SEOmoz has published its 2011 Search Engine Ranking Factors survey 
, which collects the opinions of more than 130 SEOs from around the world on what factors matter most to organic search ranking. The survey presents their collective wisdom on the relative importance of content and linking best practices, page level factors, domain level factors as well as the future of organic search. SEOmoz supplements their expert opinions with original data analysis on more than 10,000 results in Google. The result is an extensive set of charts and graphs that weigh the “influence value” of different ranking factors and assess the "degree of consensus" between the experts on the panel.
Here are a few of the factors that were considered most important to organic search ranking:
- Uniqueness of the content, on both a page level and across the site
- Keyword rich meta-data
- Number and quality of links from unique domains
- Authority of users sharing, writing or tweeting about your brand online
- CTR from Google to the page for the keyword
With all the talk about how publishers should structure, write, and promote their content, Grant Simmons, Group Account Director at The Search Agency reminds us that "It's all about the user, stupid!." He goes on to explain that SEOmoz and survey participants highlight Google's continued push towards more and better relevance, engagement, interaction and reduction of "spammy tactics" as key to improving organic search position: "Sure, there's a lot more around the periphery, but at its core the 2011 Search Engine Ranking Factors survey aligns with many of TSA's best practices and underscores the ongoing need for user-focused, valuable and likable 'promotional' content over only-for-the-search-engines 'authority' content."
Google never publishes the actual organic search algorithm. The SEOmoz report is one of the most thorough attempts to "decipher" which factors are most important using both expert opinion and retrospective data analysis. SEOmoz provides a nice overview of their research methodology 
I also asked Rick Egan, Group Account Vice President, to provide his take on SEOmoz’s findings. He pointed out that the growing influence of social signals in ranking factors is furthering the industry perception that brands receive favorable treatment. As he explains, “There has been a lot of talk of a brand bias over the last couple of years and, while certainly brands continue to perform better, there is not a strong data correlation. This is one area that the contributors felt had changed dramatically with several new factors in play that skew brand favoritism. One of the factors mentioned was the increase of signals, such as social mentions, news mentions, wiki citations, place page, etc. While brands have an advantage here, the data did not correlate with anticipated value of these newer signals. The statistical relevance for higher rankings still appear to skew towards number of unique domains linking to a URL along overall strength of the primary domain. The number of known contributing signals has increased, but they are still only contributing at a small scale compared to how links are weighted.”
Below are some highlights that Rick pointed to that people should be aware of...
Do SEOmoz's findings align with your current SEO best practices? If you had taken part in the survey, what factors would you have rated most highly?
- Social signals have increased dramatically in relation to rankings
- Relevance of PPC signals in SEO rankings are declining
- Search engines getting better at determining quality of content
- Contributors did not feel that there was much of an impact from ads being on the site. Since the survey was done prior to the full roll out of Panda, this has actually been shown to be incorrect with the number of ads versus the number of content pages definitely working as in indicator for Google on whether or not a site is considered a "thin" content site. Sites with a large number of ads and limited content are definitely getting dinged
- Relevance of keywords in the domain is declining post-Panda
- Over-optimization of link profiles is a clear sign of engineering of links to improve rankings.
- Total number of links is still important in determining ranking order
- Site crawlability issues appear to be more important than in previous years. Reducing the number of 404 and other crawling issues is critical
- Topical relevance of a links is not being weighted as heavily as total number of domains with anchor text pointing at a given page