New Study Reveals Top Google Ranking Factors

Posted on

  • email
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • share this

share this

The volume of Facebook and Twitter shares that a Web page generates is closely correlated to how high it ranks in Google searches, while too many ads on a page are likely to have a negative effect on search visibility. So says a new study from search and social analytics company Searchmetrics.

The research also finds that top brand websites appear to have a natural advantage for ranking highly in searches. Searchmetrics analyzed search results from Google for 10,000 popular keywords and 300,000 websites in order to pick out the issues that correlate with a high Google ranking. The correlations were calculated using Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient, in which a correlation of +1 indicated a perfect positive correlation and -1 indicated a perfect negative correlation.

The five key findings of the study are highlighted below:

Social media’s effect on search
Social signals from Facebook and Twitter now correlate very strongly with good rankings in Google’s index. The number of Facebook Shares that a Web page has received appears to have the strongest association (a correlation of 0.37). Twitter is far behind Facebook but is still the sixth strongest factor on Searchmetrics’ list of Google ranking factors with a correlation of 0.25.

Top brands have a ranking advantage
Despite the perception of search as a level playing field, the study found that top brand websites enjoy a ranking advantage. Some of the main factors that are commonly believed to help Web pages rank well, such as the quantity of text on a Web page and having keywords in headlines and titles, have no effect in the case of large, well-known brands.

“Surprisingly, the data show a negative correlation between these factors and rankings – contradicting traditional SEO theory,” explains Marcus Tober, Searchmetrics’ CTO. “So, not having keywords in headlines or having less text on a page seems to be associated with sites that rank higher.

“When we looked deeper at the top 30 results we found that this pattern really starts to emerge with highly ranked pages. And when we looked at sites that are in the top position on page one of Google – the natural position occupied by brands – this is where the negative correlation is strongest. This indicates that strong brands rank highly even without perfectly conforming to common SEO practice.”

Too much advertising hurts rankings
Too many and/or excessively clumsy advertisements were presumed to be a factor in the Google Panda Update and its successors which have tried to lower the search visibility of poor quality results. The data in this study supports this assumption as all the analyzed advertisement factors returned a negative correlation (-0.04).

A deeper analysis revealed that this pattern was strongest when there was a high percentage of Google AdSense ads; rankings for pages with more AdSense ad blocks seem to drop sharply. This supports Google’s statements early in 2012, in which the company said that particularly prominent, distracting or above-the-fold ads could lead to ranking problems.

Quality of links is vital
The number of backlinks is still one of the most powerful factors in predicting Google rankings (with a correlation of +0.36). To get the most benefit, however, it appears a site needs to have a spread of links that looks natural – not like it was artificially created by SEO experts.

This means that a site should not simply have a large number of perfectly optimized links that include all the keywords it wants to be ranked for in the anchor text. It needs to have a proportion of ‘no follow’ links and links that contain ‘stopwords’ (such as ‘here’, ‘go’, ‘this’).

Keyword domains still attract top results
Contrary to reports, websites with keywords in the domain name such as still often top the rankings (correlation of +0.11). Although Google has repeatedly said that keyword domain sites will slowly weaken in power in searches, this does not yet seem to be the case.

“We collated the data for our research in February and March 2012, meaning that it takes into account the impact of Google’s various Panda algorithm updates that have greatly changed the look of search results since early 2011,” explains Tober. “We conducted similar studies in the UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy and found very similar results across the board, which seem to show that these findings apply internationally.”


Login To Comment

Become a Member

Not already a part of our community? Sign up to participate in the discussion. It's free and quick.

Sign Up


Bob Mc Millen 06-08-2012 3:33 PM

Very helpful article that makes lots of sense. The graph is especially helpful--thanks!

Bob Mc Millen  CEO

BarryD 06-08-2012 3:44 PM

If you don't.line the results of the current rules,one way to get better is CHANGE THE RULES1

Tom Mack 06-08-2012 7:46 PM

Very good information . . .

MitchC 06-09-2012 12:22 AM

What happened to the effect of google+ and YouTube?

Martin in Inverness 06-09-2012 6:48 AM

Some of these findings are not new to those of us in SEO. Back in late 2010 Google & Bing both said they look at social signals when ranking websites - so either you need to use social or encourage your visitors to share over social media. This is required either to keep up with competition or, if your competition are not doing it (well) then to gain competitive advantage.

On the brands, Google particularly have asserted for a while that brands matter to people therefore brands matter to search results. This is important for new brands entering the market because they need to build a brand as well as a keyword presence.

@MitchC - +1's are obviously a ranking factor. Not sure why they wouldn't appear in the study though. Not sure these have any effect in non-Google search engines, though I'm happy to be proved wrong. YouTube shares or links will fall in the 'external links' part of the study, so if you can get a presence on YouTube then do so. And if you're a local business, add those videos to your Maps listings.

VincentT 06-09-2012 10:02 AM

This article is full of $hit.

You can't base rankings on Facebook when everyone has their profiles on private. Doesn't make sense AT ALL.

Bill Scully 06-11-2012 9:00 AM

Facebook metrics are well correlated with higher rankings in other studies as well.(1)  But that's we can say- correlated, not the cause.  It's not uncommon for really good facebook sites to do all the other good things necessary for a great customer experience on the brands site.

(1) See SEOMOZ's article "Facebook + Twitter's Influence on Google's Search Rankings"  

MitchC 06-12-2012 5:13 PM

I believe this study is seriously flawed.  How can any leave out addressing video and google+1?  Do you really think google gives equal weight to facebook when it has its own social media platform?  Not to include YouTube in the study is like leaving out the the fourth leg of a chair.

Jocelyn Wing 06-13-2012 12:16 AM

I agree with MitchC. Why Youtube and Google + were not part of the ranking factors from this report?

It looks like the study was conducted to show that FB and Twitter are the main factors of Google ranking which in my opinion doesn't make sense at all.

I don't think Google will devalue their own business.

Graham Jones 06-13-2012 2:18 AM

This study is typical of many correlation studies - people find two things correlated and then suggest a causation. I remember a similar study a few years ago which found a statistically significant correlation between social media use and company profitability leading to the "conclusion" that social media activity was the cause of profits. But that is not the case. The reason for the profits was company culture and behaviours, which also lead to high levels of Facebook activity. In this study I suspect what we are really seeing is that the kinds of behaviours that lead to high rankings are the same behaviours as those which lead to lots of Facebook activity. Companies which do little social media activity also probably do little other online work to help their rankings. Ultimately, what this study probably demonstrates is that corporate attitude is what matters to rankings. With the right attitudes and internal behaviours companies do the right things, leading to high ranking. We need to stop focusing on whether keywords or Facebook or Google+ or YouTube or whatever affect ranking. What matters most to ranking is doing all of these things appropriately to the audience and to the topic and to do all these things appropriately depends upon corporate culture more than anything else. Get that right and the ranking will automatically follow.

AnthonyG 06-13-2012 7:35 PM

I find it very difficult to believe that having your keyword in the Title and H1 tags has no or even a negative SEO effect.

I write on, which very well may be considered a 'Top Brand', and have no problems ranking on page 1 of the SERP's for my keywords when using them in Title, H1, Description and within the Body of the article. I still use the same SEO methods I've used for over 10 years and see no reason to change tactics yet.

I do agree that social sharing is a much bigger signal lately and most likely will continue to exert even more influence over the SERP's going forward.

Jenny 06-14-2012 3:07 PM

I agree with Vincent.  I think basing rankings based on social sharing is just the wrong direction to go.  Quality shouldn't be determined by popularity. Plus I just hate it when people share fifity million things on facebook.   Way to go google - encourage people to just spam facebook.  

Website Quote 12-31-2012 12:28 PM

Jennifer I also agree with you and Vincent. I think over time Google will see the error of their ways and back away a bit from using social media so heavily as a metric.

Diego Gualdoni 01-02-2013 11:32 PM

This article is majestic. From one side it confirms a lot of what we knew about seo factors, but from the other side it reveals something unespected. The keywords in the title or in h1 are negative factors now? This is incredible.

Minneapolis Web Design 03-12-2013 8:00 AM

Well! Google just update new algorithm on Feb 2013. Most of SEOer got problem with ranking in this time of update. In my point of view, Google pay more attention to value content and quality back link. You may not need a lot of back link from high PR sites any more, but some good back link from relevant pages. (I think back link from social network site still be good for SEO)

Cna Training 05-28-2013 5:14 PM

I believe this study is seriously flawed.  How can any leave out addressing video and google+1?  Do you really think google gives equal weight to facebook when it has its own social media platform?

Hamza 06-26-2013 2:43 AM

i ljust love this article. it's just too much helpful.but I agree that it is hard to grow your social media following, but I have had much success using in the past"

Gehe hier 08-14-2013 2:46 AM

The tendency over the years has been very positive – and this year’s study confirms the trend that became evident as early as 2012: well positioned URLs have a high number of likes, shares, tweets and plus ones and specific URLs stand out in the top search results with a very high mass of social signals.

DanS 08-19-2013 9:29 AM

I had no idea that Facebook shares have so strong effects on rankings... great share..

Build My Gaming PC 03-05-2014 1:56 AM

This article is best in my personal opinion. The details are offered with intelligent thought and also consideration. It is rather very nicely written and intriguing. Thank you for delivering this kind of useful information.

Compuchenna - Uche 04-06-2014 7:13 AM

To be totally honest, I'd take much of that with a grain of salt. No one knows Google ranking factors, not even Googles employees. The only people that know are the owners of the company.

Dermaslim 05-29-2014 5:46 AM

ow and then I’ll stumble across a post like this and I’ll recall that there really are still interesting pages on the web

vinity soft inc. 03-19-2015 3:31 AM

I honestly enjoy fascinating content like this. This is a great post. The points are presented in a special fashion and also the material is very nicely written.

How to no no 03-24-2015 6:14 AM

The points are presented in a special fashion and also the material is very nicely written. I genuinely loved reading this.

Ed Protocol Review 05-06-2015 9:14 AM

I am continually hunting down useful data like this. This is precisely what I was searching for. A debt of gratitude is in order for imparting this awesome article.

Add to the discussion!

999 E Touhy Ave
Des Plaines, IL 60018

Toll Free: 1.800.817.1518
International: 1.773.628.2779
Fax: 1.773.272.0920