A new study analyzing one million Google search results found there is a very small correlation between title tag keyword optimization and search ranking, among other findings in the report.
The study, completed by Backlinko, examined multiple factors including content (length, number of images, quality, etc.), backlinks and site speed in order to gain insight into what it takes to rank on the first page of Google search results.
Backlinks remain an extremely important Google ranking factor as the study concluded that “the number of domains linking to a page correlated with rankings more than any other factor.”
The relationship between SEO tagging, keywords in title tags in particular, and ranking was “significantly smaller” than the researchers anticipated and said it could be a reflection of Google’s continued movement toward semantic search.
This study is part of a greater discussion in the industry about the importance of title tags to SEO. John Mueller, Google’s webmaster trends analyst, recently said title tags are not “the most critical part of the page,” explaining overall page content carries more weight in Google’s algorithm.
He later clarified further in a Google Hangout: “Titles are important! They are important for SEO. They are used as a ranking factor. Of course, they are definitely used as a ranking factor but it is not something where I’d say the time you spend on tweaking the title is really the best use of your time.”
In addition to the impact of backlinks and title tag optimization, Backlinko’s analysis of the million search results also revealed other key findings:
- A site’s overall link authority was a significant indicator for higher rankings.
- In-depth content focused on a single topic performed better in search rankings.
- Content with at least one image performed significantly better than content with no images.
- Fast-loading sites ranked significantly better than slow-loading sites.
“The complexity of SEO should not be underestimated. B2B marketers need to think about it strategically and holistically and should not assume tagging alone will solve SEO challenges or boost search rankings,” said Derek Edmond, Managing Partner at KoMarketing.
Quality Links Strongly Influence Rankings
Moz did a similar study analyzing almost 20,000 queries in 2015. Links, both domain and page level, were found to be the two top factors in search rankings. Strong keyword and content relevance, quality of content and site speed were identified as significant ranking factors.
In terms of page-level keyword usage, lower correlations were found between on-page keyword use and rankings. User intent, rather than an exact keyword match, was found to have priority in rankings.