Over at SEOmoz, some early results from the 2011 Search Ranking Factors survey are in. The results came from two sources, a survey of leading SEO professionals and correlation analysis of Google results. I strongly encourage you to check out Rand’s slide deck. So, what do SEOs believe will happen with Google’s use of ranking features in the future? Here are a couple highlights:
Exact keyword match domains – This is when you choose a domain to exactly match a particular keyword for the purposes of ranking. Let’s say you want to target “chicago personal injury attorney”. You might choose the domain www.chicagopersonalinjuryattorney.com. While widely disputed, in my experience, this technique has had a lot of benefit. Today, most SEOs believe that the benefits of exact match domains are likely to greatly decrease in the near future. Those opinions are probably also impacted heavily by Google’s Matt Cutts’ statements on the power of exact match domains being investigated and likely dialed down in 2011.
The effectiveness of paid links – While paid links can take many forms, straight quid pro quo link buying has been discouraged by many for a long time. However, in light of the JC Penny debacle, paid links have returned to center-stage. Like exact keyword match domains, many SEOs that believe that the effectiveness of paid links will continue to diminish. On the other hand, almost half believe that there won’t be much change in the effectiveness of paid links in the near future. I think the main reason for this split is due to the fact that there is a lot of interpretation in the phrase “paid links.” Let’s face it, Yahoo directory links are “paid links.”
Anchor text in external links – Optimized anchor text external links have long been a core component to achieving rankings. However, with recent updates in local and social signals, over 30% of the SEOs surveyed believe that anchor text in external links will decrease in importance. Like other signals, as more SEOs use optimized anchor links to artificially inflate rankings, the overall power of anchor in external links will likely diminish. However, I still believe that this is a primary signal and provides a lot of information to Google. It’s more likely that Google will become more sophisticated in interpreting anchor from external links as opposed to ignoring it.
In terms of increasing in importance, at the top of the survey are:
Usage data – Usage data includes how search engine users interact with your site. These can include click-through-rate, bounce, and time on site. Usage data seems like a logical extension for Google. How users actually use your website provides great insight as to their user experience, of which Google cares most.
Perceived value to users – To me, perceived value to users crosses into the nebulous regions of data analysis. Things begin to get a little subject and murky when search engines try to include perceived value. Admittedly, search engines are becoming scary sophisticated and perhaps perceived user value will begin to become more prominent.
Social Signals – Social signals both at the domain and page levels seem to be the hot topic. Tweets, likes, shares, and the like may become the cornerstone for rankings in the future. Maybe. Interpretation of social signals is still widely unknown. Further, there are many drawbacks in using social signals as the dominant ranking signal. Nevertheless, I have to agree with the almost 90% of SEOs surveyed that the importance of social signals will continue to grow.
Despite all this great data, the core takeaways remain the same. Focus on publishing content with users in mind. Find ways to get your content in front of those who can link to and further publicize your content through various social channels. Keep a close eye on your analytics data and what it’s communicating to you about user experience on your site.