Remember the “good old days” when the fastest way to get ranked at the top of the search heap was to have more of your keywords stuffed into your text and meta tags than your competitors did? Thankfully, times have changed. Today, higher rankings are made possible by authoritative back links, credible branding and actionable content. But what you may not realize is that today’s search engines can analyze much more than you might expect.
In fact, Google has been awarded thousands of patents in order to make its ad networks, cloud products and its flagship search engine more intuitive and efficient. Combine this with other search technologies like Bing billing itself as a “decision engine” and you’ll see that search engines are getting smarter all the time. And while none of them are revealing exactly what analytics data they’re using to judge who ranks where, here are some of the little-known factors they use to analyze your pages and potentially affect your ranking.
What do people do once they land on your page? Do they share it on Twitter or Facebook? Can they easily print the page out or bookmark it for future reading? How many people came to your site by way of a link in their email or RSS feed? You already know that search engines are factoring in Twitter hashtags and Facebook likes, while previous tactics like exact-match domains are starting to become less and less of a ranking indicator. In fact, sharing something on Facebook gets more SEO momentum than simply liking it.
Language and Keyword Density
Keeping your keyword density at or below a certain percentage seems to be a commandment written in stone for some marketers. But it’s more about the correlation between how search engines see language used on your page, and how that relates to other pages on your site. Diversify your content, interlink your posts where possible, and give the search engine the whole spread of a topic: the big picture rather than small, intermittent “bites”. This in turn makes your page more relevant, and gives it a higher quality score.
Brand and Association
Are you building a noticeable brand, or are you associated with one? Trends have shown that Google tends to prefer sites that have the ability to quickly connect searchers to what they want (as is the point of a search engine in the first place). Shoes? Zappos. Recipes? Food Network. These types of “entities” can be tied together with related search engine products, such as reviews, places, and videos. Over time, this could easily mean that the so-called “level playing field” that the Internet has been famous for – is disappearing.
Pages and Time on Site
You can often gauge how well a site is doing by how many pages each visitor browses, and how long they spend on the site. In fact, you can use click-tracking tools like CrazyEgg’s ScrollMap to see how far down an article people are reading before they click elsewhere. A low number of pages per visit or time on site could mean that either people aren’t finding what they’re looking for on your site, or your content isn’t hitting the mark. Ask yourself – “What do I want them to do at the end of the page?” Keep reading related articles? Share with friends on social networks? Search for coupons or deals in their local area?
This doesn’t affect your ranking as much as it once did, since Google and other search engines no longer focus solely on an IP address to determine where your target market is coming from. But it still may play a role in other indicators, such as how quickly your site loads (which DOES affect ranking). You can help point Google in the right direction by using Webmaster Tools and geographical indicators such as a listing with your address and phone number in Google Places. Obviously, this information is relevant only if you have a non-country TLD, like .com, .net or .org rather than .co.uk or com.au.
It’s said that Google uses over 200 different algorithms to judge how a site should be ranked. What other social behaviors or technical factors do you believe have an impact on your site? Share them below in the comments: