Why Search Ranking Factors are Constantly Changing - Here's Why #189 | Perficient Digital

Why Search Ranking Factors are Constantly Changing – Here’s Why #189

The top experts observing search ranking factors agree on one thing: the situation is more volatile than ever before.

In this episode of our popular Here’s Why digital marketing video series, Eric Enge shares insights from some of the most respected experimenters and testers in SEO.

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Mark: Eric, every year one of the highlights of the SMX Advanced Conference is the search ranking factor session. You covered that session for Search Engine Land. Let’s start with who presented.

Eric: We had three excellent data-diggers this year, starting with Marcus Tober of SearchMetrics, who’s become a regular fixture of the search ranking panel year after year. Next was Jeff Preston of Disney Interactive and finally Mordy Oberstein of Rank Ranger.

Marcus Tober: Ranking in Niche Segments

Marcus Tober decided to do something different this year: take a deep dive on eight very different niche segments. They were pretty diverse such as dating, wine, fitness, and divorce.

He looked for correlations with several aspects some might suspect as being ranking factors, including microdata, videos, length of content, social signals, and factors in Google Lighthouse. In some cases there was no real correlation, in others a strong correlation could be explained by other means.

For example with social signals, top ranking dating sites had way more Facebook engagement than divorce sites, but one would expect dating sites to be much more active in social media than divorce sites.

Mark: Sounds like Marcus’s presentation was best at dispelling some SEO myths. How about Mordy Oberstein of Rank Ranger?

Mordy Oberstein: Rate of Change in Search Rankings

Eric: Rank Ranger has been tracking the rate of change in search results since 2015 across five different niches. Mordy said that by 2016 they saw the same results in the same order only 27% of the time, and by 2018 that had dropped to just 10% of the time.

So search results, at least in those niches, have been pretty volatile. If you’re in a competitive niche, even if you have a number one ranking you have no guarantee of holding on to it for the long term.

A particular takeaway Mordy shared was the increasing amount of purely informational content showing up for commercial queries. Clearly eCommerce sites should pay more attention to creating informational content. For example, if the eCommerce query you’re competing for has four informational posts on page one, you’re competing for just six slots with your commercial page, not ten. Might be easier to grab one of those informational slots.

Mark: And how about Jeff Preston of Disney? Did he have a magical presentation?

Jeff Preston: Gaining Perspective on Ranking Study Data

Eric: Of course, he did. Jeff took a different tack actually, urging us to do our own testing and to cultivate case study sources we trust for good insights. While data is undeniably valuable, too much data can overwhelm and lead to false conclusions.

He told the story of Air France flight 447 which plunged into the Atlantic Ocean because one faulty sensor caused other sensors to give bad readings. The pilots literally followed their instruments right into the sea.

In contrast, when a Qantas flight blew an engine, the pilots were confronted with over a hundred different alarms. They ignored the panic signals, held to their experience and training, and landed safely.

The moral isn’t to ignore data, but to let your experience and the experiences of others you trust tell you when data might be misleading you.

One of the experiences he shared was that in dozens of migrations to https, they saw no material impact on ranking one way or the other. Same with moving to AMP, no ranking impact, although there were ranking rises in some of their international sites after going to AMP.

In another case they saw a dramatic increase in traffic after removing 80,000 low-quality URLs, but that increase reversed itself later when they removed the 301 redirects that were part of a prior site move. It appears Google was still dependent on those old redirects for the rankings.

Mark: What are your overall takeaways from that session?

Eric: For one thing, we’re seeing big changes in how Google ranks site. Most clear of all is that Google is getting seriously better at judging user intent and which pages best fulfill it. You’d better have user intent in mind if you want to rank in 2018 and beyond.

Also you need to cultivate the skill of reading and interpreting data. Don’t get lost in the overall noise and claims about what’s happening out there. Focus on what matters and you’ll be in a much better position to succeed.

Mark: Thanks Eric.

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One response to “Why Search Ranking Factors are Constantly Changing – Here’s Why #189”

  1. Great list, handy for those of us that have been dabbling with SEO for a while as well so you remember to stay focused on the important tasks.

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