How SearchMetrics’ New Ranking Factors Affect Your Content Marketing Strategy

Every year, SearchMetrics releases Google search engine ranking factors and correlations they find from performing thousands of searches with well-known keywords. In the report, they break down 7 different areas where your website can influence search rankings. These include technical, user experience, content, Wikipedia/Facebook, social signals, mobile rankings and backlinks. Each area is then broken down into segments.

Technical covers everything behind the scenes that a webmaster or marketer uses to create the opportunity to rank in search. User experience covers things the user of your website enjoys, such as responsive design, video integration, bullets and user flow. Content, which we’ll cover in depth, pertains to the creation of the content for the website. Wikipedia/Facebook covers how these two websites affect rankings, social signals relate to how your website and content interact with social media, and mobile rankings have grown in importance along with increased use of mobile devices. Finally, backlinks, which used to be the bible of SEO, help us understand what happens to your search engine rankings when other sites link to your content.

At Brandpoint, we strive to give our clients the best understanding of how content can affect their rankings. That’s why we’ve chosen to break down the content section of the SearchMetrics report. We’ll start with word count.

Word Count

SearchMetrics counts the words on the top 30 pages within a search. They then compare their data to the previous data to see how it differs. In 2015, SearchMetrics found an increase in word count throughout the top 30 results. In 2014, those results averaged around 902 words. In 2015, the top 30 averaged over 1,140 words. When you look at the top 10, the difference is even greater, as these sites have averaged 1,280 words in 2015.

Putting it to use

These word counts can sound a bit daunting when it’s time to create content, especially when you see surveys that state people like to read shorter, authoritative pieces of around 300 words. So what should you do? We recommend creating blog posts around the 300 to 500-word mark, and then create an internal linking structure to support your authority. But don’t neglect your longer pieces. If you can, create a 1,000-word post once or twice a month. This will give you an even better chance to show your authority and improve your rankings for your most important keywords.

Keyword in Meta Description

The meta description is the short text featured when your piece of content shows up on a Google search page. According to SearchMetrics, having a keyword in the meta description is becoming less important. This is due to the fact that semantic search has taken hold and Google can understand meanings of words better. Only 53 percent of the search results in the test had the keyword within the meta description.

Putting it to use:

Your page’s meta description is its CTA. It tells what the page is about and encourages the search engine user to choose your page. When creating your meta descriptions, take a look at the page and ask yourself what it’s about and what the reader might get from it. Then write that within your meta description. If you’re on WordPress, check out SEOYoast plugin for some help with creating proper metas.

Keyword in Internal Links

Internal links drive readers of your page further into your website. They help users learn more about you and they help you move the page up in the social rankings. The SearchMetrics report states that 56 percent of the top 30 results have a main keyword link internally.

Putting it to use

Internal linking can help boost your authority within your industry. One way to create an internal linking strategy is to use a hubpage strategy. See what I did there … internal linking!

Keyword in External Links

External links are a whole different breed when you’re trying to rank for certain keywords or phrases. While using them sparingly is encouraged, their relevance to your ranking for a keyword or phrase has gone down. To put it another way: When you link to an outside page, that page will be considered higher in relevance to your keyword than your own page. In the SearchMetrics rankings, external linking has decreased 23 percent among the top 10, as well as 22 percent among the top 30.

Putting it to use

The bottom line: Use external linking wisely, as this practice will help the page you’re linking to more than it will help your own in regards to a given keyword or phrase. On the other hand, if your piece of content is outside of your area of expertise or if you’re sharing a blog from an influencer in a given industry, then using external linking is a good idea.

Flesch Readability

The Flesch Readability score indicates the complexity of a piece of content. Each piece of content ends up ranked between 1 and 100. The higher the number, the easier it is to read. SearchMetrics found that the average score of the content in the top 10 as well as the top 30 was around 76. That has increased a bit from last year’s average score of 73.

Putting it to use:

Using a tool to grade your content can help you understand how advanced your writing is.

Proof & Relevant Terms

Proof terms are the related terms that provide the most value to your primary keyword or phrase. If your primary term is “Panda Update,” for example, the proof terms would be “Google,” “algorithm,” “affected” or “Panda.” According to SearchMetrics, 78 percent of the websites in their results used proof terms to improve rankings. Relevant terms are related but more distant from the primary keyword. If we use the example of “Panda Update” again, the relevant terms could be “webmaster” or “rankings.” Around 51 percent of the top 30 websites integrated relevant terms into their content.

Putting it to use:

Understanding semantic search is a huge step toward gaining control of your Google search results. Semantic search takes into account both proof terms and relevant terms, which are our next discussion point, and it gives Google a holistic understanding of what your content is about. Writing informative pieces about a subject will allow you to cover the basics of proof and relevant terms. The bottom line is that high-ranking pages are much more holistic than ever before.


Understanding how content is ranked within search is a journey down the rabbit hole. You get glimpses by performing searches on your own, but Google will never let you see too much. Using reports like this one given by SearchMetrics can help you better understand what Google is looking for.

As most of us know: “Knowing is half the battle.” So take what you know now and test it yourself to see what works for you and your brand to get the whole picture. (FYI: This is now 1,132 … 33 words.)

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