3 Experts’ Key Insights about Ranking Factors

Search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) really work. Countless studies demonstrate its value for companies of all sizes, and even your metrics may make it apparent just how well it’s working for you. At the heart of how SEO works and how you can make it work (better) for you lies knowledge about ranking factors. And what do we really know about ranking factors?

Google and every other search engine are highly protective of their algorithms. They only indicate in the vaguest terms what they value. While you may discern through your own analytics and testing what yields better search engine performance, who has time for that?

Fortunately, major players in the SEO industry have taken a deep dive into search engine performance and distilled some key insights into today’s ranking factors.

Meet the Experts

SMX Advanced is the nation’s top annual conference for SEO and SEM, and one of the most popular sessions is the panel discussion about ranking factors. This year, the panel included:

  • Marcus Tober, Founder and CTO of Searchmetrics, Inc.
  • Mordy Oberstein, Marketing Manager of Rank Ranger
  • Jeff Preston, Senior SEO Manager of Disney Interactive

Together, the panel boasts decades of experience in SEO analytics and best practices, including how those practices have changed in response to technological advances and algorithm evolutions.

Their Insights

Each panelist took a different approach to examining ranking factors in an attempt to demystify what really boosts ranking potential. Here’s what they found:

#1: User Intent is the Driving Force between Ranking Factor and SERP Position

Marcus Tober analyzed correlations between seven known or suspected ranking factors and top organic results across eight sectors. The industries/sectors he analyzed were:

  1. Dating
  2. Wine
  3. Recipes
  4. Fitness
  5. Furniture
  6. Car tuning
  7. Divorce
  8. Credit


Ranking factors analyzed were:

  1. Microdata
  2. Videos
  3. Number of paragraphs
  4. Social signals
  5. Performance*
  6. Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)*
  7. SEO*

*indicates ranking factors outlined in Google Lighthouse, which is an ”an open-source, automated tool” website developers can use to improve the quality (and thereby the ranking potential) of web pages.

Tober ran a number of tests to see how ranking factors affected SERP position (in other words, which ranking factors really mattered). For nearly every industry-ranking factor set analyzed, results showed no correlation between ranking factor and SERP position that was consistent across all industry sectors. In other words, ranking factors that boosted performance for some industries, like dating or fitness, had little or no effect on SERP position in searches related to divorce or credit.

The takeaway isn’t that ranking factors are completely arbitrary. The point Tober hammered home was that what is really driving a ranking factor’s importance is USER INTENT and USER EXPECTATIONS.

Identifying what your target audience is really searching for, what they expect to find and what they may do with that information should shed some light on which ranking factors will be most powerful for those related searches. For example, car tuning-related searchers are likely looking for how-to guides, making the presence of videos and number of paragraphs more relevant indicators of quality results than Facebook likes.

#2: Ecommerce Benefits from Quality Informative Content

Mordy Oberstein focused on “buy”-related searches and found that even searches that have commercial intent built into the terms will turn up informative content. For most buy-intent searches, the split between ecommerce results and informative results is about 60/40.

His major insight is that ecommerce sites can potentially earn more than one top ranking spot by optimizing both product listings and providing quality informative content.

#3: Some Changes Are More Valuable than Others

Jeff Preston presented some of the major SEO adaptations Disney Interactive has done as case studies about the impact of various ranking factors. As part of ongoing efforts to ensure every online asset conforms to the latest SEO best practices and complies with recommendations from Google, Preston summarizes that:

  • Transitioning to http to https has had no noticeable ranking impact
  • Removing low-quality URLs can boost ranking potential
  • Removing 301 redirects (even after two years) can decrease ranking potential

These insights may be most applicable to companies with large websites and prolific libraries of online assets.

Your Insights

SonicSEO.com carefully engineers your website to capitalize on ranking factors relevant to your industry. But you can always help boost your ranking potential by helping your internet marketing pros keep your website content fresh and engaging. Here are some ideas:

  • Add a blog to continually enhance the quality content available on your site
  • Create videos that can be embedded on your site or posted on your social media channels
  • Provide us with updated product and contact information so that your existing and potential consumers always have the most current data at their fingertips

Remember, SonicSEO.com has a team of professional writers, graphic designers and techies ready to help you in your efforts to boost your SERP position. Contact us with your questions or to coordinate content development.