Insight into company’s experiment to uncover just what is driving Google rankings

To identify these contributing factors, Searchmetrics designed a purpose-built integrated suite of search analytics tools that access the largest and freshest databases of 100 million keywords and 75 million domains.

EARLIER THIS YEAR, we undertook a project to analyse 10,000 hand-picked top keywords, 300,000 domains and several million backlinks, shares and tweets to see what is driving Google rankings. Since its inception, Google has always tended to release new features, signals and filters for Google.com (and to some extent Google. co.uk) first. International search markets follow suit after a number of months, leading some SEOs to assume outdated tactics still work in these markets.

To show how challenging the international search game has become, we conducted a thorough analysis of Germany’s Google.de rankings - one of Europe’s toughest SEO markets.

We believe these factors to be Google (intemational)-specific and that smart SEOs will see them as the minimum threshold of international SEO in 2012 and beyond. Many of the factors that we suspected, based on recent Google updates, do impact rankings but there are some surprising results.

In order to determine the relationship between various factors and rankings, we computed Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient for each of the 16 factors, as displayed in Figure 1. Factors ranged from social (Facebook shares, Facebook likes, and Tweets) to links (number of links, percentage of backlinks rel=no follow, percentage of backlinks with a stop word, and backlink count) to keywords (keyword in domain name, keyword in URL, keyword in description, keyword in title) to position of keyword in tide to AdSense, image count and word count.

The x-axis represents the size of the correlation coefficient; the longer the bar, the higher the correlation. Higher figures on the x-axis (e.g. Facebook shares) have a positive correlation (the more the better) while lower numbers (e.g. the length of the linktexts) have a negative correlation. We can see that the biggest correlation exists between Facebook shares whilst the lowest correlation occurs with the position of the keyword in the tide. With negative figures, we see the correlation between the length of the title in characters and the amount of text on the page: the less, the better the ranking.

So, what can we aggregate from this information? Here is what we see as the most important findings.

1. Social has arrived in international markets

Social networking site activity correlates very well with good rankings, just like they have been doing in the US for the past year. The various Facebook metrics have the highest values; shares seem to have the strongest connection - even higher than the aggregate value of shares, likes and comments. Twitter is much lower correlated, but is still the sixth most powerful metric in our analysis behind Facebook and the number of backlinks. Note to those interested in Google Plus: Not enough data was available to do any meaningful analysis. Although Facebook shares, tweets, etc, are not necessarily definitively ranking factors, it appears that as a sort of user feedback, they are very important and they should take part in SEO strategy.

We believe knowing this information is crucial. The likes, tweets and posts from Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are
new, but might already be very important ranking factors for search engines. With last year’s Google Freshness and Panda updates, companies learnt quickly that content was 'king’. The more quality, relevant content you provide, the more it will drive search engine results. Customers sharing and liking your content seem to improve results as well - without significant investment on your part, besides time and knowledge about what your users really like about you and your competitors.

2. Ads could be a handicap

In January 2012, Google publicly stated that too many commercials above the fold can have a negative impact on a site’s ranking, and the negative correlation between ad integrations and good rankings could be evidence of that. Interestingly enough, this negative correlation only persists for AdSense ads. Pages with ads from other networks, such as CJ and local powerhouses Affilinet and Zanox, did not have a negative correlation. In addition, these results only seem to be relevant for the top ten rankings, below which we find many more AdSense implementations ranking well.

3. Backlinks are still a key factor for SEO, but with caveats
Backlinks are still very important for rankings, but must vary between keyword links, no follow links, and ‘organic’ links with stopwords (e.g. ‘as’, ‘the’) in them. Links from reputable sites pointing to yours will always be an important indicator to both search engines and to visitors, of the value of your site.

4. If you’re a well-known brand, lighten up on the keywords

Search and social heighten the importance of a well-recognised and trusted brand name. Somewhat unexpectedly, for these brands there were slightly negative correlations with having a keyword in the title and in the content, which perhaps can be explained by the good ranking of brand names on long-tail keywords. Apparently, some of the classic ranking factors such as having keywords in the title and more keywords in the content don't apply to well-known brands. Of course, if you are building your brand, by all means continue to rely on keywords in both areas, but always in a way that is not forced or unreadable.

5. Keywords in domains remain a huge factor

Although Google has often said that keyword domains today are not as important as in the past, we found many domains in top positions that have keywords in them.

Of course, your results will vary; our analysis is a very broad assessment of the effect of complicated, unknown algorithms across hundreds of thousands of domains in one country. In order to make the data useful for any particular domain or client, the reader will need to determine which of the elements apply to their particular sites and markets for your affiliate gaming business.
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