In this research, we will review a new study conducted by SEMrush on Google’s ranking factors for 2024. SEMrush conducted a significant study and identified what they believe to be the most important ranking factors in Google. Some of these factors are surprising, while others align with common understanding. In this review, we will focus on the ranking factors that warrant the most attention. You can find the SEMrush report by searching for SEMrush on Google.
Text Relevance in SEO Ranking Factors
Text Relevance One of the first ranking factors mentioned in the study is text relevance. Text relevance refers to how relevant a page is to the targeted keyword. There are several ways to measure text relevance, including subjective opinions and analyzing the Google search results. If the search results for a keyword like “how to start an SEO business” predominantly display pages about starting an SEO business, it is clear that having a relevant page is a significant ranking factor in Google.
Maximizing Text Relevance through Page Creation
Creating Relevant Pages To maximize text relevance, it is crucial to create pages that perfectly match the keyword and its intent. It is advised to avoid getting too fancy or deviating from the keyword’s intent. For example, if the keyword is “how to start an SEO business,” the page’s content should be about starting an SEO business. This is a fundamental aspect of SEO, as creating the most relevant page possible enhances ranking potential.
Evaluating NLP Optimization with Surfer Score
Surfer Score for NLP Optimization Surfer or any other on-page SEO tool can be used to determine a page’s optimization for NLP (natural language processing) or keyword relevance. The content score provided by Surfer indicates how well a page is optimized for NLP. Through analyzing thousands of SERP analyzers, it is evident that well-ranked pages are often optimized for NLP. This means they are the most relevant results for the targeted keyword phrase.
True Density and Its Impact on Search Relevance
True Density and Related Keywords True density, as shown in the audit section of Surfer, indicates the relevance of a page to related keywords. The more relevant a page is, the more likely it is to be served by Google to searchers. Google’s search model is based on providing the most relevant results to users. While Google may not always deliver perfectly relevant results, it remains their primary objective.
The Impact of Content Elements on User Signals and Engagement
Content Elements The study discusses content elements, which include images, lists, tables, and schema, among others. While the direct impact of content elements on ranking is unclear, the reviewer believes that they influence user signals and engagement. The inclusion of diverse content elements, such as images and interrupting patterns, can enhance user engagement, which may indirectly impact rankings. The reviewer emphasizes the importance of creating interesting and engaging content to improve user signals, which are tracked by search engines.
The Nuances of Word Count as a Ranking Factor in SEO
Word Count The study addresses word count as a ranking factor. The reviewer acknowledges that while having a high word count alone does not guarantee higher rankings, it allows for the optimization of a page for maximum relevance. Analyzing the correlation between word count and ranking performance, the reviewer finds that there is not a direct correlation between quantity of words and ranking well. However, having a substantial word count enables the creation of a comprehensive and relevant page, which is essential for ranking.
Impact of URL and Domain Traffic on Search Rankings
URL and Domain Traffic The study includes URL organic traffic and domain organic traffic as ranking factors. The reviewer expresses skepticism about these factors, stating that high traffic is an outcome of ranking well, rather than a direct influence on rankings. The reviewer questions the inclusion of these factors as ranking factors, as they are more likely to be consequences of high rankings rather than direct contributors to ranking performance.
Examining Insights and Analyzing Ranking Factors
Additional Insights The study’s findings are further discussed, including the impact of user signals, the correlation between content elements and user engagement, and the role of word count in creating comprehensive and relevant content. The reviewer provides insights into the study’s findings and offers critical analysis of the factors identified as direct ranking factors.
Writing Interesting Copy
The key to keeping someone on a page is to write interesting copy. Good copy is essential, then you need to add elements that make your content interesting. This includes unique images, breaking patterns with bullet points, headings, and videos. These elements can increase the level of engagement on your page.
Surfer and Content Optimization
You can use tools like Surfer to analyze the quantity of images and other elements on a page. However, there isn’t always a clear correlation between having images and ranking well. These are micro elements that influence user behavior, which in turn may affect the algorithm indirectly.
Word count is another factor to consider. Having a lot of words on a page doesn’t guarantee ranking, but it allows you to optimize your page for maximum relevance. There isn’t typically a correlation between sheer word count and ranking performance. However, having a decent word count enables you to create the best possible page.
Building the Most Relevant Page
Using tools to identify NLP keywords helps build a relevant outline and content brief. The goal is to create the most relevant and high-quality page possible. High quality means different and better than what’s currently ranking in Google. Pure word count won’t help if your website lacks authority, but creating relevant content will.
URL and Domain Traffic
The study also mentions URL organic traffic and domain organic traffic as ranking factors. However, pages that rank well naturally get more traffic, which isn’t a ranking factor but an outcome of good rankings. The same goes for domains with good organic traffic. It’s not that traffic influences rankings, but rather that successful SEO results in higher traffic.
Word Count as a Ranking Factor
Just pure word count isn’t going to do anything for you. If you have a website that has no authority and you write a five thousand word article on some keyword, you’re probably still not going to rank. There are other variables that are way more important. Word count, in my opinion, is just kind of a neutral thing. It is definitely not a direct ranking factor.
The Questionable Ranking Factors
This part of the study is the most insane, and I’ve seen a few people on Twitter talk about this as well, and I agree with them. URL and domain traffic, and just general ranking positions are included as factors. According to SEMrush, and I don’t know, maybe I’m just misinterpreting this, I don’t want to make any judgments. This is just my personal opinion, but it doesn’t make sense how URL organic traffic would even be a factor because it’s an outcome, not a cause. Pages that are ranking well are going to have more traffic; that’s not a ranking factor.
Misinterpretation of Performance Metrics
The same logic applies to domains’ organic traffic. Websites that are doing well from an SEO perspective are going to have a lot of traffic. It doesn’t mean that the traffic is why they’re ranking. It seems absurd that the study would include the same variables four times, suggesting that top results have good SEO metrics and good performance, which doesn’t make sense as a ranking factor. This could potentially hurt the credibility of the study. You can ignore these because they have no influence; they just have good metrics because they’re ranking well. We’re going to skip past that one.
Content age is not a direct ranking factor. The age of your content, whether it’s very old or very new, does not correlate directly to better rankings. However, there is a bit of a freshness benefit to updating old content. For instance, updating an old post with new information and republishing it can make it more relevant to the query, which might help with rankings. But it’s not the age itself that’s important—it’s the relevance and the quality of the backlinks that matter more.
There is some minor influence of freshness on rankings. Updating stale content can help, but it’s not the main factor. The significant impact comes from making the content more relevant and ensuring it has good backlinks. The ‘clock’ for a page’s relevance starts ticking once it gets backlinks, not merely when it’s published.
Star Ratings and Schema
Star ratings and schema are not direct ranking factors because anyone can implement schema markup. For example, adding schema to a review to display star ratings doesn’t guarantee better rankings. However, it can be a secondary or indirect factor. Once you are ranking, having unique schema, like star ratings, can influence organic click-through rates (CTR), which is a ranking factor. Anything that can improve organic CTR is worth considering.
General Brand Influence on CTR
The general brand recognition also influences click-through rate (CTR). If it’s a trusted brand within a particular niche or vertical, that will typically have an impact as well. There are many variables when it comes to CTR, but brand recognition is one that can sway user behavior.
The Role of Schema in CTR
Having schema, such as star ratings, is not a direct ranking factor. However, it can be a secondary or indirect factor that influences CTR. If your schema stands out in the SERPs because it’s unique, it can attract more clicks. But if everyone in the top ten has review schema, it won’t have much of an impact. It’s better to have schema than not, but don’t expect it to be a game-changer on its own.
Domain Authority Score
Domain authority score is a third-party metric used to estimate the strength of a website. While Google doesn’t use these third-party metrics directly, they infer the quantity and quality of backlinks to a site, which are known ranking factors. Overall domain strength, which comes from high-quality backlinks, is one of the most important ranking factors. Strong domains tend to dominate the SERPs, and sites with a lot of authority can rank with less effort.
Site Authority’s Influence on Rankings
Site authority has a massive influence on rankings. For example, a high domain rating (DR) site can rank pages with minimal content because of its inherent authority. Conversely, a site with a low DR might not rank even with the best content unless it narrows the authority gap. Therefore, growing your site’s authority through link building is crucial.
Third-Party Metrics and Ranking Factors
While third-party metrics like DA or DR are not used by Google as ranking factors, they are indicative of a site’s backlink profile, which is a ranking factor. These metrics help us understand a site’s potential to rank based on its backlink strength. It’s essential to focus on building a strong backlink profile to improve these metrics and, consequently, your site’s ability to rank.
Ranking and Images
Ranking in images is not a direct influence on traditional organic results. It’s a separate aspect of search results and doesn’t necessarily impact organic rankings. This is a peculiar inclusion in the list of ranking factors.
Page Authority Score
Page authority score, which looks at the quantity of links hitting the specific URL that is ranking, is indeed a significant ranking factor. While domain strength has a bigger influence, narrowing the gap in page-level backlinks between your page and the competition is crucial. This factor is all about the quantity and diversity of backlinks hitting your website or the specific page you’re trying to rank.
Content Quality Score
Content quality score, which can be measured with tools like Surfer, correlates with the relevance of your page. Higher content quality scores typically indicate more relevant content, which increases the likelihood of ranking. Therefore, it’s important to focus on creating high-quality, relevant content.
Ranking in Featured Snippet
Ranking in the featured snippet is not a direct ranking factor. The quantity of featured snippets that you’re ranking in would not influence your rankings in a completely different keyword set. This is another peculiar inclusion in the list of ranking factors.
Domain age is not a direct ranking factor either. The age of a website doesn’t guarantee rankings if it lacks a strong backlink profile. The focus should be on acquiring high-quality backlinks, as the influence of backlink age and trust has a much bigger impact on rankings.
Effort and Content Creation
Effort put into content creation, as outlined in Google’s EEAT guidelines, is an important consideration. High effort, such as conducting in-depth research and creating valuable, unique content, can contribute to a page’s quality and relevance. Investing in building high-quality content assets and acquiring high-quality backlinks is crucial for site authority and trust.
Scalable Link Building
The only scalable link building technique is through creating content that people want to link to. This approach ensures that the content attracts high-quality and relevant backlinks, which are essential for improving site authority and, consequently, rankings.
Direct Traffic and SEO
Direct traffic may not be a direct ranking factor, but it’s likely that Google tracks this, especially in Google Chrome. Google Chrome was built to support Google search, meaning they’re using Chrome data to determine the quality of pages in their search results. If a page is getting a lot of direct traffic, it could be a trust signal. However, it’s hard to correlate, and it’s more a sign that your content is good. If you only have organic traffic, it could mean you don’t have a brand and your content isn’t being shared or linked, which are signals of good content.
Loading speed is not a direct ranking factor, but it does influence user experience. You want to have fast loading sites and pages because slow sites are annoying. It’s more of a negative factor. If your site takes 20 seconds to load, it could hurt your rankings, but if you reduce it to three seconds, it probably won’t increase your rankings.
Dwell time is a controversial user signal. If people spend more time on your site, it could influence SEO performance. YouTube, for example, aims to keep users on their site as long as possible. However, not every keyword requires high dwell time. If you satisfy the user’s intent quickly, there’s no need for them to stay longer.
Keyword Coverage and Placement
Keyword coverage is purely based on relevance. Keyword placement, on the other hand, is about placing the keyword in the most important spots: the URL, the title, the meta description, the first H1, and somewhere in the first hundred words. Once that’s set, you can optimize it for NLP using an on-page SEO tool.
Search Intent and SEO
Search intent wasn’t mentioned much, but it’s embedded within relevance. If the content is relevant to the keyword, it likely satisfies the intent. Satisfying intent is the most important thing. If it’s off, nothing else matters. For example, if someone searches for best SEO books and the content is about best health books, then the intent and relevance are off. Intent is crucial and should be considered in any SEO strategy.
Serving the Right Page Based on Intent
Serving the right page based on intent can be tricky. Informational content can rank for commercial queries. For instance, if you search for tattoo numbing cream, Google might show product pages. But if you add ‘best’ to the query, the intent changes, and Google might show informational content. Don’t be afraid to use informational content for somewhat commercial queries. It’s not always black and white.
Topic authority wasn’t a focus in the ranking factor study. It’s about how much relevance a site has around a particular topic. Link authority is more important than topic authority. It’s about how much content relevance a site has. If you’re a site about SEO, how much do you write about SEO? That’s what matters.
Link Quality and Relevance
Link quality and relevance are crucial. Quantity of links, diversity of IPs, and referring domains are all ranking factors. But the overall link quality and relevance are also important. You don’t want to acquire just any link. Focus on relevance and the quality of the linking site. A good link opportunity is one that’s relevant to you and has good links itself.
Anchor Text Diversity
Anchor text diversity is important. Being too aggressive with exact match anchor text can lead to penalties. Big authority sites can get away with it, but new sites should be careful. Always diversify your anchor text. There’s an anchor text guide on my blog that’s been used for many years and can help you navigate this aspect of SEO.
Final Thoughts on the Ranking Factor Study
That was the ranking factor study from SEMrush. I agree with a lot of it and disagree with some. Overall, it’s a good study, and I hope this breakdown was helpful. Let me know what you think about this study in the comments below. Thank you so much, and I’ll talk to you guys soon. Thanks.
Conclusion: Decoding the Intricacies of SEO for Improved Rankings
In conclusion, our comprehensive review of the study’s findings underscores the complex interplay of various factors that influence Google’s ranking algorithm. Text relevance emerges as a significant factor, necessitating the creation of content that aligns perfectly with targeted keywords and their intent. Tools that analyze content score and true density can provide valuable insights into a page’s optimization for natural language processing (NLP) and related keywords.
However, it is important to note that while factors like content elements, word count, and URL and domain traffic are included in the study as ranking factors, their direct impact on rankings remains unclear. Content elements and word count can indirectly enhance user engagement and relevance, contributing to better SEO outcomes. On the other hand, high URL and domain traffic appear more as consequences of good rankings rather than as direct contributors.
Ultimately, the key to higher rankings lies in the creation of engaging, relevant, and high-quality content. The focus should be on optimizing content for maximum relevance, enhancing user engagement, and consistently reviewing and questioning the factors considered for ranking. High-quality backlinks also play a crucial role in improving site authority and trust, thereby influencing rankings.
Therefore, successful SEO strategies need to be holistic, considering not just the quantity but the quality of content, the relevance to targeted keywords, user engagement, and site authority. Understanding these nuances of SEO practices can provide a competitive edge in the ever-evolving digital landscape.