When it comes to ranking on search engines, there’s nothing more important than technical factors, such as SEO visibility, the presence of H2 tags and a strong URL, which is worth thousands of keywords. However, content is also crucial to ranking high, according to Moz.
Combining its own data with that from Ahrefs, DomainTools and SimilarWeb, Seattle-based SEO platform Moz ranked ranking factors as part of its biennial search engine ranking factors study. Looking at the top 50 search results for each Google query from the 22 top-level categories in AdWords, Moz found that domain-and page-level link features are the top two ranking signals, with respective scores of 8.22 and 8.19 out of 10. In third place, which Moz awarded 7.87 points, was page-level keyword and content-based features.
“Google and other search engines have to be able to read content; it has to be something a machine can understand,” says Cyrus Shepard, director of audience development at Moz. “The technical considerations form a good base, but the user-generated signals about how people are interacting with your content are increasingly important. You can get to page one with technical SEO, but you can’t get to position one with just technical SEO, without great user experiences.”
Considered items include content relevance scoring, on-page optimization of keyword usage, top-modeling algorithm scores on content, and content’s quality, quantity and relevance. These factors are more difficult to measure scientifically than things like links and title tags, but Google is sophisticated enough to be able to weigh in value, such as the amount of time spent interacting with content or the frequency with which it’s shared or referenced.
Though content is a new ranking factor to Moz’s analyses, Shepard wouldn’t be surprised if it outranked the technical factors during the next study.
“Content is basically the foundation of anything. Without it, the pure technical SEO doesn’t have anything to work with,” Shepard says. “For Google in particular, the search results are its product and it’s very concerned with how well the product performs. It’s not about just giving the click; the goal is to go beyond the click and complete the thing the user is looking for, and you do that through quality content.”
Michael Schiemer, digital marketing manager for New England convenience store chain Colbea Enterprises, agrees with Shepard on the importance of content. He points out that with billions of pages of spam, duplicate content and click-bait articles, Google ultimately gives users a better experience by focusing more on content.
Indeed, content also weighs heavily in Google’s negative ranking factors. Two of Moz’s top spam flags are a high number of links relative to the content and a high ratio of content in ads, navigation and links to total page content. In addition, duplicate and thin content are two negative ranking factors with scores of 7.74 and 7.69 out of 10, second and third only to “total number of unnatural links to page/subdomain.”
“SEO and content marketing should go hand-in-hand and now it looks like content marketers will reap more benefits than in previous years,” Schiemer says. “If a business does not successfully utilize content marketing, it is essentially leaving money on the table. It’s not just about link building any more, but creating exceptional and personalized content that readers and viewers enjoy.
“I agree with many SEO experts when they say that you should write for people and not for algorithms,” he adds.