SEO Study: What Works Now (2016)

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If you’re a blogger or business owner using SEO to bring more traffic to your website, you might be a bit frustrated with how quickly the tactics can change. This in-depth study put out this month from Backlinko clears up some of the questions about what works now, in 2016. As you look through these results please remember, Google doesn’t give away the details of their ranking methods. This study is based on Backlinko’s observation of 1 million search results and expert interpretation of the data. Here are the highlights:


1. Build your backlinks

The study found that the number of backlinks to your site is had the strongest correlation to first page Google Ranking. Looking at the graphic below, you can see that when the number of backlinks hits about 75, there is a rapid increase in average ranking.


Rather than getting backlinks from any site that will link to you, focus on getting backlinks from sites that are ranking well themselves. The study found that sites that ranked well with fewer backlinks had links from high quality sites. It still doesn’t help to have multiple backlinks from the same domain.


2. Good content still rules

Content that is focused on one topic does much better than content that is general or covers many topics. They think this is due to Google’s semantic search. In other words, Google’s ability to recognize not just the words you are typing, but the context and topic you are searching for. There is an excellent explanation in the original study results that you should read. The study also found that pages with 2000+ words were generally ranked higher than pages with less characters. Sorry guys, you are going to have to up that word count! Make sure to break up the content with headings to make it easier for your readers and for Google to understand.

3. HTTPS helps but is not a must have

Since Google announced that HTTPs (having a security certificate on your site) was a ranking factor, we’ve all been watching for a sign of exactly how much it’s going to help ranking. The study found that while there was a correlation between high ranking sites and HTTPS, that it probably isn’t enough of a factor to make the switch just for SEO reasons. Implementing a security certificate on a brand new site is much easier than implementing it on an existing site. So if you are starting fresh, adding a security certificate to the site might be a good idea.

4. Short URLs are better

It turns out that shorter URLs aren’t just better for your human follows, Googlebot still appreciates them too. The study data shows that URLs with around 60 characters or less are more likely to rank high.

5. Add at least one image

One image is better than no image, but after that there is no significant increase per Google. Your readers may think differently, so don’t hesitate to add as many images as you think appropriate. But do it for your readers, not for Google.

6. Title keywords are still key, but moving down the list

One of the most important and well-knows SEO tactics is to ensure that the keywords for your page are in your title. The study found that while still important, title keywords aren’t what they used to be. That’s because Google as gone far beyond just matching up word patterns when looking for the best search results. It takes the entire page into consideration, including words that are related but are not exact matches to your keyword.

7. Correlation of bounce rate

The role of bounce rate is search rankings was an interested data point that came up in the data. The study authors found a clear relationship between bounce rate and higher rankings, but they are careful to point out that the bounce rate itself may not be the reason for the rankings. A visitor bounces when they land on a page of your site and leave without clicking through to a second page. It stands to reason that a low bounce rate is naturally going to occur on a site that has good content. So it’s possible that this correlation is an effect of having good content rather than a separate SEO tactic. If you are looking to lower your bounce rate, put yourself in your visitor’s shoes and think about how they move through your content. Are you offering links to related compelling content at the end of your pages? Do you have an easy way for visitors to browse the content on your site on every page?

While I’ve covered some of the highlights of the study, there is a lot more for you to look over, and some great charts that illustrate the impact of the SEO tactics that were studied. You can read the study report on Backlinko’s website. They’ve done a great job of breaking down each point and explaining it so that an SEO do-it-yourselfer can understand.