Betting on the 2011 Search Bowl: Where Would I Focus to Drive Up Your Score?

This week Covario is releasing a new white paper on Audit Score v3.0, our recently patented SEO analytic, which is featured in both Covario Organic Search Insight and Covario Organic Search Optimizer solutions.  We  spent six months redeveloping the score to take advantage of a number of innovations made in our ability to analyze linking strategies for large scale advertisers.  In building out Audit Score v3, Covario conducted research leveraging 800,000 keywords and the landing pages associated with those keywords.  We were able to statistically analyze how changes in on-page and off-page optimization drove changes in ranking on Google, Bing and Yahoo.  That analysis yielded some interesting results.

First, it is unacceptable to have any type of technical crawl-ability errors in a website.
In 2007, when we launched Audit Score v1.0, nearly 85% of all the websites we analyzed had what would be considered MAJOR technical issues.  Rendering errors, URL structures that were too long or used dynamic parameters, and/or navigation structures that were opaque to crawlers.  All were so common that a good site technically tended to rank well.  Not any longer.  This time, the number of sites we looked at that had significant technical issues fell below 20%.  In addition, the sophistication of the search engines to crawl sites has improved as their crawlers have improved.   However, there were two technical factors that popped out of the analysis

Do NOT use session IDs in the URL.

  • Advertisers who do this are severely penalized by the engines.

Page load time is a huge factor in SEO.

  • Advertisers must work with their IT departments to make sure page load times are as fast as possible.  If you go to your website now and watch a load time bar for more than five seconds while the page renders, you can pretty much assume that the search engine crawler is there “looking impatient, tapping its watch, or drumming its fingers.”

Second, content development processes have improved markedly.
In 2007, having a high-value keyword in the URL, title tag, header tags, or body tag was a winner!  This is now largely ubiquitous.  Much like with technical issues – having the keyword in the URL  is still correlated strongly with high ranking.  However, this is only a third as impactful as the last time we did a big write-up on this subject four years ago.  Optimized SEO content is no longer avant garde – it is de riguer.

Lastly, links are everything.
Not surprising, but this may add some quantitative insights.  We look at four factors, including:

  1. raw count of internal links,
  2. raw count of external links,
  3. having keywords in the anchor text of the referring pages for external links, and
  4. the quality of the links.

Link quality is correlated with ranking 10X that of the raw count of external links, which are in turn are 3X more impactful than internal links.  Having keywords in the referring anchor text of an inbound external link was a surprising weak predictor of high ranking.  This is considered a big factor by SEO experts, but the numbers say it has at best marginal impact.  Now, having a few key links to high value sites is worth the effort.  For an advertiser—the one thing to take away from this analysis is to incent SEO people on building the “critical few” links, not incenting them to “build, build, build,” or trusting that a high link count is valuable. It is not.

So, it leads me to this…  Where would I focus to drive up my Score?

Audit Score that is!   I would focus on link building and overall maintenance of the technical and content infrastructure – as it is now a must to have systems in place that keep websites up-to-date.  You don’t even get a chance to run the race if the systems are not crawl-able and content is not well optimized.

ACTIONABLE INSIGHT #1:

The only sustainable way to differentiate a website is through building a few key links.  Advertisers should spend their time building scalable processes to research these links for each keywords on a global basis, search engine by search engine, and language by language.

ACTIONABLE INSIGHT #2:

It is not possible to differentiate a site on content or crawl-ability.  The maturity of the market is such that being well optimized for on-page factors is a necessity that does not create lift, but rather the lack thereof causes ranking degradation.