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Here's What Really Matters for SEO in 2016

Here's What Really Matters for SEO in 2016
Image credit: Pixabay

To many people, SEO is a minefield of misinformation and conflicting advice.

Trust me, I’ve been there. When I Googled “SEO” for the first time, I was quickly overwhelmed with a mountain of anecdotes, case studies and “best practices”. I picked up a few tips, but for the most part, I couldn’t make heads or tails of what I read.

After years of in-the-trenches online marketing and PR work, I eventually put the pieces of the puzzles together. But I’m no SEO guru. In fact, most of my best SEO successes have come from old-school PR. That’s because, when you do it right, PR equates to link building, or the practice of building backlinks to your site to get higher rankings in search engines.

But over the last few months I’ve read that “link building is dead” and that “Google doesn’t care about keywords anymore.” Instead, the search engine is supposedly more concerned with high-quality content, schema markup and social media shares.. I’ve been busy with my startup, so I haven’t had time to keep up with the latest trends in the SEO world.

Fortunately, someone else recently took the time to make sense of the topsy-turvy SEO landscape. Brian Dean and a team of data partners at Backlinko recently analyzed 1 million Google results to see which ranking factors are important for SEO in 2016.

Related: The Quick SEO Guide You Need for Your Website

Here’s what they found:

Backlinks are still (very) important

Of the 20-ish ranking factors Dean looked at, he found that backlinks are still the no. 1 most important ranking signal that Google uses. But not just any backlinks. This study found that you need backlinks from a bunch of different domains.

Image Credit: Backlinko

In other words, if you get 100 backlinks from the same domain, it’s not going to blast you to the top of Google. But if you get 100 backlinks from 100 different domains, you’re in business.

The question is: how do you get these backlinks? Spam 10,000 site with blog comments. Just kidding :-)

In my opinion, the best links you can get are contextual mentions from authoritative media outlets.

Not only are these links highly-valued by Google, but they can bring in a boatload of traffic to boot. Here’s a guide I wrote that will help you get links using PR.

More bounces equal lower rankings

This study also found that bounces aren’t just bad for your bottom line: they can throw a monkey wrench into your SEO efforts.

Using data from SimilarWeb, the study found that sites with a high bounce rate tended to rank lower in Google than sites with a low bounce rate.

Image Credit: Backlinko

This data suggests bounce rates may cause lower rankings.

After all, if people bounce off of your site like a trampoline, it sends a pretty clear message to Google that people don’t like reading your content. So it makes sense that Google may downrank sites with lots of bounces.

However, Dean mentions in the report that a low bounce rate might be a byproduct of excellent content in general. In other words, if you write a kick-butt article, people are going to stick around longer.

How do you decrease your bounce rate, you ask? It’s not rocket science. On my blog I just make sure that my content is above the fold -- and that the first few sentences draw people in. If you can hook them quickly, they're significantly more likely to view another page.

Another way you can improve bounce rate is to break your content up into small chunks. In my experience, walls of text make users run for their lives. But when you break your content into two to three sentence paragraphs it becomes much easier to digest.

Bottom line? Spend some time improving your bounce rate. It definitely won’t hurt your SEO (or conversions), so it makes sense to invest some time in improving it.

Long-form content ranks better (surprise, surprise).

“People online have short attention spans.”

How many times have you read that?

Yes, there are certain people who live and breathe tl;dr (i.e. too long, didn’t read). But you don't want to architect your content marketing strategy around this group. Think about it: if you found a 3,000 word article on the topic of “why you’re so awesome,” would you skim it? Of course not! You’d read every word.

While that’s an extreme example, it goes to show that people ARE willing to read long-form content. Just look at the runaway success of, which publishes posts that clock in at more than 10,000 words!.

Related: You Don't Need Much Cash to Implement These 5 Essential Marketing Strategies

And the study points out that not only do people like reading long-form content, but it tends to rank better in Google:

Image Credit: Backlinko

According to Dean’s data, the average first page results in Google boasts 1,890 words. That’s a helluva lot more than your average 400-word blog post.

Obviously, if you use long-form, you need to write well.

So when you can combine compelling writing with long-form content you have a one-two punch that’s very powerful.

In fact, other studies (like this one by BuzzSumo) found that longer content tended to get more shares on social media:

Image Credit: Backlinko

And I’ve found the same phenomenon on my blog. When I look at the content that brought in the most shares (and get the most Google traffic), they tend to be more than 2,000 words:

Does the increase in social shares explain the association between long-form content and rankings?

It’s impossible to say from this study, because it only looked at correlations.

Like with bounce rate, publishing long-form content definitely won’t hurt you. And it will probably help. So give it a shot.

In-depth, focused content outperforms content about 10 different topics

Like I said, you can’t publish 1,890 words of fluff and expect to light the world on fire.

And this study found the same thing. They discovered that content rated by software as “topically relevant” ranked above content with a low content score:

Image Credit: Backlinko

So what does this mean, exactly?

It means that when you write about something, cover one topic in-depth.

For example, here's a post about building an email list from the Buffer blog.

In this post they write about one thing and one thing only: how to grow your email list. They don’t meander off and talk about social media. Or content. Or blogging. Or building relationships.

It’s 110 percent about getting more emails. That’s it.

That focus is one of the reasons that the post ranks #4 in Google for the keyword “list building”.

That’s what you want to do with every post that you write. In my experience this approach produces flat out better content in general. And it may also boost your rankings.

That’s what you want to do with every post that you write. In my experience this approach produces flat out better content in general. And it may also boost your rankings.

Related: Will the New Domain Extensions Negatively Impact Your SEO?

Site speed makes a difference

You’ve probably heard that Google prefers fast-loading websites. In fact, Google has emphasized that they use site speed as part of their algorithm.

According to this study, this appears to be the case:

Image Credit: Backlinko

How can you make your site load faster?

At Criminally Prolific I use a (free) plugin called WP Super Cache. I’ve notice that it makes a huge difference in my loading speed. And it takes about 5.3 seconds to set up. Other programs people use include WP Rocket, WP Smush, and Max CDN.

That’s it!

Continue to put out amazing content and follow my advice and you’ll be on the fast track to the tippity top of Google’s first page.

Related: It's Time to Rethink Your SEO Approach for 2016