SearchMetrics released their final Ranking Factors & Rank Correlations study in 2016, and instead, will release industry-specific ranking factor studies in the future. The first industry-specific study, released in February, focuses on ranking factors for ecommerce websites.
Since 2012, search marketers have eagerly awaited the annual release of the SearchMetrics Ranking Factors study, which provided insight into factors that likely impacted a website’s visibility and ranking in search results. The study examined ranking factors across many industries, and grouped informational and transactional websites together. But as relevance and intent become more important when aligning search results and queries, the SearchMetrics team found “there are no longer any ranking factors that are universally applicable for all industries. Content demands based on user intent have simply become too differentiated.”
eCommerce Ranking Factors
The first industry-specific study – eCommerce Ranking Factors 2017 – was released in February. SearchMetrics created a keyword set with terms it deemed particularly relevant to retail activities that take place online. The keywords are transactional and product-centric – think “shoes” and “baby strollers” or “hover boards” – that someone might use when they want to research a product or make a purchase online.
Then, the SearchMetrics team applied the ecommerce keyword set to the ranking factors that had been included in the original “general” benchmark analyses. The result? An industry-specific list of 10 ranking factors deemed important for ecommerce websites seeking to rank well in Google search results.
Use of Advertisements (AdSense, AdLinks)
SearchMetrics found that 9% of all websites found on page 1 of Google search results use AdSense or AdLinks to generate additional income by allowing others to advertise on their site. In comparison, only 3% of ecommerce websites allow advertising, which makes perfect sense. Few ecommerce websites go to the trouble of bringing traffic to their pages and products, only to invite potential customers to leave the site and shop elsewhere. Perhaps onsite ads make sense for companies with complementary businesses and products where cross-sell / up-sell opportunities exist, but most ecommerce website owners want to keep their hard-won customers on their own site as long as possible.
Social Signals (from Facebook)
As a group, ecommerce websites have less “social visibility” than informational websites such as publishers. Visitors are not Liking and Sharing ecommerce content as often as they might Like or Share a news story. That said, providing opportunities to Like or Share product information from the individual product page is a smart marketing practice.
SearchMetrics found that the average file size for the top 10 ecommerce websites was 32% larger than that of the top 10 benchmark sites. They surmised that category pages, which typically included product images resulting in a larger file size, could be ranking well. Since site speed and load time are important to Google and to users, ecommerce sites that use lots of product images on their site would be wise to ensure that images and pages load quickly.
Number of Interactive Elements
Ecommerce sites that provide lots of engaging, interactive elements for users dominate the first page of search results. Compared to websites in the benchmark analysis, ecommerce sites contained 40% more interactive elements, and the sites on page 1 of search results averaged 291 interactive elements apiece. Buttons that allow users to change colors, drop-down menus to adjust size, downloadable user manuals, and filters would all be considered interactive elements.
Top Level Domain is .com
“For anyone considering setting up a new eCommerce page in the US, or if an international company is looking to expand its activities to the US,” wrote SearchMetrics, “then it is essential to have a .com TLD.” They found that 99.9% of the top 10 ecommerce sites were .com.
The final five “most notable” ranking factors were highlighted in a SearchMetrics webinar that followed the ecommerce study release. Tyson Stockton, In House SEO Expert at SearchMetrics, identified these five ranking factors as being particularly important for ecommerce sites.
Maximum Bullets in List
Google loves structured content and lists, and ecommerce sites lend themselves well to bulleted list content. Product descriptions are typically presented in a bulleted format, providing shoppers with enough pertinent details to entice them to buy. In SearchMetrics’ benchmark study, the top websites average 14.4 bullets per list; the top ecommerce websites averaged 24.4 bullets per list. Stockton stated that Google understands that non-bulleted content on a page may be “more valuable” to shoppers, but also stressed the importance of structured content like bullets.
Number of Internal Links
Internal linking is particularly valuable on an ecommerce website where the goal is to move visitors through a customer journey. If the customer lands on the home page, having links to category pages, then to product pages, then to reviews or supporting material can help keep the customer interested and engaged. Internal links make it easier for Google to visit every page of the website. Stockton noted that an effective internal linking strategy “helps maximize a website’s ‘crawl budget’, passes page value across the site, and ensures that transactional pages are also being crawled.”
Online Store Above the Fold
The ecommerce report stated that “56% of eCommerce pages in the top 10 Google positions have an online store above the fold.” Stockton clarified this point during the webinar, stating that having an “add to cart” function above the fold prepared ecommerce websites to “adequately meet search queries that are based on a transactional user intent.”
While video appears to be less important and prevalent on the top ecommerce sites (35% had embedded video) than the top 10 sites in Google search results (49% had embedded video), video can still play an important role in the sales process. Providing opportunities for customers to see how a product works, or to better understand how much assembly will be required, can go a long way toward closing a sale. Stockton stated that video integration is part of the overall user experience, and that video complements text content. While videos are rarely found on the page where a transaction takes place, they are frequently found elsewhere on the website.
SearchMetrics determined that the word count for ecommerce URLs is 25% higher than on other non-commerce websites. Stockton stated that Google makes no distinction between SEO content and content intended for the user, and that Google is getting more skilled at understanding user intent by way of thought vectors and Rank Brain.
Conclusion / What Marketers Need to Know
SearchMetrics will release four more industry-specific studies in 2017, and marketers responsible for websites that provide health, finance, media, and travel information will likely gain valuable insight from these reports. You can pre-order your copies here.
The SearchMetrics team encouraged marketers to be vigilant about factors that will continue to be important for ranking success across all industries, most notably site speed and technical performance; user signals such as click-through rate and bounce rate that speak to user satisfaction; and finally relevance. “Google gets it,” said Stockton: SearchMetrics anticipates that providing relevant content to match user intent will continue to gain importance as a ranking factor.