Each year, in the SEO industry, there seems to be at least one ranking study that attempts to classify the most important factors for performing well in search engines; specifically, Google.
These studies have been a helpful guide for those just starting out in SEO and a validation point for those who have been optimizing websites for a decade (or more). These studies also help SEOs evaluate the changing landscape of the search engine results and the factors (as best as we know them) feeding the ranking algorithm. They are also usually conducted on a larger scale with data set or polling that is not typically available to most but available to companies like Moz.
SEMRush 2017 Ranking Factors Study
This year, SEMRush stepped up to the challenge with their 2017 Ranking Factors Study. Some of the typical factors in most studies were evalated (links, content, keywords, HTTPS); however, their version deviated from studies in years past by also including Direct website visits and on-site user behavior metrics (time on site, pages per sessions, and bounce rate).
User behavior metrics and traffic as ranking factors? This certainly raises a few eyebrows.
(obligatory Rock reference of 2017)
Google has said that the three top factors are links, content, and RankBrain. Though these are very broad factors with numerous sub-factor, we take what we can get from Google. Especially considering that all future algorithm updates will be named “Fred”.
The big questions.
Why are user behavior metrics and traffic listed as ranking factors in the study?
What does it mean for SEOs?
A simple abbreviation E.A.T., meaning Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
Google introduced this to us in the 2015 Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. Basically, E.A.T. boils down to a method of evaluating if a site is high quality based on:
- How well it is maintained
- The functionality and experience to users
- The value content brings to the user (both primary and supporting content)
- The reputation of the website
Simplified even further:
EAT is a far superior acronym than TECL, or LECT, or (even worse) LCET; however, these four evaluation points are the basic infrastructure of what SEOs do day-in and day-out. Links, content and technical have been necessary since Google’s invention but experience further evolved the ranking algorithm to apply a stronger human factor. Ranking well no longer means you could appease only the bots but you now need to more strongly consider the human visitors to your website as well.
What it means.
Direct traffic and user behavior metrics can be used to evaluate a site for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. Site owners can pass this evaluation by creating an on-site experience that repeatedly attracts users (not just through search) and offers the value to have them stay.
Meaning, in order to be successful in 2017, an integrated approach to site optimization between SEO, other digital stakeholders, and subject matter experts must occur. Combining the subject matter knowledge and site experience will meet the objectives of EAT.
The SEMRush Ranking Factors Study made it fairly clear that keywords are not the cornerstone to your success in SEO for 2017. But, don’t lose sight of them as they still need to appear to show the search engines you can convey expertise, authority, and trust via your website.
Just how do you do that?
Well, for starters, here is a list of 30 SEO best practices for B2B organizations to work on in 2017.
And, start thinking outside of the box. Start showing you are an expert in your content and ditch the marketing spin. Start showing you are an authority in your industry by building a brand through digital PR and relationships through social. Start showing you are trustworthy by creating a site experience that users want to return to and stay.