Tom Shurville
Tom Shurville Managing Director

Web design Hertfordshire: What ranks and why

Tom Shurville
Tom Shurville Managing Director

Search engine optimisation is continually evolving as Google improves its manipulation of search results for its own gain. It is a subject of intense speculation and gossip due to the fact Google’s algorithm is highly guarded and official communication is too vague to have any real meaning. As a result this perpetuates rumour further (and so we go on!). A quick search (on Google!) for any SEO related question will return contrasting views from “so called” experts about the best course of action. In turn it can be very difficult to know what to believe and what to discard.

I decided I would put some of the most widely known rankings factors to the test and to measure how they influenced the results of a particular keyword, in this instance, local SEO keyword ‘web design hertfordshire’. Even as a seasoned SEO professional I was surprised by the results and we have made some improvements to our own internal processes as a direct consequence of this study. Please read on……

Ranking factors

The ranking factors tested were:

  • Number of socials shares the ranking page had – measured using http://sharetally.co/
  • The ‘Page Authority’ of the ranking page – a metric from Moz.com
  • Number of ‘Followed Linking Root Domains’ – again taken from Moz’s Open SiteExplorer
  • Page size (mb) – Measured using GTMetrix
  • Word count – Measured using Copyscape
  • Total mentions of ‘web design Hertfordshire’ on the ranking page – counted manually
  • Total mentions of ‘web design’ on the ranking page – counted manually
  • Total mentions of ‘Hertfordshire’ on the ranking page – counted manually

All of the above factors are known to influence search engine rankings and thus the purpose of this experiment is to ascertain to what extend each of them do, if at all.

Ranking Websites

The data for this case study was recorded on 07.01.2014. On that day, the top 10 ranking positions for the keyword ‘web design Hertfordshire’ were filled with the following pages (ranking position also listed):

  1. shystudios.co.uk
  2. popcornwebdesign.co.uk
  3. fluidstudiosltd.com
  4. touchcreative.co.uk
  5. lemongrassmedia.co.uk
  6. mvgmedia.com
  7. awdltd.co.uk
  8. stablewebdesign.co.uk
  9. daymedia.co.uk
  10. herts-webdesign.co.uk

Caveats

As with all experiments, there are certain caveats:

  • All data, including ranking positions, were taken on 07.01.14 and therefore the order of the results will have certainly changed by now, as will the data recorded
  • It’s worth noting that although the top 10 is filled with homepages, we are measuring  data for them as pages, as opposed to as websites
  • One keyword and 10 websites is clearly not enough data to prove anything; this post is designed to give insight into how Google works and provoke further discussion/experiments

Results

For each graph, the websites listed are displayed with the 1st ranking position on the left to the 10th ranking position on the right. Each graph has a trend line imposed on it. The steeper this line, the greater the correlation between that metric and the search engine ranking positions.

Number of socials shares the ranking page had – measured using http://sharetally.co/

SEO and social media are frequently discussed together and it’s a common perception that the more active you are on social networks, the higher Google will place you in the organic results. This test aims to prove something slightly different; does Google prefer pages that have been shared on social networks? The graph charts the number of social shares that each ranking page has received:

Number of ShareTally.co shares of each url
Number of ShareTally.co shares of each URL

The trend line clearly shows that websites in the top half of the rankings have more social shares than those in the bottom half of the rankings. We can therefore assume that for the keyword ‘web design Hertfordshire’ the number of social shares is an important ranking factor.

The ‘Page Authority’ of the ranking page – a metric from Moz.com

Page Authority is Moz’s attempt at replicating Google’s algorithm and according to its own analysis is the metric that has the closest correlation to Google’s rankings. This graph shows the Page Authority of each ranking page:

Page Authority of each URL
Page Authority of each URL

Although the trend line is not as pronounced as the previous graph, it is slanted from top left to bottom right indicating a correlation between the Page Authority of a page and where it ranks. The higher the Page Authority the better.

Number of ‘Followed Linking Root Domains’ – again taken from Moz’s Open Site Explorer

Encouraging links from external sites is a hugely important part of SEO. This measures the total number of domains each webpage has pointing to them i.e. this post links to Moz.com twice, but would only count as one ‘Followed Linking Root Domain’ :

Number of 'Followed Linking Root Domains' pointing to each URL
Number of ‘Followed Linking Root Domains’ pointing to each URL

 

Again we see a trend line with a gradient from left to right indicating that this is a ranking factor. The more websites that link to you the better.

Page size (mb) – Measured using GTMetrix

The smaller the webpage, the quicker it loads, the better the experience of website visitors. In theory you will be rewarded for providing this better experience with higher Google rankings:

The page size (mb) of each URL
The page size (mb) of each URL

This differs from the previous graphs in that the trend line should go from low on the left to high on the right if it had an effect on rankings (i.e. the smaller the webpage/quicker it loads, the higher up the rankings it is). Our data is actually the inverse of this, with the 1st ranking position being held by the 2nd largest page at almost 4mb (our homepage is almost 10x smaller). Despite being announced as a ranking factor in 2010 it clearly doesn’t have an impact on search results for this query. This isn’t to say it shouldn’t be worked on due to the positive impact it has on your visitors, particularly those with slow internet connections or on mobile devices.

Word count – Measured using Copyscape

It’s generally assumed that longer pages rank better as Google can gain more of an understanding as to the context of the page. Copyscape measures all words on the page i.e. those included in title, body content and menus:

The number of words on each URL
The number of words on each URL

If common theory is to be proved, the trend line would go from high left to low right, but we see the opposite with the websites that rank for this keyword. This implies the words used in the content is more important than simply its length and brings us nicely along to our next measures.

Total mentions of ‘web design Hertfordshire’ on the ranking page – counted manually

‘Keyword density’ used to be an important SEO measure (circa 2000) and whilst I hope no one pays that close attention to it anymore, it seems logical that if you want to rank for a keyword, it’s worth mentioning on the page you are trying to rank at least once!

The number of times 'web design Hertfordshire' is mentioned on each URL
The number of times ‘web design Hertfordshire’ is mentioned on each URL

The results from this test really intrigued me. I’m amazed that 6 out of the top 10 results didn’t mention the keyword anywhere on the ranking page. Although the 1st position does mention the keyword twice, this is the same number as the 8th position and therefore it would seem very little importance can be placed on this measure.

Total mentions of ‘web design’ on the ranking page – counted manually

The keyword ‘web design Hertfordshire’ doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, so I wanted to determine if Google was measuring the context of the page by mentions of just ‘web design’.

The number of times 'web design' is mentioned on each URL
The number of times ‘web design’ is mentioned on each URL

As you would expect, this term features far more prominently than the exact keyword but again the graph is the inverse of what most SEOs would expect. I find it astonishing that the term isn’t mentioned at all for 3 out of the top 10.

Total mentions of ‘Hertfordshire’ on the ranking page – counted manually

I was intrigued as to whether Google was at all interested in the number of times ‘Hertfordshire’ was used on the page:

The number of mentions of 'Hertfordshire' on each URL
The number of mentions of ‘Hertfordshire’ on each URL

Although the 1st ranking position does mention ‘Hertfordshire’ a significant number of times, 2nd position doesn’t mention it all. The trend line is flat, indicating there is no relevance in this metric on search engine results.

Future experiments

  • The study is based on pages of website development sites, all of whom add links to clients’ websites when they launch a new website. I believe this skews the ‘Followed Linking Root Domain’ metric. It would be interesting to re-run this test in a different industry where link profiles aren’t so manipulated
  • Further investigation is required into the the quality of incoming links to ranking sites such as their anchor text, or the content theme of linking websites
  • Examine the impact of heading tags and title tag on rankings

Conclusions

It would appear that creating web pages that are more likely to be shared on social networks is the key to achieving top ranking positions. I was particularly interested in the use of keywords on optimised pages and the perceived lack of effect this had on rankings. I attribute this to recent efforts at Google to understand better the context and relevance of keywords and therefore webmasters not having to be so explicit with the use of keywords in text. This is a positive development as it should allow website owners to focus on writing copy that is engaging rather than copy that is manufactured around a certain keyword.

Please feel free to comment on any of the above using the form below; I will respond to you individually.

  1. Avatar

    Aaron

    Tom,

    I want to be the first to congratulate you on this excellent post, some really interesting insights, I know you have been working on this for a number of weeks. The lack of keyword specific mentions on a page ranking so well was for me also a real surprise. Social shares and LRD’s are big ranking factors as we would expect – no surprise there.

    Content length and page sizes is an interesting one, that alone most definitely needs more testing by our team as this is a common belief that these are a ranking factors and your findings would initially indicate otherwise..

    1. Tom Shurville

      Tom Shurville

      Thanks Aaron, it has been a labor of love to some degree!

  2. Avatar

    Alan - Fluid Studios

    This was very interesting Tom, not least because it allows us to compare our own website to what others are doing.

    While our own website is somewhat out of date due to the amount of client work we have on, we do have a lot of experience with our clients’ websites and have had some similar results, like seeing the impact of social media. Key phrases have mostly been moved to title tags and search friendly URL’s. Of course the age of the website and domain do have some importance and may be worth considering in your next study.

    1. Tom Shurville

      Tom Shurville

      Thanks Alan. I appreciate that as web developers your own website is often at the bottom of the list! We are guilty of it too.

      Great idea to include domain age in a future experiment.

  3. Avatar

    Michael Harrington

    Hi Tom

    Great blog post

    I especially like the Share Tally graph. So for ‘web design Hertfordshire’ more social shares had a direct correlation with higher rankings. In the graph awdltd.co.uk received 96 shares, does this mean that the individuals who shared shystudios.co.uk were more influential or had a larger reach on social media?

    1. Tom Shurville

      Tom Shurville

      Thanks Michael. It’s an interesting point re who actually makes the shares; it’s not something that is covered by the current experiment and may be hard to gauge. Relevance of social shares should logically be a factor also. I think the next test measure the number of shares on each network to see if any is given more weight. I expect Google+ to be the most important but as we’ve seen so far, all is not always as it seems.

  4. Avatar

    Lee hill

    The site awdltd.co.uk appears to have the overall best performance in most of these charts but sits out at #7 there are clearly other factors greatly affecting this particular set of results.

    1. Tom Shurville

      Tom Shurville

      Yest, most certainly. I will test other factors in the next experiment.

      I wonder if awdltd.co.uk is actually over optimised. The start of their copy reads ‘We are a Web Design Hertfordshire based company located in Hertford’ for example.

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