keywordWhen displaying organic search results, Google sees more and more the user: what they are looking for, how they interact with the search results, which end device they use for an inquiry, and how useful the information on the page really is for the user.

In the following, we summarized the most important results and learnings from Searchmetrics’ latest study on ranking factors that identifies and analyzes why some sites in the organic Google search are doing particularly well and others do not. It comes in handy, that Searchmetrics every year re-analyzes the factors that distinguish good ranking pages at Google and publishes its interesting findings, revealing the following key points:

• Technical ranking factors continue to be the basic requirement for good rankings, but the factor keyword is dying: More and more websites are technically optimized, which considerably complicates standing out in a crowd. On the top positions rank businesses that are identified by brand character as well as fast loading and good page structure. This correlates with Google's claim to guide the user on the crow flies to the most relevant results.

Furthermore, the study reveals the withdrawal of a not insignificant aspect: The percentage of keyword domains in the search results continues to decrease. It is more and more about content optimized for holistic topics, hence, meaningful contiguous keywords that represent entities.

• A well-structured website improves the user experience and can have a positive impact on ranking: User signals, such as the click-through rate, the bounce rate or the length of stay, are the alpha and omega for the content and the ranking of a website. They send direct pulses to search engines how satisfied a user is with the displayed search results. Therefore, the internal link structure and optimal side information are important indicators for user and bot. Top ranking pages structure their content better, contain more interactive elements and are therefore easier to understand and interpretable, for both the user and the bot.

• The most relevant content ranks second to none. Compared to 2014, the number of words examined in all Top30 results has increased in HTML documents: Prolonged and especially holistic content becomes the default; at the same time the degree of complexity of the content has dropped slightly and the texts are easier to read. A page optimization, which aims at individual keywords or keyword lists, without providing truly relevant content to the user, will not be successful in the long term.

• Brand factor remains a special factor: The front positions are reserved for brands which often benefit from the brand factor. Wikipedia, for instance, remains a super-brand, although less Wikipedia pages rank at the top than the year before.

• Most social signal correlations decrease: As in previous years, social signals correlate strongly with better rankings in the organic search results. However, Google always stressed that social signals do not constitute a direct ranking pointer. Anyhow, social signals definitely play a role in the direct traffic and the overall online performance (especially with respect to branding, etc.) of a domain. Good content generally performs better in the social networks, as search engines want to see and show good, relevant content.

• Backlinks continue losing ground in the age of semantic contexts and machine learning with user-focus: If links were seen for many years as an absolute basis for search engine rankings, SEOs and the study of ranking factors, they are now taking increasingly a back seat. Today, it is about link earning, not link building, which is certainly due to the fact that it is unclear what links from Google are actually still counted, and mobile users, instead of linking, prefer to share content. In addition, only those establish themselves, who survive. The front positions are occupied by older and more sedate sites. Even with regards to brands, the number of different domains that link to the homepage has increased over the previous year. Brand awareness and relevant content simply generate valuable backlinks.

Overall, the current study shows that relevance is more important than ever for a good placement in the organic search results, spotlighting increasingly the user. Consequently, companies may no longer just focus on building the structure and the contents of their websites in an manner, but always have to allow for a direct connection to the users - what they're looking for, what they want to find and how they want to have the contents processed.

By Daniela La Marca