Weighting the Clusters of Ranking Factors in Google’s Algorithm

By | January 26, 2020


Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition
of Whiteboard Friday. This week I’m going to talk a little bit about the ranking factors
survey that we did this year and specifically some of the results from that. One of my favorite questions that we ask in
our ranking factors survey, which happens every two years and goes out to a number of
SEO experts. This year, 128 SEO experts responded, sort of folks who were hand chosen by us as
being very, very knowledgeable in the field. We asked them, based on these sort of thematic
clusters of ranking elements, things like domain level link authority versus page level
keyword agnostic features, weight them for us. You know, give a percentage that you would
assign if you were giving an overall assessment of the importance of this factor in Google’s
ranking algorithm. So this is opinion data. This is not fact.
This is not actually what Google’s using. This is merely the aggregated collective opinions
of a lot of smart people who study this field pretty well. This week what I want to do is
run through what these elements are, the scores that people gave them, and then some takeaways,
and I even have an exercise for you all at home or at the office as the case may be. So interestingly, the largest portion that
was given credit by the SEOs who answered this question was domain-level link authority.
This is sort of the classic thing we think of in the Moz scoring system as domain authority,
DA. They said 20.94%, which is fairly substantive. It was the largest one. Just underneath that, page-level link features,
meaning external links, how many, how high-quality, where are they coming from, those kinds of
things for ranking a specific page. Then they went to page-level keyword and content
features. This isn’t just raw keyword usage, keyword in the title tag, how many times you
repeat on the page; this is also content features like if they think Google is using topic modeling
algorithms or semantic analysis models, those types of things. That would also fit into
here. That was given about 15%, 14.94%. At 9.8%, then they all kind of get pretty
small. Everything between here and here is between 5% and 10%. A bunch of features in
there, like page-level keyword agnostic features. So this might be like how much content is
in there, to what degree Google might be analyzing the quality of the content, are there images
on the page, stuff like this. “How fast does the page load” could go in there. Domain level brand features. Does this domain
or the brand name associated with the website get mentioned a lot on the Internet? Does
the domain itself get, for example, mentioned around the Web, lots of people writing about
it and saying, “Moz.com, blah, blah, blah.” User usage and traffic or query data. This
one’s particularly fascinating, got an 8.06%, which is smaller but still sizeable. The interesting
thing about this is I think this is something that’s been on the rise. In years past, it
had always been under 5%. So it’s growing. This is things like: Are there lots of people
visiting your website? Are people searching for your domain name, for your pages, for
your brand name? How are people using the site? Do you have a high bounce rate or a
lot of engagement on the site? All that kind of stuff. Social metrics, Twitter, Facebook, Google+,
etc., domain-level keyword usage, meaning things like if I’m trying to rank for blue
shoes, do I have blue shoes in the domain name, like blueshoes.com or blue-shoes.com.
This is one that’s been declining. Then domain-level keyword agnostic features.
This would be things like: What’s the length of the domain name registration,
or how long is the domain name? What’s the domain name extension? Other features like
that, that aren’t related to the keywords, but are related to the domain. So, from this picture I think there’s really
some interesting takeaways, and I wanted to walk through a few of those that I’ve seen.
Hopefully, it’s actually helpful to understand the thematic clusters themselves. Number one: What we’re seeing year after year
after year is complexity increasing. This picture has never gotten simpler any two years
in a row that we’ve done this study. It’s never that one factor, you know, used to be
smaller and now it’s kind of dominant and it’s just one thing. Years ago, I bet if we
were to run this survey in 2001, it’d be like page rank, Pac-Man, everything else, little
tiny chunk of Pac-Man’s mouth. Number two: Links are still a big deal. Look
here, right? I mean what we’re essentially seeing in this portion here is domain-level
link authority and page-level link features, all of them. You could sort of think of this
as maybe page authority being a proxy for this and domain authority being a proxy for
this. That’s still a good 40% of how SEOs are perceiving Google’s algorithm. So links
being a big important portion, but not the overwhelming portion. It has almost always been the case in years
past that the link features, when combined, were 50%. So we’re seeing that they’re a big
deal both in the page and domain level, just not as big or as overwhelming as they used
to be, and I think this is reflected in people’s attitudes towards link acquisition, which
is, “Hey, that’s still a really important practice. That’s still something I’m looking
forward to and trying to accomplish.” Number three: Brand-related and brand-driven
metrics are on the rise. Take a look. Domain level brand features and user usage or traffic
query data, this is comprising a percentage that actually in sum exceeds page-level keyword
content and features. This is really kind of the branding world happening right here.
So if you’re not building a brand on the Web, that could be seriously hurting your SEO,
maybe to the same degree that not doing on-page optimization is. Actually, that would be a
conclusion that I personally would agree with as well. Number four: Social is still perceived to
have a minor impact despite some metrics to the contrary. So, social you can see up here
at 7.24%, which is reasonably small. It’s the third-smallest factor that was on there.
And yet, when we look at how do social metrics correlate with things that rank highly versus
things that rank poorly, we’re seeing very high numbers, numbers that in many cases exceed
or equal the link metrics that we look at. So here at Moz we kind of look at those and
we go, “Well, obviously correlation does not imply causation.” It could be the case that
there are other things Google’s measuring that just happen to perform well and happen
to correlate quite nicely with social metrics, like +1s and shares and tweets and those kinds
of things. But certainly it’s surprising to us to see
such a high correlation and such a low perception. My guess is, if I had to take a guess, what
I’d say is that SEOs have a very hard time connecting these directly. Essentially, you
go and you see a page that’s ranking number nine, and you think, “Hey, let me try to get
a bunch of tweets and shares and +1s, and I’m going to acquire those in some fashion.
Still ranking number nine. I don’t think social does all that much.” Versus, you go out and
get links, and you can see the page kind of rising in the search results. You get good
links from good places, from authoritative sites and many of them. Boom, boom, boom,
boom. “I look like I’m rising; links are it.” I think what might be being missed there is
that the content of the page, the quality of the page and the quality of the domain
and the brand and the amplification that it can achieve from social is an integral part.
I don’t know exactly how Google’s measuring that, and I’m not going to speculate on what
they are or aren’t doing. The only thing they’ve told us specifically is that we are not exclusively
using just +1s precisely to increase rankings unless it’s personalized results, in which
case maybe we are. To me, that kind of hyper specificity says there’s a bigger secret story
hiding behind the more complex things that they are not saying they aren’t doing. Number five, the last one: Keyword-based domain
names, which I know have been kind of a darling of the SEO world (or historically a darling
of the SEO world) and particularly of the affiliate marketing worlds for a long time,
continue to shrink. You can see that in the correlation data. You can see it in the performance
data. You can see it in the MozCast data set, which monitors sort of what appears in Google
and doesn’t. Our experience reinforces that. So remember
Moz switched from the domain name SEOmoz, which had the keyword SEO right in there,
to the Moz domain name not very long ago, and we did see kind of a rankings dive for
a little while. Now almost all of those numbers are right back up where they were. So I think
that’s (a) a successful domain shift, and I give huge credit to folks like Ruth Burr
and Cyrus Shepard who worked so hard and so long on making that happen, Casey Henry too.
But I think there’s also a story to be told there that having SEO in the domain name might
not have been the source of as many rankings for SEO-related terms as we may have perceived
it to be. I think that’s fascinating as well. My recommendation, my suggestion to all of
you, if you get the chance, try this. Go grab your SEO team or your SEO colleagues, buddies,
friends in the field. Sit down in a room with a whiteboard or with some pen and paper. Don’t
take a laptop in. Don’t use your phones. List out these features and go do this yourself.
Go try making these percentages for what you think the algorithm actually looks like, what
your team thinks the algorithm looks like, and then compare. What is it that’s the difference
between kind of the aggregate of these numbers and the perception that you have personally
or you have as a team? I think that can be a wonderful exercise.
It can really open up a great dialogue about why these things are happening. I think it’s
some fun homework if you get a chance over the next week. Until then, see you next week. Take care.

10 thoughts on “Weighting the Clusters of Ranking Factors in Google’s Algorithm

  1. Steve Sharp Post author

    Over the last year I have gotten away from link building through comment and forum posting using keyword anchor text. I've been trying to build links through content and social sharing. It's not as easy as the days I could use article syndication, using software or having a team build links. Someone please give me some solid link building methods that will not jeopardize a clients site. I got away from black hat, grey hat methods and strictly doing white hat these days. No fluff just the facts.

    Reply
  2. Steve Sharp Post author

    Got it thanks. It was a good article. I'll need to go through it again and look over the comments. Most of it looks like link baiting and I guess I'm looking for something not as involved but that's where we are now. Definitely getting me to think in other terms. Thanks

    Reply
  3. Kenneth von Rauch Post author

    yeah, right, Spammy links work in many cases … as we al know .:)

    Reply
  4. Cakdian Post author

    Very informative video
    Permit to download this video
    Thank You Rand

    Reply
  5. Joe Seaborne Post author

    Another good video, Exactly what I was trying to get some answers for. 

    Reply
  6. Miguel Kouam Post author

    I am beating very authoritative sites DA > 80 with SEO in the domain name, I also have links to the site. I think it always depends on your vision with the site.

    Reply

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