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Top 17 Organic Search Ranking Factors [STUDY]

An updated study from SEMRush reveals what are said to be the top organic search ranking factors in 2017.

For clarification, this differs from the ranking factors study we covered earlier in the week that focused specifically on local search.

Results of this study have been narrowed down to a list of the top 17 ranking factors, many of which are related to on-page engagement.

Direct website visits are said to be the most influential ranking factor in organic search, followed by a number of other user behavior signals.

Here is a the full list of top ranking signals at a glance.

Top 17 Ranking Factors

  • Direct website visits
  • Time on site
  • Pages per session
    • Around 3 pages are viewed per session when a user lands on a website from search
  • Bounce rate
    • Domains in the top 3 positions have roughly a 49% bounce rate
  • Total referring domains
    • Pages in the 2nd position have 20% more referring domains than pages in the 1st position
    • Pages in the 2nd position have roughly 10,000 more referring domains than pages in the 10th position
  • Total backlinks
    • 2.2 times more backlinks lead to pages in the 1st position than 2nd position
  • Total referring IPs
  • Total followed backlinks
  • Content length
    • Content in the top 3 positions is 45% longer than content in the 20th position
    • 65% of domains ranking for high-volume keywords are HTTPS
  • Total anchors
  • Keyword in anchor text
    • 3% of backlinks contain a keyword in the anchor text
  • Keyword in body of content
    • 18% of pages ranking for high-volume keywords do not have the keyword in the body
  • Keyword density
  • Keyword in title
  • Keyword in meta description
  • Video on page

Here is a more detailed look at these results, broken down into individual categories.

Website Visits

Results of the study indicate there is a connection between number of website visits and page rankings. If a page has a lot of direct visits it could be a signal to Google of the page’s authority.

User Behavior Signals

High-ranking pages were found to have lower bounce rates. A page with a high bounce rate could be an indication that the content is less relevant than a page with a low bounce rate.

On-page SEO Elements

Implementing traditional SEO elements is still common practice— over 75% of top 20 pages have keywords in the body and over 60% have keywords in the title. However, data indicates these elements do not have a strong impact on rankings.


Longer content correlates with higher rankings. However, it’s still important to ensure the content is high quality, relevant, and well optimized.

Website Security (HTTPS)

Search results for high-volume keywords are primarily occupied by HTTPS domains. Having an HTTPS domain is extremely important when competing in the high-volume keyword space.


Top positions for high-volume keywords are primarily held by large site with rich backlink profiles. Extra link building effort is likely to make more of a difference when ranking for lower volume keywords.

For further details, see the full study.

Category News SEO
SEJ STAFF Matt G. Southern Senior News Writer at Search Engine Journal

Matt G. Southern, Senior News Writer, has been with Search Engine Journal since 2013. With a bachelor’s degree in communications, ...

Top 17 Organic Search Ranking Factors [STUDY]

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