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Search Engine rankings – the hard truth

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Wendy Schollum
08-Aug-2012
How to advice, Search Engine Marketing

It is a common misconception of many new site owners that simply launching a new website will see their company magically ranking on page one of any Search Engine Results Page (SERP).

Even though their chosen web developer/designer may have specified that Search Engine Marketing is something they may need to evaluate after their new site has gone live, they still assume that they are getting a top search engine rank as part of the cost of the site build.

In actuality, the Search Engine Optomisation (SEO) techniques your web designer/developer will implement as part of your website build influences a meager 26% (even less, if you choose to write your own website copy) of the techniques required to positively influence your search engine ranking.

Gone are the days when developers could "stuff" a new site with a few keywords and wait for the Search Engines to start referring valuable traffic.

Nowadays, a good search engine ranking takes more than clever coding techniques; it requires expertise, a monthly budget and an understanding that attaining and maintaining a good search engine rank is an ongoing battle in this very competitive market.

You have to invest (on an ongoing basis) in off-page SEM techniques, as well as in-page SEO, in order to gain a good search engine ranking.

 


What influences your search engine rank?

Every two years, SEOmoz releases a Search Engine Ranking Factors report which is designed to share the different elements that search engine algorithms use to determine a site’s search engine ranking – based on the opinions of industry experts (remember, to keep us all honest, Search Engines don’t release the specifics of their algorithms, so this is educated industry speculation only, as opposed to hard facts).

In brief, the report revealed that on-page (the things your developer can control) factors make up just 26% of the formula that “page one” search engine rank websites use to attain and maintain their ranking.

Meanwhile, 56% of the formula is based on off-page techniques, such as getting other websites that have more “search engine authority” (e.g. international directories, government websites, etc) to link to your site, social media links, your brand popularity online (e.g. the search volume for your brand name), etc.

 


What you need to do to rank better in Search Engines...

The following is a breakdown of the highest-ranking factors (from the SEOmoz report and PR 20/20), and the overall importance each has on a site’s ability to rank on a Search Engine Result Page (SERP), according to international industry experts.

The order of the bullets contained in each section is based on importance.

 

Inbound Links — 42% of SERP Impact

  • Number of unique websites that link to a site or page, that are considered important by search engines (e.g. referring sites have a high PageRank or mozRank).
    This is the highest-ranking factor when it comes to a website’s ability to rank for a search query. So, you need to actively invest in an ongoing inward link-building campaign for your website to rank well.
  • Number of unique inbound links that contain relevant keywords as the anchor text.
    This means ensuring that anyone who does link to your site uses the keywords you want to rank well under in the link text to your site (e.g. rather than the link just saying www.xplore.net it should be keyword rich: Xplore –New Zealand based web agency).
  • Distance (how many links removed) the site is from a “trusted site”, such as a government (.govt.nz) or university (.ac.nz) site.Quantity of unique web pages (not to be confused with websites) linking to a site or a page.
  • Topical relevance of a web page linking to a site or page (e.g. do the sites that link to each other offer relevant information – this rewards thoughtful linking rather than links from completely unrelated sites).

 

Keyword Usage — 26% of SERP Impact

These are in-page SEO factors that your web developer should be able to assist you with:

  • Keywords are present in the domain and subdomain of a website.
    This is why securing a good domain name for your website (preferably using your business name) is still so important.
  • Order of keywords used first in the domain or subdomain (e.g. www.keywordABC.co.nz will rank better than www.ABCkeyword.co.nz).
  • Page Title - The earlier that the keyword is used in the page title, the better.
  • Internal Link Anchor Text - Keyword is used in the anchor text of internal links (e.g. the text links on your web pages to other pages on your site use relevant keywords, as opposed to generic phrases such as “click here”, etc).
  • URL - Keyword is in the page URL (e.g. example.com/keyword).
  • Main Page Headings (H1 tags) - Keyword appears first within the H1 tag.
    This is why we recommend against having page titles such as “Welcome to…” make the most important keyword the first word in your title.
  • External Anchor Text - Keyword is in the anchor text of external links (e.g. text links to other websites) on the page.
  • Content - Keyword appears in the “content” area of a web page, within the first 100 words.
  • Related Terms - The page includes terms related to the main keyword (e.g. if the keyword is “camera”, then the related terms may be “lens,” “photo,” etc.).
  • Image Alt Text - Keyword included in image alt text tags (this is why you should include alt text on all images added to your website, if you use a content manager to update your website).
  • Sub Headings (H2 tags) - Keyword present in sub headings (H2 tags); H3 tags are less significant/important.
  • First Word Body Text - Keyword appears as the first word in the body section of the page. Getting to the point in your website copy (e.g. using your keyword as early as possible in your copy) will help your search engine ranking.
  • Keyword density (number of times a word appears on a page) – This is still a factor, but less important than it once was. However, be important not to overuse a keyword in your website copy or some search engines may see this as “keyword stuffing” and blacklist your website.

 

Social Media Links — 7% of SERP Impact

  • Facebook shares of a page.
    Note: the SEOmoz’s primary correlation research found Facebook shares, activity, comments and likes are the four highest social correlations to search engine rankings, with Tweets being fifth. 
  • The SEO experts agree that Twitter does impact on search results (there was some earlier speculation that this was not the case). Specifically, the authority of a user tweeting links and the quantity of tweets to a page.
  • Authority of the user who is sharing the links.
  • Votes and comments about a site on social bookmarking sites (e.g. Digg, Reddit, etc).
  • Authority and quantity of links shared on Google +

 

Brand Popularity — 7% of SERP Impact

Brand popularity also plays a significant role in search engine rankings. According to the industry experts, the most important factors are:

  • Search volume for a brand name.
  • Quantity of brand mentions on websites and social sites.
  • Volume of visits to brand sites based on the data collected by search engine browser tool bars, such as Google Toolbar.
  • Citations for the domain in Wikipedia or similar.
  • Claimed Google Places / maps / profile pages.
  • Active accounts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

Other Important Factors

  • Unique, fresh content across the entire site. Blogs are good since site owners can post every day or week.
  • Bounce rate as tracked by the search engines. This refers to visitors that go to a site and then use the back button to return to the SERP - the lower the bounce rate, the better (a figure under 30% is the ideal).
  • Click through rate to your site on SERPs for relevant keyword searches.
  • Number of error pages. This should be as close to zero as possible.
  • Length of time you’ve owned a domain name — the longer, the better.
  • Site page load time. Faster sites will achieve higher rankings. Cheap hosting has a cost.

 

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