Search-Engine Ranking Factor Extravaganza: The Cheat Sheet

Just in time for the summer solstice, two must-read guides to organic search-engine results have risen. The SEOmoz Search Engine Ranking Factors 2011* and Search Engine Land’s Periodic Table of SEO Ranking Factors (pictured, right) were released earlier this month. Together, these titans comprise a whole lot of data—the SEOmoz version is big enough to warrant its own intro video—and I’ll help break it down for you. The big lessons:

  1. Don’t confuse correlation with causation. As Rand Fishkin pointed out, his SEOmoz survey illustrates the common factors that industry experts associate with high rankings, not necessarily the components of Google’s algorithm. In other words (using his example), just because a large proportion of high-ranking pages have a large number of internal links doesn’t mean that Google cares that you have a lot of internal links.
  2. Users and usability. In a landslide, the 132 experts surveyed by SEOmoz predicted (by general consensus) the following factors to increase in future Google organic search rankings: a) analysis of a site’s/page’s perceived value to users; b) social signals at a page/domain level; c) usage data (CTR from results pages); d) content readability/usability/design [emphasis added].Do you see a trend here? It’s all about the users. Sure, Google has said as much before, but I think it’s telling the way that the SEO gurus expect value, usability and relevance to have more impact in tomorrow’s results pages. After all, if people aren’t getting the best experience out of their searches (see item c. “usage data,” as also justified by b. “social signals”), then Google doesn’t win. And in the end, dominating the search market is a zero-sum game.
  3. Social … duhhh! As Charlie Sheen, Lady Gaga, and Justin Bieber all know, your social Web presence can make you big in all the engines. As search-engine/search-marketing authority Danny Sullivan noted in reference to his SEO periodic table, social activity’s power on search rankings is growing. Along with the SEOmoz survey respondents who predicted big things for social, Sullivan agrees: “…you want a good social reputation in a variety of networks. You want to be shared on a variety of networks. Those are among the most important general social goals you can go after.”
  4. SEO need not be a dirty word. Sullivan’s table intro also made an impassioned case for SEO as a legitimate marketing practice that is even encouraged by search engines themselves. “SEO is not a crime, a harmful act nor something that only ‘bad’ people do, despite what you may have seen on The Good Wife,” he wrote. He also talked about the importance of not getting caught up in debating the relative merits of, say, the 188th and 189th factors in the more than 200 that constitute Google’s algorithm (or even trying to guess what those particular factors are). On a related note, Fishkin had similar disclaimers about causation and methodology in the SEOmoz survey intro, reinforcing the message behind each of the publications: Don’t freak out over what we guess the algorithmic minutiae to be, but instead learn a thing or two by studying the general factors for success.
  5. I concur.


*My colleague Kurt Krejny was one of the 132 contributors and is quoted in several sections.

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  • Kurt says:

    Great recap Paul! was another big topic at the SMX Advanced conference last week. It’ll be interesting to see the adoption rates and affects on rankings.

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