SEMRush’s Ranking & Your SEO Strategy

Research detailed in a report by SEO software giants SEMRush has turned up results that could have big implications on your SEO strategy.

The report, which analysed the top 100 Google search results for over 600,000 keywords, highlights the impact 17 different ranking factors have on search engine position. And the results aren’t what you’d expect.

Here are the stats:

*Stats taken from SEMrush

Surprisingly, the study suggests that the #1 ranking factor – above keywords and backlinks – is direct web traffic.

It’s also interesting to see that other factors – such as time spent on page, pages per session and bounce rate – also have more weight than backlinks and keywords, traditionally the 2 kingpins of most SEO strategies.

What does this mean for your SEO strategy? Let’s find out!

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Direct Web Traffic

This is traffic that lands on your website whenever someone types your URL directly into their browser.

When you think about it, it makes sense that this would be a top ranking factor. If lots of people are typing your website URL in directly, it’s a clear signal to Google that it’s probably housing valuable content that users would enjoy.

According to the study, #1 ranking pages have, on average, 3X more direct web traffic than other pages in the search results. Earning more direct web traffic will come down to raising your brand awareness. While this is easier said than done, programmatic and PR campaigns are a good place to start. The aim is to get your brand’s name – and URL – imbedded in the minds of your target audience. So it’s worth investigating ways you can do this when planning your SEO strategy.

Time on site

Sometimes called session time, this is the amount of time users spend on your website before exiting. Again, it’s clear why Google would use this as a ranking metric. The more time users spend on your website, the more value it’s likely to offer. On average, users spend 3.5X more time on top ranking web pages.

If you want to get people to stay on your website for longer, your strategic focus should be on creating content that’s interesting, engaging and informative. It’s also worth doing some market research to find out what types of content your audience prefers and then cater to it. There’s no point spending all of your time crafting blog posts if they’d prefer videos or podcasts.

Pages per session

Like the previous two ranking factors, this one is self-explanatory. It’s the number of pages a user will interact with during a session on your site. According to the report, users will usually navigate 3-3.5 pages on top ranking websites. As opposed to 2.5 on those that rank lower.

To encourage users to interact with more pages on your site, your 2 primary strategic concerns should be user-experience (UX) and internal linking. It’s worth experimenting with simple stylistic UX adjustments like font-size, colours, image placements and link-button styles to see how users respond. Then adjust as necessary to make user experience as seamless as possible. You’ll also want to ensure you’re included plenty of useful internal links in your content – like the ones dotted around this article – that link out to other useful resources your reader might be interested in.

Bounce rate

Bounce rate – the percentage of users that exit your website without visiting any additional pages – is something most of us are already tracking. That said, it’s not usually a metric we’re tracking when it comes to search engine ranking strategy. But, as the report suggests, we probably should be.

According to the research, top ranking websites have a 51% bounce-rate for long tail keywords and 49% bounce-rate for short tail keywords. You’ll likely see your bounce-rate drop just by focussing on the suggestions mentioned throughout this post, as they’re all going to significantly improve the usability of your website. That said, you’ll also want to optimise your keyword targeting to ensure you’re ranking highly for the right keywords. And then also focus on reducing website load speeds as much as possible. Stats clearly show that longer load times are directly correlated to increased bounce-rates.


It’s still important to make thorough target keyword research and link building central to your SEO strategy. If you want to significantly improve search volume, it’s best to optimise your content to satisfy every ranking factor.

So, it’s likely that many of us will need to re-think our strategies if we want to stay competitive on search engines long term. For search engine optimisers, it’s probably best to start with an honest SEO audit that outlines exactly what you need to do. Then take these considerations into consideration as you redefine your strategy going forward. Not sure where to start? Our SEO team can help – contact us today to find out how!


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