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.