Direct Traffic Ranking Factors

by Jim November 21, 2017

Since my return from Pubcon, I’ve recently appeared on Sky News Switzer where I was spreading my theory on building your brand and forgetting about Google. The subject has quickly gained traction and is now a cause for heated debate across the industry with everyone chipping in their two cents worth.

What I learned

SEMrush has released another ranking factor study
Direct traffic is now the number one ranking factor
Is direct traffic a correlation or causation?
Great brand is a path to great rankings
Why your brand should be first in mind, not first to market

SEO Resources

Melbourne SEO Meetup

Semrush Ranking Factor Report

My spot on SkyNews – Brand is the biggest ranking factor.

Malcolm Slade another brand bloke & a great #pubcon review.

Hey, welcome back, Rankers! Guess what? It’s nearly the end of the year and we’re probably not going to see each other before the end of the year. Well you’ll see me, I won’t see you, unless you come to the Melbourne SEO Meetup on the fourth of December, at the Honey Bar where I’ll be talking about how to build your brand, and forget about Google and why you should be doing that.

It’s basically a presentation I did at Pubcon but it will be updated because a lot’s happened since then. We’ll have to talk about some of that. But come along and thank you Chris Burgess, Peter Mead, and Saijo George for setting up that awesome group. Saw Jason Munn present last month on content marketing and I’m continuing that content marketing theme in December.

The other thing … updates every week and I need to get my subscriber list up. I had a goal internally and I’m not gonna hit it so, please if you are able to… I have some sort of YouTube account, some sort of Google account, all you have to do is go across to my channel which is and just hit the subscribe button and that would be awesome.

Brand is bigger than Google

So, what’s happened this week? So last week I went on Sky News again, basically talking about brand and why brand is bigger than Google and why you need to build that brand. And then what actually happened … I think it might have been the day I presented in Pubcon, or the day after I presented in Pubcon, but basically SEMrush brought out another ranking factor study and it’s caused quite a bit of controversy. I see Olga released it on the 14th of November. So not that long ago. So released on the 14th of November and the biggest ranking factors which has caused quite a bit of controversy is direct traffic. So in the report, SEMrush is saying the biggest ranking factor of the 600,000 key words that they looked at, is direct traffic. Now, there’s a whole heap of questions with that, right? If you’ve got them, don’t worry, they’ve already been asked here on the Facebook thread. This is a public thread so you can kinda have a look through that. Kinda have to search for that. Or you can just go and download the report yourself at
Some people are getting a little bit upset, well some people are getting a lot upset, actually. But it seems to be stemming around from is this a correlation or is this a causation? Well, they’ve said it relates to ranking factor. And when you look up the definition of the word factor, it means it’s some sort of fact. Is it a fact that sites that rank really well also have lots of direct traffic? Yes. Is it causal? Probably not. I don’t know. What’s probably causal though, the great ranking traffic is gonna come from a great brand. Olga, and a few of the other SEMrush people are pretty much saying that as far as I can see, anyway, and correct me if I’m wrong, but think of … like people get caught up in these things! “It’s not a signal. It’s not a signal. Google didn’t say it was a signal. Google didn’t say the bloody, ah, bounce rate’s a signal. I don’t look at bounce rates.”

Well they say they don’t have access to analytics in the past. That’s what Matt Cutts is saying. Matt Cutts has said about bounce rate, well, the Google analytics team is totally separate to the ranking team, however; they do have other things, right? They’ve got Chrome data, they’ve got all sorts of data, and they’ve got dwell time on the site. They can measure how quickly you end up back at the results. There’s heaps of ways they can do it. So to get hung up on what’s a signal, what’s a factor, what’s causation, what’s correlation, to me is missing the point, entirely. Because you’re never gonna find that stuff out to the nth degree.

Be first in mind

Google’s not gonna tell you everything there is to know about their algorithm. Not gonna happen. So you’ll never get that confirmed, so what do you look for? Well you look for paths, you look for paths to get the best ranking, and to me, having a great brand is a pretty awesome path. And you might say branding’s not a ranking factor or Google might come out and say well branding’s not a ranking factor, well maybe not directly. But certainly indirectly. It’s certainly a path to great rankings. If your brand can become synonymous with that keyword, then your brand, for all intents and purposes, has to be number one, ’cause it is that keyword.

Let’s Google that thing. It’s search, right? Google is search. That’s a strong brand. But you can have a strong brand in a small niche. You can have a strong brand in a very, very local niche as well. You’ve just gotta get out there and hustle. You’ve just gotta get out there and speak to those buyer personas who are searching for your product or service. Make sure when they think of a product or service that you sell, make sure they think of you first. It’s not important to be first to market, it’s important to be first in the mind of the consumer, and that’s what this ranking factor study is showing. Direct traffic, you are first in the mind of the consumer every time.

Hopefully that’s helpful. Short one today. But please come and say hello at the Honey Bar on the 4th of December. Go and have a read of that report, let us know what you think. Get in to this Facebook session, if you’re on Facebook and you wanna have a discussion. There’s SEOs from all over the world discussing this with SEMrush at the moment on Facebook. Olga’s probably gonna hate me for telling you all that. It’s interesting. We’ll see you next week. Thank you very much everyone. Bye.

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