Search Ranking Factors 2012 Discussion

SEO

Tom Schmitz Jan 23 2012

Search engine results have changed dramatically. Today, which websites get top rankings depend on very different signals than in the past. So much so that what we once considered the whole of SEO is now only a small portion. Here are some of the factors affecting search engine optimization today.

On-Site SEO

On-site SEO includes keyword selection, website architecture, hub pages, internal linking and content optimization. This is one of the original parts of search engine optimization. On-site SEO is vital, after all, if words do not appear on your website why should you rank for them?

On-sire SEO no longer possesses the importance it once enjoyed. Search engines prefer signals that are difficult to manipulate or change and you can change the content on your site whenever you desire. Every time a new ranking signal from outside your website gets added to the ranking algorithms on-site SEO becomes a little more diluted.

Off-Site Link Building

The other half of the original SEO equation is link building. By scraping the web search engines can find out which sites link to yours. The quantity and quality of links pointing to your site determines your websites PageRank or domain authority, a measurement of raw ranking power. Similarly it is better to get 100 links from 100 sites than 100 links from 1 site. Links to individual pages reveal you most important or popular content. Words in off-site links demonstrate search query relevance. Patterns count too. Having most off-site links point to your homepage is less desirable than having links go to numerous different pages. Receiving new links over time is more natural than getting a spike of new links every now and then.

Content Quality

Last February Google introduced Panda, a major algorithm update that penalized entire websites for serving low quality content. Historically search optimizers liked to put lots of articles or blog posts on websites. Quality was never a concern as long as the page got optimized for a long-tail keyword and linked to more important content. Another popular ploy was to add Wikipedia style text to the bottom of shopping cart or store pages. Panda looks for this type of low quality content. If it finds too much on a site the entire domain gets penalized for all searches.

Design

Where content appears on pages has long been a part of on-site SEO. Now Google takes design to a new level when deciding where to rank your website. If you have too many adds or push relevant content below the visible page, forcing people to scroll down, the search engines may decide that you are being less than helpful.

Click Thru Rate

When visitors arrive on your website do the stay or leave? Google can tell when someone leaves their site then returns. If people stay on your site it may improve your rankings, but if too many bounce it can hurt them.

History

Search engines use history for lots of stuff.  Google records every search result you visit. Click on a result and you are more likely to see that site in future search results. Instant search is another example. As you type a query into Google it will predict what you are typing, display the likeliest possibilities and even the search results placements for the top query.

If you have a Gmail account Google can use your email content to personalize search results too. They already use this information to select which advertisements to show to you.

Voting

Run a search on Google. Hover over the results and +1 buttons appear. When you click on +1 buttons those pages go to the top of your results for relevant queries.

Web and Social Media Content

Google loves brands. When they see brand names often enough on web pages and social media updates they become associated with relevant search queries.

Who is In Your Social Networks

This is the new frontier of search. Google will personalize your search results based on who your friends are. Originally Google found your friends by following links to your social media profiles that you placed on your Google profile. Now Google has its own social network, Google+. It knows exactly who you have in your circles because it is in their database.  Imagine the search histories, bounce histories, +1 votes, Google+ content and even the email content belonging to all of your Google+ friends influencing and changing your search results. This is exactly what Google+ makes possible.

There are lots of other way for Google and Bing to change their search placement results: query deserves freshness, query deserves diversity, integrated search results and more.  Search has come a long way from on-site content relevance and off-site link authority, which is why we spend so much time thinking about starting, nurturing and growing conversations. Today the best SEO happens when everyone is writing about and mentioning your company, brand or products online.