A new Search Engine Marketing study shows that content is gaining ground as a ranking factor on Google, while backlinks are relegated to the back seat. The study, just released by Searchmetrics, measured the top 20 search results for 10,000 of the most popular keywords. Among the surprising findings of the analysis, we discovered:
- URLs on the first page of Google search results have a Bounce Rate of 46%, while those with the highest content relevance are found in positions 3 through 6.
- Surprisingly, just 53% of the top 20 URLs used in the study included the keyword in their title, but the average time Google users spent on these sites was over 3 minutes each.
- Not unexpectedly, 2016 was the year of the bullet point, which saw a gain in popularity, along with more headings and lists that make webpages easier to scan.
- In 2106, desktop content was longer than mobile content, by an average of approximately 33%.
- Hallowed ground, the pages that occupy positions 1, 2, and 3 on Google, have enviable click-through rates averaging 36%.
- HTTPS encryption gained wider in acceptance in 2016, and nearly half of the Top 10 webpages use it.
- Of the Top 10 domains on Google, 86% are using .comTLD, which stands for top level domain, and is reserved for major players like countries and global companies.
- Across the mobile platform, high-ranking pages are about a third smaller in file size than similar desktop pages, and that allows them to load one second faster.
- All of the Top 100 domains are mobile-friendly and geared to smartphone users; in general the rate is about 78%.
- Along with content, font size has increased in importance, but images and infographics haven’t changed the picture.
Is there any real news in these latest statistics, or is Google (and Searchmetrics) just confusing search engine marketing professionals with more double-talk? In the good ol’ days, Google based their reasoning on algorithms which very few understood. This year, however, they’re blaming Google’s more sophisticated artificial intelligence techniques like RankBrain, a machine-learning technology that analyzes the intent behind the words people are searching for. If you understand what that means, you are ahead of most.
Can we determine that content is still king, but links are waning? Yes, more specifically, the overall relevance of content to search engine marketing is strong right now, with the importance of word count and keywords dropping slightly. Keywords in the body are relatively unchanged, though it is noteworthy that keyword use in titles and H1 subtitles are both slightly down.
Upon closer examination, the backlink findings are not as drastic as Searchmetrics would have us believe. In fact, only the number of domains linked from the URL and the number of external links were deemed less important in ranking status. However, the relevance of Follow and No-Follow backlinks continues to play an important role. In short, ranking criteria has changed slightly over the last 12 months, but not enough to schedule a search engine marketing meeting.