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The World Wide Web has become an essential modern tool for people’s daily routine. The fact that it is a convenient means for communication and information search has made it extremely popular. This fact led companies to start using online advertising by creating corporate websites. With the rapid increase in the number of websites, search engines had to come up with a solution of algorithms and programs to qualify the results of a search and provide the users with relevant content to their search. On the other side, developers, in pursuit of the highest rankings in the search engine result pages (SERPs), began to study and observe how search engines work and which factors contribute to higher rankings. The knowledge that has been extracted constituted the base for the creation of the profession of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This paper consists of two parts. The first part aims to perform a literature review of the factors that affect the ranking of websites in the SERPs and to highlight the top factors that contribute to better ranking. To achieve this goal, a collection and analysis of academic papers was conducted. According to our research, 24 website characteristics came up as factors affecting any website’s ranking, with the most references mentioning quality and quantity of backlinks, social media support, keyword in title tag, website structure, website size, loading time, domain age, and keyword density. The second part consists of our research which was conducted manually using the phrases “hotel Athens”, “email marketing”, and “casual shoes”. For each one of these keywords, the first 15 Google results were examined considering the factors found in the literature review. For the measurement of the significance of each factor, the Spearman correlation was calculated and every factor was compared with the ranking of the results individually. The findings of the research showed us that the top factors that contribute to higher rankings are the existence of website SSL certificate as well as keyword in URL, the quantity of backlinks pointing to a website, the text length, and the domain age, which is not perfectly aligned with what the literature review showed us.
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future internet
Article
Important Factors for Improving Google Search Rank
Christos Ziakis * , Maro Vlachopoulou, Theodosios Kyrkoudis and Makrina Karagkiozidou
ISEB lab, Dep. of Applied Informatics, University of Macedonia, 156 Egnatia St., 54006 Thessaloniki, Greece;
mavla@uom.edu.gr (M.V.); it1421@uom.edu.gr (T.K.); it1414@uom.edu.gr (M.K.)
*Correspondence: ziakis@uom.edu.gr; Tel.: +30-693-746-2999
Received: 11 December 2018; Accepted: 18 January 2019; Published: 30 January 2019
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Abstract:
The World Wide Web has become an essential modern tool for people’s daily routine.
The fact that it is a convenient means for communication and information search has made it
extremely popular. This fact led companies to start using online advertising by creating corporate
websites. With the rapid increase in the number of websites, search engines had to come up with a
solution of algorithms and programs to qualify the results of a search and provide the users with
relevant content to their search. On the other side, developers, in pursuit of the highest rankings in
the search engine result pages (SERPs), began to study and observe how search engines work and
which factors contribute to higher rankings. The knowledge that has been extracted constituted the
base for the creation of the profession of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This paper consists of
two parts. The first part aims to perform a literature review of the factors that affect the ranking of
websites in the SERPs and to highlight the top factors that contribute to better ranking. To achieve
this goal, a collection and analysis of academic papers was conducted. According to our research,
24 website characteristics came up as factors affecting any website’s ranking, with the most references
mentioning quality and quantity of backlinks, social media support, keyword in title tag, website
structure, website size, loading time, domain age, and keyword density. The second part consists of
our research which was conducted manually using the phrases “hotel Athens”, “email marketing”,
and “casual shoes”. For each one of these keywords, the first 15 Google results were examined
considering the factors found in the literature review. For the measurement of the significance of each
factor, the Spearman correlation was calculated and every factor was compared with the ranking of
the results individually. The findings of the research showed us that the top factors that contribute to
higher rankings are the existence of website SSL certificate as well as keyword in URL, the quantity
of backlinks pointing to a website, the text length, and the domain age, which is not perfectly aligned
with what the literature review showed us.
Keywords: SEO; search engine optimization; website ranking; ranking factors
1. Introduction
The emergence of the Internet, and its rapid expansion worldwide, resulted in the storage and
sharing of a massive amount of data, and this data was available to every user with an internet
connection. As a result, billions of websites were created, which made it hard for the average user
to extract useful information from the web efficiently for a specific search. The need for an easier,
more efficient way to search for information led to the development of search engines. Gradually,
search engines began to assess the relevance of every website on their indexes compared to the queries
provided to them by the users. They took into consideration several website characteristics and
metrics and calculated the value of each website using complex algorithms. The enormous number
of websites being indexed from search engines, along with the increasing competition for the first
search results, led to studying and implementing various techniques in order for websites to appear
Future Internet 2019,11, 32; doi:10.3390/fi11020032 www.mdpi.com/journal/futureinternet
Future Internet 2019,11, 32 2 of 12
more valuable in search engines. These techniques make up what is called today “Search Engine
Optimization” (SEO) and they are divided into either black hat or white hat depending on whether
they violate the search engines’ terms of service. It is worth mentioning that a website nowadays has
to be indexed into the first page of SERPs in order to receive a sufficient amount of organic visitors.
Ideally one of the first three results has to be acquired for the targeted keywords as the click through
rates are 30% (1st position), 16% (2nd position), and 10% (3rd position), while the click through rate
for positions past the first page of SERPs is limited to under 2% [
1
]. Search engines nowadays change
their algorithms regularly by adding and removing factors affecting the ranking of websites: SEO is a
dynamic procedure.
In this paper, a literature review, as well as a research review was conducted in order to pinpoint
the main factors that affect the ranking of a website in the search engines’ results. The knowledge from
this paper aims to provide enterprises and freelancers with a guide on the best techniques to maximize
a website’s position in search results.
2. Methodology
In order to accomplish the study, we researched several scientific databases to find articles about
SEO. The keyword used in our research is “Search Engine Optimization”.
To choose the most relevant articles, we searched academic papers using the PRISMA
methodology [
2
] as shown on Figure 1on the digital libraries of (i) Science Direct, (ii) Springer,
and (iii) IEEE Xplore during February and March of 2018. The first search resulted in almost
1010 citations. By applying the PRISMA methodology we retrieved 125 articles after title and abstract
screening and used 23 articles as the base for the literature review.
The fact that the papers did not include some crucial factors that affect the ranking of a website
lead us to search around the web, using the same keywords, for authorized websites including the
factors that were not included in academic papers. Information only from trustworthy websites was
extracted only after the opinions of the authors were carefully examined.
Concerning the research, we implemented an 8-step process to get the requested findings
1. We searched for primary research to highlight the top SEO factors.
2.
We determined the factors that we will use in our research and the tools that will be used to
extract data for every factor.
3.
We determined the number of the samples, the size of every sample and the keywords that are
going to be used for every sample.
4.
A Google search was conducted using the keywords of every sample and the data was saved in
EXCEL spreadsheets.
5. We normalized the data using a common numeric scale.
6. We conducted a statistical analysis using the Spearman correlation coefficient.
7. The average of the samples’ Spearman correlation coefficients for every factor was calculated.
8. We represented the SEO factors graphically according to the significance of every factor.
More specifically, the research was conducted using three samples from which the first 15 search
results were extracted. The key words that we used were “Hotel Athens”, “email marketing”,
and “casual shoes”. The first search was conducted on April 1, 2018 at 11:45 pm, the second on
April 12, 2018
at 2:40 pm, and the third on
April 13, 2018
at 4:00 pm. We chose Google as the search
engine of the study as it is the most popular search engine with an almost 90% market share [3].
Concerning the factors that we took in consideration for the study, instead of using domain or
page authority metrics we used the number of backlinks as a metric of the websites’ value following
the methods of former SEO studies [46].
The normalization of the data was made using as a base a numeric scale from 0 to 9 in order to
compare the samples directly. We replaced the missing values with the average of the rest normalized
data and we consider that it does not affect the outcome of the research.
Future Internet 2019,11, 32 3 of 12
We analyzed the data using the Spearman correlation coefficient. We used this method of statistical
analysis because we are not sure that there is linear correlation between every SEO factor and the
ranking of each website in the search results, [
7
] trying to prove the existence of monotony between
them. However, we have to emphasize that correlation does not mean always causation, so we can
make assumptions safely only for the factors that are highly correlated (|r| > 0.5) to the ranking of the
websites. The values of the correlations are calculated with the web tool vassarstats.net [
8
] and for the
measurement of the correlation degree we used the following scale.
R≤ −0.5 strong correlation
0.5 < r ≤ −0.3 medium correlation
0.3 r < 0.1 weak correlation
We use the negative scale to assess whether a factor correlates to high ranking in the search results
as higher score means numerically lower ranking position (from 15th to 1st position).
Future Internet 2018, 10, x FOR PEER REVIEW 3 of 12
between them. However, we have to emphasize that correlation does not mean always causation, so
we can make assumptions safely only for the factors that are highly correlated (|r| > 0.5) to the
ranking of the websites. The values of the correlations are calculated with the web tool
vassarstats.net [8] and for the measurement of the correlation degree we used the following scale.
R 0.5 strong correlation
0.5 < r 0.3 medium correlation
0.3 r < 0.1 weak correlation
We use the negative scale to assess whether a factor correlates to high ranking in the search
results as higher score means numerically lower ranking position (from 15th to 1st position).
Figure 1. Application of PRISMA methodology.
3. Literature Review
We conducted a literature review to address the main factors that affect the ranking of a website
as mentioned in former papers. Yalçın et al. (2010) [9], beyond the report of some factors that affect
SEO, illustrated the mechanics behind the operation of the search engines. They concluded that SEO
is a dynamic process which must be monitored frequently, tracing positive or negative changes for
the improvement of a website. Wilson et al. (2006) [10] discussed particular SEO techniques that
should be implemented during the creation of a website that aim to make the website visible on
search engines. In their opinion, keywords must be related to the content of the website so it can be
indexed higher in the search results for the targeted keywords. Finally, it is stressed that SEO is a
competitive sector and changes are made often. Similar topics are analyzed by Zilincan (2015) [11]
and Cui et al. (2011) [12]. Rehman et al. (2013) [13] evaluated the existing SEO techniques by
analyzing and comparing other researches while mentioning main points that could be optimized.
Using these data, they recommend some theoretical methods for SEO. This is also the main topic of
the research of Zhang et al. (2011) [14] who conducted a comparative research on the SEO factors
using 116 websites. Killoran (2013) [15] studies the factors that affect the ranking of the SERPs and
Figure 1. Application of PRISMA methodology.
3. Literature Review
We conducted a literature review to address the main factors that affect the ranking of a website
as mentioned in former papers. Yalçın et al. (2010) [
9
], beyond the report of some factors that affect
SEO, illustrated the mechanics behind the operation of the search engines. They concluded that SEO
is a dynamic process which must be monitored frequently, tracing positive or negative changes for
the improvement of a website. Wilson et al. (2006) [
10
] discussed particular SEO techniques that
should be implemented during the creation of a website that aim to make the website visible on
search engines. In their opinion, keywords must be related to the content of the website so it can be
indexed higher in the search results for the targeted keywords. Finally, it is stressed that SEO is a
Future Internet 2019,11, 32 4 of 12
competitive sector and changes are made often. Similar topics are analyzed by
Zilincan (2015) [11] and
Cui et al. (2011) [12]
.
Rehman et al. (2013) [13] evaluated
the existing SEO techniques by analyzing
and comparing other researches while mentioning main points that could be optimized. Using these
data, they recommend some theoretical methods for SEO. This is also the main topic of the research of
Zhang et al. (2011) [
14
] who conducted a comparative research on the SEO factors using 116 websites.
Killoran (2013) [
15
] studies the factors that affect the ranking of the SERPs and how web developers
and marketers can take advantage of them. He mentions that SERPs are shaped by three categories
of participants: the search engine companies and programmers, the SEO experts, and the search
engine users. It is claimed that not only the target group of the website but also the competition has
to be considered while choosing keywords. Finally, he recommends that correct keyword placement
and link-building through interaction with other content creators are crucial for optimal results.
The same pattern has been followed by Thekral et al. (2016) [
16
] who focused on the theoretical
documentation of the above aspects. Kakkar et al. (2015) [
17
] compared and explained various
algorithms of Google and focuses on SEO strategies and how they lead to better rankings, concluding
that SEO is a long term and dynamic procedure.
Gudivada et al. (2015) [18] analyzed
the mechanics
behind search engines and the techniques that are used to rank websites as well as how much it impacts
the traffic of a website. They conducted a study which shows that 70% of users prefer the organic
results. More specific, most of them (60%) select one of the first three organic results. That proves the
impact of SEO on website promotion.
Krrabaj et al. (2017) [19] researched
the on-site as well as the
off-site SEO factors. According to the results, quality content and inbound and outbound links affect
mostly the ranking of a website in the search results. Accordingly,
Evans (2007) [20] made
a research
on the most popular SEO techniques that affect the ranking of websites in the SERPs. The sample of
the research included 50 SEO optimized and 50 nonoptimized websites and the research revealed the
most effective SEO techniques as well as the importance of backlinks for a successful SEO campaign.
Chen et al. (2011) [21] aim
to combine the SEO knowledge with the tools that the world wide web
offers in order to show how to increase the traffic of a website and provide a better relationship with
the website visitor.
Patil Swati et al. (2013) [22] studied
the ranking algorithms of the search engines
and presented the main factors that affect the SEO of a website. They categorized them in “white hat”
and “black hat” too, while pinpointing the differences between them.
Hui et al. (2012) [23] referred
analytically to the mechanics behind the operation of search engines as well as the factors that
affect the ranking of websites and the method they used to select the search engine for their study.
Gregurec et al. (2012) [24] briefly
presented the SEO factors that have been mentioned in previous
papers and they analyze some Croatian websites on the topics of computer science and engineering.
They concluded that independently from the country that a website serves the same principles of SEO
are applied.
Chandra et al. (2014) [25] showed
32 efficient and effective methods of detecting spam in
the URL, the content and the links of a website. To accomplish this, they created a classifier that is
based on neural networks and requires minimal processing power. Thakur et al. (2011) [
26
] aim to
simplify the steps for the optimization of websites to make the process easier for marketing experts.
They present several SEO techniques mentioning the most flexible and effective of them. Their research
constitutes a guideline for marketers in order to adopt the best techniques.
Ergi et al. (2014) [27] found
out in their research that the loading speed, the low bounce rate, and the total traffic of a website
have a positive impact on the ranking of a website.
Kumar et al. (2011) [28] study
the characteristics
of the algorithms that the search engines use and they suggest an optimization strategy for websites.
The application of the strategy was proved effective and gave information for even better ways of
website optimization. Dean (2016) [
29
] made a primal SEO research with the use of a crawler which
crawled 1 million websites, and information about them was gathered. The main purpose of the
research was to compare the ranking of the websites in the SERPs and the SEO techniques used on
them. He concluded that backlinks affect mostly the position of a website followed by relevant content,
the existence of at least one image as well as the existence of SSL certificate. However, they found out
that techniques such as the existence of the preferred keyword in the title tag do not affect the SEO
Future Internet 2019,11, 32 5 of 12
of a website.
Fishkin (2017) [30]
, in his article, included the main factors that will affect a website’s
position in 2018. He provides marketers a checklist with all the data that they should take into
consideration according SEO. He suggests that marketers should focus on providing value through
their content while optimizing the website’s structure in order to provide better user experience and
content traceability. Finally,
Palos-Sanchez et al. (2018) [31] focused
on analyzing user behavior when
using Internet applications. They found out that technology companies should stop recommending
undifferentiated strategies and to adopt processes to emphasize on better user experience in a website.
4. Findings
4.1. Literature Review
Through the literature review we found that the factors as shown on Table 1impact the ranking
of websites in search engine indexes. On Table 2the matching of previous researches to indexes
is presented.
Table 1. Previous research on search engine optimization (SEO) factors.
Page Size and Website Loading Time [7,11,21,24,26,30]
Keyword in Title tag [8,10,11,19,20,23,25,27,30]
Keyword in H1/H2/H3 Tag [8,19,20,30]
Keyword Density in Text [7,8,11,19,20,25,30]
Keyword in URL [8,19,20,30]
Keyword in Meta Description Tag [8,15,19,20,25,30]
Alt Text [10,13,15,23]
Unique - High Quality Content [10,13,14,20,30]
Title Length/ Description Length [7,9,11,19,22]
URL Length [8,9,13,19,21,22,26,30]
Text Length [22,26]
Text to Code Ratio [22]
Internal Linking [17,20,25]
Quality and Quantity of Backlinks [79,12,13,1517,20,25,26,30]
Website Structure [7,9,14,16,19,25]
Social Media Support [7,9,1216,18,23,30]
Custom 404 page [11,15,21]
SSL Certificate [22,26,30]
Sitemap xml file [7,8,11,15,21]
Domain age [79,11,17,25]
Responsive layout [14,15,20]
W3C Validity [8]
Bounce Rate [2426]
Time on Site [24]
The most mentioned factors in the above papers include the quality and quantity of backlinks,
the social media support, the keyword in title tag, the URL length, and the website structure.
Page size and website loading time: A very important on-page factor for the optimization of a
website is the loading time. Search engines include this factor in their algorithms too. The higher the
loading time, the lower the ranking of a website in the search results. Although special effects and
graphic elements upgrade the image of a website, the excessive use of them may increase the loading
time of the website. Loading speed is affected not only by graphic elements but the HTML file and
all the elements regardless of their file type contribute to the size of a website and affect the loading
speed. Most search engines will not fully index pages that are greater than a certain sizeKeyword in
title tag: The title tag refers to the title of the file. Every HTML/XHTML file contains a title element.
The main use of the title tag is to determine the title in the toolbar of the browser, it shows the title
of the website in the search results and the name in the ‘favorites’ tab. Concerning this factor while
structuring a website it is easier for the search engines to trace and rank it in their search results.
Future Internet 2019,11, 32 6 of 12
Keyword in h1/h2/h3 tag: Equally important on page intervention is the use of keywords in
h1, h2, and h3 tags. This element is the second most important on page factor for higher ranking in
the search results. The websites with optimized and targeted h1, h2, and h3 tags are ranked higher
by the search engines. This happens as the crawler searches for information regarding the content
structure of every website and the best way to extract this piece of information is to search on these
tags. Skipping this part of optimization is a big obstacle on the way to higher ranking.
Keyword density in text: The keyword density is the number of times the targeted keyword
appears in the text of a website compared to the rest text. This on-page factor and the frequency
of times the keyword appears in title tag are considered some of the most important factors when
optimizing a website. The ideal keyword density range is 2 to 8% of the text of the page but this range
is not universally true and is affected by other factors. We have to pinpoint that the keyword density
should not have negative impact on the readability of the text because it is perceived as negative
element of a website by the search engines
Keyword in URL: It is easier for crawlers to trace a website if its URL contains the targeted
keyword. In general, search engines tend to rank higher websites with .edu and .gov domains as these
domains are used by state and educational websites. However, optimization for all types of websites
can be achieved if the length of the URL is kept short.
Keyword in meta description tag: The meta description tag is a summary of the content of a
webpage. This tag contains the text that appears in the search results of the search engines just below
the link. The meta description tag is a guide on what keywords should the website be indexed for by
the search engines
Alt text: To be ensured that the most elements of a website are indexed correctly, they have to be
in HTML format. However, content such as images and videos need more information to be indexed
by the search engines. Webmasters must use an alt tag for images and a transcript for videos to provide
enough details about those types of content.
Unique high-quality content: Search engines prefer websites with unique, authentic, and quality
content. If the content of a website is plagiarized from another website it will not be ranked high by
the search engines. In addition, a frequently updated content has better chance to get ranked higher in
search engines for related keywords.
Title length & Description length: The title of the website must reflect the topic of the website
without unnecessary information. With the use of a short and comprehensive title, website visitors can
understand the main topic of the website. Google suggests no more than 70 characters for title tag.
The meta tag description offers some pieces of information in the search engines about the website.
A poor or no description in this tag suggests a low-quality website. On the other side, larger than
standard text (up to 155 characters recommended by Google) may be considered spam as the targeted
keywords may be used excessively.
URL length: The URL represents the address of the site in the World Wide Web. As mentioned
above, the targeted keywords should be included in the URL, so it can be traced easily from the search
engines. To become even more SEO-friendly it should be short and understandable.
Text length: Websites with longer text tend to rank higher in the search results compared to
the ones that have less or no text at all. This proves that search engines prefer content rich websites.
This assumption may correlate with the fact that in richer content the targeted keywords appear more
frequently. Besides, users prefer longer text as it is more informative. Text to code ratio: The text-to-code
ratio is a metric that represents the ratio between the text in the front-end part of the site to the back-end
code. The ideal ratio range is 25 to 70%. This ratio refers in the visual text compared with all the HTML
elements including the image tags and other visual elements. Although this factor is not directly
correlated to the ranking of a website, there are many factors that are based on this factor, so it is crucial
to be considered for a more effective SEO strategy.
Internal linking: A very important SEO factor is the linking of the individual pages of a website.
The goal of internal linking is not only to make the visit of the user more enjoyable but also to facilitate
Future Internet 2019,11, 32 7 of 12
the tracing and the indexing of the individual components of the website. As a result, a higher ranking
of the website is achieved, given the fact that the value that is passed by the external links is shared
uniformly in all subpages of the website. Finally, it should be mentioned that internal links must be
checked regularly to trace any broken links.
Quality and quantity of backlinks: The quality and quantity of backlinks is one of the most
important factors for optimal ranking. Backlinks are references from other websites pointing to the
targeted website. Google, in order to determine the importance of each website for the user, invented
an algorithm that calculates the value of the website based on the references from other websites
pointing to the given site. The algorithm takes into consideration the number as well as the quality
of the incoming links. This algorithm is called “Pagerank” and uses a 0 to 10 scale to determine a
relative score of that page’s importance and authority. The ranking of a website heavily relies on
the Pagerank algorithm, which is the only factor that has remained unchanged despite the updates
made in the ranking patterns. Considering the importance of this factor, building quality backlinks
that are referenced from a high number of websites is extremely important to achieve high ranking.
Depending on this, webmasters started implementing black hat SEO techniques such as purchasing
links, arranging for links provided by link farms, and link exchange with other websites to quickly
build inbound links. As soon as these techniques became known to search engine programmers,
websites using these link-building strategies were banned and the algorithms were changed in order
to value quality over quantity. Therefore, when building backlinks, the authority of the linking sources
and the topic relevance of the linked sites must be considered.
Website structure: Having a clear navigation system is a standard requirement for a useful website.
Some websites use frames and navigation buttons made in java or other programming languages which
are not traceable by search engines. The solution to this problem is the creation of a complementary
navigation bar using normal HTML links to ensure that every page of the website is traced by search
engines. This type of navigation bar helps crawlers extract more information about the structure of
the website than graphic elements. The structure of the website has to be clear as mentioned above in
order to minimize the directory depth. Ideally the structure consists of less than four layers. This type
of structure is achieved by embedding the most important pages, links, and titles from the second and
third layer into the home page.
Social media support: It is widely known that most people use social media daily and it is the
only source of information for some of them. Connecting a website to social media accounts ensures
that the website gains more traffic as well as quality backlinks which increase its authority. Based
on these facts, search engine algorithms begun to depend increasingly on bookmarks, social signals,
and the impact of content creators on social media to assess the value of a website.
Custom 404 page: Web Servers return a 404 webpage when the requested webpage cannot be
found. Customizing the 404 page helps keep users on the site and can even enhance their search
experience. The customization includes pointers to home page or other pages of the site and even
references to other sites with relevant to the user’s search content.
SSL certificate: The acronym SSL refers to the term secure socket layer. It is a protocol that
establishes an encoded link between the server and the browser that allows sensitive information to be
transmitted securely. The SSL certificate ensures that a website is reliable and that the user’s data are
kept safe. In addition, it prevents spamming. The websites that have this certificate installed use the
protocol https instead of http. Such websites tend to rank higher in the search results as they are safer
than similar sites without the certification.
Sitemap xml file: An XML file that is created by the web developer of the website and is submitted
for use by search engines. The creation and the uploading of a sitemap along with the website
help the crawler to find all the subpages of a website. It also notifies the search engines for any
changes made to the website, the degree of significance of every page, the frequency of the website
updates, and other information. In sum, it contains information that enhances the effectiveness and
the relevance of the indexed website’s content but also makes it easier for search engines to index the
Future Internet 2019,11, 32 8 of 12
website. This procedure is crucial for the optimization of a website as the number of a website’s pages
is highly correlated to the website’s ranking.
Domain age: The age of a domain name is quite an important factor affecting the ranking of a
website. According to Google’s algorithms, the older the domain the more reliable the website that the
domain points to. It is no surprise that websites with newer domains tend to rank lower that those
with older ones.
Responsive layout: According to a 2014 study on the subject “Mobile path to Purchase” by
Telemetrics and xAd [
15
], 50% of the respondents use a mobile device to start their search and two out
of three buyers purchase goods and services through their research. Even though there is clear evidence
that the mobile devices contribute to e-commerce success, many websites are not responsive to mobile
devices. A responsive website not only enhances the experience of the user but also contributes to
higher rankings. When making a website responsive, services that mobile devices introduced such as
voice search must be considered. It is important to optimize the keywords in order to allow search
using whole sentences instead of keywords.
W3C validation: W3C or the World Wide Web consortium is a worldwide web commission.
This commission sets some standards regarding syntax errors in the source code of the website. Every
website that meets the standards that the consortium sets ranks higher in the search engines. Websites
which are validated can add a small icon that indicates that they are w3c validated.
Bounce rate: The metric that shows the percentage of visitors that leave the website just after they
view the first page of the website without exploring other pages. Low bounce rate indicates a website
with high quality content which is also relevant to the user’s search. That is why search engines
recently included that metric as a factor that affects the ranking of a website in the search results.
Time on site: The total duration of a user’s visit in a website. It is obvious that the more time a
user spends on a website the more valuable the content of the website is for the search engines as it is
more likely for a visitor to spend more time on a page with valuable for them content. Considering the
usefulness of this metric, it is becoming an increasingly more important indicator for the ranking of
a website.
4.2. Our Research
After the analysis of the data for every website of the three samples that we gathered, we calculated
the Spearman correlation between ranking of each website and their scores based in our scales, and then
we calculated the averages for each factor and presented them concentrated using a table.
Table 2presents all the correlations as they emerged from the samples. The columns present the
samples and the rows present factors. The last row presents the average of the correlations for every
factor. The averages show whether a factor is universally valid. The results are presented on Figure 2
in descending order.
We should mention that for the factors with low correlation and high score we cannot be sure
whether they contribute to the ranking of websites. It is possible that the constant high score is
correlated to higher ranking but we cannot confirm that as the sample of search results for every
keyword is restricted to 15 webpages.
Table 2. Averages for each factor.
Seo Factors Hotel Athens Email Marketing Casual Shoes Average
Keyword in Title
Tag 0.0511 0.0000 0.2456 0.0989
Keyword in
H1/H2/H3 Tag 0.5404 0.2359 0.2107 0.1885
Keyword Density 0.0677 0.3049 0.2364 0.0003
Keyword in URL 0.5890 0.1362 0.2443 0.3232
Future Internet 2019,11, 32 9 of 12
Table 2. Cont.
Seo Factors Hotel Athens Email Marketing Casual Shoes Average
Keyword in meta
description Tag 0.0323 0.0691 0.1809 0.0265
Alt text 0.2270 0.1745 0.1237 0.0587
Title Length 0.0631 0.3293 0.0000 0.0887
URL Length 0.4373 0.4908 0.2716 0.2188
Text to Code ratio 0.0094 0.2253 0.0619 0.0576
Text Length 0.4582 0.2330 0.1727 0.2880
Quantity of
Backlinks 0.6771 0.2914 0.0686 0.3000
404 Page 0.1745 0.0000 0.2474 0.1406
SSL Certificate 0.3928 0.3093 0.3093 0.3371
Sitemap XML 0.1260 0.2270 0 0.0337
Number of Site
Pages 0.5652 0.0229 0.1659 0.2361
Domain Age 0.4779 0.1130 0.2535 0.2815
Responsive
Layout 0.2474 0.0908 0.0000 0.1127
W3C Validation 0.3712 0.0619 0.3712 0.0206
Bounce Rate 0.4942 -0.0092 0.1605 0.1143
Time on Site 0.5043 0.0092 0.3499 0.0545
Loading Time 0.6444 0.4415 0.2623 0.0198
Future Internet 2018, 10, x FOR PEER REVIEW 10 of 12
Figure 2. Spearman’s correlation coefficient average values.
4.3. Discussion
In comparison with other studies on the topic [26,28,29], we observe that the factors that are
crucial despite the changes in algorithms are the quantity and quality of the backlinks and, to a lesser
extent, the bounce rate and the SSL certificate. The importance of the quantity is confirmed by our
study, but we did not have the means to check whether the quality of backlinks is important too.
Contrary to the results of other studies we found out that the website loading time, the URL length,
and the use of targeted keywords in the title tag do not affect the ranking of a website, although the
difference in the results are due to the approach of our study compared to the others. More
specifically, in Dean’s study [26], the sample contained less search results for more keywords. In the
other one conducted in 2015 by Moz [28], the changes in the algorithm of the search engine may have
affected the factors that affect the results.
5. Conclusions
The competition among the websites for the SERPs is huge so a convenient optimization plan is
needed: a plan that includes a holistic approach regarding the SEO factors but depends on the most
effective ones. As our study revealed, some factors determine the bulk of success in term of ranking
high in the SERPs and they have remained unchanged over time. However, search engine
algorithms tend to change often, and new factors are added while outdated or not effective factors
are excluded. This is why web developers must check the algorithm changes and adjust their
websites in order to not only achieve but also maintain high ranking in search engines. This study
attempts to show the most effective SEO factors for high ranking in search engines and the
significance for the most important factors that affect SEO.
5.1. Implications for Academics
In this paper, 24 SEO factors are included with all of them being equally analyzed, providing
the opportunity to explore the most important factors that affect SEO in one place. This study can be
Figure 2. Spearman’s correlation coefficient average values.
4.3. Discussion
In comparison with other studies on the topic [
26
,
28
,
29
], we observe that the factors that are
crucial despite the changes in algorithms are the quantity and quality of the backlinks and, to a lesser
extent, the bounce rate and the SSL certificate. The importance of the quantity is confirmed by our
Future Internet 2019,11, 32 10 of 12
study, but we did not have the means to check whether the quality of backlinks is important too.
Contrary to the results of other studies we found out that the website loading time, the URL length,
and the use of targeted keywords in the title tag do not affect the ranking of a website, although the
difference in the results are due to the approach of our study compared to the others. More specifically,
in Dean’s study [
26
], the sample contained less search results for more keywords. In the other one
conducted in 2015 by Moz [
28
], the changes in the algorithm of the search engine may have affected
the factors that affect the results.
5. Conclusions
The competition among the websites for the SERPs is huge so a convenient optimization plan is
needed: a plan that includes a holistic approach regarding the SEO factors but depends on the most
effective ones. As our study revealed, some factors determine the bulk of success in term of ranking
high in the SERPs and they have remained unchanged over time. However, search engine algorithms
tend to change often, and new factors are added while outdated or not effective factors are excluded.
This is why web developers must check the algorithm changes and adjust their websites in order to not
only achieve but also maintain high ranking in search engines. This study attempts to show the most
effective SEO factors for high ranking in search engines and the significance for the most important
factors that affect SEO.
5.1. Implications for Academics
In this paper, 24 SEO factors are included with all of them being equally analyzed, providing the
opportunity to explore the most important factors that affect SEO in one place. This study can be used
as a base for future studies with the use of better infrastructure in order to reveal more detailed results
regarding the factors that affect the ranking of a website in the search engines.
5.2. Practical Implications
Via this research we would like to pinpoint that the results of our study aim not to reveal the
patterns and mechanics behind the algorithms of search engines, but to educate and guide the owners
of small- and medium-sized businesses, as long as marketers about the most effective factors that
optimize the ranking of a website in the search results of a popular search engine such as Google,
so that they can be able to plan an effective optimization strategy for their websites without having to
use specialized technological tools.
Author Contributions:
Conceptualization, C.Z. and M.V.; Methodology, C.Z. and T.K.; Validation, T.K. and M.K.;
Formal Analysis, M.K.; Investigation, T.K. and C.Z.; Resources, M.K.; Data Curation, T.K.; Writing—Original Draft
Preparation, T.K.; Writing—Review & Editing, M.K.; Visualization, T.K.; Supervision, C.Z.; Project Administration,
C.Z. and M.V.
Funding: This research received no external funding.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflicts of interest.
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©
2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access
article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution
(CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
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