This is an easy question to ask - but a hard one to answer! It’s the £500 million question behind the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) industry.
Whilst the algorithm that Google uses is a closely guarded secret, we can go a long way to answering this question by studying search results in-depth. That’s exactly what searchmetrics have done.
They've recently released their annual ranking factors report comparing the top 30 results for the 10,000 most searched for terms on google.com.
In today’s blog post we’ll summarise the findings of their report including the factors which show the strongest correlation for search engine success. If you have a website for your own business, please read on as there’ll be some tips that you can implement to help your SEO.
First of all, what is a ranking factor?
A ranking factor is an aspect of a website which affects where it will be positioned in search engine results. These factors are combined and weighted by Google’s very complex algorithm to determine the ranking of that website in its search results. Some examples of ranking factors are: relevant keywords, back links, site load speed.
Types of ranking factors
In their report, searchmetrics divided the ranking factors into four groups:
Onpage technical: These factors describe the technical build of the website. For example how long the website takes to load or how the website is structured.
Onpage content: These factors look at the content of the website. For example word count, or the number of relevant keywords.
Back links: These factors measure different aspects of a websites back link profile, for example, the percentage of nofollow links and how well those websites giving a link back rank in Google.
Social: These factors measure how much the URL has been talked about on social media. For example how many times a website has been shared and liked on Facebook.
User signals: These are factors that describe the users behaviour, such as how many searchers click through to the website from the search results page or how long they spent on the website. These factors tell Google how useful or relevant users found a particular website for a particular keyword.
Now on to the actual results from the study in chart form. How to read the chart:
The numbers next to the circle show the average value across the top 10 results for that ranking factor.
The longer the bar, the higher the correlation between the factor and a high Google ranking.
A negative bar is best interpreted by reversing the statement.
What we can learn from these results?
Onpage technical tips
Make sure your website loads quickly, average load time for a website on page 1 of Google was 0.99 seconds.
98% of the URLs studied had a meta description. Make sure your website has expertly written meta descriptions and titles.
Internal linking structure is important, it should be easy to navigate.
Make sure you keep your website up to date.
These factors are a basic starting point if you want your website to be ranked high up on Google because if they are absent they will have a negative effect on your rankings.
Onpage content tips
Write your content for the user. All copy should be easy to understand and well written.
Top results had longer content, the average word count for a page 1 result was 975 words.
Images and video content are important whereas ads aren’t helpful.
Include a range of relevant related keyword terms in your copy instead of repeating an exact keyword.
Back link tips
Back links are still one of the most important ranking factors.
Quality is more important than quantity. Back links from websites that are themselves positioned well on Google are more valuable than those that aren't.
Anchor text, the clickable text of a link, should be brand or domain name based and not keyword based.
Build a balanced back link profile with some links pointing to the homepage but with a larger number pointing to specific pages within your website.
Promote your content on social media. Social signals such as likes and shares tell Google that your website content is good. On average, a Google page 1 listed URL had 143 Google+ Plus ones, 1,690 Facebook signals, 162 Tweets, and 36 Pins. We've written a blog post especially on this topic.
User signal tips
Making your website engaging to keep users on your website for longer is also important. The average time spent on a Google page 1 URL was 101 seconds.
Encouage users to visit more than one page of your website. If a user only visits one page of your website this counts as a ‘bounce’. Websites with a lower bounce rate are on average ranked higher. The average bounce rate for a page 1 URL was 37% of users.
In summary, high quality content along with a balanced, quality back link profile are essential for websites wishing to be ranked prominently in Google. Technical factors such as page load speed are crucial but will not get your website positioned if you don’t have great content.
SEO takes time and consistent effort. So keep adding useful quality user focused content to your website whilst you apply these tips.
You can find the original report by searchmetrics here.
Your homepage is the starting point for most of your customers. So what can we learn from these examples of great homepages that will get more of your customers from your homepage and on to their buying journey...
This website helps you find the best deals on your grocery shopping by comparing your basket across different stores.
What’s good about it?
1.This website clearly describes how it’s going to help you and why you should use it at the very top of the page. (And in fewer words than this bullet point!)
2.There is one stand out call to action - ‘Start shopping’- and it follows straight after the above reasons to use mySupermarket. It’s obvious where to click. This is so important because if a visitor doesn’t navigate to a second page on your website it will count as a ‘bounce’ and Google doesn’t like websites with high numbers of bounces.
What’s good about it?
1. The search form on the homepage is clean and simple to use, and it auto fills the airport based on your location. It’s little details like this that make an online experience more enjoyable, which is very important when booking a holiday.
2. Above the fold, you’re shown beautiful sun soaked beaches. When you hover over these images you’re given more information about that particular deal. This is a nice feature for the user and it provides extra information to Google.
3. Below the fold you are given detailed information on why you should choose Thomas Cook as well as pros for a few example resorts. For example ‘family beach resorts’, ‘late breakfast’ and ‘free Wi-Fi’. Exactly the kind of information you need.
4. At the bottom of the page there is detailed information on the website’s security. This is well considered since customer peace of mind is so important when it comes to large purchases such as holidays. There’s also information on the payment options available.
5. There are links to 6 different language versions of the website.
The ecommerce website for the stylish, modern home furniture company Barker & Stonehouse.
What’s good about it?
1. The above the fold slider shows beautiful furniture in a home setting, and right below, the individual products are displayed. This makes it’s easy to see where to go next if you like what you see.
2. There’s a phone number to call right at the top in bold for those who want to place an order over the phone.
3. Order tracking options are also prominently positioned, right where you’d expect it to be.
4. Click & collect, stock check and finance options are clearly displayed and explained on the homepage. All of these make it easier for the customer to get their hands on the product faster.
5. There’s a link to their blog. And I want to click through to their blog because it tells me what to expect. Tips and inspiration.
How to promote your blog content and news articles
Okay you've spent hours researching, crafting and polishing the perfect blog post and you've hit the publish button.
So now all you have to do is sit and wait for all the lovely traffic to pour in right?
Now you need to start actively promoting it and engage with new readers.
Here's 10 tips to help you promote your blog post
1. Make sure you choose a compelling title for your blog post. Something people will want to click on.
2. Promote via social networks. Tweet to Twitter. Post to Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. Images and infographics to Instagram and Pinterest. Videos to YouTube etc.
3. Take your blog post, turn it into a pdf and upload to SlideShare and other document sharing websites. This works well for 'how-to', 'lists' and 'top 10' type blog posts.
4. Feature and link to influential websites, blogs and brands in your market from within your blog post. And let those people know on social media that you've featured them in your blog post. They'll most likely reward you by sharing and re-tweeting (IF your content is good enough though).
5. If your blog post contains statements, facts and figures, make sure you back them up with references and quotes from experts in this niche. Include a 'click to tweet' option for quotes. Then again let those people know via Twitter etc that you've featured them.
6. Get to know who the authorities in your market are. Network with them. Share their content. This again will get you noticed and could generate some 'shares' from them.
7. Make sure you encourage your readers to share your blog post. Place social share buttons at the bottom of your blog post (you could include share buttons at the top too). And ask people to share.
8. If you have a database of email subscribers make sure you do a mail shot each time you publish a new blog post.
9. Find forums in your niche and become part of the community. Join in with conversations, offer help and advice but don't over-promote your blog posts just yet. And take the time to read the forum rules first.
10. Make sure you re-share your blog post again across various social networks. Use the image below as a guide on how often to share across Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Tumblr.
The homepage of a website is usually the very first page a visitor will see when they visit your website. It's effectively your shop entrance and visitors will judge it within seconds.
There's many things an effective homepage should do (as detailed here by Hubspot). But one of the main things it should to is encourage your visitors to move further into the funnel. So you need to tell them what you want them to do with clear call-to-actions (CTA's).
Here's some examples of websites (in different markets) that have great homepages.
There are so many things we like about LCN's homepage. And we're not biased just because we're customers!
1 - At the top of the page above the fold (see screenshot above) there's a changeable 'banner' with one slide telling me what they can do for me; 'Everything you need to succeed online'. This message is for me and is something I can relate to.
2 - Further down the page I'm presented with a testimonial from Twitter (above) which tells me a) how good the support was and b) that that customer felt compelled and motivated to share their experience with others.
3 - If I scroll further down the page there's statistics to give me confidence that this company can easily host my website no problem (Gigabytes hosted this year - 6132.68).
4 - And the average support call wait time is less than a minute (which is important to me).
5 - Then there's another review along with a link to 216 other external reviews (which means these reviews can't be faked). Google will like this and it gives me even more confidence.
6 - Finally 3 links to social networks and what each network will help me with.
Supplier of pet products (cats, dogs, horses, small pets, birds, reptiles).
What's good about it?
It's aesthetically pleasing to look at. Easy to navigate. And just a pleasant experience.
1 - The phone number is clearly displayed at the top of the page with the message 'Happy To Help'. The shopping basket is also very visible in the top right hand corner of the page.
2 - There's a lovely clear search bar (essential for ecommerce websites) placed prominently at the top of the page.
3 - The 'Food Finder' navigation is a great idea. It's clear by this (and the left hand menu) that they sell mostly to dog and cat owners.
4 - I know right away that there's Free Delivery if I spend £29 or more.
5 - Just below the fold there's a row of 5 best sellers with the option to buy once or schedule every 1, 2 or 3 months. This is good for me as a customer and good for Monster Pet Supplies repeat orders. (The product pages have this same option).
6 - Towards the bottom of the page there's useful information for me about delivery costs, the 'Monster Promise', newsletter signup and incentivising me to tell a friend about Monster Pet Supplies.
7 - There's also links to recent blog stories and a banner asking whether my pet blog could make the top 100 pet blogs.
8 - Finally there's clear links to their social media channels.
UK based IT Training Company delivering world-class training.
What's good about it?
The Thynk website balances brand positioning and advertising perfectly. Thynk’s brand promise; their reason-for-being “de-cluttering the world’s best training” is communicated immediately and emotively.
Most businesses rattle on about what they do and I, the reader, have to work out what they actually do for me.
Not with Thynk IT training. As they say – “When all you get is all you need, what you learn today – you can use today”. So they’ve even de-cluttered their messaging. Perfect.
Online accounting, invoicing and billing software for small businesses.
What's good about it?
Very clear and concise. As with the example above, Freshbooks homepage tells me straight away whether this product is for me or not. And the clear green CTA (call-to-action) button tells me I can try before I buy..
If I scroll down the page the website give me a reason to stick around.
1 - Shows me how easy it is to send invoices. And there's that lovely clear CTA button again with the same message.
2 - A little further down there's 4 reasons why I should use Freshbooks and answers some questions I'd have. The user review gives me even more confidence in the product.
3 - After scrolling further through a serious of screens with lovely imagery and more features I get to the following which actually shows me the support team!
4 - Finally if I'm not already convinced I'm told which other products Freshbooks works with. Oh and there's that lovely call-to-action again.
As with all alcoholic drinks websites I visited the age verification is the first thing I see as the homepage. So this age verification screen needs to be brilliant if any website wants me to take the time to enter my date of birth. (I know it only takes a few seconds but people are impatient and if they don't like what they see they won't stick around).
Grant's Whisky have a beautiful age verification screen. Out of the 30 or so websites from the top 50 drinks brands I checked out it was the best.
1 - Visually it's classy with lovely imagery. The image of the 2 glasses filled with whiskey over ice feed my imagination. I could be anywhere drinking a Grant's and with anyone, this homepage doesn't dictate where I am. (Chivas have a pretty good homepage too).
2 - There's not much copy on the page so it really needs to be crafted... and Grant's page copy is spot on.
3 - The drop down functionality to enter my Country is good too. It lists the most popular countries first so I don't have to scroll all the way down to choose United Kingdom.
4 - And the 'remember me' check-box is pre-ticked which I like.
5 - Finally upon entering the 'real' homepage it doesn't disappoint. And it won't disappoint you either.
Hiring an experienced professional SEO agency will set you back thousands of pounds every single year. But it's a necessity if you a) have limited or no knowledge of search engine optimisation yourself and b) you want to rank highly in search engines like Google.
So what can you do to save money if you have a set online marketing budget and time on your hands?
We've listed 5 things that you can do yourself that will not only save you money but also support the work that a professional SEO agency will do for you.
1. Blog regularly
Creating regular (at least weekly) high quality blog or news content yourself (or within your organisation) is an absolute must. If you don't write your own content your SEO agency will do it for you (and charge you for it). Creating an 'editorial calendar' will help you to organise your time and identify any seasonal trends that you should be preparing for.
Earlier this year we advised a household brand name on how to encourage
and empower their 3,000+ employee's to create content for the brand. You can do it too.
Your social media platforms (Twitter, Google+, Facebook etc) should all be linked & setup from your blog to post automatically every-time a new blog article/news story is published. This will save you time manually publishing to each network.
3. Manage your own social media marketing
One of the factors Google looks for when determining how well a website should rank is 'social signals' (re-tweets, Facebook likes/shares, Google+'s etc). So make sure you provide your followers with information that adds value as this will encourage them to like and share your posts.
And remember to be well mannered... thank people who have interacted with you.
4. Encourage user reviews
Encourage your customers to leave a review of your company and/or products. You can encourage company reviews to be left on your Google+ page as well as on external websites such TrustPilot and TripAdvisor etc (depending on your market).
Product reviews should be encouraged within your e-commerce website as well as externally on websites such as reevoo and CNET. Use positive feedback as testimonials on your website homepage as this will help to lower the bounce rate (which is another thing Google looks at).
One of the most difficult things e-commerce website owners face is making sure that their product descriptions are well written, informative and unique. This is especially true if the very same product with the manufacturers description is being sold online elsewhere (DVD's for example). Google doesn't like duplicate content so take the time to make your product descriptions different. Encouraging user generated reviews of your products (as mentioned in point 4) can help with this.
Not sure what makes a good product page? Here's some great examples for you:
Naked Wines - Great way to display content saving space and the use of user generated content to make the page unique.