What Do We Know about SEO?
Every year, Searchmetrics and many other SEO focused businesses try to divine what they can about the best kept secret in the Internet world. What does Google factor into its search rankings? We get little hints here and there from Google, but Searchmetrics' conclusion that Google+ has the highest correlated effect on Google UK's search rankings is indeed a surprise.
First, it seems a bit incestuous. Second, it seems too obvious. However, Searchmetrics did look at the results of 10,000 search terms from Google UK in March 2013 and again in June 2013 to account for the Google Penguin update. The first three pages of organic results were used in the data pool, and keywords used were kept up to date and include things like iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S4 that didn't exist a year ago.
Besides Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest all correlate quite high as ranking factors, the Searchmetrics Ranking Factors - Rank Correlation 2013 study found. In fact, of the top 8 factors, all but one were social signals like Facebook Likes and tweets.
The only non social signal to rank high was the amount of back links used, a tried and true SEO booster if there ever was one. It should be noted that the most highly correlated SEO factors were fairly close at the top. In other words, the way Searchmetrics scored its ranking factors ended up resulting in not much of a difference among the top four particularly.
Google+, number of back links, Facebook Shares and Facebook Total were all within a few points of the top position as most important SEO ranking factor. Social media doesn't cause articles to rank higher, as far as this report goes, they simply correlate. It looks like the most popular stories simply get the most social media attention, but according to the report, it really does appear Google takes those social signals seriously.
If the report is accurate, and there's really no way to verify it other than to continue experimenting with tools like Google+, than what does that say about Google's integrity? Making its own social network the most important factor in search ranking would be a bold move, but also counter intuitive. On the surface it would seem to make sense, but at a deeper level, it would end up hurting search rankings as websites figure out ways to game the system.
Could it be a ploy to goose Google+ usage numbers? Google could increase Google+ search ranking importance temporarily, and then dial it back down once it becomes the most trafficked social site, for example. Of course, no one would know if it did that since there is so much secrecy behind its search algorithms.
Kudos to Searchmetrics for doing such a thorough job of checking into what drives SEO rankings. Here's to many more such reports that at least give us a tiny bit of insight into what drives SEO for so many millions of sites. Below is an infographic with more details from Searchmetrics' report. Let us know in the comments if this is likely to change your Google+ habits or if you've already begun wading into that social pool.Image Credi: Maziar Roohi / Shutterstock