What Were the Top Search Ranking Factors in 2016?

Dec 15, 2016 • By • 247 Views

Recently, I wrote an article that was published right here on ArticlesBase about SEO factors that are going to be important for ranking in the year 2017. Naturally, I focused a lot on content density, Schema markup and mobile-friendliness. All experts agree that those will become very strong SEO signals in the coming months and that they will make or break your ability to sit on top of the SERPs.

Our assumptions were recently confirmed by Searchmetrics who have released their highly anticipated study about search ranking factors in 2016. SEO trend predictions are not something that we pull out of a hat – they are based on current trends and Google’s own announcements.

Searchmetrics’ report is detailed and long – 63 pages in total. If you have time to study it I would definitely recommend it. However, if you’re only interested in highlights that support our SEO predictions for 2017, here they are!

-   Content still on an upward trajectory

-   Speed and other technical factors extremely important

-   Social signals being looked at more

-   Backlinking taking the back seat

Content, Content, Content

Of course, not just any content – dense, relevant content is one of the strongest SEO ranking factors in 2016. Searchmetrics has developed a brand new ranking factor this year to be able to rank content properly and it’s called content relevance. What it does is it measures how a given piece of content correlates to what the user was searching for and scores it on a scale from 0 – 100. High position in the SERPs usually goes to pages that score close to 100 on that scale.

This ties in well with my the prediction that content density will be a very important signal in 2017 – while word count still ‘counts’ (you’ll be hard pressed to find any top result in Searchmetrics’ report that is under 1,000 words) it doesn’t count if the content is fluff. Content that answers a wide array of supporting questions is paramount for ranking success.

Keywords – Not So Much

It’s no surprise to see that deliberate keyword usage is not an overwhelming ranking factor – this has been obvious for some time now. Their importance is secondary, at best – this report shows that only about 53% of queries in the top 20 are using the keyword in the title tag. Takeaway – don’t sweat it. If you’re writing good, dense content, keywords flow naturally. Actually, you’ll be using a lot of synonyms and supporting phrases that will mean a lot more to Google than unnaturally stuffing keywords in.

Stuff all you want - it's not going to help!

User Signals Are Very Important

Here were talking about things like click-through-rate, bounce, time on site, and so on. These are vitally important because they are the way the user is communicating with Google. All this ties in great with one of the SEO predictions for 2017 that’s of the technical nature. Remember how I said that accelerated mobile pages will become the norm. These here are why – your bounce rate is going to go through the roof (and your click-through rate will go down) if your page is loading slowly or is taking its damn time to show all the elements.

User signals are becoming a leading ranking factor.

These are the numbers for 2016:

-   The average CTR for pages on positions 1-3 is 36%.

-   First page results average bounce rate is 46%.

-   Top 10 URL time on site is 190 seconds.

Social Signals

While Google is keeping its mouth shut about how exactly social signals influence ranking, it’s apparent that they do. The highest weighted social signal is that from Facebook – this is understandable as it’s the largest social network out there.

Sites with a lot of social signals (lots of likes, shares, mentions, tweets, whatever) are benefiting from them in terms of ranking. Actually, it’s difficult to find someone sitting on page 1 of the SERPS without any social signals. It’s not impossible, but it is difficult.

It’s interesting to note that positions 1 and 2 benefit the most from Google + signals but the importance of that signal diminishes as we go lower on page 1. There, the most important signals are those of Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Social signals will boost your ranking 9 times out of 10


Backlinks Taking the Back Seat

Backlinks are slowly getting pushed aside in favor of other ranking factors. It’s true that they were once the most important factor but they are too easily manipulated to hold that position now. Searchmetric report shows that it’s actually possible to get a high ranking position in certain niches without having any quality backlinks at all! SEOs, it’s time to find other things to focus on!

Final Word

As you can see from the information released by Searchmetric, it’s pretty evident that SEO predictions for 2017 (given by many reputable experts) are spot on. The trend pointing to them is showing very clearly.

It’s interesting to note that this is the last time that Searchmetric will be putting out a general (averaged) report that crunches data sets from numerous industries. This is because the variations from industry to industry are very significant. Let’s take the keyword example – overall, 56% if top ranking pages are shown to include a keyword in the title tag. That’s on average. However, in the finance industry that percentage is not higher than 30%.

Searchmetric will be releasing industry-specific data sets in spring of 2017. It’s going to be interesting to see how adaptive SEO is going to have to become when dealing with individual industries.

About the Author

Ivan Sršen Ivan Sršen

I got introduced to digital marketing at my first job, which was all about SEO. Being a delicate little creative rosebud, I found it...

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