If you sell automotive parts or services online then you need to know what we discovered in our automotive SEO ranking factors and correlations study. This study evaluated factors that may contribute to a high SEO ranking in Google. This market research should be interesting to SEMA, Auto Care Association, MEMA or AASA members. Only Google knows the actual factors that contribute to high organic rankings and this study doesn’t “prove” these factors will result in a high automotive SEO rankings. But, for organic search results, it does show what highly-ranked automotive web pages have in common.
We’re indebted to Moz and their 2013 Search Engine Ranking Factors Study. Moz did their original analysis of over 100 ranking factors and provided the original search engine correlation study dataset. The original Moz data included 14,641 keyword queries with results from the 1st to 50th ranked page. We edited it down to 362 automotive queries.
SEO ranking analysis
Our automotive SEO study shows common characteristics of highly-ranked automotive pages. To make sense of our chart, a correlation of 0.32 (Page Authority in our chart) is very high. A correlation of 0.00 means no correlation at all. Correlation is not causation, but in the words of noted statistician and amateur traffic sign designer Edward Tufte, it sure helps.
To see our conclusions save some time and just scroll to the bottom of this article.
Automotive SEO study ranking categories
Moz categorizes 122 ranking factors into 10 categories. Here are the SEO ranking factor categories in the chart.
██ Page Link Authority Features: these are metrics associated with individual pages. They include things like number of links and Moz’s own MozRank. This category includes Page Authority (PA), a learning model in the Mozscape index that predicts a page’s ability to rank highly from links. It’s the factor with the highest correlation for automotive pages and automotive keywords, with a correlation of 0.32. In the original Moz study of all 14,641 keywords across all websites, Page Authority was the top factor at 0.39 so both the Moz study and the Hedges & Company study agree it’s at the top of the list, we just have different correlations.
██ Domain Link Authority Features: These are metrics related to the root domain where a page is hosted, not specific to the page itself. In our automotive SEO study, the next 21 factors are all Domain Link Authority Features and in the Moz study they were spread out. The actual correlations are very close in both studies. Here’s our theory: One of the things that makes the automotive industry, as well as the automotive aftermarket, unique is the proliferation of discussion sites. These sites are full of links back to automotive sites.
██ Page Level Social: These factors are from social media sources such as Google+, Twitter and Facebook for the ranking page. This is where our study differs significantly from the Moz study. Moz had the number of Google +1’s (plus ones) as the second highest ranking with a correlation of 0.30. In our study the number of Google +1’s was the 23rd highest, with a correlation of 0.24. We think this is because Google+ is greatly underutilized in the automotive industry, a topic we covered in this blog post covering our Google SEO predictions for 2014.
██ Page Level Anchor Text: These factors describe anchor text metrics, both partial- and exact-match anchor text, that link to an individual page. The original Moz study showed these factors as higher-ranked and relatively spread out. We have them tightly grouped with correlations ranging from 0.20 to 0.22.
██ Brand Metrics: This category includes elements of the root domain that indicate qualities of branding and was tracked using domain name mentions in Moz’s Fresh Web Explorer (FWE). Our correlations for brand mentions agree with Moz and are relatively high, coming in between 0.18 and 0.20 for mentions of a full domain name.
██ Domain Level Anchor Text: This includes anchor text metrics—both partial and exact match—related to the root domain that hosts the page. For example, for a page URL of www.HedgesCompany.com/abc, these factors are for anchor text links pointing to *.HedgesCompany.com, not just page /abc.
██ Page Keyword Agnostic: These factors describe usage of non-keyword and non-link metrics for individual pages. This includes factors like number of characters in the page title, Twitter Card markup, or an underscore in the URL. Like in the Moz study, correlations for these components ranked low.
██ Domain Keyword Agnostic: This category is related to the entire root domain, but doesn’t include link or keyword-based elements. This category includes things such as number of hyphens in the domain name or whether the domain name includes numbers, not just letters.
██ Domain Keyword Usage: This category shows how keywords are used in the root or subdomain name and how much impact this has on search engine rankings. For automotive searches we showed a low correlation for these factors, ranging from 0.12 to a correlation of exactly 0.00.
██ Page Keyword Usage: This category includes features that describe the use of a keyword term or phrase in the HTML code. This includes things like <h1> or <h2> tags, alt tags, or how closely the title tag matches the search keyword. In automotive SEO our correlations were lower than the original Moz study.
What you can learn from the automotive SEO study: conclusions
The quick take on our conclusions: 1). Links to automotive domains had the highest correlation as a group. The original Moz study showed links to individual pages, not domains, had the highest correlations. 2). Social links had high correlations in the original Moz study but are significantly lower for automotive pages. 3). The total number of plus ones using Google+ is the most important social link in both but is underutilized on automotive pages.
It may be helpful to compare these results to the Moz chart by opening it in a separate browser tab and going back and forth.
The detail on our conclusions: Generally, our analysis was close to the Moz study but there are some significant differences. Page Level Anchor Text factors ranked lower in automotive SEO than in the Moz study. Although our correlations showed these factors as fairly high, they’re not as high as they are in general search. This means there may be an opportunity to work on giving these factors more emphasis in automotive SEO. Links are important to SEO rankings, but aggressive link-building to specific pages is a risky SEO strategy. It’s best to focus on great content which will produce links. Google is watching for artificial links and paid links, and a sudden increase in links to a page can look very suspicious, resulting in an organic ranking penalty from Google.
Social signals had lower correlations for automotive pages, but the total number of plus ones in Google+ still had the highest correlation of all social signals. We think this shows a big opportunity for automotive companies to utilize Google+ more. Correlations for social signals such as Facebook shares, likes and comments ranged from 0.23 to 0.27 in the original study and dropped to 0.16 to 0.19 for automotive pages.
Domain Link Authority Features had very similar correlations in both the Hedges & Company study and the Moz study. The main difference in the highest correlated factors is that for automotive pages, Page Link Authority Features, Page Level Social and Page Level Anchor Text had lower overall correlations than general search terms did in the Moz study. This may mean there is an opportunity for automotive sites to place greater emphasis on these features because it works for the rest of the world.
Automotive SEO analysis study methodology
We used the original data from Moz which included 14,641 keyword queries and the search engine results. We edited it down to 362 automotive and powersports queries for just over 18,000 total query results. These queries included brand queries like “National Tire and Battery” or “Borla exhaust,” part type queries like “battery charger” and “car tires,” and automobile queries like “Acura RDX” or “Mustangs.” General search terms like “batteries” that can be both automotive and non-automotive were included only if most of the results were automotive-related. A general search term like “light bulbs” returns mostly non-automotive sites so that term was excluded from our study. As another example, the search term “powerblock,” which is the name of an automotive TV show, returned mostly non-automotive pages so it was excluded from our study.
You can read more detail on how the overall data was collected at Moz. As with the original analysis we looked at the correlation of search engine ranking for positions 1 through 50 using Spearman’s Rank Correlation Coefficient, or Spearman’s rho (ρ). If you want to be really, really geeky here’s the formula, courtesy Wikipedia:
It’s important to note the original data was compiled mid-2013, which is pre-Hummingbird.
A final thought on correlation vs. causation: This study shows what highly-ranked pages have in common, it doesn’t claim to show why a page is highly ranked. Does a page rank high because it has a lot of plus ones on Google+, or does it have a lot of plus ones because the page has compelling, original content, is visible in search engine rankings and people wanted to share it? The data can’t tell us that.
What do you think of the auto SEO study?
Let us know if you found this insightful or useful, and leave a comment below, or share with your friends using our social buttons. As with the original Moz study, we have licensed this work so you can share or publish it with attribution to Hedges & Company.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.