Top 5 SEO Ranking Factors Explained

SEO can be a confusing discipline for many, including those within the online industry. A lot of conflicting advice, secrecy, misdirection and outdated practise still exist. A good way to get a feel for how to cut the bullshit, (if you’re a small business or brand owner, seeking to hire an SEO) is to refer to expert blogs and independent research. A blog search engine such as Technorati can help you refine blogs by subject matter and will also rank blogs by authority. Additionally the consultancy SEOmoz publishes an extensive report every two years Search Engine Ranking Factors, which uses a polling methodology which survey top SEO professionals by invitation only. Such methodology is useful as this means you get the aggregate opinion of a large number of industry leading professionals (72 respondents in 2009 edition.)

We can hopefully help you a little further as here we’ve taken the Top 5 Ranking Factors from the SEOmoz report, and explained what they refer to in layman terms.

1. Keyword Focused Anchor Text from External Links

Anchor text refers to the clickable text part of a hyperlink. Anchor text is thought to be weighted quite highly in search engine algorithms as the linked text is normally highly relevant to the landing page. Thus, the anchor text of a link is an indicator of what the linked page is about and can help search engine spiders understand the subject of the target webpage better.

It is best to try and use anchor text which is similar or identical to the keyword targets for your website. Whether the link is from from an internal or external source, even if you can’t use one of your keyword targets, never, ever use a generic phrase such as ‘click here’.

2. External Link Popularity

External link popularity is a measure of the quality and quantity of external links that point to your website. External link popularity is an off-page factor that is supposedly impartial. The theory is that the more links that point to your website, the more popular it is therefore the more useful the pages should be. Content-rich sites should attract lots of links easily; content-poor websites should find it difficult to attract websites.

However it isn’t just about the quantity of links – it’s also about the quality. Not all incoming links are equal; a link from a well-repsected site from a well-respected page (such as the BBC’s homepage) will be worth far, far more than 10 links from an obscure link directory. Naturally, the more respected the website is, the harder it is to get a backlink therefore the more weight the link will carry.

One-way links are thought to be the best kind of link to have (where Site A => Site B only). Reciprocal linking (where Site A => Site B, and Site B => Site A) is useful, particularly if both websites are well respected, however the link is not thought to carry as much weight as a one-way link. Three way links (Site A => Site B => Site C => Site A) are at attempt by some webmasters to create more ‘natural’ looking links. Three way linking can sometimes be better than normal reciprocal links as each link looks like a one-way link.

3. Diversity of Link Sources

Link diversity refers to the number of different root domains that link to your website. Although link quality and link quantity are important, the variety of links is also a critical factor in the search engine algorithms. Example and are two different links but are not diverse as the root domain is the same ‘themediaflow’.

The more domains that link to you, the more trust and authority your site is likely to have. Links from a variety of sites are also likely to create new traffic opportunities as well as giving your site exposure to a larger audience. Linking repeatedly from the same domains also looks slightly artificial – a wider sphere of influence means your site will tend to look more authentic.

Having a wide source of links is also a good insurance policy – if you have links from just one or two websites, what if one of the sites loses all of it’s content? You’ve suddenly lost a whole bunch of links. Or what if the search engines adjust their search engine algorithm? You could be out in the cold.

As a final word on link building, when you are building links for your site, don’t just look for the followed links (when links are created, you can apply an HTML attribute called ‘nofollow’ to the link which tells the search engines that the hyperlink should not influence the link target’s ranking in the SERP. Many blogs, directories and bookmarking sites have ‘nofollow’ applied as standard to any link). OK, ‘nofollow’ links won’t pass your website pages any link juice however it is slightly suspicious to only have full-fat links pointing at your website – it will probably look more natural if you have diversity in your links. Also, link building is not just about the SERP – it’s about traffic. Some of the ‘nofollow’ links may actually drive good (free) traffic at your site – and having a diverse source of traffic is great insurance against search engine algorithm changes.

4. Keyword Use Anywhere in the Title Tag

There are two titles that are worthy of mention: the first is within the metadata and the second is within a link.

Metadata title tags should appear in every page on your website and every page on your site should have unique title tags created for it. Titles should always include the keyword targets for that particular page and it is also a useful place to put in alternate spellings in the hope of ranking well (e.g. customisation vs customization). Always front-load your titles with your keywords, but don’t put too many in as this will ‘water down’ the relevance.

Link titles serve two purposes: to help users predict what will happen if they follow a link and to give more relevance pointers to the search engine spiders. Link titles are usually seen by the user when their mouse pointer hovers over a link. The link title should be descriptive, however they should ideally be less than 60 characters and certainly no more than 80 characters long. The link title should be used for supplementary information and to backup the anchor text of a link.

5. Trustworthiness of the Domain Based on Link Distance from Trusted Domains

The link distance refers to how many hops you are away from a ‘Trusted Domain’. The closer you are to a ‘Trusted Domain’ the more trust/authority you inherit from that link.

So what exactly is a ‘Trusted Domain’? Trusted Domains are domains which search engines believe they can trust. Unfortunately, there is no known public list of trusted domains although places such as brands are likely to be on the list. Once a site is classed as a trusted domain, it is believed that any link published within the site will get a little bit of extra link juice. Even if you can’t get a link directly from a trusted domain, by having a link from another domain which does have a link from the trusted domain, you will probably still see a little extra link juice.

I’d say we’re pretty much in agreement with the SEOmoz Top 5 Ranking factors, though there are a number of other factors that can have both a positive and negative effect on your ranking in the SERPs that are also not to be ignored. Finally; one thing that is worth stressing time and again, is that you need to have a fair amount of good- quality, original content that grows and updates frequently. When it comes to SEO you really can not polish a turd.

About the author


Nichola Stott

Nichola is Founder and Director of theMediaFlow; with over 10 years experience in online marketing, over six of which in search. Nichola learned all about search at Yahoo! as head of UK search partners.


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