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Julia Hammond
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What Makes Your Website Rank Higher in 2017? We Sift Through the Latest Data

It’s a question that plagues webmasters and business owners across the globe on a daily basis, and sometimes troubles even seasoned SEO vets – “What makes your website rank higher?”.

While some digital marketing experts may know the meaning of life, many often question the key elements when it comes to ranking a website. Given the ever-changing SEO climate, it is even harder to uncover the secrets that search engines guard so fervently.

It sounds like a daunting task at first, but thank the SEO gods that you are not alone. In fact, there are some big movers and shakers who continue to circulate key findings in order to help us answer the question of today’s post.


So, who do we have at our disposal to aid us in unravelling this tangled web?

Thanks to the guys at SEMrush, we are pleased to sift through the results of a study that was recently executed by their expert team.

If you have never heard of SEMrush then you should look them up as their site is used by over 1,500,000 marketers worldwide. For the past nine years, they have grown into an all-in-one marketing suite consisting of more than 30 tools and reports that help companies promote themselves online.

We will delve into the findings very soon, but first, we should look at some specifics of the study

The data generated included 600,000 keywords, the pages’ positions in search results and a list of alleged ranking factors. To highlight any consistent patterns in the results, a machine learning algorithm was applied, resulting in a list of 12 factors that influence page position.

The scope of the analysed data was then limited to the first 100 positions for each keyword, as everything that lies outside of this range is usually of no interest to users. Additionally, for preliminary research, all the served pages in the 20th position were checked to see if the trends that we received for the whole set of data coincided with the results for the 20th position.

For every page, the following elements were looked at:

  • Backlink profiles
  • On-page factors
  • Traffic data


Image source: SEMrush

It looks like the amount of time and pages people visit are the key driving factors here. Let’s break down some of the elements.

Website security

In recent years, Google has indicated its preference to sites that are secure – in particular, those with a HTTPS protocol attached to the domain.

In a nutshell, the study found the higher the page position, the more domains with an HTTPS version resided on it and the higher the keyword volume, the more HTTPS domains can be found on every SERP position.

Taking action: Purchase an SSL certificate and get your site HTTPS certified through your hosting provider. If you already have one, make sure all your domains are forwarding to the HTTPS version of your site.

Referring domains

This data point represents the number of unique domains featured in your backlink profile. Your site’s backlink profile should be diverse and consist of trustful domains relevant to your niche.

Websites that appear on SERPs for high-volume keywords have almost 10 times more backlinks than ones that appear for low-volume keywords.

Taking action: Locate backlinking opportunities via white hat means and from domains that are already authorities in your specific field. There are a variety of techniques you can use; here is a great guide to get you started.

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User behaviour signals

Factors such as your bounce rate; the time that the user spends on the website in general; and how many pages per visit the user opens are all signals which help identify user behaviour patterns.

This data can provide information on whether your content is engaging, if the navigation on your website is convenient, and how users generally react to your website.

A site’s bounce rate is the number of website visitors who leave the site after viewing only one page. The higher a page’s position is, the lower its bounce rate. The more pages a user visits and the more time they spend on the site, the more potential to outrank competitors.

Taking action: Make sure your site is user-friendly and everything on the site is laid out in a neat and structurally sound way so your audience can quickly find what they are looking for. Lead your visitors logically through your site to an end-point which you consider a conversion.

For a bricks and mortar business, for example, the conversion goal may be a phone call inquiry. A successful conversion could be a user landing on their home page from a search engine, then navigating to a product and clicking through to a contact form to make an inquiry.

Make sure your content is engaging and well-written as this will ensure your readers are kept on the site long enough for them to make an informed decision on whether or not to make contact with you.


Content length

An article, blog or page’s word count is one of the first things that forms the user’s opinion about it. Long-form content (pages over 2000 words) creates the impression of in-depth analysis and can strongly influence a page’s authority.

The higher the keyword volume, the longer the content should be. The content length average for high-volume keywords is 1.5 times higher than for the low-volume keywords.

Taking action: For highly competitive keywords, aim to write more in-depth insights that overshadow your competition’s pages. Look at breaking up your copy with bullet points, imagery and video content.

On-page elements

It has become best practice to include keywords in your articles’ main on-page elements, such as their title, meta description and body. Other elements have also come into play, including video content, imagery, headings and how they all work together.

The study found the higher a keyword’s volume, the higher the percentage of pages that include the keyword in their title and meta descriptions.

Over 75% of the pages that rank for a high-volume keyword have a keyword in the body of their text.

Taking action: Look at your website’s pages and determine if your content includes keywords you are aiming to rank for. Be careful not to overdo it, and enlist the help of a site crawler like Screaming Frog to obtain a good snapshot of what you have already.


  1. Websites with higher authority consequently gain more traffic, and thus have a better chance of getting into the top spots.
  2. Time on site, pages per session and bounce rate indicate the authority of a website and influence its rankings as well.
  3. A website’s portfolio of referring domains can also indicate its authority.
  4. Google states that website security, which is indicated by HTTPS implementation, is important, but has little influence as a ranking factor. Basically, it is a good idea but not a huge ranking factor.
  5. The influence of the on-page SEO factors proved to be less significant, so their status as top-tier ranking factors can be dismissed.

By Chris ZerafaJulia Hammond

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