Recently SEOmoz.org released their 2011 Search Engine Ranking Factors report. The report takes into account the opinions of 132 SEO experts along with a correlation analysis of more than 10,000 keyword search results in Google. There is a wealth of information in the report and it is a must-read for anyone interested in SEO. The results brought to light three key themes that should be major areas of focus for SEO in 2011 and beyond:
Google has been favoring brands more and more in recent years and SEOmoz's data only confirms this trend. A few years ago, an exact match domain name and a few pages of low quality content were enough to rank #1 for a relatively competitive keyword. Now, it's getting harder and harder to rank with these methods - and that's the way it should be. Google realizes that searchers don't want to visit sites that are there just to capitalize on search traffic and earn revenue through Adsense. Searchers want to find trusted sources and high quality websites that deliver the content they are searching for. That's why as Google's algorithms get more and more sophisticated they are able to favor established brands and high authority websites by using brand signals in addition to keyword signals.
What to Do:
The "like" is the new link. While Google still bases a large portion of its algorithm on link metrics including number of inbound links, authority of inbound links, and uniqueness of inbound linking sites, social media signals are starting to become more and more important for ranking. A lot of this is a second order affect. The more appealing websites and brands are going to draw more interest in social media, they'll be shared more across friend circles, generate more likes on Facebook and that will naturally result in more links and stronger brand signals. But there are also first order effects starting to creep into Google's algorithm. An SEOmoz experiment late last year proved that SEOs should be paying more attention to Twitter in 2011. Google has acknowledged that it does use social signals in its ranking algorithm. Those signals are likely to become more and more important as time goes on.
What to Do:
This one is more about the second order effects of having a great website, strong usability, and useful relevant content. There was some talk in the SEOmoz survey of Google factoring in usage data like Click Through Rate from search engine results, bounce rate from websites, and other measures of user engagement. Others in the industry believe Google does not use these metrics outright. Regardless of what side of the fence you come down on (and no one has access to Google's full algorithm), the fact remains that building websites people want to click through to, stay on, and visit again and again is a pretty good goal to aspire to regardless of the search ramifications. This also ties into building better brand signals. The more your brand and website resonate with users, the more Google's algorithms are going to naturally pick up these signals.
What to Do:
Google has more than 200 factors in its algorithm and these are just a few of the items to look at when building an organic search campaign. But by implementing these suggestions, you'll be building better websites and stronger brands, while also strengthening your site's standing in Google.
Evan Lagasse, Consultant, eBoost Consulting
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