That site, bestsurvivalknifeguide.com, continues to rank #1 at the time of this writing for the keyword, “best survival knife”.
I've written several in depth posts here, about how I was able to rank the site, what I've done, and more. However, I still feel like I can't emphasize enough the importance of effectively analyzing your competition before you ever try to rank for anything.
Choosing WHAT to rank for is much more important than what you DO to rank. In other words, in my opinion, more than half the battle is won by picking a low competition keyword.
Unfortunately, this is the most common mistake that people make – choosing the wrong keyword.
So, today I want to dig a bit deeper on why websites rank and what are the MOST important factors for ranking a website in Google. By understanding these factors in more depth, you will be able to look at the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), and more effectively determine if you can outrank them.
Ranking Factors to Consider
I have covered how to analyze the top 10 pages in Google previously here and here. In addition, SEOmoz has put out a Search Engine Ranking Factors report that covers all of the metrics that are important for ranking in Google. I will be drawing upon that report as well as my own experience to explain what works for ranking in Google.
Overall, I am going to look at 7 different factors and discuss how important each of them are. Those factors are: Content/Keyword Relevancy, Page Links, Page Authority, PageRank, Type of Sites, Dwell Time and Bounce Rates, and Social Signals.
As I discuss these individually, I am going to order them from most important to least important.
Content and Keyword Relevancy – Most Important!
Think about how search engines work. You type in a search query, and you expect Google to return what? The result with the highest PageRank? Absolutely not! You are looking for the most RELEVANT result that meets your search query. So, if you are searching for, “funny cat videos” you don't want the Whitehouse.gov website to pop up just because it's more authoritative, you want a website with funny cat videos, and you want it NOW! Luckily Google understands this, they rank RELEVANCY above authority.
So, the lesson here is that even if you see some very authoritative sites ranking in the top 10 of Google, it still may be possible to outrank them IF you are able to target the keyword better than they are. The primary ways to target a keyword on your site is using the keyword in the domain, using the keyword in the title of your page, and using the keywords in the content of your article.
A perfect example of this was from my niche site targeting the keyword, “best survival knife”. When I looked at the top 10 results in Google, a few of the results where using the phrase, “Survival Knife” in their Page Titles, but NOT “best survival knife”.
I saw this as a huge opportunity for me to go in and target the search query better than these websites were. So, what did I do? I made the title of my page to include, “Best Survival Knife” and immediately my page was a 100% match on the relevancy score for the searchers query.
So, even though many of the other sites have a better PageAuthority or PageRank, I was able to quickly outrank them – in part because my site is more relevant.
Page Authority – Very Important
“Page Authority predicts the likelihood of a single page to rank well, regardless of its content. The higher the Page Authority, the greater the potential for that individual page to rank well in search results.”
In other words, its a metric calculated by SEOmoz to predict the overall authority of a page and how well it should rank in Google based on several factors. And notice they say, “regardless of content” – this just underscores the importance of keyword relevancy – you need authority + relevancy to actually rank. Page Authority ranges in score from 1 to 100, with 100 being the most authoritative. Here's how Page Authority is calculated:
Page Authority is SEOmoz's calculated metric for how well a given webpage is likely to rank in Google.com's search results. It is based off of the Linkscape web index and includes link counts, mozRank, mozTrust, and dozens more. It uses a machine learning model to predicatively find an algorithm that best correlates with rankings across thousands of search results that we predict against.
So, its a complicated formula, and SEOmoz doesn't reveal everything that is involved; however, Page Authority takes into account amount of links, mozRank, MozTrust, and much more. Reading their description, its clear that overall link profile comes into play, including how authority sites are that are linking to the page, and more.
So, much more than raw link counts are used to calculate Page Authority, its actually looks at where the links are coming from and the strength of those links.
Page Authority includes, “dozens more” factors; which likely includes Social signals, and more.
In addition, this calculation is CONSTANTLY updated to reflect the most important factors for ranking in Google today. (This is not true for tool bar PageRank for example, which is caculated the same way it was 10 years ago…which is why its not as important). In other words, we have one of the top SEO companies looking at all the factors that exist to rank a page in Google and they are constantly tweaking, calculating, and making it the BEST indicator of how competitive a site is on Google.com.
What is also important to understand about Page Authority, is that its on a logarithmic scale; meaning the difference between a 25 to 30 is less than the difference between a 30 to 35.
Here's how SEOmoz puts it,
“We score Page Authority on a 100-point, logarithmic scale. Thus, it's easier to grow your score from 20 to 30 than it would be to grow from 70 to 80. We constantly update the algorithm used to calculate Page Authority, so you may see your score fluctuate from time to time.”
How to Use Page Authority
Now that you know what Page Authority is, how do you use it when analyzing sites? I like to combine Page Authority with keyword relevancy to really start to get a feel for how easy or difficult the top 10 sites in Google are. Lets take a look at an example. Here's a screenshot of all the sites ranking for “best survival knife” in Google. (The screenshot is provided by Long Tail Platinum – my keyword research tool).
I personally like to see results pages that have a Page Authority of 30 or less. If I can find at least 2 websites in the top 10 that have a Page Authority of 30 or less, this is a good sign. You will notice in this image that several of the pages are VERY authoritative…anything above a mid-40 is a really solid site.
However, you will also notice that Results #2, 5, 6, 7, and 10 DON'T even include the exact keyword, “best survival knife” in the title of their page. The keywords are bolded for your convenience in the software. This means the results that are NOT targeting the exact keyword would be seen as less competitive, even though they might have a high Page Authority. So, you need to look at all factors in combination with one another.
So, even though my niche site (and others here) have a lower page authority, they can rank above other results because we are targeting the keyword phrase better. Then other factors come into play as well such as dwell time, keywords in the domain, and more which are discussed below.
I will also just quickly mention that the “Average Keyword Competitiveness” calculation that you see above is a formula used by Long Tail Platinum to combine both Page Authority AND relevancy factors (keywords in title, domains, etc) for one overall score for how difficult it would be to beat the results on page one of Google.
You will see that the #1 result (my site) has an individual KC (Keyword Competitiveness) of 59, which is the highest of all the results. This means I'm doing a very good job of controlling the on-page and off-page factors that I can control.
I recently wrote a post discussing the importance of time on site. More correctly, the “dwell time” is likely much more important to search engines like Google now than it used to be. Essentially dwell time is the amount of time from when a user clicks on one Google result to when that same user comes back to Google to look at other results.
If users are clicking on your site and then quickly clicking back to Google to look at other results, this is a signal to Google that your site is not providing what the user is looking for.
This is a signal of quality content. If you have an excellent website that truly provides what the user is looking for, then Google will reward you with high rankings. This is based on dwell time.
And to clarify, Google can calculate this time without using your Google Analytics data. That is totally different data (including Bounce Rate, etc). Google knows when a user comes back to their search engine because its their website.
So, technically it may not matter how much time users spend on YOUR site, just that they don't go back to Google right away. So, even if a user comes to you site and clicks a link to go away from your site just a few seconds later; you may have a HUGE dwell time if that user never goes back to Google for the same query.
This quality signal shows Google that you are helping the searcher out with their query. So, quality content is very important…and is likely only to get even more important in the future because of this dwell time or other similar calculations that Google is likely using.
When Google was first created, links were the way that all websites were organized and ranked on the internet. However, as you can see, there are many other factors that come into play now as Google continues to evolve and become more advanced.
However, the amount and quality of links are still one the most very important factors for ranking a site in Google. I listed it lower than page authority because page authority already takes into account not only the amount of links but also the quality of those links.
However, when analyzing the page one results in Google, I still like to look at the Page Links, and more importantly the “Juice Page Links”. This metric tells you how many links are pointing to the page that are actually passing some sort of authority…or “juice” as SEOmoz calls it. This is primarily “Do Follow” vs “No Follow” links; but again its calculated by SEOmoz so they likely also take into account overall quality factors of the link as well (authority of page where link is coming from, etc).
I like to see a couple of results in Google that have less than 30 juice page links. And I get excited when 5 or 6 of the results have less than 10 Juice page links. (This was the case for my survival knife site).
In addition, some believe Google is doing more and more to move away from anchor text and towards link page relevancy. In other words, having a link from a survival site is much more important than having a link from a cat videos site; even if the cat videos site is a high PageRank and using my keyword anchor text.
So, link relevancy is important.
Don't get me wrong, I DO still think that anchor text is important, but Google is likely moving away from anchor text. In a few years from now, anchor text may have become obsolete. (And if anyone has any evidence, I could be convinced that it already doesn't matter).
Type of Sites
When analyzing the search engine results, there are certain types of sites that are just generally weaker in nature. A few types of sites that I like to see (because they are often easy to outrank) are:
- Q&A sites (like Yahoo answers, etc)
- Article Directories (love to see Ezinearticles.com, GoArticles.com, or similar sites).
- Web 2.0 sites (like Squidoo, InfoBarrel, and others).
- Social Bookmarking sites (this is pretty rare to see anymore, so if you do…you might have a winner!)
- Other user generated content
- Other weak niche sites (If an EMD is ranking with weak links or is poor quality, this lets me know I can probably also rank in Google).
There are likely many other types of sites, but in general if I see one of these types of sites ranking in Google, it tells me the keyword is likely easy to rank for. You still will want to look at other factors, but this is a very good sign.
When I was first analyzing the competition for my survival knife site, a Forum was ranking as well as a Squidoo page. This got me excited…and as you can see, I quickly outranked them.
I put social signals a bit lower on the “importance” scale because almost none of my niche sites have any type of social media presence, and yet many of them rank #1 in Google. So, other factors like keyword relevancy and links and more important than social signals.
However, for certain queries (such as recent events/news items), its likely that Google is paying more attention to social media stats; such as Facebook shares, Tweets, Pinterest, and more. According to certain experts, the authority of those Tweeting or Liking a page is important in addition to the quantity of likes or tweets, etc.
Ideally you will have social signals, but many of my niche sites don't, and they do just fine. In addition, its likely that these social signals are already implemented as part of the SEOmoz Page Authority number…so you are covered when analyzing the competition for this.
PageRank – Is it Still Important?
PageRank is a Google algorithmn named after Larry Page and created in 1996. So, if it was named after Sergey Brin, it would be called BrinRank.
Let me emphasize again that PageRank was created in 1996. PageRank is still PageRank – but Google uses WAY more than this determine what sites to rank. So, was PageRank important in 1996 and 2000…absolutely! Is it important now? Let's see what others say about it:
Neil Patel of QuickSprout.com said (and this quote is from 2011, so its even less important now):
So while it’s true that PageRank played a huge role in Google’s ranking algorithm in the past, its role today clearly isn’t as important in terms of rankings, due in large part to the fact that plenty of other ranking factors have been introduced since the launch of PageRank. As more ranking factors are introduced, their relative weight must get smaller, as each represents a smaller percentage of a site’s total score.
Neal goes on to explain in that post that working on increasing his PageRank did not result in better rankings in Google.
Yes, PageRank is important to driving indexing, but for rankings it is nowhere near as important as it once was in terms of delivering top rankings….
So, Aaron says PageRank still determines how quickly a site will get crawled and indexed, but not very important as a ranking factor.
But when determining which site ranks better than the next, link diversity is typically far more important than raw PageRank.
On CopyBlogger.com (from Feb. 2013):
The problem with PageRank was that you could game it.
This article emphasizes AuthorRank (quality of an author) over PageRank. And in fact it is easy to game PageRank. If I own a PR 5 domain – “site a”, and link to say “site B”. Site B will automatically become a PR of 3. The PR of site B will always be a PR of 2 less than “site a”.
So, if “site b” only has 1 total link, but its coming from “site a” that has a PageRank of 8; then “Site B” will be a PageRank of 6. That's just how it works. So, yes, its easy to game, especially if you know how to find high PageRank expired domains.
And no quote from this one, but SearchEngineWatch.com also wrote an article called, “Why PageRank Doesn't Matter“; the title says enough. In a future article I will dig into whether getting links from high PageRank sites really matters.
Other Ranking Factors
Google is known to use hundreds of factors for ranking websites, so there is no way that I could cover them all. However, what I've covered here is what I feel are the most important factors to look at when trying to rank a site in Google.
So, when you are analyzing the top 10 results in Google for a particular keyword, you should focus first on keyword relevancy (in title and domains), Page Authority, Juice Page Links, and the Types of sites ranking. If you can find weakness in these few factors, you are likely well on your way to finding a low competition keyword.
As always, I am VERY interested in hearing your thoughts. I've laid out pretty well what I think in regards to the most important metrics for ranking in Google. However, if you feel like I have missed something or would like further clarification, please leave a comment!
I look forward to the discussion…