long URLs.

Short URLs tend to outrank long URLs

Specifically, URLs at position #1 are on average 9.2 characters shorter than URLs that rank in position #10.

URLs at position 1 are 9 characters shorter vs URLs that rank 10

And the average URL length for a top 10 result in Google is 66 characters.

However, as a whole, most URLs on the first page of Google are approximately the same length (40 to 100 characters).

Most URLs on Google's first page are between 40-100 characters

Short URLs may improve SEO for a few different reasons.

Firstly, short URLs may lead to a higher organic CTR. In fact, our large-scale organic CTR study found that short URLs have a higher CTR vs. long URLs.

Second, short URLs may help Google understand what your page is all about.

For example, a short URL like backlinko.com/my-post is easier for Google to understand than backlinko.com/1/12/2022/blog/category/this-is-the-title-of-my-blog-post pageid=891/.

Finally, 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 a vase product page represents a page that’s far removed from the site’s authoritative homepage:

David Jones – Long URL example

Key Takeaway: Shorter URLs have a correlation with higher rankings. The average URL on Google’s first page is 66 characters long.

There is No Correlation Between Schema Markup and Rankings

There’s been a lot of buzz about Schema in the SEO community over the last few years.

Google themselves have been vague about Schema’s impact on rankings.

Schema markup discussion tweet

Many believe that 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 structured data to let Google know that when you use the word “Toy Story”, you’re referring to the original movie title…not the franchise in general:

Toy Story – Structured data

Many sites use Schema to get rich snippets in the SERPs.

However, despite these potential benefits, we found that very few sites have implemented Schema.

We discovered that only 72.6% of pages on the first page of Google use Schema.

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

There is no correlation between schema markup and rankings

Key Takeaway: Using Schema markup may have its place. But it doesn’t directly correlate with higher Google rankings.

Websites With Above-Average “Time On Site” Tend to Rank Higher In Google

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

To test this theory, we ran a subset of domains from our data set through Alexa to determine site-wide time on site. We then looked to see if there was any correlation between time on site and first page Google rankings.

We did in fact find a strong relationship between time on site and rankings.

Website time on site correlates with higher Google rankings

Specifically, we discovered that time on site is strongly correlated with higher rankings.

In general, the average time on site for a Google first page result is 2.5 minutes.

Average time on site for a Google first page result is 150 seconds

Please keep in mind that we aren’t suggesting that time on site has a direct relationship with higher rankings.

Of course, Google may use something like time on site or 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 a high time on site 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: The average time on site for a Google first page result is 2.5 minutes.

We also found a strong correlation between time on site and Google rankings. However, it’s not clear if this is correlation or causation.

Conclusion

I’d like to again thank Ahrefs for providing a lot of the raw data that made this study possible.

Also, if you’d like to learn more about how we collected and analyzed our data, here is a link to our study methods. We also uploaded the raw data used in this analysis to GitHub.

Now I’d like to hear your thoughts:

What’s your #1 takeaway lesson from this analysis?

Or maybe you have a question about the findings.

Either way, leave a comment below right now.

545 Comments

  1. Thanks for making it clear where we need to spend our energy related to ranking better for our keywords.

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Hey Bruce, you’re welcome. Yes, that’s the idea behind these ranking factor studies. They can help you figure out what Google tends to put a lot of emphasis on. A lot of the things we found here weren’t super surprising (links). But some were (like that page speed didn’t correlate with rankings).

      1. Bruce Avatar Brucesays:

        I did read that article you posted about website speed, very insightful. Thanks

    1. Great article with great information! I am curious if your analysis revealed anything related to increased ranking between WordPress and other sites. It seems like an overwhelming majority of people believe that WordPress users have the upper hand in ranking and SEO. I’m a Squarespace user and like it very much as it is very user friendly (I’m EXTREMELY technologically challenged) and I can maintain my site with minimal effort. However, I’m concerned that I will have difficulty gaining organic traffic. Thank you!

      1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

        Thanks Mel. I don’t think a CMS is inherently that much better than any other. I personally use WP because it’s easy to use and is easy to optimize around. But I’ve seen sites using Wix, Squarespace, etc. etc. rank well

        1. I love your question, Mel. Thank you for asking that because I was thinking the same thing. And …. Finally an authoritative person, yes you Brian, thinks the CMS matters. I’ve only ever used Wix (even though I want to learn WP) and I got one of my websites to page 1 of Google in exactly 3 months. Yesterday I started creating another website using Wix and my goal is, you guessed it 🙂

          Thank you for a fantastic article, Dean. Have spent over an hour devouring the contents and taking notes … now I will blog about the key takeaways and backlink to you 🤗

  2. stephen Avatar stephensays:

    Hi Brian, Thank you so much for putting out this case study. I saw you added Schema Markup has no impact on rankings.. Did you see any correlation between getting into Featured Snippets or PAA while using Schema?

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      You’re welcome, Stephen. We didn’t look at whether or not Schema helped with Featured Snippets for PAA. But in my experience, Schema is really useful for getting rich snippets. But in terms of ranking in the featured snippet spot, it’s all about structuring your content to rank for the specific type of featured snippet that you want to rank for.

  3. Thank you Brian. This is extremely helpful information. You’ve done a very thorough analysis of the different factors affecting search engine rankings. I would love to get my hands on the data sets that you’ve used.

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      No worries, John. Actually, there’s a link in the conclusion that links to our data set if you want to check it out.

  4. OMG! Thank you so much, Brian. This clears up so many uncertainties for me. I’ve just started my blog a little while ago and it’s been a bit debilitating not knowing some of these factors, because of all the various information online.

    But what you’re saying makes sense to me.

    The biggest takeaway for me is the pagespeed factor. I’ve constantly seen websites that I consider to be slow being authorities in some niches and I never understood why – since a lot of the info online says that pagespeed is a ranking factor. Or so I’ve understood.

    In any case, you cleared up so much and all of your content is a tremendous time saver. Thanks so much for putting so much effort into it!

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Hi Oana, glad you found it useful. For sure: page speed is definitely nice. And having a fast-loading site definitely won’t hurt your rankings. But my own experience and this data suggests that it might be an overrated ranking factor.

      1. Incredible case study, thanks you Brian ! I think the long-form content outperform short it’s because user spends more time reading so correlation with above-average “time on site”.

        1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

          Hi Aurélien, it could also be because more content gives Google more info on what the page is about.

  5. This is the best SEO Ranking factor guide. PERIOD.
    I mean have read so many guides around the web but none of them had these statistics and proofs.
    Your contents always blows my mind in content as well as in design. Some of the revelations are just brilliant.

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Thanks David. I think the SEO world needs more data like this. There’s a place for case studies and first-hand experience. But, as they say, the numbers don’t lie.

      1. Yes it does 🙂
        Hope your next article will be more awesome!

  6. Brian, great job!

    Thank you for this extensive analysis. There have been so many articles on what ranking factors matter or are no longer important.

    Now we know from you study that not much has really changed over the years. Content quality and backlinks. Got it.

    Thanks again for the time you and your team spent on this study.

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Hi John, you’re welcome. Content quality and backlinks basically sums it up. In that way, SEO hasn’t changed. However, Google’s emphasis on UX signals (like time on site/dwell time) has. And how you get those links. So yeah, the basic approach is similar to back in the day. But how you execute has changed quite a bit over the last few years.

  7. That’s really helpful. Thank you for sharing, Brian and please to see no mention of link juice 🙂

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      You’re welcome, Amine. I mean, I did mention backlinks several times but didn’t use that exact phrase.

  8. Paul Avatar Paulsays:

    So if we pay a self styled “white hat” link builder to get a load of links to our site, will that actually work, or not ? So far we have only listed our products in the main directories, and that has only helped a little – i.e. we are still on page 10-14 where we should be page 1 but it has doubled hits per day

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      That’s impossible for me to say. It depends on the link builder, your site, niche, keywords you target, etc. etc.

  9. This article cleared half of my doubts , I always thinks about server side issues and loading speed may be affecting the rankings my approach towards technical SEO will change after reading this article.

    Thanks Brian

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Thanks. If your site has loading issues (outside of just being slow), I do think that can hurt your rankings.

  10. This one “We found no correlation between page loading speed (as measured by Alexa) and first page Google rankings.” is my finding as well, I saw many slow websites ranked no 1. Also I don’t think that there is any site ranking no 1 without any backlinks. Thanks for the article 🙂

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Well said, Dejan. It’s rare you see a page or site ranking for anything remotely competitive without a lot of backlinks.

    1. Wow this is huge Brian. As my #1 takeaway, More focus should be put on diversifying backlink sources

  11. Hi brian
    Great Ideas and tips.
    what could be the reason if your website domain authority is good but still google does not index quickly?

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Google sometimes has issues indexing pages on any site. It’s happened to me a lot over the last year or so. I just keep using Search Console to get it indexed and it eventually works.

  12. Your content is a value bomb. Always a fan Brain

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      👍👍👍

  13. Hey Brian, are you kidding me?
    All the factors that I used to take serious, right now does not make any sense. I have put lot of efforts to optimize title, meta, and almost all the factors that you have mentioned above.
    By the way thanks for sharing this valuable points

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Those things still matter. But they’re not as important as foundational ranking factors like links, content quality and UX signals.

    1. As brian has pointed out, keep doing those things. The only blog you should take as law is anything that Google says. Some of the things mentioned on this article like page speed STILL matter. maybe not for ranking, but you still need to have a fast website otherwise visitors will bounce. Also, if no one is visiting your site due to bounce, you get less backlinks (which is key to ranking). So you see, they are all related.

  14. Great insights Brian, in regards to #4. (4. We found no correlation between page loading speed (as measured by Alexa) and first page Google rankings.) is there a reason you didn’t use Google Page Speed tool here..? And/or have you before ? Seems like since June 2018ish.. that has been a factor especially with local SEO

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Thanks TJ. We used Alexa because it’s tricky from a technical standpoint to analyze 11.8M pages using Google PageSpeed Insights. They have pretty strict rate limits.

      1. ok thanks for the reply, I will say we noticed with GPS tool.. it’s not just the “speed” TTFB but each element they show.. when you improve each thing they show and raise that score we have seen improvements in rankings as well on a local SEO leavel at least. Sometimes its the WP theme, minimize threadwork, funny enough Google fonts, or third party codes ect..

  15. There are few places from where I can get such juicy information. Brian, I do have a doubt though, do these practice apply to a relatively smaller site? What’s your take on that?

    Infact, you might put up another helpful content about the same!

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Thank you. We analyzed 11.8M sites. So it was a mix of old/new, authoritative/not authoritative, etc.

      1. Oops! How did I miss that 11.8M. Goodness me. Out of excitement left that number. 🙏🏼

    1. Super Insights Brian! Talking about what I learnt from this analysis?

      1. Backlinks mattered, matters and will matters for a long time in SEO
      2. Focus on rankings, and DA will increase automatically.
      3. Long form engaging content is something Google really loves.
      4. Schema can help you to show better on SERP which results in high CTR but doesn’t directly correlates with rankings.
      5. Optimized Meta tags may be helpful for 1st page but on top? Please cnsider other factors too.
      6. Just have a nice page speed for your site and forgot about it.
      7. Short URLs do better so why go for complete URL slug of your title?

      Thanks Brian, this study just made my concepts more clear😃

  16. Thank you Brian! Awesome.
    I don’t agree with Title keyword…but in rest looks fantastic.

    PS: if in the title you have iPhone and the user is looking for Best iPhone (stupid example), I think there is a high chance that user will skip the title “iPhone”

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Hi Claudiu, you’re welcome. I definitely recommend using your target keyword in your title tag. It may not be a massive ranking factor but it can still make a dent.

  17. Brian,

    this is such an amazing piece of work that contains a lot of interesting facts. Thanks for your effort and sharing these results!

    I wonder if it makes a difference if the source of the backlink is content related to your own site.

    For example:
    If I do have a travel blog. Does it make a difference to get a backlink from another travel blog or a blog about food? What’s your opinion on that?

    Simon

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Thanks Simon. In my experience, and based on statements from Google, related backlinks do have a bigger impact.

  18. Varun Avatar Varunsays:

    Superb content Brian

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      👍👍👍

  19. Thank you very much for this great test and investigation! I also think that having a lot of backlinks makes the difference. My principal competitor is number 1 with my keywords in Google and i think this is the reason. So, how can I gain more backlinks to my page? Is it necessary to pay the press to have articles on internet?

  20. Damn Brian you did it once again!

    All this juicy info will definitely help me with my clients 🙂

    Thanks.

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      No worries, Usman.

  21. Very nice article Brian! Especially for new bloggers it explains where to focus and give priority.

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      No problem, Vipul.

  22. As always, great industry insights that you provide, Brian!
    Coming here and getting updated is always a pleasure 🙂

    Thanks a lot for just another comprehensive guide.

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Hi Janik, you’re welcome. Glad you learned something new from the study. It wasn’t easy to pull off but I think it we came away with some interesting findings.

  23. Andy Avatar Andysays:

    First of all thank you for your great analysis with a lot of interesting key findings.
    I think it would also make sense to analyse specific topics and branches such as merchandise, finance, food etc. and look at them independently, as google may apply ranking factors within these topics differently.

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Hi Andy, you’re welcome. I would like to do that someday. But it makes this sort of analysis 5-10x more complicated (and it’s already complicated to begin with!). But yeah, maybe that’s something we could do with a smaller sample size.

  24. Great to see that not much has changed in terms of ranking factors. Quality relevant content, quality relevant back links, time on site. Interesting to see that Page Speed has no impact, due to Google’s heavy push to make it a priority. I suppose page speed indirectly affects SEO as it can directly affect time on site.

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Hey Eric, that’s true: like anything in marketing the fundamentals rarely change. How you create that quality content and get those relevant backlinks have changed a lot. But yeah, people that focus on content + links + UX usually come out on top when it comes to SEO.

  25. Hi Brian,

    Great research, i can see average time on site is the most important factor.

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Thanks Bill 👍

  26. L.O.V.E.D It, Brian… Thank you.

    This is exactly what I needed most in the present. Because I was reworking on my website overall ranking and promotion strategy, and this article will help me with making a more accurate ranking strategy.

    However, I’m a little shocked to see that Schema markup does not correlate with higher rankings because Neil Patel said that schema markup does help with first-page ranking in one of his youtube videos.

    Anyway, I’ll take your word on it. And again, thank you very much for this article, brian. I appreciate it a lot.

    Bookmarking (and Sharing) It <3

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      You’re welcome, Rahul. I’m sure there are cases where Schema can help with rankings and CTR (like FAQ Schema). But we didn’t find any correlation between schema and rankings in our data set.

  27. Good read, Brian! Thanks for sharing this. I have two sites and I’m doing all the SEO works, so this article really helps!

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      You’re welcome, Daniel. Oh nice. This should definitely come in handy then.

  28. Pretty amazing study! I’m curious… is Clearscope your “go to” tool for analyzing the quality of page content or are there other tools you like for that? We haven’t really found one we like for this task.

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Thanks Andre. I mostly use Clearscope these days.

  29. Alex Avatar Alexsays:

    Do you have a pages per visit metric taken into account and some numbers for bounce rate?

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Hi Alex, we didn’t look at pageviews or bounce rate in this analysis.

      1. Alex Avatar Alexsays:

        Thanks, Brian!
        This was super-useful study indeed. Demystifying and making things simplier.

        SEO is a simple thing after all – quality content (topic coverage, uniquity), strong history (backlinks, authoritativeness) and voila:)

  30. The page load speed finding is surprising to me but I’ve seen it first hand myself.

    I manage an SEO campaign for a massive CPG client in the coffee space and there page load speed has been consistently in the 20-30s for 2 years.

    It’s a content-heavy site and we’ve done our best working with development teams to improve.

    However, the rankings are exploding and traffic is up 100% YoY!

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Hey Arash, interesting! A lot of people shared stories like that over the years. Backlinko is another similar example. Our pages all have huge images and illustrations. Which lead to super slow load times. But rankings don’t seem to be affected at all.

  31. Armaghan Avatar Armaghansays:

    Any idea about the relation of social sharing?

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      I didn’t look at social shares here. Google has said on the record several times that they don’t use it as a ranking signal.

  32. Uma R Avatar Uma Rsays:

    Great findings. Proves to be a myth buster for most of the point, like Html sizes have nothing to with ranking. Infact first page with approx 1.5k words rank well.

    Thanks Brian for these!

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Thanks Uma. For sure: I’ve seen short pages and long pages rank well. But at the end of the day, it’s about giving searchers what they want. And it can easily take 1-2k words to do that.

  33. Brian Dean doing what he does best. Such an interesting study. One question though – what about social signals?

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Thanks Kelvin. I decided not to look at social signals. Google has said they don’t use them. So it was hard for me to justify adding them to the study.

  34. This article is more insight, tune myself to get more information.

    Let me try this for my clients.
    Thank you Brian 😊

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Sounds good, Prabhu 👍

  35. Hey Brian,

    That’ excellent piece of information. I am already implementing techniques from Seo that works 3.0 and its working exceptionally well.

    I am a bit stuck with duplicate content issue..
    My category, archive and tag pages already got indexed and causing duplicate content..showing up in serp
    Can you please help me out?
    Thanks a lot!

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      You’re welcome. I recommend using the noindex tag on your tag, category and archive pages. If they don’t rank for anything, you’ve got nothing to lose.

      1. Thanks Brian, I have done no index on these pages…

        What should I do with the ones which are already indexed, is there a way to remove those urls and category/archive pages permanently?

        1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

          I would check to see if those pages are getting organic traffic before noindexing them. Just in case they rank for something.

  36. Great stuff! 11.8 million! Thats some analysing! Keep up the great work Brian.

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Thanks Anouer. For sure: it’s a big number that took a while to analyze.

  37. Great study Brian! Any thoughts as to what the sharp step between positions 6 & 7 is on the Webpage Authority (URL Rating)? Although it gives no strong linear effect it appears that there is something here. Could this be an artefact of positioning of some rich or featured snippets? It might be interesting to look at distance to, positioning of or even presence of SERP features and see if this changes any of these results.

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Thanks Trevor. Good find there. I noticed that too. It may be just one of those things that you get when you analyze anything. Or it could be a significant threshold where all of a sudden Google says “you shall not pass!” to pages with a low URL rating. Tough to say from this analysis alone. But worth looking into for sure.

  38. Trully amazing study, but what happens with normal professional sites that do not have “room” for all that content? Should we focus in linkbuilding?

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Thanks Mateo. If you can get links without content, go for it. But it’s an uphill battle.

  39. Great info Brian. You mentioned the leght of the content around 1400 words…you recomend or not the use of the table of content on articles?

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Thanks Luci. It depends on the post. But in most cases, yes, I think a table of contents is a good idea. I’m using them in almost every post now.

  40. This article cleared all of my doubts and i hope writting 1400+ words article will help me in beating some authority sites :).

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      👍

  41. David Avatar Davidsays:

    Hi Brian! Have you checked into single variable SEO tests? It narrows down if something is or is not a ranking factor much better than correlation studies. The group at the SEO Intelligence Agency does these types of tests

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Hey David, IMHO, there’s no “better” form of research. Each study type has pros and cons. The pros of a correlation study like this is that you can use a large sample size to minimize confounding variables. The downside is that… it’s a correlation. The opposite is true of small-scale single variable tests. They can measure more precisely. But the sample sizes are tiny.

  42. Thank you, Brian. Whenever, got your email, Very excited to click on first sight. I gave so many efforts for on-page SEO, and get nothing. Thanks to this post, I changed my mind on that.

    Best wishes to you and your team for such hard work. Keep posting awesome stuff. I am highly motivated to read your post.

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      You’re welcome. On-page SEO is worth the effort. But it’s the ticket to entry. To rank for anything you need backlinks. And lots of them.

  43. you say short urls are a little bit better, but did you see the same result for domains with a lot of pages? Could the url be helpful to cover topic-in-depth as well?

    For example difference between:
    1. domain.com/product-name
    2. domain.com/category-name/product-name

    Is option 1 still better to rank on the product name?

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Hi Maarten, I’d still go with option 2 in this case. We didn’t find that you need to go as short as possible with your URLs. More that shorter URLs have a slight edge. Sometimes it makes sense for them to be a little bit longer, like in your example with a category page.

  44. These are interesting findings! Thanks for the analysis!
    If time-on-site influences the ranking, it means that lighter pages with not much content will rank lower even if they are informative enough, compared to longer articles. And at the same time, longer articles may bore the reader who will leave the page early-on. So, it’s about a good balance I reckon.

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      You’re welcome. Absolutely: it’s really about finding out what works for a specific keyword. That’s huge.

  45. Alex Avatar Alexsays:

    You really rock, Brian! This is a well-based bulletproof and super-useful study.
    Did you measure correlation of ranking with pages per visit and bounce rate?

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Thank you, Alex. We didn’t look at that. We used dwell time to figure out how users interact with a site.

  46. Hey Brian. It is another insightful post. I love your content! I totally agree with your research. In our recent finding conducted by our analytics team at RealEstateBees.com we also found that website’s backlink profile authority is one of the main aspects that strongly correlates with higher rankings.

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Hey Oleg, thank you. Yup: backlinks are a pretty big deal. And probably always will be!

      1. Thanks Brian, you’ve really made things simpler. It sure takes a lot of resources for a study like this. Thank you again

  47. Such a wonderful insight about ranking. we cant figure it out easily which factor is working more effectively. The relation between content and links are always great! sometimes I was worried about scheme markup too! Thank you

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      👍👍👍

  48. Valuable insights, like always Brian. The findings corroborate most of the information in your SEO Hub. Great work.

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Hi King, thank you.

  49. Hi Brian,

    Thanks for another wonderful research post. I was always curious is DR had relation to ranking pages. Luckily, your study comes to the right time.

    Thanks,
    Umesh Singh

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      You’re welcome, Umesh. For sure: DR/DA is in some ways more important than PA/UR.

  50. I’m very thankful to you. From this article, I have destroyed many of my mis-concept of SEO like more page speed more ranking, etc. Now I got an idea of what and where I have to focus on my site…
    Thanks again.

    1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

      Sounds good, Mian.

      1. Miri Avatar Mirisays:

        An article about Google algorithms (which is also mentioned In a Seth Godin article) with back up documentation suggest they oftan skew results in their favor meaning whatever will bring the highest results for Google subsidiaries. Particularly sites like Examine.com who dominated first page rankings were now being moved to the graveyard zone of page 6 search results correlating with Google moving into the health supplement market.
        Same results for other markets Google wanted to dominate like travel and hotel.
        These results are great but does not take into account how Google can change the alogrithm however they want, because they control the search results and will always favor their own interests and bottom line over anything else.

        1. Brian Dean Avatar Brian Deansays:

          Hi Miri, I haven’t seen any evidence of Google doing that. Not to say that they’re all saints over there (they’re not). But I don’t think they manipulate the algorithm like that.

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