A new study on Google rankings by specialist analytics firm Searchmetrics has found big brands appear to rank higher despite not adhering to usual SEO rules.
The Searchmetrics UK Ranking Factors – Rank Correlation 2013 Study found content, backlinks and social signals play an important part in ranking.
But having a relevant keyword in the website domain or address now appears to have become less vital.
However, the study found that many ‘on-page’ factors that determine ranking do not apply to top brands in the same way they do for non-brand web pages.
Marcus Tober, Searchmetrics founder and chief technology officer, said: “Brands rank higher even if they fail to fulfil some of most basic principles of SEO.
“For example, pages from brands are positioned in or near the top of search results even if they have less text on the page and they don’t have keywords in the title.
And it seems as though Google considers it natural for brands to have comparatively more backlinks with the name of the brand in the link text alone – what we refer to as ‘brand links’ – and still not be rated negatively as would be the case for non-brand sites.”
The findings of the Searchmetrics study underlines a shift in techniques reported by specialist SEO agencies away from technical fixes towards more rich, relevant content.
With Google’s own SERPS increasingly dominated by its own products like Maps or Places, firms a vying to have the quality content the search engine’s algorithm uses to provide the answers within these services.
Searchmetrics says its analysis supports the presumption that Google will look to promote up the rankings sites with the most useful information.
A correlation was found with high rankings and sites with more text and more images.
“If we assume that the existence of more text and images is an indicator of quality, the quality content is linked to higher rankings,” said Tober.
“But we actually found that this relationship exist up to a limit of around 10,000 characters. After this the correlation tended to decrease. So you can’t just go on adding text in the hope it will continue to drive a more positive rankings boost.”
Other finds from the report include a decreasing of the power of Exact Match Domains (EDMs), the continuing importance of backlinks, particularly quality over quantity and the emerging importance of social signals.
Facebook shares, Tweets and Google+ +1s all correlated with high rankings, the study concluded with, unsurprisingly, Google+ having the strongest correlation.
Tober added: “The pages in top positions in the search results stand out with a very high mass of social signals.
“Of course there’s a lot of debate about whether social signals directly influence rankings or are just closely correlated with ranking because highly ranked pages will get more traffic and so attract more shares, likes and plus ones.
“We can’t say from the data in this study whether there’s a casual relationship. So you can interpret it how you choose to.”