by Chris Horton
Moz released its latest chart on 2013′s SEO ranking factors and if nothing else, it certainly proves that SEO is certainly not dead, but it may change our job titles. The report asked 120 SEO professionals about what they considered to be the most important elements in SEO out of 80 SEO ranking factors that they feel you should focus on for your website and the results may surprise you.
From the extensive list, the top 68 are elements that are out of your control (to an extent) and they all involve external people, organizations, and sites that link to you or talk about you. You can’t affect how many people +1 your post on Google+, or who sets up links to you on external websites, or how many people share your posts on Facebook or re-tweet you. And the means by which you can control that are frowned upon by Google because then you’re being manipulating. So that means you have to create great content that people want to re-tweet, re-post and whatnot.
Of particular interest is the first item on the list indicating that Page Authority is the primary important piece. Outside of the re-tweets and re-posts we spoke of, the remaining 60+ elements are people linking to you from other websites, from different locations, IP addresses, servers, subdomains, etc. We’ll talk about those in a couple of days, but let’s discuss Page Authority now.
What is Page Authority?
What is Page Authority and how do you get it? Page Authority essentially asks the question, “Is your website the authority on the search term the person just typed into Google?” It is a combination of variables including how many inbound links there are, how many people refer to your site as an “authority” on the given search term, the PageRank, amount of content on the page regarding that search term, and a wealth of other considerations. It’s far more technical, but essentially, are you considered the “go to” site for that term?
What may be surprising to you is that even a simple adjective change or even “plural versus singular” searches can affect whether or not you show up in the search engine results pages (SERPS). In the automotive industry, if someone searches Google for “cars“, an authoritative site would be a site such as Cars.com, Autotrader.com, etc. Primarily because the searcher didn’t specify a make or model and those types of sites specialize in featuring a variety of cars regardless of make and model.
But if the searcher indicates “Audi“, then the authority sites change. The previous sites may show up further down the list, but the top positions will then be Audi.com, info on Audi such as their Wikipedia page, their Twitter page, Facebook page, and even possibly local Audi dealers. It assumes that the searcher wants info on Audi and the search engines make sure that it lists the places that contain the most information about “Audi” and that would be Audi‘s own website and the social sites where Audi posts regularly because very simply Audi is the authority on Audi.
However, if the user even goes a step further and adds a location into the mix and indicates “Atlanta Audi“, the search results change yet again to focus specifically on Audi dealers in Atlanta. And to take it even further, if the person then indicates a specific year, make, model (i.e. – 2013 Audi A4), then the search engines will point to specific pages that contain information about that make and model, such as review sites, and other locations that have a wealth of information about that specific car like a Wikipedia page or dealership page that has lots of info about that exact car.
This is why page authority is such a broad term that means different things based on different terms. It can mean that while your website may be an authority on a specific item, it may not be authoritative enough for broader terms. An Atlanta Audi dealer may be authoritative for “Atlanta Audi”, but not “Cars” because there are a wealth of other cars other than Audi and their site only talks about Audi and is located in Atlanta. The broader the term, the more competitive it becomes and the more difficult it then becomes to rank for those terms. Location based terms are broad as well, but are much easier to rank for than their broader counterparts. Ranking for “Maine Wedding Planner” is a much less daunting task than just “wedding planner“.
Having an actual physical location is even better because you then can take advantage of location based searches. More and more mobile searchers utilize location based searches based on where they are at that moment making use of GPS data. Even the worst of poorly constructed websites can sometimes rank in the localized listings simply by having the advantage of a physical location.
If you’re in a competitive industry such as wedding planning, automotive, web design, etc., you should probably discover if you have a niche and then considering whether or not you fit under that umbrella to become more authoritative for that term. One important element to remember is that page authority is not something that you can alter. Your’e at the mercy of external forces. The only thing you can control is what’s on your site. Don’t alter your entire website based on chasing a niche if you’re really not about that niche.
It’s tremendously important to enjoy what you’re doing and the authority will come. You can’t fake your way onto the SERP’s. Many have tried and failed. Content will always be king, but if you can’t provide more information and more often than your competitors, your road to SERP domination will be more painful than waiting at the DMV.
A few weeks ago saw the roll out of Google’s Carousel. It’s a scrolling “carousel” of locations that you can choose from that resides on the top of the results page for certain markets. So far, they’ve released the use of the carousel for hotels, restaurants, and venues (like nightclubs, etc.). Further discussions have also noted that in any future use of the carousel for other markets, there would have to be at least a dozen relevant results for it to be activated. An example of the carousel in action shows up if you were to type in “disco Atlanta” into the Google search field.
What’s probably the most interesting to most is the order in which the results are displayed. The results show a photo pulled from Google Plus accounts, the number of reviews and overall score, venue name, and partial address. Clicking a result then displays further information underneath the carousel such as map, phone and more (also seen in the photo above).
So what are the positive and negatives of this new carousel?
One positive is that businesses failing to rank well for certain broad terms will actually be able to be seen on the first page of results in the carousel. The pre-Carousel world of SERPs showcased only 10 results for broader terms like these (disco Atlanta, Thai restaurants, etc.) and normally they’d showcase listing services first and not individual locations.
The carousel increases those 10 measly listings to 30 by adding 20 more across the top of the page. Only an extra 10 if you consider clicking the right hand navigation arrow as “another page”. In our research for some of the more broader terms, less than 25% of the carousel listings even ranked in the top 50 organically for the same term (not including their presence in the listing services like Yelp). A broad search term Italian Restaurants Atlanta yielded 20 restaurants in the carousel and none of which were on the first page of organic results. Matter of fact, only 3 of our “disco Atlanta” searches had an organic presence in the top 30 for that same term.
A majority of the organic results below the carousel were specifically displaying listing services such as Yelp, Zagat and Urbanspoon. The local places that did place organically were not in the top 10 of the carousel. No double dipping here apparently. It’s yet to be seen whether or not this will have a positive effect on those listing services or if people will even embrace the carousels. A brief study on Search Engine Land showed people ignoring the carousel and even pinpointing the 3rd and 8th carousel listing from the left. But we’re pretty confident that this has to do more with happenstance and the appeal of the photo they chose and less with subliminal position preference.
One thing we found particularly interesting is that Google’s paid advertising gets pushed off of the page, so if the broad term you enter generates a carousel, the ads are gone. This is an unusual decision by Google to forego monetary gain.
The worse part is that it’s an analyst nightmare since the search result tracking will get progressively worse. Analysts are already fighting against the “keyword not set” fiasco as it is and this not only agitates that situation, but makes it even more difficult to track what keyword generated the visit.
Note that when you click on a listing in the carousel, the keyword in the search field is then altered to the venue name. In our example above, we clicked Clermont Lounge and the search result changed to “Clermont Lounge“. The carousel displayed other competitors/venues, but the organic results were all altered to display Clermont Lounge results.
If the user then clicks through to the Clermont website, the analyst will most likely never know that “disco Atlanta” was the original keyword phrase that ultimately generated the visit. We can only hope that Google plans to implement separate Google Carousel results into Google Analytics.
Refreshing the page doesn’t alter the order that the carousel ads appear, but how it’s decided who goes where appears to be a result of location based data since searching in these “carousel activating” areas using a zip code alters the businesses that are displayed. This means that potential customers that are local to you will have a better shot at viewing your carousel listing for the broader terms.
Removing the zip code makes it a virtual “whatever” list with seemingly no rhyme or reason to how it’s organized. Broad searches are not ordered by name, reviews, or score. If it’s being based on IP location, that’s a very flawed algorithm for obvious reasons.
However, there are two notations that we had witnessed. The business with the most Google reviews is almost always in the first or second spot from the left and all businesses that utilize microdata are in the top 10. Even though there may be a business without microdata intermingled in the listings, the ones that DO use it seem to always be there without right scrolling.
So what can you do to optimize your carousel display? Not much and what can be handled is a tough uphill climb.
Get Those Google Plus Reviews
Since we’ve witnessed that “Most Google Reviews” wins some of the top 3 leftmost spots (we’ve never seen the highest reviews further than 3 in), that’s your first battle. However, most know that steering customers to Google Plus to review your business is a tough sell, but you need it. This unfortunately gives the big national businesses the upper hand.
Build out Google Plus
If you haven’t done so yet, build out that Google Plus page. The more you utilize of Google‘s services and areas there, the better situated you’ll be, including…
It’s still yet to be seen whether Google will give businesses the option to choose the carousel image that displays or if they will continue the random selection from photos they have. One thing of note we saw was that most of the listings had no semblance of a Google Plus presence and the ones that did weren’t necessarily fairing any better. That is with exception to the businesses that had fully built out their Google Plus presence.
Bigger companies will have a nightmare implementing microdata into their sites and especially the ones that already have extensive dynamic sites in place. But from what we’ve seen, this is definitely yet another place where Google‘s listings give sites with microdata some preferential treatment. In case you haven’t noticed everything else.
We’ll be keeping an eye on the Google Carousel and doing some more tests, but for now you should shift your focus to Google Plus if only to prepare your business for its eventual inclusion into the fray. There are many areas like Google Cars that have yet to see a valid use, but this may be where we see some of those mysterious Google projects start popping up.