The Secrets of SEO: Why We’re Killing the Searchmetrics Ranking Factors

Hint: Google Made Us

This article was originally published on the Searchmetrics blog. Now a part of Conductor.

We are gathered here to formally acknowledge that Universal Ranking Factors are dead. The new kings of search will be online marketers who master the fact that signals for relevance have been replaced by specific ranking factors based on search intent and industry relevance, according to the Searchmetrics Ranking Factors study, “Rebooting Ranking Factors.” Content relevance will be key to success as we move into an era of industry ranking factors.


Search engine priorities in ranking results have changed, and online marketers need to be more flexible and creative than ever before. It’s why this is the last you’ll hear from Searchmetrics on the subject of generalized guidelines inherent in top-ranked sites.

Reordering Online Building Blocks

Rebooting Searchmetrics Ranking Factors

This is because (plot twist!) we’re preparing to publish a series of highly relevant, industry-specific Searchmetrics ranking factor studies throughout the upcoming year. Our ranking factors reboot is an acknowledgement that ultimately, chasing rankings has become never-ending.

Google’s algorithm is now fluid and operates in real time. That means that ranking factors are flexible too. If you want to be counted among Google’s top results, or even aspire to be the direct answer for a search query, your content must be highly relevant.


Content Relevance factors are the heart of our new Searchmetrics Ranking Factors report. For the first time, deep learning and Big Data have made it possible for Google and others to empirically measure the relevance of content. These new Content Relevance factors are amongst the most important for top Google rankings – building on a slick technical implementation and high-quality user signals.



How Content Relevance Impacts Your Rankings

Ensuring your site is technically proficient and optimized for search engines is simply a matter of tactics. While this remains a foundational element, it will only get you so far. What’s needed now are the keys to understanding how to adapt your game for the long term and create value and relevance.

Enter “Content Relevance” as the heart of the new Ranking Factors study.

Factors of Content Relevance

We already know holistic, relevant content is important. Now we’re able to analyze the more specific aspects of a URL. The keyword itself is no longer the deciding factor in the ranking of a search query. The relationship of the content to matching user search intentions are what now heavily influences Google’s rankings, our analysis shows.

In 2016, outside of the brand factor (where we’ve observed large brands ranking in positions 1-2), just 53% of the top 20 URLs included the keyword in their title.

Content Keywords in Title US

Furthermore, we evaluated factors like the main content area of the page, word count, keywords in prominent positions like the title, description and H1 – the former are now holistic factors contributing to the primary ranking factor that is content relevance; not the optimization of individual elements using a single keyword. You could say the Searchmetrics’ Christmas gift to ourselves and the rest of the SEO community is sharing and confirming our data-driven approach to the hypothesis that relevant content is important and a key factor of Google rankings.

How Do We Measure Content Relevance?

Analyzing the quality of content was a huge task that required a different approach. Until now, a data-driven methodology did not exist.  That’s why Searchmetrics has been using machine learning to develop a concept for measuring content relevance.

Today, we can calculate a content relevance score for a complete text on a topic. The higher the relevance score, the more relevant the content of the analyzed landing page for the given search query.


This was a huge undertaking for the company that required patience and our massive data set, which enabled us to now turn content relevance into a number we can work with. It makes Searchmetrics uniquely capable of defining and identifying content relevance as a fully-fledged ranking factor.


Rankings today are largely due to content being relevant to the search query such as answering a question or dealing with the most important aspect of a topic (this is bigger than just being relevant for keywords). Matching user intent with queries means finding what form of content is most relevant to searches.

This is the new challenge: solving the user’s problems and pain points with content that matches their intent. Sometimes it’s as simple as answering questions typed into Google.

Per our study, the “big brand factor” aside, pages with more relevant content rank higher, in positions 3-6 showing the highest content relevance.

This new factor, along with some of the more well-known factors such as positive user signals, technical factors (such as having secure HTTPS pages), and links from social media all culminate towards contributing to the domain authority. These factors working in concert are part of the basic requirements for what continue to be among the best practices of SEO.

A New Way Of Thinking About Searchmetrics Ranking Factors

Besides being flexible, we discovered something else about today’s ranking factors; they’re a different set of moving parts depending on which industry you’re in. In its own way, each industry acts as a microcosm of what factors constitute domain relevance, authority and expertise. Again, this highlights the relevance of content for Google rankings.

Iinfographic Ranking Factors US

Subsequent to this is an understanding  of user intent (Is someone an information seeker or is that person simply bargain hunting?) But content needs to be different depending upon the user intention. In general, we’ve seen pages with longer text rank higher, however – and here’s the shift – for some searches, the results will invariably have a shorter amount text.

This is the correlation between search intent and content relevance. Google is looking to feature the best result for the user experience.

Download Infographic here!

What does this mean for ranking signals? Content is shifting in two ways: How it is created and how Google presents it to users.

A Sneak Peek At The Takeaways…

Since Google’s algorithm is getting more precise (thank you artificial intelligence) and it operates in real time (a nod to Rank Brain) this is the last Searchmetrics study of its kind. Ranking factors aren’t dead – rather, it’s time to reboot.

Download the study to read more about how…

  • Links remain a core principle of the internet, but backlinks continue to lose relevance
  • Today’s rankings are driven by the dynamic between individual content relevance and user intention
  • Big leap in the presence of HTTPS at the top of Google’s rankings – Non-HTTPS will be marked as “unsafe” by Google in 2017. Therefore, Google continues to elevate security using HTTPS as a ranking factor.

So what’s next?   Next year, we’ll be releasing our industry-specific papers for industries like Travel, eCommerce and Finance.


Search Remains the Center Of The Customer Journey

The Searchmetics Rebooting Ranking Factors study addresses the general elements required for the top-ranked sites by Google. That said, it will give you the foundations upon which to focus on for improving site quality by tightening up technical elements, and user experience based on content relevance.

Ranking factors that apply equally to all industries have ceased to exist. This is primarily because the content requirements depend so heavily on different user intentions. Google’s algorithm is now seamless and the search engine giant is rapidly embracing a mobile-first approach.

The benefit to adopting a holistic approach is that it’s the path to delivering a long-term increase in rankings, the number of site visits, and conversions for your online business. What business doesn’t need more of that?

Get your copy of the 2016 Ranking Factor Study here [CTA: Download the White paper]

previous role at Searchmetrics, now part of Constructor
Holly Miller, previously, a Senior Manager of Digital Marketing at Searchmetrics.

That CTA is a 404 in 2023 but if you are interested in my professional opinion of your business and the subsequent ranking factors that you should prioritize, reach out.

Also, if this is isn’t you, Suganthan (bows deeply), I don’t know who is. I’m humbled.

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