It’s been almost exactly a month since Google’s Vince Update hit UK shores. Quite a few SEO blogs covered the update, and submitted their own hypotheses as to what ranking factors could be driving the change.
Matt Cutts answered a webmaster question regarding the Vince update on Youtube and tried to be as clear as possible that there had been a change, but that he wouldn’t nessecarily consider it an “update”, more of a “simple change”. Matt mentioned that it only affected a small number of queries, and told us in the video that Google doesn’t really think of websites in terms of “brands”. Instead, they were looking at factors such as:
Matt also gave some advice close to the end of the video – that what webmasters should be doing, hasn’t really changed. Fair enough.
Should we be doing anything differently?
There were a few theories published in the UK, Patrick felt there could be a correlation between search volume data and ranking position and Aaron Wall posited that “Google is promoting brands for big money core category keywords”.
Google are always reviewing the quality of their search results. Why? To improve user experience and to save bandwidth on queries with lower than usual click throughs or higher than usual repeat searches. Click through rates and volume data very likely play a role in providing signals to the quality analysts working behind the scenes, though I couldn’t believe these were the only variables playing havoc with our rankings in the UK.
Brands attract good links, mostly.
There are a raft of global brands out there that have amazing marketing budgets and carry such high levels of awareness that they naturally attract good links. You know, the really “natural” ones. So if a few brands started to rank higher after the Vince update, couldn’t it have just been a result of a refinement to the quality vectors in Google’s links algorithm?
A few SEO’s cited specific examples of phrases that had shown significant movement in the search results pages in the UK. “Hotels”, “Flights”, “Car Insurance” and far less competitive phrases (?) like “Dresses“.
There could indeed have been algorithm changes (but there are always algorithm changes), and in this case, you can’t really isolate what signals might be being weighted differently. And to your point as well, you can find just as many queries that don’t have big brands ranking. Ultimately, it all comes down to relevance. Google is going to continually tweak its algorithms to try to return the most relevant results for users
Could we actually measure this stuff?
Lots of bloggers were rightly posting rankings results showing the before and after effect of the update, showing that in some cases, domains that didn’t rank so well prior to the update, did so after Vince went live. Rankings are a great way to see the changes but for analysis purposes they don’t get us very far. Wanting to dig a little deeper, I thought I’d take a look at car insurance.
To help come to a conclusion I enlisted the help of data from Linkscape. I think I’ve pretty much destroyed my monthly points ration, but it was quite fun doing it! The following Linkscape data was recorded in a spreadsheet:
- Google Position
- Ranking URL
- Internal Links
- mR from Internal Links
- External Links
- mR from External Links
- External mozRank
- Subdomains Linking
- Google PageRank
- Term appears in 8 most common anchor text terms
- Importance # (My value for how popular the inbound anchor text term was)
- Unique Links
- Unique Domains
- mR Passed by Anchor Texts With This Term
A note on anchor text:
I found every single ranking in the top 30 contains the phrase “car insurance” in their top 8 inbound anchor text terms. Not every anchor text term in the top 8 was 100% keyword rich, but for the purpose of this data I included pure and diluted anchor text terms such as “dave’s car insurance”. The key measure was to look at the value passed via the most relevant anchor text containing our optimised term, within the top 8 most popular inbound anchor terms.
What I found was really interesting. Here’s the data:
1) Mozrank passed through most relevant inbound anchor text and total unique inbound links (Click to enlarge)
I found a correlation between the value of the inbound links (Mozrank passed) and the ranking position for our term. There’s also an interesting slope where, as the number of unique links reduces, so does the ranking.
Looking at the entire data set, the correlation is similar though anomalies are introduced in 3 or 4 URLs that perhaps should have ranked higher than they currently do. While I was working with the rankings data, some of these URLs showed some movement by a significant number of places. Even with the movement observed, the correlation looked interesting: (Click to enlarge)
A look at External mozRank
External mozRank measures the amount of mozRank flowing through a link located on a separate domain. Because external links can play an important role as independent endorsement, external mozRank measures an important factor for ranking.
I found external mozRank to show an interesting correlation between rankings in this dataset too. Here are the first 10 rankings for our term:
Looking at the entire dataset, again we find a few anomalies but a trend remains:
From this data, the conclusion I drew sort of went like this:
Inbound anchor text (100% pure or containing other terms) remains a strong ranking factor with emphasis on the quality of the inbound link passing value via that anchor text
That statement above is my personal opinion after carrying out an analysis on the links data on the top 30 rankings for “car insurance” in Google.co.uk – it’s an opinion that I welcome discussion around, so feel free to comment with yours below.
Brands can attract quality, natural links. Even if the inbound links use anchors that are not 100% keyword rich I certainly believe they can be very impactful provided the inbound link has a good deal of quality and trust passed over.
What are the actionable tips we can take away? I believe it ultimately boils down to the quality of the inbound links you have. Check out your anchor text, get under the bonnet of your inbound links with a decent analysis tool and draw a conclusion for yourself by looking at your own niche. Good luck!