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Latest SEO Ranking Factors Study Shows Content Quality Matters More Than Ever

Anyone taking a deep dive into SEMRush’s latest search engine optimization ranking study may be shocked to see conventional SEO ranking “wisdom” turned on its ear.

The results of the study prove that many top-ranking pages have little difference when it comes to standard accepted SEO practices like keyword use in the meta description. Instead, what seems to matter most is that sites have high-quality content. This level of content quality drives traffic to sites and keeps users occupied, encouraging them to stay and read more.

According to SEMRush, the following factors have the highest amount of differentiation between high-ranked pages and the strongest correlation with ranking position overall:

Website visit volume (direct traffic)

  1. Time spent on site
  2. Pages read per session
  3. Low bounce rate
  4. Referring domains
  5. Content length

All of these factors point to one conclusion: a strong library of quality content (and a site design that encourages longer dwell times) matters most when competing for SEO. Explore these factors and other key findings from the study by reading on.

SEO Ranking Factors Study Shows Not to Sweat the Small Stuff

One of the most surprising results from the SEMRush study is that a good deal of “common knowledge” for SEO turns out to be not-so-critical when it comes to rankings.

For instance, many SEO teams and marketers will tell you that: “you can never ever hope to rank for a keyword if it is not in your meta description.”

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Yet, SEMRush discovered that just 45 percent of number 1 Google search results for “very-high volume” keywords (>10,000 queries) use exact match keywords in the meta description. For lower-volume number 1 rankings, under 15 percent used exact matches! Even more compelling: keyword use in the meta was largely flat across the board.

In fact, for long tail keywords, SEMRush concluded that “having an exact-match keyword in your on-page SEO elements is not crucial.” Instead, they recommend for domains to “diversify the semantic core of your text” and most importantly “make it relevant to the target keyword” [emphasis ours] as opposed to worrying about copying the keyword phrase verbatim.

Put simply: Having good content that earns lots of site visitors and keeps them occupied matters the most when it comes to competing for top SERPs rankings.

Other Helpful SEO Ranking Study Findings

  • Factors like HTTPS instead of HTTP and the presence of a keyword in the headline also seem like consistent table stakes, but they do not improve ranking on their own. For example, sites that rank highest do not have a significantly higher number of pages with the target keyword in their headlines. But, they do have a higher number of visitors who spend more time clicking around on their site.
  • Referring domains matters, but only if you can get legitimate links from trusted sites. “Google penalizes particular pages for using toxic backlinks for promotion. Your site’s backlink profile should be diverse and consist of trustful domains.”
  • Driving traffic to your site with an omnichannel promotional strategy and interesting content as bait can provide the most powerful ranking boost to your site (as long as your bounce rate remains low). “Direct and social visits are fueled by your brand awareness, so building a strong brand image should be an essential part of your promotion strategy.”

Interested in building out your own library of compelling content to rank higher? Or, want to improve your site design and multi-channel strategy to funnel visitors more effectively to your site? We’re here to help. Let us drive your SEO ranking and improve your site experience to win your brand new fans by the boatload. Contact us today to get started!