Ranking Factors Popularity and Weight, SEO Case Study #1

Few weeks back we started a small study composed of several simple SEO questions, one of which was: “Which of the following have more weight as ranking factors?” with provided choices being: Website Trust and Authority, Anchor Text of the links, Link Popularity, Onpage quality and keyword relevance and Social Presence and Popularity. We took a slightly different approach with the survey, instead of upright asking to choose among the provided answers we asked people to give them a score. This provided us with an insight of what people think of each one of these factors and how much weight each one of them has according to the people that took the survey.

The image below presents the ranking factors as a whole according to 50 surveyors. The graph was devised using the total number of points, or the average score a ranking factor has.

ranking factors

In most ranking factor studies people were given a choice between them, we didn’t make that choice for the people that took the survey, but asked them to rate the factor according to what they think is most important assigning each of the factors a score from 1 to 5. So like you can see on the graph, there is a very slight difference between the ranking factors, which just goes to show that there isn’t one single ranking factor that is above others, but in fact there are several you need to take into consideration at all times.

We know that there are over 200 ranking factors that Google takes into account, some have more weight some have less weight, but the 5 presented here seem to be on equal grounds according to 50 people that took the survey. In order to understand a bit, our survey was derived from people that spend on SEO this many hours during the week:

hours per week on SEO

As you can see, we have approximately the same number of SEO beginners; advanced SEO’s and professional SEO’s that did the survey. I would have liked that only professionals did it, but this also gives us an insight into what beginners are thinking. Let’s take a look at the same study looked from the angle of what professionals think and what beginners think about being the most important ranking factors for SEO.

ranking factors by advanced SEOs

Professional SEO Opinion, based on the work hours spent on SEO


ranking factors by beginner SEOs

Beginner SEO Opinion, based on the work hours spent on SEO

When you compare these two graphs you can see a few differences, major one being that professional SEOs think that Onpage quality and relevance is the most important factor along with website trust and authority, while the majority of beginners think it is website trust and authority as single ranking factor that stands a bit above others. Another difference is that professional SEOs think a bit less of anchor text links and social presence than beginners do. So we are starting to form a pattern. The greatest thing I learned from this survey is that even beginner SEO’s mostly know the concept, the two graphs are not all that different, which means people are learning about SEO.

Since the ranking factors graph is too broad and it shows us that all of these factors are really important, with which I agree, we also need to take a look at the scores for each of these factors presented in the graph in order to understand it better.

Website Trust and Authority

website trust and authority

I guess this one is very easy to understand. We have only 4 people that ranked website trust and authority as being a low impacting ranking factor, while 8 think it is a moderate impacting factor and 38 other think it is a ranking factor of high value. Website trust and authority comes from various factors, some of which are included in the top 5 list here.

Onpage Quality and Relevance

OnPage keyword relevance

This one is a bit fragmented. Although we can clearly see that onpage is considered to be a high factor for rankings the opinions here are divided. Basically, 5 people answered that it is of low importance, while 14 claim it is of moderate importance and 29 that it is of highest importance. Unlike with trust and authority people put less weight on quality of their pages, they know it is important, but they don’t think that it is the most important thing.

Now my personal opinion is that quality of your content is the most important thing. If you don’t have quality you will never become an authority, so nothing will add to your trust factor, without quality people won’t link to you, unless you pay them to. Again, people obviously think it is important, but they think there are more important factors. I wouldn’t put it as more important factor than the rest, but I would put it as the first priority.

Link Popularity

link popularity

We have the same issue with link popularity as we do with onpage quality and relevance. Obviously people think that it is important, but not the most important one. I tend to agree with the idea, but in practice I have learned that if you have good content on your site the only thing you need to rule the SERP’s is some high quality links to add to your link profile. So personally, I would put more weight into quality link building as the priority once the onpage stuff is set and ready to go.

Anchor Text of the Link

Anchor text

And this is where things become a bit crazy with the chart. Now we obviously have mixed opinions about the importance of anchor texts for rankings. The basic concept is that the anchor text of the link is used to provide relevance to the page it links to, it tells the search engines that the page pointing to is about something. But now with content of the page and the surroundings of the links given more weight anchor text dropped a bit. Obviously that created confusion with people; there are some that still think that anchor text is highly important while a great number of people obviously think that it has lost its value.

Personally I am lost in the middle. I know that anchor texts are important, but when creating a link I look at all the aspects that bring out the best of the anchor text, like the content of the page, relevance of the website itself, authority and with that in mind I chose the anchor text carefully, so I get the best possible results.

Social Presence and Popularity

Social Presence and popularity

Social presence and popularity in social networks seems to be the least preferred one. But I think this chart will soon start shifting to the left, with more answers saying that it is important and less and less answers saying that it’s not all that important. We have seen what social networks can do for our websites and how important they are for driving traffic, and as we can see from some of the updates and talks in the SEO world we know that search engines are thinking the exact same thing. So don’t neglect your social media presence, although it may not have such a great direct impact on your rankings, it can get you links, traffic and plenty of opportunities, which makes social networks extremely valuable. Here is what Rand Fishkin thinks of social media presence and how it influences the users side of the search, Rand’s post explains well why you don’t want to neglect social media.

Overall I think this survey was a success, we saw that there is no such thing as the single most important ranking factor and that beginners keep up with SEO. There are a few more answers that we will answer in the next few weeks with other results of our survey, but I’m sure we will revisit ranking factors in the next few months or a year. So if you want to contribute there is a link to the survey in the sidebar or you can follow this one: Simple SEO Survey. Please leave your feedback in the comments and tell us what you think.

About The Author

is the founder and CEO of Practical SEO and also a passionate blogger. All of his free time he dedicates to his Practical SEO blog and giving free advice as well as participating in the blogging community.

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23 Response to Ranking Factors Popularity and Weight, SEO Case Study #1

  1. Mark @ TheBitBot SEM Blog on June 20, 2011

    Interesting. Personally I have felt as of late that on-page SEO has regained the importance it once had, post-Panda, that is.

    If this is what the pros are saying then I feel that I am on the right track.

    My personal motto is…write for people first and then go back and tweak it a little to boost the SEO value.

    It definitely takes less link building this way…at least in my experience.

    Cool survey, Zarko. Original research like that always makes for great posts.


  2. Andy C. on June 21, 2011

    I think my page rank decreased before. But I think my link popularity is fair enough. I haven’t tried much SEO because I was dealing with SMEO. Maybe I should pay attention more to anchor text building and social presence. Thanks for sharing the survey.

  3. fred@finally fast on June 21, 2011

    It’s interesting to see peoples’ *perceptions* of what works, vs similar graphical info based on factual results… I’m going to go ahead and say.. it looks like “Presence and Popularity” seems to be wildly under-rated or under-valued. A website that has incredible popularity is always going to rank higher than an unpopular website in every way imaginable (even $$$)….!


  4. web design Utah on June 21, 2011

    The Ranking factors is well presented in this blog.. Details that is shown in here by using Illustrations o scale, draw a clear definite conclusions than just putting them in text.. good job guys.. :)

  5. Zarko on June 21, 2011

    @Mark, thanks, in my opinion Onpage never declined in importance, we were the ones that made it seem like that with massive article submissions and spinning software.

    @Fred, I do agree that presence and popularity was unrated, but slightly, not wildly like you said. there isn’t a great difference in results, but like I said, the chart will soon start shifting to the left as more and more people get to realize that search is also going social in some ways.

  6. lawmacs on June 21, 2011

    Thanks Zarko this is a good experiment for me and the best part is that you have come back with the result and explain it in layman’s term. Heh Congrats on the nomination

  7. Zarko on June 21, 2011

    Hey Gary, glad you liked it and understood it :)

    And thanks, Jason really surprised me this time!

  8. Mike Nolls on June 22, 2011

    Great post, love the SEO polls. There is no doubt that we will see more social media factors being included in Google’s algorithm in the future. Also interesting to see some of the differing opinions on anchor text use, I feel mixing it up is the safest bet. Definitely agree with building your trust/authority through creating unique and quality content that supports your linking campaigns.

  9. Vineet@Web Designing Mumbai on June 22, 2011

    Nice Survey. Very informative and useful post. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  10. Gabriella - The Stepford Wife on June 22, 2011

    This is very interesting! :)

  11. Danielle Lynn on June 22, 2011

    I love the polls Zarko… I’ve always been a big fan of graphs and pie charts. It’s information… that you can SEE. :)

    That being said, I can see that I still have a lot more to learn about SEO and how it all pulls together. Luckily, this is a great place to brush up on my SEO knowledge!

  12. SEO Expert Service In Thailand on June 22, 2011

    weight as ranking factors ? I would like to learn more in detail.
    and How to measure about Website Trust and Authority ? for sure I can making the High Quality On-page by writing but I do not know how to got the good quality link, because no one would like to share. still in a problem.

  13. Jason Acidre on June 23, 2011

    Yeah, I remember this survey, though I can’t remember my precise answers haha.

    Though based on my observations lately, blog posts that are hosted on older domains seem to appear more prominent on the top page (compared to highly optimized landing pages), I guess it’s due to users’ behavior once they are on that page. Not really sure at this time, since Google is pushing site speed so much on most of Matt Cutts’ Q&A videos (perhaps it’s intended for Instant Pages).

  14. Ross@Search Engine Optimization on June 23, 2011

    Great report Zarko, particularly the findings on the relevance of Anchor Text. I still believe anchor text is important, but it has to be done right. If you’re targeting a keyword and continually use that one phrase as your anchor text and don’t vary it at all, it becomes obvious you’re trying to game the system and it doesn’t work as well anymore.

  15. Zarko on June 24, 2011

    Hey Ross, you are right, varying anchor texts is crucial. A post just published on SEOmoz listed the same thing as one of the top 5 mistakes in list building and I happen to agree!

  16. Kathy Grin on June 24, 2011

    There is really a difference between beginners and professionals… This is indeed a success in surveying bloggers about their opinions… Anyway, thanks for the post because you made us updated….

  17. Jesica Wills on June 30, 2011

    Hello Zarko. Great survey and really very helpful article. Anchor text part of it is very nice. Keep writing good and informative articles like this. Thanks.

    One thing to tell you.. I am also writing blogs. Please, check my blog and suggest me how can I drive more readers on my blog? Reply me.

  18. Zarko on June 30, 2011

    Hi Jesica,

    took a look at your blog.. first things that I saw were the .blogspot and the hundred miles long domain name. Eact matches are good, if you can limit the number of words, having 4 long words in the domain name is never favorable, not even with the search engines.

    As for the promotion, I would suggest that you add more quality content, add it more regularly. Also, I didn’t see twitter or Facebook anywhere, and now is the time to start thinking about Google+ as well. Create new content, promote it, start guest blogging, accept guest posts, find tech related communities, forums, Q/a sites, create an account and engage, get connections. SEO is about relationships more and more, the more people you know and the more people you are connected it becomes easier to promote and build links.

  19. Roland@rome hotels on July 3, 2011

    You got it men, this graph survey are very relevant for website promotion. We can have a visible idea on which field we are going to exert much effort. You have mention here the gravity of its ranking factor. The big idea in which among the factor we are going to propagate our work. This will be very helpful to those who read this post.

  20. Article Submission Services on July 5, 2011

    Thanks Zarko, for this updated survey report, I think its reasonable and believe you collected the information from the correct people. I found that you gave some suggestion to Jasica, the techniques you mentioned they are really worthy, I’m also applying some of them for my website.

    Can you please tell me one thing about Backlinks, I’m confused what is more worthy to create backlinks on “High PR unrelated backlinks” or “Zero PR related backlinks” ??, I’m doing both but thinking which is more important for better ranking factors.
    Thanks in advance.

  21. Zarko on July 5, 2011


    I would always look for related sites, even if they are new with a low number of visitors, they can only go up. A related website linking to you adds value to the link, always keep that in mind… High authority website is good, but it will only get you so far, and don’t judge the value of a website based on their PR…

  22. Safe SEO on July 15, 2011

    Seo is still a mystery to me. Sometimes I reach a good ranking with a few backlinks, and some are without a backlink.

  23. Ben@SEO Case Study on July 19, 2011

    I’m just getting into this case study (I’m going to really dive into it in a minute), but at first glance, I have to say that I would have expected the overall Authority and also anchor text to weigh more heavily.

    Gonna bookmark this one for sure :)

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