Onpage, offpage, H-tags, meta-informations, keyword-density and of course -> links, links and even more links… That´s all the ranking factors discussion got to offer these days. Rand is doing a survey every year, asking some of the worlds leading SEO experts on their take on what makes sites rank in Google –> the Search Engine Ranking Factors Study! I am a proud contributor to this study for he second year in the row now, and torture my brain quite heavily on the stuff that makes my sites, as well as my clients sites, rank better in Google.
One thing that not a lot of people talk about these days is a factor, that goes beyond what you can do onpage on your site, but still may be one of the most influential ranking factors in years to come –> User intent!
Don´t get me wrong – the usual stuff will still be important (especially the links baby!) to get you into the top 10 (or even higher), but user intent can be a great factor in refining those rankings!
So what do you mean?
Google has one major flaw by definition – it´s generating its SERPs via an algorithm, weighting several factors to come up with the most relevant result for a specific search. This way the SERPs (= search engine result pages) are almost entirely created by an algorithm, which, although being pretty intelligent, can not anticipate user intent. Ok ok, they´re actually having some great ideas to tackle this issue by for example adjusting rankings upon pattern in query and click logs.
So how can you determine whether a specific search result is a good or bad (= delivering a great user experience -> the user finds what he was looking for) without using tons of humans to review these SERPs? Actually pretty easy -> by measuring the click-through as well as the bounce rate of specific sample groups.
Google is a data whore
Google knows the history of every keyword – no matter if the search is navigational, informational or transactional, Google knows the typical click-trough-rates on every one of those top 10 results! Sure it may vary, if you got none or up to three AdWords above the results, or let´s say a nifty video universal search result, but Google knows that just as well! They know exactly what the click-through-rate is for site X, on whatever position in the top 10, in whatever kind of setting (as I just mentioned -> AdWords, Universal Search etc.). So if you wanna see, if your No.1 result is REALLY No.1 worthy, you just have to do a little a switching around! Just by switching the No.1 and the No.2 ranked site, you´ll get great data, on how users are interacting differently with this different set of results. So if site X is ranking on no.1 and getting 62% of all clicks (on average historically of course), and site Y is getting 32% of all clicks on position no.2, and now you´re just switching those both results around, you might get some different numbers, which can help you determine if site X is really worth sitting on top of the SERPs! Ok, you might argue, that most of the people will just click the no.1 result, since most of the common webusers are pretty much stupid, BUT Google knows that just as well, and can calculate this factor into their results.
It´s not really about finding out which site is really the best no.1 result, most of the times the battle is fought a little deeper in the top 10. On the lower results, your site is getting tested constantly, to see if you´re ready to play with the big dogs up in the top 4 that are sitting above the fold!
One of the most fierce battles is going on between the no. 9 / 10 and the no. 11 /12 results. Here you´re basically getting tested if you´re frontpage material.
Keyword-domains can help you big time
I think this is also why keyword-domains are ranking so much better these days in Google, since a lot of people are checking out the URL, and a keyword-domain just might perform a lot better in this instance. You can see that with AdWords, too – advertising with a keyword-domain is definetly an edge for your AdWords-campaign! And brands are better of just as well, since brand recognition also works in the search results – people are more likely to click on a domain, they already know (or have at least heard good things about).
So how can you game this?
You wanna know what´s also great about this kind of testing? It´s almost impossible to fake for SEOs! Since Google´s result are pretty much dancing around all the time, you just don´t know, if you´re getting a test result at the moment, or the real one (well, the most current one that is). They have so many searches each day, that it´s pretty easy to test most of the keywords each and every day (and even with a different panel!).
Well, there´s actually one thing a tricky SEO could do -> load up a specific search in an iFrame on a high-traffic site, and somehow let people automatically click one specific result, but that´s a little out there (although possible …)
So what about that bounce rate stuff you mentioned before?
I know the bounce-rate thing is even more hypothetical, and even harder to determine correctly (since a lot of sites don´t give you the possibility to come back to the previous site) + tricky SEOs could hold you artificially on the site, if it would be a bonus, that you don´t come back to the Google results. But there´s a lot of other things Google can track, for example if you clicked on one of the results, but a couple of minutes later click on the next result (so the user hasn´t found what he was looking for) – this could be a good indicator if a site should be ranking better, especially if a lot of people show this very same behaviour with the same search! Refined searches are also great to gather data, and mentioned in the patent I linked to earlier in this post.
So what does that all mean?
Optimize your snippets! People are testing hundreds of adcopys with AdWords, but when it comes to their snippet, they rely on an unattractive & keyword-stuffed title. Really try to get the maximum out of your snippet! It´s not just about getting to rank good, it´s also about getting clicked on!
And the second thing is not trying to rank for keywords you´re not “supposed” to rank. Focus on the right keywords, and get these searchers to convert – don´t waste your time on keywords, where people are mostly looking for something else, and are just wasting your precious bandwith.
So I know, it´s really out there, but I´m a strong believer, that this kinda stuff is happening at Google these days! How do I know? I just makes a lot of sense… well, at least to me
I´m looking forward to your comments!