SEMrush Ranking Factors Study 2.0 [Update November 2017]

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SEMrush is one of our must-have digital marketing tools. It’s used by over 1,500,000 marketers and business owners to track, manage and guide digital strategies. Every now and then, SEMrush releases their Ranking Factors Study to give an insight into what does and doesn’t affect a website’s ranking on search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo. SEMrush has just released an updated version of the Ranking Factors Study which analyses additional ranking factors and updates some of their findings based on the latest rankings.

We wanted to make it easier for non-digital marketing folk to interpret the study so we’re here to share some of the key findings from this report and offer our interpretation. We’ll also share the document in full so you can download it easily in full.

Click here to view and download the 2017 Ranking Factors Study (.PDF 1mb)

Who is SEMrush and what do they do?

adapted from SEMrush’s website.

SEMrush is a SaaS product used by over 1,500,000 marketers worldwide.

Over the past nine years, SEMrush has grown into an all-in-one marketing suite consisting of more than 30 tools and reports that help companies market better online. On top of being one of the best keyword research tools available, SEMrush now helps users to fix technical website issues, improve the health of their backlink profile, and track local rankings on both mobile and desktop devices. Using SEMrush, marketers can easily spot opportunities they are missing compared to their top ten search competitors and get ideas for their SEO, PPC, content marketing and social media campaigns.

Because the web is evolving so quickly, and with constant updates from giants like Google and Facebook, it is easy to get lost without the right data, rendering some unable to make the right decisions and adjust to the new reality. Having software that changes with the latest trends and updates and makes data quick and easy to obtain is crucial. At SEMrush, agile methodology is applied at all levels within the company (both in development and marketing), which means they we react to market changes as quickly as possible to ensure every change is an opportunity for their clients.

Click here to view and download the 2017 Ranking Factors Study (.PDF 1mb)

Key Findings

User Experience matters… A lot.

At Brothers Digital, we’re proponents of a user-experience and content-focused approach to SEO. In our experience, creating and optimising content to directly respond to a user’s search query helps engage the user and provides a better user experience. We always ensure the websites of our SEO clients are always a delight for their customers and that they are easy to navigate, clearly structured, concise and assist in the conversion process. We’re glad to see that SEMrush support our approach.

Out of the top 5 rankings factors, 3 are related to the onsite experience of a website. Time on site, pages per session and bounce rate are all things we focus on at Brothers Digital and our clients view these statistics monthly in their reports. These factors were found by SEMrush to be the 2nd, 3rd and 4th most influential ranking factors. 49% and lower is the number to aim for with regards to a website’s bounce rate to be in the hunt for a top search rank.

Improving the user experience of a website and giving users a reason to stay and explore a website are core to our Search Engine Optimisation projects. Ensuring content addresses a user’s search query and making sure a website is optimised will mean users will engage more with a website, improving these factors and giving the website a better chance of ranking higher.

Neither content or links are King.

Content length, keyword in body content, keyword in title and meta, keyword density (how many times a keyword appeared on the page), and content length were all identified as top-20 ranking factors in this study but very much towards the bottom of the list. Of the content focused factors, the most important was content length, with more content being correlated to a significantly higher search ranking. SEMrush noted that there was a 45% difference in the content length between the 3rd highest ranking webpage and the 20th. While also on the subject of content, 82% of web pages ranking for high-value keywords had that keyword in the body of the page.

Link building does work, but it is no longer the magic bullet that it used to be. SEMrush found that the number of unique referring domains (those are websites that link back to yours) is more important than the overall number of links so stuffing tonnes of links on one domain is not advisable. SEMrush found that websites that shared the link love, both in- and outbound ranked higher than those that didn’t. The average difference between position 2 and 10 in high-volume segments is 10,000 referring domains. That’s a hell of a lot of links.

Of course, for both of these things quality matters. Thousands of words on a page won’t make a difference if they aren’t well thought out and respond to a user’s search query. Similarly, hundreds of links from websites unrelated to yours, low-quality or purchased links won’t help your ranking in the long-term. In fact, it is very easy to get penalised for poor quality content and even easier to be penalised for poor quality links. Be careful of these as you work to improve your search position using content and links.

You must be secure (https://) everywhere.

We’ve been harping on about it for a while now but a website must be secured by a recognised encryption certificate to rank higher in search. Don’t only have HTTPS:// on your contact and checkout pages, you want to have it on every page. Every bit of content on every single page should be shared securely. 65% of top ranking pages for high-volume keyword had some form of security. It’s extremely simple to set up security on a website now and is no longer too expensive. If your website doesn’t have the green light next to its URL in your browser then you need to fix that… now.

Direct web traffic is the biggest influence.

After all we do to bolster a website’s ranking the number one ranking factor for a website is something we can’t always control – direct traffic. Direct traffic is traffic that doesn’t go through a search engine, social media, links or another referrer. Essentially, this is people typing in the URL for that website instead of seeking it out through a network. What the search engines interpret from this statistic is that a website with high direct traffic has more authority and is better known than others and therefore is more worthy of a high search rank.

This is why it is so important to consider your domain name when setting up your website. Your domain name needs to be memorable and easy to type. Longer domain names rarely work well and acronyms, unless they are obvious or well known, can hinder your direct traffic.

Click here to view and download the 2017 Ranking Factors Study (.PDF 1mb)

What can you do to improve your rank?

There are many things website owners can do to improve their search engine that doesn’t involve an agency (like us) or advanced technical know-how.

Need help with your SEO? Contact Brothers Digital if you would like professional help with your SEO to improve the rank of your website on search engines. We’ll arrange to have a discussion about your SEO and present you with a competitive proposal to improve your search rankings.

SEO Self-help Checklist from the SEMrush 2017 Ranking Factors Study

  • Enable encryption on your website with an SSL or TLS certificate.  Set it up so that your website URL shows the green bar in the browser window.
  • Make sure your website has no dead links.
  • Ensure your pages have relevant content for the search terms you want them to rank for.
  • Make sure your pages have properly formatted and optimised titles and descriptions.
  • Check that all your pages have at least 3 incoming and outgoing links to them.
  • Monitor your analytics to make sure your user experience score is high.
    • Make sure your bounce rate is below 49%. If it isn’t, figure out why using the behaviour tab in your Google Analytics.
    • Make sure your pages per session are above 2.5 and ideally more than 3-3.5. This is an indicator of an engaging website and a search ranking signal.
    • Don’t let your time on site fall too low. If your site’s time on site is starting to fall you’re not meeting the expectations of the user or responding to their search query.
  • If you have any pages on your site with less than 300 words on it, where possible you should expand that content. Make sure to keep it relevant and concise.
  • Keep your website fast. Aim for a full-load time of no more than 3 seconds. Under 1 second would be amazing!
  • Encourage website visits. More visits to your website could mean a substantial boost to your organic rankings. You can encourage visits to your website by creating quality to share on blogs and social media. You can also look into paid search advertising, although in our experience this rarely correlates to improved rankings. You want to encourage organic visits to your website and direct visits (people typing your URL into their browser).

Why you should consider Brothers Digital for your SEO campaign?

We have a track record of implementing commercially successful search engine optimisation strategies for ambitious businesses in Newcastle, Maitland and the Hunter Valley.

At Brothers Digital, we not only believe in the power of SEO, we understand it. It’s not the ‘black art’ you may have heard it described as previously. SEO is a science and like all scientists, we’re constantly conducting experiments, staying abreast of the latest research and putting our learning and experience into practice. Our SEO retainer allows us to be an extension of your marketing team not just once a month but full time, because the last we checked, the internet is always open.

What’s more, we have the runs on the board to prove our ability in optimising websites and delivering higher search engine rankings for ambitious small businesses. Just in the past 24 months, we’ve achieved the following results on fair budgets.

  • We delivered a local electrical contracting business a visibility that resulted in 1 in 4 ‘electrical’ and ‘electrician’ related searches on Google displaying their website in the top results.
  • We delivered enough organic traffic to a florist’s website to increase their sales by 300%.
  • We increased the search visibility for a home improvements business from 1.7% to over 12% in just 6 months and helped them break into a new market by optimising for search visibility in
    that region.

We’re confident in our ability to deliver the same great results for your business. Please feel free to contact us to book an obligation-free discussion with Tom, one of the brothers and Head of Digital at Brothers Digital.

Click here to view and download the 2017 Ranking Factors Study (.PDF 1mb)

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