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New Research Shows Key Ranking Factors for the UK

Value/Importance: [rating=4]

Recommended link: Search Metrics 2012 Ranking Factor Report

The volume of data and number crunching to form this guide is remarkable. It’s based  on analysis of 10,000 selected top-keywords, 300,000 websites and millions of links, shares and tweets from within the Searchmetrics database.

It has been condensed well for a quick summary on SEO in the UK. The guide looks at the 6 trends / changes the research highlighted which are summarised in the diagram below.

Marketing implications

While the report probably won’t show anything that most people will not have heard already it may hopefully spur you into action or debunk some of the SEO myths.  I have summarised the 3  I believe are most important below, but you can see the full guide here.

1. Time to be social

The research conducted by Searchmetrics suggests that activity in key social networks does influence search rankings. The research actually showed that Google+ was the most significant when it comes to influencing search rankings but it does not unfortunately have the volume yet to be at the core of your strategy. Facebook shares came a close second, in fact Facebook dominated the top 4 spots when it came to influence in SEO. Twitter behind all that. Ensure you have Facebook well integrated into your sites content as well as activity on your brand page is now more important than ever for SEO in the UK. You can find Facebook tools for your website here.

2. Backlinks rule

This is definitely not new but the data suggests that nofollow links still influence ranking I think is fascinating. Volume of links and utilising keywords in anchor text are still overwhelmingly important. This new data coupled with the social data above I think should help us refocus our efforts on effective content & marketing should be our priority, we shouldn’t do things because it is “nofollowed” which I have heard so many times in the past. You can use these link analysis tools to analyse your backlink profile.

3. Stop obsessing about on-page

In my line of work, I get asked a lot of questions about SEO and it seems on-page factors seem to stress a lot of marketers and copywriters out. Hopefully this research will put some peoples mind at rest. On-page factors have been superseded by backlinks for years, but this latest research goes as far as saying some on-page optimisation tips are just not worth the time and effort. Having keywords at the start of titles instead of middle or the end will have no impact whatsoever, length of content is irrelevant and pictures are no bad thing.

I think this is a little misleading though since this chart and the previous suggest the title isn’t important which is not the case. We still find that pages that include a title (particularly in a relevant phrase) will outrank those that don’t “all other factors being equal”.

I hope you find this interesting. It is worth noting that correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, so what you find in your own experience is most important.

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Google Ranking & Results Update Underway

Google set blogs and webmasters ablaze in coverage last week with their changes in Toolbar PageRank, which was cast aside by some and taken quite seriously by others. It looks like this week, there may be an update of much more importance going on at Google, in their search result rankings.

Google has just cranked up the dial for domain name relevance, it seems.

I have a fairly new website (about a year old) in a very competitive area with millions of search results. The site has only about 100 pages. PR2. Hardly any backlinks. No link campaigns. No optimization. But it’s a single-word dn in .net, e.g., chúng tôi (I bought it in the aftermarket hoping search engines would dig it.)

Once again there has been an update and as usual I lost another 30% of my traffic from Google. Soon it’ll be down to nothing and that is without me doing anything except adding more pages, fixing some typo’s and a few layout fixes.

Yes, there definitely has been an update or algo movement yesterday. My first guess is that there has been some movement on dup content filtering measures.

Strong domains and duplicate content filtering being tweaked in the Google algorithm? Possibly.

One fear last week would be that since Google lowered the PageRank of some sites that it suspected as passing paid link juice, the target sites which were linked to from those sites would lose some kind of ranking.

Hopefully this will not be the case, but if it does happen the full effect of a PageRank (yeah, I know it’s only the toolbar) ‘penalty’ would be heard from the top on down to the bottom. Google does have a knack for keeping things exciting, don’t they?

Google Says Word Count Not A Quality Factor

Google’s John Mueller answered if it’s helpful to add more words to a web page to help it rank better. The idea was that if a page wasn’t ranking, adding more relevant content will help.

Will Adding Relevant Content Help Rankings?

The person asking the question wanted Mueller’s opinion as to the efficacy of improving a web page by adding additional content that was relevant.

The person asking the question was unclear about what they meant by “relevant content,” which can mean different things. It boils down to whether the content is relevant to keywords or if the content is relevant to user intent or if the content is relevant to people.

There are a multitude of ways content can be relevant, with some versions of “relevance” being, in my opinion, more useful for ranking purposes than others.

Here’s the question:

“Let’s say I want to improve content on a page. I add as much relevant content as I can for the users.

Does this mean that when I add relevant text to the page, Google automatically assumes that the page is better?

Does it work out like that? Is more text better in the eyes of Google?”

The person asking the question related that those in charge are insisting that improving rankings is “as simple” as adding more text.

Updating Content is Not a Simple Process

John Mueller began by stating that updating content is more nuanced than adding more content:

“It’s definitely not quite as simple as that.”

Is Content Quality Linked to Word Count?

There is a common perception that quality articles are comprehensive. Because quality articles are comprehensive it follows that those articles are inherently longer.

How can an article be both comprehensive and not on the long side, right?

I see this quite often. Quality is often equated to comprehensiveness, which means a higher word count.

Google’s Mueller continued his answer by remarking on the idea of word count in the context of quality and ranking factors.

Mueller explained:

“From our point of view the number of words on a page is not a quality factor, not a ranking factor.

So just blindly adding more and more text to a page doesn’t make it better.”

Mueller next put the idea of content within the example of a book versus a brochure and what the user feels is useful to them.

He said:

“It’s a bit like if you want to present something to a client who’s walking in, you can give them a one or two page brochure or you can give them a giant book of information.

And in some cases people will want a book with a lot of information. And in other cases people want something short and sweet.

And that’s similar to search.

If you have the information that you need for indexing for …kind of making it so that users and Googlebot understands what this page us about, what you’re trying to achieve with it uh… in a short version then fine, keep a short version, you don’t need to make it longer.

Just blindly adding text to a page doesn’t make it better.”

What About Thin Content?

Some people may say that thin content is an example of  content that Google won’t rank because it’s too short.

But that’s not the case.

Thin content is commonly thought of as content that is short.  A more precise definition is content that lacks usefulness.  Factors that define thin content include more than how many words are on a page.

Improving Articles for Better Rankings

Improving an article to hopefully improve the rankings can be somewhat complicated. It has nothing to do with word count and the following is an explanation.

First, you have to assess what the web page is about and if that web page fulfills the mission of communicating the information a site visitor wants.

Improving Content that Lost Relevance

Sometimes an article fails because it’s not about what users mean when they search with a particular query. Also, what people mean when they search for something can change with time. In that scenario, that means a web page on a topic is no longer relevant to what a searcher is looking for because the meaning has changed.

A good example is someone searching for “movies to watch.” In the past that could mean movies to watch in the theater.

Today, during the pandemic, Google returns search results about what movies to stream at home.

Screenshot of Search Result Showing How Rankings Align with User Intent

In the above example, someone’s web page about movies to watch in theaters will have lost traffic. What users mean when they use this query changed. The content creator must also pivot with the user to keep attracting traffic.

This example shows how updating content can have nothing to do with word count. It has to do with how the content is useful to users right now.

The reasons why content stops ranking can sometimes be teased out by identifying if the traffic gradually slowed down or if there was a definite date when the traffic dried up. These are data points that must be considered before drawing up a strategy of what to do to help an article rank better.

As John Mueller said, “…blindly adding text to a page doesn’t make it better.”

There has to be an explainable purpose to the content rewrite.

Citation

Watch John Mueller answer question about content quality and rankings at about the 20 minute mark:

Google Has Moved Away From 200 Ranking Signals Number

In a Google SEO Office Hours Hangout, Google’s John Mueller revealed that Google has “moved away from the 200 ranking signals number.” He said that having a number like that is misleading.

Google Ranking Signals

In the distant past various HTML elements were used by Google’s algorithms for identifying what a web page is about. HTML elements like the page title, headings and font sizes were given extra importance, as well as the location of keywords on a web page (top of the page more important) and links and the anchor text associated with those links.

These were collectively known as ranking factors.

In the distant past, a web page literally needed to have the known ranking factors addressed with keywords in order to rank properly.

Many of those ranking factors were described in Google’s first Stanford University research paper from 1998, The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine.

It’s been over twenty years and while many still cling to the idea of ranking factors, Google itself has evolved beyond ranking factors and incorporates things like Natural Language Processing, BERT, Neural Matching and AI spam fighting, and many other algorithms.

Not only that but by 2005 Google was already incorporating statistical analysis to identify normal sites and sites that were outliers and tended to be spam.

Statistical analysis is not a ranking factor in the traditional sense but it played a role in ranking.

A case can arguably be made that the paradigm of 200+ ranking factors was breaking down as early as 2005.

While in the past the idea of scoring points against a list of ranking factors made sense, in 2023 the idea of a list of ranking factors to focus on for better rankings has somewhat lost relevance because of how search rankings are calculated in modern search engines today.

Related: 11 Things You Must Know About Google’s 200+ Ranking Factors

Which Ranking Factors are Most Important?

Someone from the search community asked John Mueller which of the ranking factors was most important.

Ordinarily Googlers have in the past mentioned that the content is the most important ranking factor. But not today.

The person asked which ranking factors are most important:

“Among all of the 200 ranking signals, which are the most important?”

Mueller answered:

“I don’t like to rank ranking signals. So I can’t give you an answer there.

And that’s definitely not the case.

Like… a lot of these things just take into account so many different things, you can’t just isolate them out.”

Related: Google Ranking Factors

No More Top Ranking Factors?

Mueller said that it’s not the case that ranking signals could be listed and sorted by importance and that the factors cannot be isolated out.

Mueller didn’t elaborate beyond that. But it’s easy to understand how complicated Google’s search engine is today.

For example, the MUM algorithm can take images as an input (no keywords!) and provide an answer sorted from web pages around the world, regardless of language.

How would a general ranking factor like links or keywords in title even work in a scenario like that?

John Mueller has given the search community a deep insight into ranking factors by stating that the signals cannot be listed and sorted by importance because the search community believes that ranking factors can be sorted and ranked.

Citation Google’s Moved Away from 200 Ranking Signals Number

Watch John Mueller answer the question at the 49:47 minute mark:

10 Key Steps To Ranking Higher In Google Maps

You’re searching for a lunch spot in an unfamiliar neighborhood, or you need a mechanic to assist with an unexpected flat tire.

Where do you look?

If you answered Google Maps, you’re not alone.

These days, many of us are turning to Google Maps to discover local businesses and make more informed buying decisions.

So how can local businesses rank higher in the place consumers are increasingly looking to purchase local products and services?

Here are ten steps to take in order to rank well, drive more traffic and secure more customers via Google Maps.

1. Claim And Complete A Google Business Profile

The first, crucial step in establishing visibility in Google Maps is claiming and optimizing your Google Business Profile (GBP – formerly known as Google My Business or GMB).

You can do this by simply searching for your business name on Google or Google Maps and verifying your listing if you have not already done so.

Once you have a listing and are logged into your Google account, you can now edit it, even from directly within the search results.

Being a Google property, GBP provides a primary signal to Google of your business’ existence – and the information here is assumed to be accurate and up to date.

Google will cross-reference these details with those it finds on your website and in other local directories and resources; more on the importance of these in a moment.

2. Post Linked Content (Including Photos)

After you’ve claimed your GBP listing, your work is only partway done.

Google rewards active businesses with higher visibility in Google Maps, so it’s important to post regular updates to your GBP profile.

These updates may and should include special offers, hosted events, links to relevant blog posts, or general business updates.

You should also be including links in your posts, ideally to primary product or service pages on your website.

3. Optimize Your Web Presence For Local Organic Search

If you want to rank well on Google Maps, you should ensure your web presence, including your website and external content, is optimized for your local audience.

You can start by performing a local SEO audit to identify where you need to focus your attention from a keyword, content, and linking perspective – as these are the three primary components upon which a presence is built.

Your website needs to be properly structured to enable Google to easily crawl and index your content, and the content within your site needs to be rich with relevant, locally-oriented, intent-driven keywords and logical internal and external links to the answers your audience is searching for.

Websites must also load quickly and provide seamless navigation, regardless of device.

This is particularly important at a local level, as searchers increasingly begin their quests on their phones.

4. Use Local Business Schema

When it comes to structuring content, and especially business details, Google and other search engines prefer standardization – which has led to the development of schema.

Local Schema enables businesses to wrap code around their content to make it easier for Google to crawl and index.

Local business schema covers many of the same business details captured in a Google Business Profile, which Google will naturally cross-reference.

The easier it is for Google to validate your location, the more likely your business is to show up prominently in Google Maps.

5. Embed The Google Map On Your Contact Us Page

While it’s not explicitly stated that embedding a Google Map in your website will make a difference in terms of where you rank in Google Maps, it’s not far-fetched to assume this is Google’s preferred format.

Here again, Google is able to ensure a consistent user experience for its searchers, which should likewise be the aim of any business looking to please its customers.

6. Mine And Mind Your Reviews

Any business can create a GBP listing, ensure its basic business information is up to date, and post plenty of relevant, local content.

However, another critically important factor in determining if, and where, a local business shows up in Google Maps is customer reviews.

Google pays close attention to both how many reviews your business obtains, and how active it is in responding to those reviews, regardless of whether they’re positive or negative.

Any business naturally wants to limit the number of negative reviews it receives and all negative reviews should be dealt with swiftly.

This can actually become a valuable way of displaying your business’ commitment to customer service.

While there are many places customers can leave reviews online, including Facebook, Yelp, and other industry-specific review sites, reviews on GBP profiles will carry more weight when it comes to Google Map rankings.

Consider proactively asking your customers for reviews soon after you’ve successfully delivered a product or service when a presumably positive experience is top of mind for their customers.

There are services available to help automate review requests (via email or text) once certain on or offline customer actions have been completed (e.g. appointment completed, invoice paid, etc.) and review management across multiple sources through a central dashboard.

Automation can save busy local businesses a lot of time, and ensure positive reviews flow in on a regular basis.

7. Update Your Local Listings/Citations With Your NAP

The three most important pieces of directional information on your GBP, website, and across the web are your Name, Address and Phone Number or NAP.

It’s critical for both Google and your audience to have your NAP consistent and accurate across all of these sources.

These references to your business from third-party sites are also called citations.

To find and ensure your NAP is up to date, you can start by simply searching your business name and noting all of the places your business details can be found.

Check each instance and reach out to each directory or website owner to update this important contact information, as needed.

There are also free and paid automated local listings services, which will enable you to identify and update your NAP, along with other important business information like your website URL, services, or even relevant images, from one central location.

8. Build Local Backlinks

Backlinks or inbound links are effectively an extension of our NAP strategy, whereby you look to have relevant, local third-party websites link to your primary website pages.

Backlinks can validate your business from both local and product/service perspectives.

If you maintain listings with links in local directories, you will want to ensure those listings are in the proper categories, if category options are offered.

Ideally, these links to your website are “follow” links, which means Google will follow and recognize the source of the link to your content.

Most directories realize the value of “follow” links and therefore charge for inclusion, but you should also look for opportunities to secure links from other non-paid sources such as relevant partner, industry or service organization sites.

9. Engage With Your Community

Just as Google rewards GBP activity, it also pays attention to how active a business is within its community as a means to establish its local presence and authority.

Businesses noted to be engaging with local service organizations (e.g. Chambers of Commerce, charities, or sports groups), sponsoring local events, or partnering with other prominent local businesses are naturally deemed to be a thriving part of the community.

Engagement can include publishing and/or promoting linked content e.g. event announcements, partner pages tied to these partner organizations, and, of course, physically engaging and perhaps getting mentioned/linked in local news stories or other publications.

10. Pay Attention To The SERPs And The Long Tail

If you are going to optimize any aspect of your local web presence, you will want to monitor your progress in terms of whether or not and where you rank within Google Maps and the regular search engine results pages (SERPs) based on the keywords you are hoping to be found for.

You can perform your own manual Google searches (preferably in Incognito Mode and while not logged into a Google account), or you can choose from a number of rank monitoring tools, many of which enable you to specifically filter out Map rankings.

When considering which keywords to follow, be sure to consider and include local identifiers and qualifying keywords such as “near me,” “best,” and “affordable” – e.g “auto body shops near me,” “best auto body shop in Barrie,” or “affordable auto body work.”

In time, if you’ve truly established your business’ local authority, the short tail top rankings will follow.

Put Your Business On The Google Map

So now, with your laundry list in hand, go ahead and put your local business on the map.

Establishing your authority and expertise online is not really all that different from how it’s always been in the real world, but it can take time, as any real relationship should.

Google rewards those businesses that provide the best answers to their customers’ questions, deliver solid products and services, take an active role in their local community, have their customers say nice things about them, and provide a high level of customer service at all times.

If this describes your business, get out there and do it.

More resources:

Featured Image: BestForBest/Shutterstock

Latest Uk Guidance For Eu Cookie Law

New detailed guidance for marketers released by the Information Commissioner (ICO)

Value/Importance: [rating=5]

As of 27th May 2012, the new “cookie law” which is part of the 2011 amendment to the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulation 2011 is now in force. There was a dramatic change in guidance from the ICO just before the new law came into force stating that “implicit consent” is the main requirement now. If you’re involved with managing websites we recommend you download the new PDF from the ICO, read our short summary below or read the Guardian announcement.

In a separate post we’ve taken a look at examples of how UK companies are complying with the UK cookie law.

Recommended links:

Summary of 25th May 2012 recommendation from the ICO download

The big change in Version 3 of this document is the additional detailed guidance on implied consent. The previous guidance in December 2011 explained that “implied consent” wasn’t acceptable and explicit opt-in was required:

In a softening of the stance from the ICO in May 2012 just before the law was introduced it seems that implied consent is acceptable:

The next page in the new guidance shows how implied consent can work – moving from one-page to another where there is a prominent message “above-the-fold” can be taken as implicit consent:

We think this implementation on The Guardian is a good example. Some cookies are initially placed and this message is removed and additional cookies are placed when the user navigates to another page. We think this is compliant under “implied consent” and it doesn’t interfere with user experience:

18th May 2012 recommendations

David Smith, deputy commissioner of the ICO recently announced clarification of what is required from UK businesses at a press conference and gave details on the action they will take. In summary, Smith explained these steps the ICO will be taking:

The ICO will send out 50 letters to owners of the UK’s largest websites asking them to show how they are asking for user’s consent to use cookies

Evidence of taking action is most important, for example: completing a cookie audit, making an action plan and updating privacy statements so they are clear

No immediate fines are planned – evidence of taking action is most important

Sites outside the EU such as Facebook, Google and other businesses don’t need to comply.

Our summary of the detailed December 2012 cookie guidance

Through 2011 we have written updates on this new privacy law, specifically how it affects cookie use on websites and how it affects analytics – that post showed an alarming drop in recorded visits when cookie opt-in was implemented by the ICO. The guidance when the law was initially introduced was limited, so with the grace period not so far off now in May 2012, the new much more detailed guidance is welcome and it is much clearer. I’ve picked out 4 of the main things which are important:

1. You must obtain consent for cookies

Note that many still don’t adhere to the original 2003 PECR law…

2. There are exceptions

3. Browser settings don’t help

We blogged in November that the new W3C Browser settings could help with compliance for this law. But unfortunately not…

4. Review the implementation example

Wireframes with ideas on implementation are now provided. It seems that pop-ups or footer bars may be the most practical option with the ICO suggesting that cookies could be set on the second page view – that’s easily said – not so easy to implement in practice since most sites and analytics set cookies on the first page view.

Here, for reference is the full guidance published in the ICO post:

Marketing implications of the new guidance

The date to be aware of is 26th May 2012 however the information commissioner has said in a recent blog post that:

“There will not be a wave of knee-jerk formal enforcement action taken against people who are not yet compliant but trying to get there”.

Audited your current use of cookies.

Updated privacy messages on your site to reference use of cookies.

Implemented or be working on implementing a method of offering opt-in to cookies.

Of course 1 and 2 are relatively straightforward, it is 3 that is challenging! Here you are very dependent on integration with third-party systems – cookies are essential for offering login.

We’d be interested to hear about solutions to 3 that are available or you are working on as a client or a vendor/agency.

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