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Facebook and Twitter play key role in Google search rankings research reveals.

Facebook and Twitter play key role in Google search rankings research reveals.
Tuesday June 19 2012

The number of Facebook and Twitter shares a website accumulates is playing an increasingly crucial role in determining their Google search ranking, according to new research.

The study, from SEO agency Search Metrics looked at the search results of 10,000 common keywords and 300000 websites.

According to the research, Facebook currently have the largest impact on SEO, with a correlation of 0.37.

Twitter's correlation is considerably behind its competitor, but is still regarded as the sixth strongest factor on rankings, with a correlation of 0.25.

The study also found that web pages with too many advertisements experienced a negative effect when it comes to Google and SEO.

This association was presumed to be a part of Google's Panda Update and the study has confirmed its effect on rankings, with a negative correlation of -0.04.

Analysis showed that the correlation between advertising and ranking was strongest when there was a high percentage of Google AdSense ads. According to Search Metrics, rankings for pages with more ad blocks dropped significantly.

Another key finding of the study is that there isn't a "level playing field" when it comes to SEO, as top brand websites have a ranking advantage over their competitors.

The five key findings of the study are:

1. Social media has arrived in search

Social signals from Facebook and Twitter now correlate very strongly with good rankings in Google's index. The number of Facebook 'shares' a web page has received appears to have the strongest association (a correlation of 0.37). Twitter is far behind Facebook but is still the 6th strongest factor on Searchmetrics' list of Google ranking factors with a correlation of 0.25.

2. Top brands appear to have a ranking advantage

Despite the perception of search as a level playing field, the study found that top brand web sites enjoy a ranking advantage. Some of the main factors that are commonly believed to help web pages rank well, such as the quantity of text on a web page and having keywords in headlines and titles, have no effect in the case of large, well known brands.

"Surprisingly, the data show a negative correlation between these factors and rankings -- contradicting traditional SEO theory. So not having keywords in headlines or having less text on a page seems to be associated with sites that rank higher," explains Marcus Tober, CTO, Searchmetrics.

"When we looked deeper at the top 30 results we found that this pattern really starts to emerge with highly ranked pages. And when we looked at sites that are in the top position on page one of Google -- the natural position occupied by brands -- this is where the negative correlation is strongest. This indicates that strong brands rank highly even without perfectly conforming to common SEO practice."

3. Too much advertising is a handicap

Too many and/or excessively clumsy advertisements were presumed to be a factor in the Google Panda Update and its successors which have tried to lower the search visibility of poor quality results. The data in this study supports this assumption as all the analyzed advertisement factors returned a negative correlation (-0.04).

A deeper analysis revealed that this pattern was strongest when there was a high percentage of Google AdSense ads; rankings for pages with more AdSense ad blocks seem to drop sharply. This supports Google's statements early in 2012, in which the company said that particularly prominent, distracting or above-the-fold ads could lead to ranking problems.

4. Quantity of links is still important but quality is vital

The number of backlinks (links to a website from other sites) is still one of the most powerful factors in predicting Google rankings (with a correlation of +0.36). To get the most benefit, however, it appears a site needs to have a spread of links that looks natural -- not like it was artificially created by SEO experts.

This means that a site should not simply have a large number of perfectly optimized links that include all the keywords it wants to be ranked for in the anchor text. It needs to have a proportion of 'no follow' links (links which do not convey ranking benefits) and links that contain 'stopwords' (such as 'here', 'go', 'this').

5. Keyword domains still frequently attract top results

Contrary to reports, websites with keywords in the domain name such as cheapflights.com still often top the rankings (correlation of +0.11). Although Google has repeatedly said that keyword domain sites will slowly weaken in power in searches, this does not yet seem to be the case.

According to Marcus Tober, chief technology officer at Search Metrics, this flies in the face of the current belief that factors such as the quantity of text and keywords have an effect on all sites.

"Surprisingly, the data show a negative correlation between these factors and rankings – contradicting traditional SEO theory. So not having keywords in headlines or having less text on a page seems to be associated with sites that rank higher," he said.
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