A new study by SEO firm Searchmetrics has come up with some really useful findings on how Google ranked your content in search during 2016.
Here we look at what impacted results in 2016 – and what this means for your strategy in 2017.
How is search ranking changing?
Content is still key, with relevance a vital factor in deciding where pages rank. This fits with an overall trend where ranking factors are becoming more personalised.
Anything that indicates user satisfaction with content – like dwell time on a page, or click-through rates – is also increasing in importance in tandem with the drive for personalisation.
The technical aspects of SEO are still important. Header tags (known as H1, H2 and H3 tags), encryption and domains all play a role in determining how well your page performs.
Links – both internal and external – also remain important factors. And social media interaction is vital – what Searchmetrics term ‘social signals’ have a significant impact on position.
How content impacts rank
- Relevance: For the first time, the Searchmetrics report this year includes a new factor – content relevance. Using a scale of 1-100, this measures how relevant a piece of content is to a search query.
- Length: content in the top Google positions tends to exceed 1000 words. And it’s not just about quantity: pages that appear top tend to have multiple similar keywords, suggesting that they are relatively detailed.
- Keywords: although using a range of similar keywords helps, having them in the title tag is less essential. Relevance and detail are clearly prized higher than keywords per se.
If you’re still relatively new to content marketing, our blog on why content marketing is right for financial services firms is a good place to start.
The report terms click-throughs, site dwell time and bounce rates as ‘user signals’ – indications that readers find your content pertinent and useful. It details some specific stats around these:
- The pages in positions 1, 2 and 3 on Google have average click-through rates of 36%.
- URLs on the first page of search results have an average bounce rate of 46% (i.e. 46% of people only visit the page they land on, without exploring the site further).
- The top 10 ranked URLs see users spend an average of 3 minutes and 10 seconds on the site.
Read our tips on maximising engagement with your content marketing and creating content that delivers clicks, shares and likes for ideas on how to increase your dwell time and reduce bounce rates.
- Header tags: the number of pages in Google’s top 20 with an H1 (header) or H2 (subhead) tag has increased this year. Because many sites do not use H2 tags, consider adding them to yours – it will give you an advantage.
- Mobile-friendly features are increasingly important – factors like loading time, size of pages and having a generally mobile-compatible site all seem to correlate with high positions.
User experience factors
The report suggests that internal links are among the most important user experience ranking factors. Links that help your users navigate the site are recognised by Google for the part they plan in making your site user-friendly.
You can steal a march on your competitors here, as the Searchmetrics research suggests that compared to last year, the use of internal links has fallen significantly. Add some to your site and improve your search engine position.
External links remain important too, with other user-friendly features like the seamless integration of video and the number of images on the site also critical.
The report indicates a very strong connection between social signals (interactions with your content on social media) and rank. Facebook is most influential here, although less relevant for many B2B firms. Unsurprisingly, Google also gives credence to signals from its own network, Google+.
In previous years, backlinks (links from other respected and relevant sites to yours) were a major driving force behind Google listings. The report suggests this is changing, with backlinks still important, but no more so than some of the other features, particularly those involving content and user behaviour. This is a good thing for most firms, as they tend to have far more control over the quality of their own content than they do over whether external sites choose to link to them.
The Searchmetrics report is a useful window into the changing nature of search engine evaluation. If you think your performance here could be improved, you can read more tips and ‘must do’ actions in our Essential SEO tips for financial services firms. The tips are free, and you can download a copy here.