Social signals

Ranking Factors: Correlation of Social Signals, backlinks & more!

Gone are the days of adopting only classic SEO practices- tweaking some Titles & Meta descriptions, and expecting your organic rankings to rise! As Google continues to punish manipulative linking practices (with the penguin update) and social signals are shown to have a stronger correlation with good organic rankings, content marketing inevitably moves into center stage for the world of SEO.

Search Metrics pulled February and March 2012 data for 300,000 websites and conducted an analysis on a list of potential rankings factors and their correlation with rankings on SERPs. Clearly, there’s room for doubt when it comes to implying causation purely from correlation. The debate of whether a site receiving more social signals causes it to rank well, and vice versa, is still valid, but some of their findings lend a lot of insight to what Google emphasizes in their algorithm.

Ranking Factors Social Signals Correlation

Judging from the Ranking Factors U.S. graph, social signals (Facebook shares, comments, likes, Tweets) dominate in having the most positive correlation with top organic rankings.

  • Facebook is dominating with scores 0.37, 0.35 and 0.30 for their shares, comments & likes respectively.
  • Tweets scored a 0.25.
  • What this means for your site: Build strong social media presence, engage with your audience, continue sharing useful and relevant content

Second to Facebook shares is the number of backlinks.

  • Proportion of nofollow links correlates more strongly with rankings than proportion of links containing keywords.
  • What this means for your site: Perfectly keyword-optimized links are no longer effective and that another strategy is necessary. Although social media has rising influence on organic rankings, backlinks are still not to be ignored.

A common SEO best practice is to include branded keywords in Titles, Meta descriptions and on-page content. However, this graph provides a contrary conclusion of the best practice.

  • # of keywords in Title, # of keywords in H1 and word count all result in a negative correlation score: -0.02, -0.03, -0.12 respectively.
  • The less often a keyword appears in title and the fewer the keywords in the text, the better a page will rank.
  • What this means for your site: I find this quite surprising. One way to look at it is to avoid over-optimizing pages to the targeted keyword. Instead of focusing on achieving top positions by traditional optimization efforts, focus on curating useful content around topics that your audience is searching for.

Slowly but surely, SEO is transitioning into something that resembles more of content marketing or online brand management. Fellow SEO’ers and digital peeps: does this surprise you? How will you change up your SEO game to adapt?