What ranking factors drive SEO performance in 2017?

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Gone are the days when SEO was simple. If you want to get your website climbing up Google’s search rankings in 2017, you need to do a lot of things really well.

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Where should you focus your efforts? What factors matter most? And does the impact of those factors depend what sector your business operates in?


To mark the start of a new year in search, Stickyeyes Content Director Danny Blackburn takes a look at the latest insights from our industry-leading SEO tools.

Rapidly evolving technology means search engines are getting better and better at working out which sites are best placed to provide the answers users are searching for. That means an effective modern SEO strategy involves pulling a lot of very different levers – from technicals to engaging off-site content.

At Stickyeyes, our suite of proprietary SEO tools help us dive into the data in order to develop strategies for our clients that really work. One of these is Roadmap, which quantifies which algorithmic factors have the greatest impact on rankings.

‘Roadmap’

To do this, Roadmap looks at the tens of thousands of sites which rank in the top 50 positions in the UK for 2,000 keywords spanning different business sectors. It then pulls in more than 200 data points per site and correlates those with ranking performance.

4 overall

To make sense of all this data, we categorise these hundreds of ranking signals into five key performance factors:

  • Technical Proficiency
  • User Experience
  • Relevancy
  • Authority
  • Engagement

Now there’s been plenty written about which ranking factors matter most in modern search, and data from Roadmap supports the theory that SEO is now a very multi-faceted beast.

This snapshot of Roadmap correlation data, taken in December, suggests it’s engagement factors which are more strongly related to SEO performance, but that other factors are important too, to varying degrees.

all sectors

So based on this data, while a successful SEO strategy needs to pull several levers, first and foremost your site needs to be engaging. Then you need plenty of links and authority, excellent UX, top-drawer technicals, and to a lesser extent, highly relevant content, and good social engagement.

But the story doesn’t stop there. Over the course of the past 12 months or so it’s become increasingly apparent to us that the factors affecting Client A in Sector X can be very different from the factors affecting Client B in Sector Y.

So we dug into the Roadmap data by sector and an interesting picture emerged.

Finance

For example, Roadmap data suggests that engagement and relevance factors matter most in the Finance sector.

finance

 

Travel

But the story is very different in the Travel sector – here UX and engagement factors appear to be the most influential.

travel

The data shows similar variances in other sectors – from insurance to retail to online gaming.

Now a few caveats are needed here. This is just a snapshot of data taken in one month, and it’s always going to be impossible to prove causality with correlation data.

It’s also important to stress that Roadmap isn’t silver bullet – it’s just one of many tools we use to establish a site’s search proficiency. For example, when we’re building a full client strategy we’ll carry out a much deeper content relevance audit using SCOT – the Stickyeyes Content Optimisation Tool – and we use other tools and processes to get a true understanding of what’s at play in a particular search market.

However, Roadmap data does suggest that different ranking factors drive SEO performance to different degrees in different business sectors.

That means that a strategy which works for one client won’t necessarily work for another, particularly if they’re in a different sector.

As such, it’s time to consign a one-size-fits-all approach to SEO strategy to the dustbin. To do SEO right in 2017 you need a 100% bespoke strategy and a search agency which is able to determine which strategic levers you need to pull to drive success in your industry, your market and against your competitors.

Key takeaways

  • SEO is a truly multifaceted beast in 2017 – your site and your digital marketing need to be good in lots of different areas.
  • Engagement – not links – appears to be what Google is paying most attention to.
  • The impact of different ranking factors varies by sector – you need a bespoke SEO solution rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
  • Your digital marketing agency should be digging into the data to deliver a highly-specific strategy for driving SEO performance.

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