As a data geek I get just excited as everyone else when I see new ranking studies come out. Last week MOZ put out a greatly informative survey study on SEO ranking factors and I got excited just like you did. I was however, reminded in the coming days about some of the big risks from these studies. As a football fan it kind of reminds me of “Over Reaction Monday” or when everyone sees games and then makes major statements based on small amounts of information. I just wanted to put this post out there to warn people of some of the over-reactions and misinterpretations of some of these studies. The studies and data are great as long as you look at them and take them in their entirety and don’t over-react or interpret things incorrectly. Below are some things to keep in mind that lead to mistakes I often see the general public make.
Survey of Thoughts vs. Actual Ranking Data
I tend to prefer to see actual numbers and ranking data rather than results of a survey of SEO’s thoughts. That doesn’t mean that the thoughts aren’t valuable and I definitely read the reputable studies like the one last week to get a feel for what the industry is thinking. However, keep in mind that data on what people think is happening is not as good as data that measure what is actually happening.
Take Numbers in Context
This is probably the biggest thing I see from these studies. Someone creates a headline from some small piece of data and makes a general statement of an entire factor or concept based on it. Take your numbers in context. A prime example here is external links but it can happen with any factor. A study will show that the correlation has decreased for a certain factor like external links and everyone decides that links don’t matter any more. Articles come out that say “Links are dead” or “Links don’t matter” but that is irresponsible. If McDonald’s sells fewer hamburgers in 2015 than they did in 2014 that may be the beginning of a trend and it may even mean they are weaker, but it doesn’t mean that McDonald’s doesn’t sell burgers any more. They are pretty substantial in the fast food industry.
Growth doesn’t mean Leadership: Factors that grow may be going from being the 40th most important factor to the 38th, and though that is growth, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is still an important thing to focus limited time on, just that you should be aware of the growth.
Drops don’t mean death: Factors that drop in percentage aren’t dead or gone. Often leading factors drop slightly, but they get all the press for dropping, when in fact they are still one of the most important things to spend time on in SEO. You may have to tweak your approach to do it right but things like links still matter greatly even if they drop slightly in factor value.
Be Wary of Correlations: Correlation doesn’t no mean cause, as any statistician will tell you. One factor may seem very important only because it is very closely correlated to another factor that is important. Just be careful when you look at correlations and think to yourself why this may be important and how it relates to other factors.
That’s all I had. Just a little warning. The last two weeks have been loaded with SEO news and this week was a little quieter but I wanted to touch on some common mistakes people that aren’t deep in the industry make when these studies come out.