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Why Only Two Search Ranking Factors Really Matter – Here’s Why #95

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It’s easy to overcomplicate anything, especially SEO. Don’t get me wrong, SEO is a highly technical and complex endeavor. But if you understand just two things you’ll be way ahead of the competition already. Click the video below to find out what those are!

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Transcript

Mark: Eric, of course, we don’t know the full list of ranking factors for Google and other search engines or exactly how they work, but at least we have some good ideas about that, right?
Eric: We have some very good studies such as those done by MOZ and SearchMetrics that show us many of the factors that correlate well with higher search rankings.
Mark: Isn’t that what we should work from? I mean just optimize for all those things and we’ll be fine, right?
Eric: Actually, that’s a problem.
Mark: How is that a problem?
Eric: Here at Perficient Digital, we deal with some of the world’s largest companies and with some of the highest traffic websites in existence. In our experience, we’ve seen that trying to chase after every single possible ranking factor is very unproductive, in fact, it can be even destructive to long term SEO success.
That doesn’t mean you don’t pay any attention to all those things. But if you’re after substantial wins that will last over time, there are really only two factors you need to make your priority.
Mark: Those are?
Eric: Links and content.
Mark: How do we know those are the two most important ranking factors?
Eric: Because Google said they are. You can read the conversation below:
“Ammon: Would it be beneficial to us to know what the first two is? Could Webmasters build better sites if they know what they are?
Andrey: I can tell you what they are. It’s content and links pointing into your site.”
Eric: That was Google’s Andrey Lipattsev, from a live chat earlier this year,  Google Q&A+ #March, where I was on the panel. They got me thinking. It may sound over simplistic but I think it’s true: if more organizations concentrated on creating and promoting truly great content that earns valuable links and attention, that pretty much has SEO taken care of.
[Tweet “Understanding just two ranking factors may be all you need for #SEO success. Find out why at”]
Mark: That led you to propose a hypothetical simple formula for ranking?
Eric: That’s right. Let’s imagine that Google has a link score and a content score or something along those lines. I’m not saying they actually do it that way precisely–but I believe thinking of it this way is useful–since both links and content are really each influenced by a number of other factors.
Your link score would represent a sum total of the power of links to a page and it’s overall authority. And the content score stands for the total quality of the content of the page. Giving that scenario, I think this formula, your ranking score equals link score times content score, pretty much describes how you should be thinking about your SEO.
links-score-formula
Mark: You go into a lot more detail on how we should think about both links and content in your MOZ article that we’ll link at the end of this post. For now, give us a quick overview of each of those. Let’s start with links.
Eric: Most of our viewers probably realize that links are the primary signal Google has always used to evaluate the authority of pages. Basically, the higher quality links a page has pointing to it and the more authoritative and relevant the link sources are, the more ranking authority that page has. We showed in a recent study that links are still very powerful as ranking signals. You can review our study: “Are Links Still a Powerful Ranking Factor?” here.
Mark: What about content?
Eric: With content, you should think about three things actually.

  • The first one is relevancy. If the content isn’t relevant to the search query, it shouldn’t rank for it, right? It just makes sense.
  • Second, it has to be quality content. Does it provide the information that people are looking for? Is the information relatively unique to your site? Clearly, it makes sense for the quality of the content to matter a lot.
  • The third contributor to your content score is the overall experience for the user. Ask yourself, is your content well-organized and easy to read, or is it easy to find the content on your website? Does it effectively communicate its key points? How do people engage with it? If they land on a page that has the answer to your question, can they quickly and easily find that information?

Eric: We find with great consistency the competitive sites that rank well in Google do well on content relevancy, quality, and user experience.
[Tweet “For content to perform well in #SEO think about 3 things: relevancy, quality, and user experience. More at”]
Mark: Do content and links both work the same way in ranking?
Eric: No, not exactly. A really superb backlink profile to a page can have a strong and direct effect on ranking. With content, it’s a little more subtle. The chart below may help illustrate the way content quality helps your ranking. Notice that the Y-axis is not labeled ranking, but instead, it’s labeled chances of ranking. In other words, having a high-quality score for your content doesn’t, by itself, guarantee that you’ll rank high, but it certainly boosts your chances, and its effect probably goes up exponentially as the quality and uniqueness of your content rises.
Mark: I love the way you express the relationship between links and content in ranking in one sentence. Now, how did that go?
Eric: If your content isn’t competitive in relevance and quality, links won’t help. If it is, links will make the difference.
[Tweet “If your content isn’t great at relevance and quality, links won’t help. If it is, links will make the difference.”]
Mark: Obviously, there is a lot more that goes into ranking than these two factors, otherwise, we wouldn’t keep hearing about the 200 plus ranking factors Google uses. But they do nicely sum up what our priority should be.
Eric: There’s some special cases where these two factors are not necessarily the most important.
Mark: All of that and more is covered in your very thorough article at the MOZ blog: The Two-Part SEO Ranking Model: Let’s Make SEO Simple. I really urge everyone to give that a read, because there’s a lot more information there that is critical to understanding this two-factor ranking model.
Eric: As always, if you’ve enjoyed this video, we’d love it if you would subscribe to our Here’s Why series, and also share this post with others.
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About the Author

Eric Enge leads the Digital Marketing practice for Perficient Digital. He designs studies and produces industry-related research to help prove, debunk, or evolve assumptions about digital marketing practices and their value. Eric is a writer, blogger, researcher, teacher, and keynote speaker and panelist at major industry conferences. Partnering with several other experts, Eric served as the lead author of The Art of SEO.

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