SEO: How to Improve Site-specific Ranking Factors

SEO: How to Improve Site-specific Ranking Factors

Optimal Page Length For example, a common question I get from clients is: “What is the optimal number of words for my pages?” The simple answer is that your content needs to be as long as necessary to help your audience. The majority of pages on this site don’t have the optimal word count (around 3,000 words) as measured by actual performance: the average number of new organic visitors. On the Y axis we have the average number of incoming internal links to the pages, and the X axis groups them in two: indexed (left column), or not indexed (right column). According to this, the number of incoming internal links to a page is a major factor in whether Google drops the page or not from the index (for this site). Pull performance data from Google Analytics to get bottom-line metrics, such as traffic, conversions, engagement, and revenue. Create a blank Google Sheet, then go to Add-ons > Get add-ons > Google Analytics. Then go to Add-ons > Google Analytics > Run reports to get the data. Step 3: Run an SEO spider, such as Screaming Frog, on the pages we pulled on Step 2 to get their SEO meta data. Step 5: Finally, I’ll create a visualization. The last visualization, “Indexed Pages by Internal Links,” will require access to the new Index Coverage report, which Google slowing releasing.

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A client recently attended a webinar where a presenter provided a list of the top search engine ranking factors. The client wanted me to confirm the list, or provide my own. I replied that I don’t waste time on preparing such generic lists. Besides, the list he was provided missed an obvious factor at play when searching from mobile devices: the proximity to the businesses nearby.

If you ask five reputable search-engine-optimization practitioners for their top 10 ranking factors, you would likely get five different opinions. Each one speaks honestly from her unique experience, but it might not be directly applicable to your situation. A decent amount of SEO work is hit and miss.

In fact, generic ranking-factor checklists have long outlived their usefulness. But instead of debating their merits, in this post I’m going to provide a solid, data-driven framework to learn which ranking factors and initiatives are applicable to your site, and what you need to do to systematically improve your organic search traffic, and sales.

A popular approach in SEO is to learn by reviewing top-ranking competitors. One disadvantage of this approach, however, is that you never have a precise view into your competitors’ strategies and tactics. Moreover, the metrics from competitive tools are not accurate, in my experience. (You can easily confirm this by comparing their numbers for your site with your analytics package.)

When you look closely at your site, you will likely find groups of pages that are more highly ranked than others. You can compare the SEO factors of those pages versus the less successful ones and use that learning to determine your best SEO strategy.

Optimal Page Length

For example, a common question I get from clients is: “What is the optimal number of words for my pages?”

The simple answer is that your content needs to be as long as necessary to help your audience. Generally, however, the more words on a page the better it will rank. In fact, we can group a site’s pages to see if the best performers gravitate towards a specific content length.

New users gravitate towards a 3k word count group.
New users gravitate towards a 3K word count group.

On the Y axis, above, we have pages grouped according to their word counts — more than 0, more than 1,000, more than 3,000, and so on. On the X axis is the average number of new organic visitors.

The majority of pages on this site don’t have the optimal word count (around 3,000 words) as measured by actual performance: the average number of new organic visitors. This gives us a good reason to experiment by adding more content to the pages that don’t perform.

Another common question is about the length of the meta tags, such as titles and meta descriptions.

New users gravitate towards a meta description length of around 153 words.
New users gravitate towards a meta description length of around 153 words.

On the Y axis I have grouped pages according to their meta description lengths. The X axis shows the average number of new organic visitors.

In this case, we can see that the optimal meta description to attract new visitors is 152.6 characters.

These analyses don’t necessary mean that increasing word counts and meta description lengths will increase search rankings. They simply mean that the pages that attract the most new visitors have these attributes. This is useful because it provides clear guidance on what SEO experiments to try.

Let’s review one final, slightly more sophisticated, example. After this, I will show you how to put these visualizations together.

I will use data from Google’s new, highly useful Index Coverage report that will be included in an upcoming upgrade to Search Console. The report is not yet available for everybody, but Google promises to make it available soon. The Index Coverage report finally enables us to see which pages Google has indexed, and also why other pages are not indexed.

Google's new Index Coverage report in the Search Console.
Google’s new Index Coverage report in the Search…

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