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The Top 5 Ranking Factors for 2015: How Strong is Your Hand?

The Searchmetrics Ranking Factors study 2015 for is finally here! Once again we made the annual epic journey to the center of our data pool, analyzed, averaged and correlated for our lives, and more than once burned the midnight oil. Our mission as always: To figure out just what it is the top-ranking sites have in common, and what elevates them above the rest; to discover just how Google stacks the deck. So how strong is your hand? Our comprehensive study provides answers.

blogpost ranking factors 2015

User experience: do you like this page?

I certainly hope so. If you stay longer, and follow the links, then you probably won’t be heading for the “back” button (as quickly). In other words you are creating positive user signals which Google can measure and use to assign this post a relevance value. This means higher rankings for your website -or in this case blogpost!

Even if you didn’t find this post via the organic rankings (perhaps via a social media post), I still want you to enjoy this post, to read it to the end (I’ll keep it short, I promise), and ideally to “like” it, share it and leave a comment. In writing this post, my goal is not to rank first on with “Ranking Factors 2015” or “Google Ranking Factors”. If you enjoy the content and like it then it will reach further readers. That’s the goal. And our study suggest this should be your goal too: create captivating content that grabs users’ attention and keeps them on your site.

Ranking Factors whitepaper: brand new design – all key data at a glance

Why not open the ranking factors study in a new tab via the button below? This way you can refer back to this page and download the whitepaper whenever you have time.

Download whitepaper now!

This year we have given our study a fresh coat of paint and slimmed it down without losing any of the quality.

Less correlations, more take-home lessons

In the past – despite many attempts at clarification – we have often founds ourselves looking at bemused faces on presenting our bar and line charts. This year we have decided on a new approach. We have made the charts much more intuitive and easier to interpret. Let me explain using an example:

Ranking Factors 2015: Word count

Here you can see all important information relating to each ranking factor at a glance. Averages for the top 10 and top 30, the curve progression year-on-year, the correlation values – and lastly the arrows, showing you the trends for each KPI to 2014.

…. secondly we have reinvented our infographic and had a little fun with it at the same time.

Let Searchmetrics deal you the best hand

The Searchmetrics ranking factors are now available as a card game! Have a look at all our ranking factors as playing cards in our infographic, compare cards – or just play with this one-of-a-kind Searchmetrics deck.

Ranking Factors 2015 Infographic: Card word count

Wait a second. Why does the deck only have 36 cards? Good question. Our special edition card deck is based on the German national card game Skat. (The perfect time to add a new card game to your repertoire. As with many things German, a real-life German supervisor or friend is advised).

We are planning a print-run of the card game, but we are still thinking about how to get the cards to you. Each person who likes us will certainly get one (any ideas? Let us know in the comments.) And of course we will once again produce a poster of the infographic. You want to get the infographic now? No problem:

Download Infographic

The 5 most important take-home lessons from Ranking Factors 2015

Relevant, holistic content is more important than ever

Ranking factors including word count and Flesch readability both increased this year, indicating in general longer texts that are easier to read. The trend away from keywords and towards relevant content continues amongst high-ranking sites.

User experience – beyond the desktop

Responsive web design may be having a positive effect on rankings. Optimizing your site for different end devices will continue to grow in importance. (P.S. Don’t miss the Searchmetrics mobile ranking factors study due later this year).

Keywords are becoming increasingly obsolete

Whether internal or external links or domain names, keyword correlations across the board are decreasing. Additionally, increasing numbers of high-ranking URLs are not using the corresponding keyword in the body or description.

Backlinks – correlations are decreasing

While backlinks still show quite high correlations with rankings, the times of unnatural link building and maybe of links in general are or may soon be over. In general, year-on-year correlations in this category are decreasing and our data suggest that this downward trend is set to continue.

Social signals – a bonus for organic rankings

The question remains open as to exactly how social media signals such as likes, tweets and +1s boost rankings. Nevertheless, social signals remain important for brand awareness and help to drive organic traffic to top ranking sites.

Download whitepaper now!

If you’ve made it this far, then I’m pleased you read the article to the end. User signals are one of the most important ranking factors and through your positive reaction to this post, I’ve done my job. Please share any of your feedback in the comments…

Marcus Tober

Marcus Tober

My name is Marcus Tober and I’m the founder of Searchmetrics. Because we really love to analyze all kinds of online data, we can give you more insights than any other company in SEO, SEM and Social Media. It’s not a job, it’s passion.

15 thoughts on “The Top 5 Ranking Factors for 2015: How Strong is Your Hand?

  • I absolutely love this ranking factors study. I look forward to the UK version, as well as the mobile one!

    Also interested to learn this card game!

    Keep up the good work 🙂

  • This analyzis works to blogs what about ecommerce? In ecommerce you can not do a big description of the product, you have only 250 letters to make the description . I would like to understand how to be original when you sell products that many others competitors sell too.

  • Technical factors are still most important when it comes to ranking in Google. The internal link structure is important for both the crawlability of the Google bot and the user experience – CTR, bounce rate and time spent on site are three factors in ranking, after all. Keywords have become less important within content as well. However, keywords are much more important within internal links.

  • Hi Marucs,

    interesting article but I wouldn’t agree that “Social signals” can increase your rankings directly. I have run some tests and just putting our websites on social pages have no impact on ranking.

    Visits from social can decrease bounce rate and increase UZ rate on our website and THIS can give us better rankings.

    “Relevant, holistic content is more important than ever” – again IMHO has the same impact for rankings like one year ago, just please check black hat websites (they have contect from translators:) )

    “User experience – beyond the desktop” – fully agree.


  • Although links as a factor is reducing, surely this will level out, as Google will find it very difficult to judge a site’s authority without looking at link data. I’m sure the way they look at links and which links they look at will continue to change but I can’t see links as a factor going away any time soon.

  • Links will always be a factor. However i’m loving the fact that QUALITY is becoming so important. Making SEO harder makes the cream float to the top 🙂 Woohoo

  • I for instance has been a long believer and doer of everything natural and helpful. Creating content that would be beneficial to readers, inter-linking relevant articles, citing external articles that’s valuable, not using or if I may say not forcing keywords to be used as anchor text, and being mobile are priorities in order to reap good amount of readers and better ranking spot.

    Building links still works, but it should be done in moderation. In building links, quantity is not a factor. So creating just enough will help. Don’t forget to include social media in building links. Likes, shares, and comments do matter as well.

  • iSearch By City 2015/08/26 at 1:19 pm

    Nice post Marcus. Trend is reversing. Onpage optimization is getting more & more importance than any other factors including offpage.

    As search engines getting smart, unethical SEO techniques are loosing their hopes. Basic SEO + quality content is the only way to win race.

  • Reffering to pt 2. “User experience – beyond the desktop” – a lot of people (as I did aswell) will probably think about Google PageSpeed Insights and similar page tests – especially the mobile tab. I always try to optimize my pages, but lately that test made by Google isn’t quite relevant, as for some thumbnail graphics, 640×480 (in their opinion) should have less than 10KB, which is ridiculous, but in effect makes your website get a mere 30% or even less if you don’t “optimize” the graphics as they want you to do. Second thing – Google is trending, so is website desing. Have you seen lately more and more one-page or long-content pages with all those parallax effects etc.? How will Google tune their metrics for that kind of websites?

  • Is domain age a ranking factor? I have read that it is an important factor but I have seen new sites also rank in top 5 positions.

  • With rankbrain being released in October, I think there have been some big changes in the SERPS.

    Onpage optimization is getting more & more importance than any other factors including offpage.

    Wonder how much more social signals will contribute in the future, any speculations?

  • Hey Tauseef, thanks for the question. We did not include domain age as one of the top 36 ranking factors in our Ranking Factors whitepaper. Ensuring an older site continues to maintain relevant and holistic content should not affect rankings. Where we see people lose out, is typically after a Google update, where guidelines for quality and strengthened and the website chooses to ignore or not adapt to this.

  • geburtstagswunsche fur schwester 2016/02/06 at 10:21 am

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  • Your blog design is really nice. This article provides me the best ideas that help me to get better rank in google. Page rank is a crucial factor to justify any website or blog. Higher page rank is really good sign for a site. At present, domain authority is very important issue to get good page rank. Thank for your helpful article.

  • Hi, I am suffering from this issue, suddenly my website rank droped from fist page of google by many keyword and found your blog post.
    It’s too much beneficial and i’m sure i will gain my website ranking again with the help of your instruction.
    thanks for this post

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