The results are in. The folks over at SearchMetrics have finished their SEO rank correlation study from 2013 and compiled their findings into a pdf report and infographic (see below).
While I never fully agree that you can define SEO factors in absolute terms (every site is different afterall), it's interesting to see the correlation they found between high rankings and a lot of other factors. While there's no way that correlation = causation, meaning that some of the things they found could be a “result of” high rankings, rather than the “cause of”, it's still good to know some of the more important correlations.
To explain more, what the folks at SearchMetrics did was study a huge amount of search results in 2013, and check what features they had. Did they use the URL in their domain name? Did they have images with keyword alt-tags? Did they have H1 tags in their post? And so on.
This is actually similar to what Google did for the Panda update, they evaluated high quality sites to find what made them high quality, so that they could spot high quality in future without needing to do the analysis.
Here's their infographic below:
SEO Ranking Factors in 2014 – Key Points:
- Keyword links and domains have gone down in their ranking power. You can't just buy a domain name and rank for that keyword overnight anymore.
- Quality content is always going to be important.
- Social signals (FB likes and so on) have increased importance.
- Backlinks are still very important, but their quality matters a lot more than before.
One thing they couldn't measure without having access to everyone's Analytics files is user engagement. In my opinion, this is a massive factor too. If people are spending a long time on your site, and are engaging, sharing, and “clicking around” to other pages on your site, Google is going to reward that sooner or later.
In fact, I'd argue that this is the most important thing, with the other SEO ranking factors mentioned above just being there to help Google find you and identify the topic of your content.
You can read in more detail by visiting the SearchMetrics report page here.