SearchMetrics Ranking Factors Study – Some Thoughts

Today, SearchMetrics released their 2013 SEO Ranking Factors study to mixed opinion from SEOs and Search Marketers across the country. The study looks at specific ranking factors that were found to be the most consistent with high ranking websites (from the data set sampled). Here’s a snippet of text from the SearchMetric’s website that explains what the survey is about in a little more detail:

Like last year, the Ranking Factor – Rank Correlation study deals with the definition and evaluation of factors that differentiate better-positioned websites from pages placed further back in the organic search results – i.e.: pages that have a positive rank correlation.

Compared to 2012, we have taken significantly more ranking factors into account in our analysis to finally answer the question: What do web pages that are well-positioned by Google have in common and what distinguishes them from lower ranking pages?

While the intent of a study like this is admirable, for me, there are definitely more questions raised than there are answered. For instance, the top five ranking factors according to this study are:

  • Google+ 1
  • Facebook shares
  • Number of Backlinks
  • Facebook Total
  • Facebook comments

The insinuation that the number of backlinks as opposed to the quality of backlinks, vertical influence, velocity of backlinks, or diversity of backlinks, counts more toward how the site ranks is a pretty bold statement. However, scroll down in the study and you’ll see this:

little has changed over the years: sites with more backlinks simply rank better.

The thought that SearchMetrics can release a study with such a bold sweeping statement should be a lesson for all Search Marketers. Taking the study at face value, anyone, whether it be a consultant, SMB, startup, or C-Suite group, who are looking to plan their Search marketing campaign based on the results of this study, are going to be asking for way more than they bargained for. Penguin anyone? Simply going out and building links with the objective of quantity as opposed to a quality, customer-oriented mindset isn’t future proofing a website. It’s just making the SEO’s job it is who has to come in and fix the mess all the more troublesome.

There are however some interesting findings and affirmations in the study with Social playing a big part, especially Google+, Facebook, and interestingly enough, Pinterest. I would imagine a lot more SEOs are going to be casting an opportunistic eye at Pinterest in the coming weeks.

As with all other studies, they should be taken for what they are, a glimpse into a certain data set, from a certain point in time, from queries that may not be based in the verticals that many SEOs operate in, that may or may not have had external influence (such as seasonality). I wouldn’t base any SEO or marketing strategy from the study’s findings, but encourage testing, monitoring, and analysis, to prove (or disprove) what the study claims.