Lee Odden

New Study on Google Ranking Factors

Lee Odden     Google, Online Marketing, SEO

“titel” is “title” in German for you spell check enthusiasts.
Via Axandra Search Engine Facts newsletter, German company SISTRIX (translated link) has conducted a study of 10,000 random keywords and then analyzed the top 100 Google search results for each keyword to determine which page elements offered the most influence on rankings.

Nothing in the analysis will be new to long time search marketers, but since so many people new to search engine optimization ask for nice, concise lists of what’s important to rank well in the search engines, I thought I’d indulge.

  • Keywords in the title tag
  • Targeted keywords in the body tag
  • Keywords in H2-H6 headline tags seem to have an influence on the rankings while keywords in H1 headline tags don’t seem to have an effect.
  • Using keywords in bold or strong tags – slight effect
  • Keywords in image file names
  • Keywords in image alt attributes
  • Keyword in the domain name – although, using domain names as link text may explain this
  • Web pages that use very few parameters in the URL (?id=123, etc.)
  • PageRank
  • Inbound links – The top result on Google has usually about four times as many links as result number 11.

Additional notes:

  • Keywords in the file name don’t seem to have a positive effect
  • The file size doesn’t seem to influence the ranking of a web page on Google although smaller sites tend to have slightly higher rankings.

SEOmoz has also published two surveys of search marketers on their opinions of what on page elements and off page factors are most influential for search engine rankings. Here is version two. I was invited to participate in that survey/study but declined.

I would not personally bank on either study by themselves but rather a combination of both with an emphasis on personal experience, trial/error and real world data analysis. There simply is no substitute for real world insights, practical experience and data.

It is important when using such information with search engine optimization projects to consider them a guide, not as rules. Algorithm chasing puts all your eggs in one basket and is not a sustainable strategy.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on integrated content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely on a beach somewhere doing absolutely nothing.


  1. I agree about all your eggs in one basket. Some days I wake up and I don’t want to check rankings or anything that has to do with SEO. All I want to do is try and create good content with “SEO best practices” in place and let the search engines do what their gonna do. You can waste all your time chasing algorithms, too much time if you ask me.

  2. Good point Drew. I think people that only do SEO and nothing else to market a web site get a little too caught up in it. When you have multiple channels of promotion, you have a lot more to work with and less need to obsess about any one set of tactics.

  3. The study is invalid. They made no apparent effort to statistically isolate the criteria so they have not shown a correlation between any of their factors and rankings.

  4. Hey Michael, I don’t think there are any claims to being “statistically” valid if that’s what you mean. And in that vein, it’s not any more or less valid than the SEOmoz survey.

    If you are aware of a credible study, feel free to share.

  5. Brad Henry says:

    Good list of the basics but I still think the keyword in the filename does play an important role, especially for keywords that are in the medium to medium low competitive range.

  6. Seems I do the same with drew did…
    Create a good content everyday while let Search engine do what they should do 🙂

  7. Lee Odden wrote: “If you are aware of a credible study, feel free to share.”

    Heh. Well, that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?

    I think there are many interesting papers out there but once you venture into the realm of figuring out what works better, you paint yourself into a corner.

    Isolating one factor from all others requires a lot more work than any of the studies I’ve read have put into the process.

  8. Nice break down, why do you think the h1 tag had little affect ?

  9. Suhrud Potdar says:

    Good inshort listing! but to make these effective you need to have a good content!

    Whatever versions the search engines upgrade to, one thing they cant go without is -The CONTENT.

    Write a good content on the targeted topic, keep adding few bits of new information to it, keeping it LIVE!

    Highlight your keywords/phrases in proper grammatical sentences and marking their presence in form of document summary at start/end of document may also help both; the humans and spiders. That helps them to guess on – what the page is about. The Page Title should be well a formated sentence, commenting about the current document!

    With new Google Universal Search – the content should now come in all forms- web page text, images and videos!

    Lastly, I think Its a simple rule to follow – Make it appealing for the people and the spiders will crawl in!

  10. What made you think that H1 tag is less effective then H2-H6 tags? can you please explain it in detail.

  11. It should not come as a surprise that repetitious use of keywords in the page elements has an impact on relevance. Emphasis also plays a part. But, again, the analysis is flawed because their methodology doesn’t make any provision for isolating factors.

  12. Gino Cosme says:

    If there is one thing that is true, online eMarketing tactics deserve an integrated and multifaceted approach. The same applies to SEO. The most important thing to understand is how search engines gather their information, what they seek to deliver, what possible factors could help, and what searchers themselves want in return.

  13. Brandon and SEO india, H1 is probably degraded in importance/influence for the same reason meta keywords are.

  14. Lee: “Brandon and SEO india, H1 is probably degraded in importance/influence for the same reason meta keywords are.”

    We have yet to see any evidence that H1 headings have no impact on rankings.

    BTW — I cannot unsubscribe from the comment notifications. I keep getting a 404 error when I try to manage my subscriptions.

  15. SEOidiot says:

    haha lol

  16. Subscription management fixed.

  17. That’s very interesting about the H tags. H1 probably has diminished in importance a little but to not have any effect at all is suprising to me. Most pages i come across never go deeper than an H 3 tag usually.

  18. True, the study does not list any new points but that simply means that the good old SEO rules still apply.

    Of the last 10 optimized blog posts, I got each post to the first page of Google. Wanna find out what I look at?
    Check out my blog.

  19. Well, all theses elements seem to be quite true and there is effectively nothing really new about that.

    I would probably detail the inbound links factor. Indeed, a perfectly optimized website will never ranked without good links, that means:
    – relevant links
    – links from popular pages
    – links from trusted websites
    – topical links from your community
    – fresh and renewing links

    And to obtain those links, no better than a good and appealing content or innovative services.

    SEO is all about that :
    – Good content / Innovative Services
    – A good technical structure
    – A little push trough PR actions
    – And why not, classic netlinking on major directories

  20. Good read, I’m suprised domain age isn’t mentioned in this one though, seems to be a very big one!

  21. So, does this study means.. content is no important or has less important??
    this seems to be very unacceptable as per any SEO view

  22. Keywords in the title are by far the most important.
    I agree.

    good backlinks is the second most important in my opinion

  23. Nice article and comments, very informative thanks!

  24. Hello,
    Nothing new in Google Ranking factors study. I agree with David Eaves, what about domain age? that’s really an important factor.


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