5 Surprising Things the Top Ranked Sites on Google Have in Common

How much can a search engine change in a year? If it’s Google, the answer is a lot. Best SEO practices suddenly can turn into web page death sentences if you’re not careful. But even if you don’t have time to keep your finger on the pulse of the ever-changing search industry, you’re in luck.

1) Big Brand Don’t Have to Work as Hard as you Do

When you have a memorable, mesmerizing campaign that people can’t stop talking about, you don’t have to do a lot to encourage them to spread the word. Simply because Coca-Cola is a huge brand and a household name, it can get by with making a sub-par, non-optimized site.

They, and many other brands like them, can ride the waves of backlinks, mentions, and other social signals, and their content always rises to the top. Of course, this doesn’t mean that they should rest on the laurels of their success. The bigger the brand, the bigger the social media reach, and the bigger the fall when things like this happen:

Coke Australia happy story

Coke Australia’s disastrous social media experiment to create a “happy story”

Either way, people are talking, and Google is paying attention. So, does this mean that if you’re a small player, you really don’t have a chance against the big boys with bottomless pockets?

2) Social Signals Matter – But Which Ones Matter Most?

burberry Google Plus

With over 2 million followers, Burberry is the top most-followed brand on Google+

It’s no secret that Google is watching social signals carefully. Facebook likes, shares, Twitter tweets, and even Pinterest pins are showing up on its radar. But, another finding from the not-so-surprising department shows that Google +1’s are given the most ranking recognition, followed closely by Facebook.

If you don’t yet have a Google+ account (or don’t use it often), it may be time to take the plunge: links shared on Google+ pass PageRank.

3) Backlinks and Headings – Are They Still Important?

You’ve likely heard that keyword-rich backlinks and heading 1s with your keywords can help your search engine ranking. But this changed in 2012 to the point where keyword-added H1’s can hurt, rather than help, your ranking. Long page titles also can affect your site negatively, as the chart below shows:

Search ranking factors

H1s with keywords and title character link can hurt your ranking more than they help (Rank Correlation 2013 for Google USA)

As you also can see from this chart, Google’s own advertising program was given a slight nudge in the ranking direction, from its previous place on the negative side of the scale. Another important finding is that word count now factors more in a ranking, as beefier posts tend to be shared and linked to more than simple articles:

word count

Word count around the 400-525 mark seems to perform best

4) Should You Register a Domain Name with Keywords In It?

infographic technical

The perpetual question that’s always on every marketer’s mind when they launch a new venture – should my domain name include keywords? Currently, Google is paying less attention to this metric than the placement of the keyword in other places, such as in the title, URL, and in both internal and external links. A well-balanced internal linking structure is vital for spreading around all the valuable optimized “link juice.” A recent example of having keywords in a domain name is Taj Indian Restaurant. They already have three website tajmadison.com, taj-madison.com and thetajindianrestaurant.com. The latest one I got them was indianrestaurantsmadisonwi.com. Why? That’s what people search for in their area to find Indian restaurants that are local. At the time of writing this the new link is just getting redirected to taj-madison.com but in the future that site maybe something else like ranking one Indian Restaurant per city nearby Taj.

5) Is Quality Content Enough?

Well-written content is still important in Google’s eyes, as are a decent number of images and strong internal links. Page load speed also is a factor, as is the word count, when it comes to backlinks. If you’re consistently publishing good content, steadily acquiring backlinks, and adding rich media including images and video, you’re taking all the right steps to maintain a solid ranking. This post alone is going to give alot of back links to the Taj Indian Restaurant because how many times i’ve mentioned it so far.

So far, the shift seems to be toward less emphasis on “keyword tricks” (such as registering domain names with the chosen keyword in them or peppering the keyword in H1 tags) and more emphasis on quality (with the backlinks and social shares to back it up).

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