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Baidu Ranking Factors for 2024: A Comprehensive Data Study

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Baidu Ranking Factors for 2024: A Comprehensive Data Study

As China’s largest search engine and a global AI and Internet technology leader, Baidu is a powerhouse of innovation. The ERNIE language model, surpassing Google’s BERT in Chinese language processing, positions Baidu at the cutting edge of technological advancement.

In our comprehensive Baidu SEO Ranking Factors Correlation Study*, we analyzed the SERPs for 10,000 Chinese keywords, delving into the top 20 rankings to uncover the factors influencing Baidu’s search engine algorithms.

Search Engine Insights

This study is a goldmine for SEO practitioners globally, not just those targeting the Chinese market. Baidu’s unique approach to search engine technology offers invaluable insights, especially in an era where a deep understanding of algorithms and how search engines work is crucial for SEO success.

Similar to how the SEO community has extensively studied the leaked Yandex papers, understanding Baidu’s SERP construction is equally critical.

Baidu Services in Baidu SERPs

In understanding Baidu’s influence in SEO, it’s important to recognize its array of proprietary services that often dominate the search results. For example, services like Baidu Maps are integral for local searches, similar to the role of Google Maps in other regions.

A notable 34.9% of the top 10 search results are dominated by Baidu’s own services, marking a significant increase from 24.7%, as reported in Searchmetrics’ Baidu Ranking Factors Study in 2020**.

2020 2023
Percentage of Baidu’s own results in top 10 24.70% 34.91%
Percentage of Baidu’s own results in top 20 NA 24.91%
Percentage of Baidu’s own results on position #1 39.00% 60.13%

This dominance extends to 60.13% of first-place positions, up from 39%.

Image by author, December 2023chart showing how much % of top rankings are claimed by Baidu s own services 2020 and 2023

This data isn’t just informative; it’s a clear directive for SEO experts to recalibrate their strategies in China’s unique digital space.

Baidu’s prioritization of its platforms, from Baike to Wenku, signifies more than a preference – it’s a strategic move to retain users within its ecosystem.

these are the most important Baidu services ranked on Baidu's SERPsImage by author, December 2023these are the most important Baidu services ranked on Baidu's SERPs

Baidu Baike, their version of Wikipedia, stands out for its heavily moderated content, ensuring quality but also presenting a challenge for content creators.

The Q&A platform Baidu Zhidao, akin to Quora, and Baidu Wenku, a comprehensive file-sharing service, also frequently appear in search results, reflecting Baidu’s unique algorithm preferences.

These platforms, especially Wenku, tend to have a more prominent presence in Baidu’s SERPs compared to similar platforms in Google’s ecosystem, underscoring the tailored approach Baidu takes in meeting its user’s search needs.

China SEO experts like Stephanie Qian (of The Egg Company) and Veronique Duong (of Rankwell) highlight the potential of leveraging these high-authority domains for enhanced visibility.

This isn’t just a shift in Baidu’s SERPs; it’s a new playbook for Baidu’s SEO success in 2024.

The Unique SEO Landscape In China

Navigating China’s SEO landscape involves understanding unique factors beyond typical SEO strategies. Central to this is China’s rigorous internet regulation, the Great Chinese Firewall, which aims to shield its populace from content considered harmful.

This leads to slower load times for sites hosted outside China due to content scanning and potential blocking. Furthermore, websites on servers flagged for illegal content risk being completely inaccessible in mainland China.

Baidu, the dominant search engine in China, primarily serves the mainland’s Mandarin-speaking audience, favoring content in Simplified Chinese. This contrasts with the Traditional Chinese used in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Although Baidu indexes global content, its algorithm shows a clear preference for Simplified Chinese, a crucial consideration for SEO targeting this region.

Regarding market share, our study counters the narrative of Bing overtaking Baidu.

In the Chinese market, Baidu remains the primary source of organic traffic, contributing around 70% for our B2B clients, while Bing-China accounts for about 20% – based on analytics data of our B2B clients in China.

This contradicts reports based on StatCounter data, which is used by only 0.01% of top-ranking pages on Baidu, and, as per BuiltWith, is only used by 946 websites.

In-Depth Analysis Of 2024 Baidu Ranking Factors

Domain And URL Structures

The findings paint a clear picture: Baidu’s ranking algorithm shows a distinct preference for certain TLDs and URL structures, with a notable lean towards Chinese TLDs and simplified, linguistically uniform URLs.

For global clients targeting the Chinese market, adapting to these preferences is key.

TLDs: The Rise Of Chinese Top-Level-Domains

The distribution of Top-Level Domains (TLDs) among Baidu’s top-ranking results shows a clear preference:

top TLDs in Baidu's SERPs, without Baidu.com sub-domains counted.Image from author, December 2023top TLDs in Baidu's SERPs, without Baidu.com sub-domains counted.
  • .com domains lead with 72.59%.
  • .cn domains have seen a significant rise, from 3.8% in 2020 (via Searchmetrics) to 14.06% in 2023.
  • .com.cn follows with an increase from 5.5% in 2020 to 6.55%.

This upward trend for Chinese TLDs, notably .cn, suggests their growing importance as a potential ranking factor for 2024.

percantage or ranking URLs per position from a .cn domainImage from author, December 2023percantage or ranking URLs per position from a .cn domain

Subdomains and URL Structures

A majority of ranking pages, 58.42%, are found on a ‘www’ subdomain.

Interestingly, URLs with Chinese characters are rare, constituting only 0.8% of ranking URLs and even fewer in domain names, at just 0.0035%.

rankings in Baidu's top20 from domains that contain Chinese Characters in their namesImage from author, December 2023rankings in Baidu's top20 from domains that contain Chinese Characters in their names

Stephanie Qian from The Egg Company comments,

“Baidu’s official stance discourages the use of Chinese characters in URLs, dispelling myths about their potential ranking benefits.”

URL Length and Language Indicators

Contrary to the belief that shorter URLs rank better on Baidu, our study found the average URL length of well-ranking pages to be 48.25 characters, with 2.3 folders/directories.

This finding suggests that the internal linking structure might play a more crucial role than URL length or proximity to the root domain.

Further, only 2.3% of top-ranking pages use Chinese language indicators in their URLs (like, for example, ‘cn.’ subdomain or ‘/cn/’ folder), supporting the narrative that Baidu favors mono-lingual Chinese websites.

This insight is particularly relevant for multi-lingual international websites aiming to optimize for Baidu.

Onpage Best Practices For Chinese SEO

For Baidu SEO in 2024, it’s not just about including keywords but strategically placing them within well-structured, relevant content. This approach aligns with modern SEO practices where user experience and content relevance reign supreme.

Title Tags And Meta-Descriptions

The average length of title tags on top-ranking pages is 25 Chinese characters, while meta-descriptions average 86 characters. These lengths ensure visibility in Baidu’s SERPs without being truncated.

Interestingly, 36% of top-ranking pages use exact match keywords in the title tags, a figure that rises to 54.4% for more competitive short-head keywords.

presence of the exact match keyword in title tags of top ranking pages on Baidu organic searchImage from author, December 2023presence of the exact match keyword in title tags of top ranking pages on Baidu organic search
Whole keyword set Shorthead keywords Midtail keywords Longtail keywords
Correlation score -0.1 -0.17 -0.14 -0.02
Percentage 36% 54.4% 41.7% 18.6%

For meta-descriptions, 22.2% of top-ranking pages include the exact match keyword, increasing to 34.4% for short-head keywords.

The positioning of the keyword also matters: it’s typically at the front of the title tag but around the 10th position in meta-descriptions.

Headings: Hierarchy And Keyword Placement

Headings play a vital role in Baidu SEO:

  • 71.2% of top-ranking pages correctly use one H1 tag.
  • Nearly half (47.8%) use hierarchical headline structures effectively.
  • 21.1% incorporate the exact match keyword in H1, usually around the 4th or 5th position.
  • H2 and H3 tags are used by 44% and 46% of top-ranking pages, respectively, averaging around nine headlines each.
  • Lesser used H4 headlines appear in 22.4% of top-ranking pages, while H5 and H6 are used by less than 10%.
headline usage on Chinese websitesImage from author, December 2023headline usage on Chinese websites

Content And Keyword Density

Content length is a significant factor, with top-ranking pages averaging 4929 characters, although the median is 3147 characters.

About 85% of the content is in Chinese Characters, a vital benchmark for international companies localizing content.

Exact match keywords are used in the content of 49% of top-ranking pages, with the likelihood increasing for more competitive keywords (57% for mid-tail and 66% for short-head keywords).

However, keyword density is less than 1% on average, indicating a move away from over-optimized, spammy content.

The first appearance of the keyword is often within the first 18% of the content.

The Role Of Images

Images are crucial. More than 94% of top-ranking pages feature an average of 27.5 images; 55.4% use alt-tags, and 12.8% include the keyword in at least one alt-tag.

Internal Links

Interestingly, using the keyword in the anchor text of outbound links does not appear to dampen ranking potential, as 20.3% of top-ranking pages do so.

Backlinks: A Key Factor In Baidu’s SEO Rankings

In addition to on-page SEO elements, backlinks play a crucial role in determining rankings on Baidu.

Our analysis, backed by data from DataForSEO and Majestic, reveals a strong positive correlation between the number of referring domains and improved rankings.

Quantity And Quality Of Referring Domains

The quantity of referring domains significantly impacts Baidu rankings. Websites with a higher number of referring domains generally achieve better positions.

number of referring domains did correlate with better rankings on Baidu in 2020 and still in 2023number of referring domains did correlate with better rankings on Baidu in 2020 and still in 2023

Interestingly, data shows that even sites with fewer referring domains can rank well. The 50 lowest-ranked domains had an average of only 1.1 linking domains according to DataForSEO, and 1.3 as per Majestic’s data.

This indicates that while the number of backlinks is important, there are opportunities for sites with fewer links to still perform well on Baidu.

The Impact Of Link Quality

Link quality is equally crucial.

There’s a strong correlation between high-quality links (as measured by Majestic’s Trust Flow/Citation Flow and DataForSEO Rank) and better rankings on Baidu.

Sites with higher-quality links tend to rank more favorably.

higher Majestic Trust-Flow scores correlate with better rankings on BaiduScreenshot from Majestic’s Trust Flow/Citation Flow and DataForSEO Rank, December 2023higher Majestic Trust-Flow scores correlate with better rankings on Baidu

Additionally, top-ranking sites typically have a lower DataForSEO Backlinks Spam Score, underlining the importance of not just the quantity but the quality and trustworthiness of backlinks.

These insights highlight that a well-rounded backlink profile, combining a healthy number of links with high quality, is essential for achieving and maintaining high rankings on Baidu.

It’s a balance of garnering enough attention to be seen as authoritative yet ensuring that attention comes from reputable, high-quality sources.

This approach aligns with broader SEO best practices, emphasizing the importance of building a natural and reputable backlink profile for sustained SEO success.

Emerging Trends And Practical SEO Strategies For Baidu

As SEO strategies evolve, understanding the impact of specific elements like tags, security protocols, and social media integrations is crucial, especially for Baidu.

The analysis sheds light on these advanced aspects.

Tag Usage And Structure

  • List Usage: A significant 86.5% of top-ranking pages employ <ul> lists, averaging 10.8 lists per page with 7.9 points each. Interestingly, 12.9% incorporate the target keyword within these lists.
  • Tables: 18.2% of top-ranking pages use <table> tags, but a mere 3.1% include the target keyword within these tables, suggesting tables are less about keyword placement and more about structured data presentation.
  • Emphasizing Tags: 9.7% of top-ranking pages use emphasizing tags like <strong>, <em>, and <i>, indicating a selective approach to their usage.Technical SEO and Security

Technical SEO And Security

  • HTTPS: Now an official ranking factor for Baidu, the adoption of HTTPS has risen from 55% in 2020 (Searchmetrics’ study) to 69.6% among top-ranking pages
  • Mobile Optimization: A significant trend is the decline in referencing separate mobile pages, from 35% in 2020 to just 10.3% today, reflecting a shift towards responsive design.
  • Google Tag Manager: Usage among top-ranking pages has decreased from 8% in 2020 to only 2.5%, possibly reflecting localization preferences in tools and technologies.

Hreflang And International SEO

  • Hreflang Usage: Just 1.5% of top-ranking pages utilize Hreflang, with experts like Dan Taylor and Owain Lloyd-Williams noting Baidu’s not supporting this tag. Simon Lesser’s observation highlights the dominance of domestic Chinese-only sites on Baidu.

Emerging Trends In Code And Markup

  • HTML5 Adoption: From less than 30% in 2020, HTML5 usage among top-ranking pages has jumped to 53.2%.
  • Schema.org: Despite Baidu’s official non-support, 11% of top-ranking pages implement Schema.org structured data, with expert Owain Lloyd-Williams suggesting its potential benefits, while Adam Di Frisco advises caution due to Baidu’s current stance.

Social Media Integration

  • Chinese Social Media: 60% of top-ranking pages include Chinese social media integrations, indicating its significance in Baidu’s SEO.
  • Western Social Media: In contrast, only 2% integrate Western platforms like Facebook or YouTube, reflecting Baidu’s regional focus.

These findings underscore the evolving complexities of Baidu SEO. While some global best practices apply, others require adaptation for this unique market.

The strategic use of tags, embracing new technologies like HTML5, and localizing social media integrations emerge as pivotal elements for achieving top rankings on Baidu.

Beyond The Study: Other Influential Factors In Baidu SEO

In Baidu SEO, certain key ranking factors, while not directly measurable, are critical.

Experienced Baidu SEO professionals recognize the importance of user signals, like click-through rates in the SERPs, as influential for rankings. This aligns with insights from Google’s antitrust trial documents, suggesting a similar approach by Baidu.

Equally important is Baidu’s advancement in AI, especially with Baidu ERNIE, surpassing Google’s BERT in understanding Chinese language nuances.

This suggests that Baidu uses advanced NLP in its content analysis algorithms, making techniques like WDF-IDF, tailored for Chinese, vital for creating high-quality content that resonates with both users and Baidu’s AI-driven analysis.

Debunking 4 Common Baidu SEO Myths

Let’s debunk some of the prevalent Baidu SEO myths with insights from our recent study.

Myth 1: Necessity Of A .cn Domain

The common belief is that without a .cn domain, success on Baidu is unattainable.

However, our study shows that .com domains actually dominate Baidu’s search results. While there is a growing trend of Chinese TLDs in top SERPs, the idea that a .cn domain is essential is more myth than reality.

Myth 2: ICP License As A Ranking Requirement

Another myth is that an ICP (Internet Content Provider) license is mandatory for ranking on Baidu.

Contrary to this belief, less than half (48%) of the top-ranking pages have an ICP reference. This is corroborated by our experience with client websites without licenses still achieving rankings.

top rankings on Baidu with an ICP license referenced in the footertop rankings on Baidu with an ICP license referenced in the footer

Myth 3: Only Mainland China-Hosted Websites Rank

The misconception that only websites hosted in Mainland China can rank on Baidu is widespread. In reality, any website accessible in China can rank.

However, it’s worth noting that websites hosted outside of China may experience slower loading speeds, which could impact rankings.

Myth 4: Meta Keywords As A Ranking Factor

Many believe that meta keywords are still a relevant ranking factor for Baidu.

Despite this belief, Baidu’s official stance, as noted by spokesperson Lee, is that meta keywords are no longer considered in their ranking algorithm.

These insights hopefully help clear the air around Baidu SEO. It is important to adapt to factual strategies rather than following outdated myths.

Conclusion: Navigating The Future Of Baidu SEO

As we demystify the landscape of Baidu SEO for 2024, it’s evident that success hinges on a blend of embracing new trends and dismissing outdated myths.

From recognizing the dominance of .com domains, to the rise of .cn and .com.cn TLDs, to understanding the non-essential (but recommended) nature of ICP licenses and the reduced emphasis on meta keywords, SEO strategies must evolve with these insights.

The rise of AI, the significance of user signals, and the nuanced approach to content and backlinks underscore the need for sophisticated, data-driven strategies.

As Baidu continues to refine its algorithms, SEO professionals must adapt, ensuring their tactics not only align with current best practices but are also poised to leverage future advancements.

This journey through Baidu’s SEO terrain equips practitioners with the knowledge and tools to navigate the complexities of ranking on China’s leading search engine, setting the stage for success in the dynamic world of digital marketing.

*We invite you to read the full Baidu SEO Ranking Factors Study we created for you and draw your own conclusions.

**You can also read and compare to the Searchmetrics’ Baidu Ranking Factors Study from 2020.

More resources: 


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Google’s Indifference To Site Publishers Explained

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Google inadvertently reveals reasons that explain their seeming indifference to publishers hurt by algorithm updates

A publisher named Brandon Saltalamacchia interviewed Google’s SearchLiaison in which he offered hope that quality sites hit by Google’s algorithms may soon see their traffic levels bounce back. But that interview and a recent Google podcast reveal deeper issues that may explain why Google seems indifferent to publishers with every update.

Google Search Relations

Google has a team whose job is to communicate how site owners can do well on Google. So it’s not that Googlers themselves are indifferent to site publishers and creatives. Google provides a lot of feedback to publishers, especially through Google Search Console. The area in which Google is indifferent to publishers is directly in search at its most fundamental level.

Google’s algorithms are built on the premise that it has to provide a good user experience and is internally evaluated to that standard. This creates the situation where from Google’s perspective the algorithm is working the way it should. But from the perspective of website publishers Google’s ranking algorithms are failing. Putting a finger on why that’s happening is what this article is about.

Publishers Are Not Even An Afterthought To Google

The interview by Brandon Saltalamacchia comes against the background of many websites having lost traffic due to Google’s recent algorithm updates. From Google’s point of view their algorithms are working fine for users. But the steady feedback from website publishers is no, it’s not working. Google’s response for the past month is that they’re investigating how to improve.

What all of this reveals is that there is a real disconnect between how Google measures how their algorithms are working and how website publishers experience it in the real world. It may surprise most people to learn that that this disconnect begins with Google’s mission statement to make information “universally accessible and useful”  and ends with the rollout of an algorithm that is tested for metrics that take into account how users experience it but is 100% blind to how publishers experience it.

Some of the complaints about Google’s algorithms:

  • Ranking algorithms for reviews, travel and other topics are favoring big brands over smaller publishers.
  • Google’s decision to firehose traffic at Reddit contributes to the dismantling of the website publishing ecosystem.
  • AI Overviews summarizes web pages and deprives websites of search traffic.

The stated goal for Google’s algorithm decisions is to increase user satisfaction but the problem with that approach is that website publishers are left out of that equation.  Consider this: Google’s Search Quality Raters Guidelines says nothing about checking if big brands are dominating the search results. Zero.

Website publishers aren’t even an afterthought for Google. Publishers are not not considered at any stage of the creation, testing and rollout of ranking algorithms.

Google Historically Doesn’t Focus On Publishers

A remark by Gary Illyes in a recent Search Off The Record indicated that in Gary’s opinion Google is all about the user experience because if search is good for the user then that’ll trickle down to the publishers and will be good for them too.

In the context of Gary explaining whether Google will announce that something is broken in search, Gary emphasized that search relations is focused on the search users and not the publishers who may be suffering from whatever is broken.

John Mueller asked:

“So, is the focus more on what users would see or what site owners would see? Because, as a Search Relations team, we would focus more on site owners. But it sounds like you’re saying, for these issues, we would look at what users would experience.”

Gary Illyes answered:

“So it’s Search Relations, not Site Owners Relations, from Search perspective.”

Google’s Indifference To Publishers

Google’s focus on satisfying search users can in practice turn into indifference toward publishers.  If you read all the Google patents and research papers related to information retrieval (search technology) the one thing that becomes apparent is that the measure of success is always about the users. The impact to site publishers are consistently ignored. That’s why Google Search is perceived as indifferent to site publishers, because publishers have never been a part of the search satisfaction equation.

This is something that publishers and Google may not have wrapped their minds around just yet.

Later on, in the Search Off The Record  podcast, the Googlers specifically discuss how an update is deemed to be working well regardless if a (relatively) small amount of publishers are complaining that Google Search is broken, because what matters is if Google perceives that they are doing the right thing from Google’s perspective.

John said:

“…Sometimes we get feedback after big ranking updates, like core updates, where people are like, “Oh, everything is broken.”

At the 12:06 minute mark of the podcast Gary made light of that kind of feedback:

“Do we? We get feedback like that?”

Mueller responded:

“Well, yeah.”

Then Mueller completed his thought:

“I feel bad for them. I kind of understand that. I think those are the kind of situations where we would look at the examples and be like, “Oh, I see some sites are unhappy with this, but overall we’re doing the right thing from our perspective.”

And Gary responded:

“Right.”

And John asks:

“And then we wouldn’t see it as an issue, right?”

Gary affirmed that Google wouldn’t see it as an issue if a legit publisher loses traffic when overall the algorithm is working as they feel it should.

“Yeah.”

It is precisely that shrugging indifference that a website publisher, Brandon Saltalamacchia, is concerned about and discussed with SearchLiaison in a recent blog post.

Lots of Questions

SearchLiaison asked many questions about how Google could better support content creators, which is notable because Google has a long history of focusing on their user experience but seemingly not also considering what the impact on businesses with an online presence.

That’s a good sign from SearchLiaison but not entirely a surprise because unlike most Googlers, SearchLiaison (aka Danny Sullivan) has decades of experience as a publisher so he knows what it’s like on our side of the search box.

It will be interesting if SearchLiaison’s concern for publishers makes it back to Google in a more profound way so that there’s a better understanding that the Search Ecosystem is greater than Google’s users and encompasses website publishers, too. Algorithm updates should be about more than how they impact users, the updates should also be about how they impact publishers.

Hope For Sites That Lost Traffic

Perhaps the most important news from the interview is that SearchLiaison expressed that there may be changes coming over the next few months that will benefit the publishers who have lost rankings over the past few months of updates.

Brandon wrote:

“One main take away from my conversation with Danny is that he did say to hang on, to keep doing what we are doing and that he’s hopeful that those of us building great websites will see some signs of recovery over the coming months.”

Yet despite those promises from Danny, Brandon didn’t come away with hope.

Brandon wrote:

“I got the sense things won’t change fast, nor anytime soon. “

Read the entire interview:

A Brief Meeting With Google After The Apocalypse

Listen to the Search Off The Record Podcast

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20 Confirmed Facts About YouTube’s Algorithm

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20 Confirmed Facts About YouTube's Algorithm

Instead of counting the number of clicks or views a video gets, YouTube’s algorithms focus on ensuring viewers are happy with what they watch.

This article examines how YouTube’s algorithms work to help users find videos they like and keep them watching for longer.

We’ll explain how YouTube selects videos for different parts of its site, such as the home page and the “up next” suggestions.

We’ll also discuss what makes some videos appear more than others and how YouTube matches videos to each person’s interests.

By breaking this down, we hope to help marketers and YouTubers understand how to work better with YouTube’s system.

A summary of all facts is listed at the end.

Prioritizing Viewer Satisfaction

Early on, YouTube ranked videos based on watch time data, assuming longer view durations correlated with audience satisfaction.

However, they realized that total watch time alone was an incomplete measure, as viewers could still be left unsatisfied.

So, beginning in the early 2010s, YouTube prioritized viewer satisfaction metrics for ranking content across the site.

The algorithms consider signals like:

  • Survey responses directly asking viewers about their satisfaction with recommended videos.
  • Clicks on the “like,” “dislike,” or “not interested” buttons which indicate satisfaction.
  • Overall audience retention metrics like the percentage of videos viewed.
  • User behavior metrics, including what users have watched before (watch history) and what they watch after a video (watch next).

The recommendation algorithms continuously learn from user behavior patterns and explicit satisfaction inputs to identify the best videos to recommend.

How Videos Rank On The Homepage

The YouTube homepage curates and ranks a selection of videos a viewer will most likely watch.

The ranking factors include:

Performance Data

This covers metrics like click-through rates from impressions and average view duration. When shown on its homepages, YouTube uses these traditional viewer behavioral signals to gauge how compelling a video is for other viewers.

Personalized Relevance

Besides performance data, YouTube relies heavily on personalized relevance to customize the homepage feed for each viewer’s unique interests. This personalization is based on insights from their viewing history, subscriptions, and engagement patterns with specific topics or creators.

How YouTube Ranks Suggested Video Recommendations

The suggested videos column is designed to keep viewers engaged by identifying other videos relevant to what they’re currently watching and aligned with their interests.

The ranking factors include:

Video Co-Viewing

YouTube analyzes viewing patterns to understand which videos are frequently watched together or sequentially by the same audience segments. This allows them to recommend related content the viewer will likely watch next.

Topic/Category Matching

The algorithm looks for videos covering topics or categories similar to the video being watched currently to provide tightly relevant suggestions.

Personal Watch History

A viewer’s viewing patterns and history are a strong signal for suggesting videos they’ll likely want to watch again.

Channel Subscriptions

Videos from channels that viewers frequently watch and engage with are prioritized as suggestions to keep them connected to favored creators.

External Ranking Variables

YouTube has acknowledged the following external variables can impact video performance:

  • The overall popularity and competition level for different topics and content categories.
  • Shifting viewer behavior patterns and interest trends in what content they consume.
  • Seasonal effects can influence what types of videos people watch during different times of the year.

Being a small or emerging creator can also be a positive factor, as YouTube tries to get them discovered through recommendations.

The company says it closely monitors success rates for new creators and is working on further advancements like:

  • Leveraging advanced AI language models to better understand content topics and viewer interests.
  • Optimizing the discovery experience with improved layouts and content pathways to reduce “choice paralysis.”

Strategies For Creators

With viewer satisfaction as the overarching goal, this is how creators can maximize the potential of having their videos recommended:

  • Focus on creating content that drives high viewer satisfaction through strong audience retention, positive survey responses, likes/engagement, and low abandon rates.
  • Develop consistent series or sequel videos to increase chances of being suggested for related/sequence views.
  • Utilize playlists, end screens, and linked video prompts to connect your content for extended viewing sessions.
  • Explore creating content in newer formats, such as Shorts, live streams, or podcasts, that may align with changing viewer interests.
  • Monitor performance overall, specifically from your existing subscriber base as a baseline.
  • Don’t get discouraged by initial metrics. YouTube allows videos to continuously find relevant audience segments over time.
  • Pay attention to seasonality trends, competition, and evolving viewer interests, which can all impact recommendations.

In Summary – 20 Key Facts About YouTube’s Algorithm

  1. YouTube has multiple algorithms for different sections (homepage, suggested videos, search, etc.).
  2. The recommendation system powers the homepage and suggested video sections.
  3. The system pulls in videos that are relevant for each viewer.
  4. Maximizing viewer satisfaction is the top priority for rankings.
  5. YouTube uses survey responses, likes, dislikes, and “not interested” clicks to measure satisfaction.
  6. High audience retention percentages signal positive satisfaction.
  7. Homepage rankings combine performance data and personalized relevance.
  8. Performance is based on click-through rates and average view duration.
  9. Personalized relevance factors include watch history, interests, and subscriptions.
  10. Suggested videos prioritize content that is co-viewed by the same audiences.
  11. Videos from subscribed channels are prioritized for suggestions.
  12. Consistent series and sequential videos increase suggestions for related viewing.
  13. Playlists, end screens, and linked videos can extend viewing sessions.
  14. Creating engaging, satisfying content is the core strategy for recommendations.
  15. External factors like competition, trends, and seasonality impact recommendations.
  16. YouTube aims to help new/smaller creators get discovered through recommendations.
  17. AI language models are improving content understanding and personalization.
  18. YouTube optimizes the discovery experience to reduce “choice paralysis.”
  19. Videos can find audiences over time, even if initial metrics are discouraging.
  20. The algorithm focuses on delivering long-term, satisfying experiences for viewer retention.

Insight From Industry Experts

While putting together this article, I reached out to industry experts to ask about their take on YouTube’s algorithms and what’s currently working for them.

Greg Jarboe, the president and co-founder of SEO-PR and author of YouTube and Video Marketing, says:

“The goals of YouTube’s search and discovery system are twofold: to help viewers find the videos they want to watch, and to maximize long-term viewer engagement and satisfaction. So, to optimize your videos for discovery, you should write optimized titles, tags, and descriptions. This has been true since July 2011, when the YouTube Creator Playbook became available to the public for the first time.

However, YouTube changed its algorithm in October 2012 – replacing ‘view count’ with ‘watch time.’ That’s why you need to go beyond optimizing your video’s metadata. You also need to keep viewers watching with a variety of techniques. For starters, you need to create a compelling opening to your videos and then use effective editing techniques to maintain and build interest through the video.

There are other ranking factors, of course, but these are the two most important ones. I’ve used these video SEO best practices to help the Travel Magazine channel increase from just 1,510 to 8.7 million views. And these video SEO techniques help the SonoSite channel grow from 99,529 views to 22.7 million views.

The biggest recent trend is the advent of YouTube Shorts, which is discoverable on the YouTube homepage (in the new Shorts shelf), as well as across other parts of the app. For more details, read “Can YouTube Shorts Be Monetized? Spoiler Alert: Some Already Are!

Brie E. Anderson, an SEO and digital marketing consultant, says:

“In my experience, there are a few things that are really critical when it comes to optimizing for YouTube, most of which won’t be much of a surprise. The first is obviously the keyword you choose to target. It’s really hard to beat out really large and high authority channels, much like it is on Google. That being said, using tools like TubeBuddy can help you get a sense of the keywords you can compete for.

Another big thing is focusing on the SERP for YouTube Search. Your thumbnail has to be attention-grabbing – this is honestly what we test the most and one of the most impactful tests we run. More times than not, you’re looking at a large face, and max four words. But the amount of contrast happening in the thumbnail and how well it explains the topic of the video is the main concern.

Also, adding the ‘chapters’ timestamps can be really helpful. YouTube actually shows these in the SERP, as mentioned in this article.

Lastly, providing your own .srt file with captions can really help YouTube understand what your video is about.

Aside from actual on-video optimizations, I usually encourage people to write blog posts and embed their videos or, at the very least, link to them. This just helps with indexing and building some authority. It also increases the chance that the video will help YOUR SITE rank (as opposed to YouTube).”

Sources: YouTube’s Creator Insider Channel (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), How YouTube Works

More resources: 


Featured Image: Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock

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7 Strategies From Medical SEO Pros

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7 Strategies From Medical SEO Pros

Healthcare SEO is the secret to helping your organization reach more patients and clients.

SEO can help you rank for useful keywords, connect with patients in your local area, and share helpful information and advice with thousands of people.

To write this guide to medical SEO, we interviewed five experienced healthcare SEOs and content creators. We asked them to share their best advice for helping healthcare businesses grow through effective, ethical SEO:

The core principles of SEO are the same for every type of company. You need to create high-quality content, earn backlinks, and make sure your site is free of technical problems.

But healthcare SEO has some unique challenges:

  • Popular keywords are dominated by huge international brands.
  • Many healthcare companies only serve a particular local area.
  • Google expects medical content to be reviewed by healthcare experts.
  • There can be strict rules and regulations governing how medical information is shared.
  • Healthcare companies often need to market simultaneously to patients, businesses, and clinicians.

In this article, we’ll show you how to solve these problems: from building .gov backlinks to medically reviewing your content.

Content creation is a core part of healthcare marketing, but most medical topics are what Google calls YMYL topics—Your Money or Your Life.

For any topic that “could significantly impact the health, financial stability, or safety of people”, Google tries to prioritize content that demonstrates obvious expertise, experience, authority, and trust (also known as EEAT).

In practice, that means that most top-ranking medical content is reviewed by medical experts. Here are some of the top results from the SERP (search engine results page) for osteoarthritis treatments.

Healthline lists the author bios and medical reviewers for each article:

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Cleveland Clinic includes a “medically reviewed” badge, and links to a list of editorial standards:

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WebMD highlights each post’s medical reviewer:

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And The Mayo Clinic links to their huge list of medical editors:

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Medical review is so common across health-related SERPs that Caitlin adopted a simple rule for her content creation process: get every article medically reviewed—even a topic like drinking water to lose weight.

If creating hundreds of articles and subjecting them to rigorous medical review sounds complicated, well… it can be. Here’s how the experts handle it:

Create content with non-experts

You might think that all medical content needs to be written by medical experts, but after talking to our experts, most articles were created by writers with no medical qualifications—or even generated with AI.

For many medical topics, it’s easy to find objective, accurate information. Add in a few interviews with healthcare professionals—as Sarah asks her team of freelance writers to do—and properly cite medical references, and non-experts can write decent SEO content.

For more research-heavy or cutting-edge topics, it’s necessary to do deeper research and work with specialized medical writers. Here’s how Caitlin tackled this process, dividing her content into two “buckets”:

  • Common knowledge topics (~70% of all articles): for topics with lots of existing information, Caitlin worked with the content marketing agency Verblio. In a similar vein, Geoff uses AI to write straightforward first drafts.
  • Cutting-edge topics (~30% of all articles): for topics that required heavy research (like the impact of CBD oil on anxiety), Caitlin worked with a specialized medical writer from the agency Writing Studio. When writing about ozempic, Sarah sought feedback from four separate professionals.

Source expert medical reviewers

The SEOs I interviewed sourced their medical reviewers in two different ways:

  • In-house experts: Sarah at Hinge Health had content reviewed by “in-house, member-facing employees”, a mixture of physical therapists, medical reviewers and clinical reviewers depending on the topic.
  • Freelancers: Without the luxury of in-house experts, Caitlin built a network of freelance doctors on Upwork. These were generally fully licensed doctors and medical professionals, half from within the United States and half from other countries.

In all cases, Caitlin notes, it’s important to ask your medical reviewers to check their indemnity insurance. In most countries, clinicians are accountable to medical regulators. Once they put their byline on an article, they are responsible for the advice it offers.

Review for medical accuracy

Medical reviewers should vet your content for accuracy and suggest edits where needed. That often means:

  • Flagging errors and misinformation (like incorrect medical terminology).
  • Adding extra context and information (like extra details about symptoms or treatments).
  • Softening language (avoiding phrases like “best treatment” or “guaranteed to work”).

Caitlin’s workflow looks like this:

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Learn more about Caitlin’s process in our article, 7 Content Automations used by Real Content Pros.

Publish with clear author and reviewer attribution

It’s crucial to make the medical review as obvious to readers and search engines as possible. Here’s a great example from Caitlin’s previous company, HealthMatch:

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And another from Sarah’s company, Hinge Health:

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These examples highlight three best practices:

  • Include a clear, obvious reviewer bio on every article, including their photograph, name, qualifications, and even their area of medical speciality.
  • Link to a dedicated reviewer page, showing the author’s credentials and past experience, and linking to other relevant bylines on the web.
  • Use relevant schema data for the authors and reviewers (but more on that later).

Everyone I interviewed shared the same core challenge: medical SEO is dominated by a handful of internationally recognized brands, like Cleveland Clinic, Healthline, WebMD, NHS, and Mayo Clinic.

With strong link profiles and brand recognition, these companies generally dominate most healthcare SERPs.

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A 92 DR score means these companies can be very difficult to compete against in the search results.

To work around this constraint, everyone I interviewed chose to focus on low-competition long-tail keywords, before gradually targeting more competitive terms as they started to see results.

You can find these terms easily with Ahrefs. To start, here’s a short-tail keyword, headache, with 121,000 monthly searches and a “Super hard” keyword difficulty:

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A top-three ranking would be out of reach for most companies, but we can use the Related terms report in Keywords Explorer to find less competitive variations that might be worth targeting.

Here, we’ve set the keyword difficulty to a maximum of 40, and surfaced 976 keywords:

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To stand an even better chance of ranking, we can also filter our results with the Lowest DR filter. In the screenshot below, we’ve limited our search solely to keywords that already have low DR websites (in this case,

In other words, these are all keywords a fledgling website would have an excellent chance of ranking for:

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The topic cluster framework is a way to organize and link between related articles on a website. It makes it easy for both visitors and search engines to easily navigate between related content—other relevant articles are only a single click away.

Caitlin explained that healthcare is “natively suited” to the topic clustering technique. Every medical condition generally has a similar set of patient questions associated with it, making it easy to use similar content templates for many different medical conditions.

Geoff shared a framework he commonly uses with his healthcare clients. For most medical conditions, you can usually group your content into three topic clusters: pre-intervention, intra-intervention, and post-intervention:

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Pre-intervention

These are questions people ask before treatment or surgery:

  • Diagnosis: do I need a hip replacement
  • Treatment options: which method of hip replacement is the best?
  • Cost: how much does a hip replacement cost
  • Images: hip replacement surgery pictures
  • Outcomes: how long does a hip replacement last

Intra-intervention

These are questions people ask about the treatment or surgery itself:

  • Anesthesia: are you awake during hip replacement surgery
  • Duration: how long does hip replacement surgery take

Post-intervention

These are questions people ask after having treatment:

  • Recovery period: how long to recover from hip replacement
  • Anxieties: what are the symptoms of nerve damage after hip replacement
  • “Can I do X”: how long after hip replacement can you drive

You can use Ahrefs to research these topic clusters.

Start by entering a medical condition or topic into Keywords Explorer. Click the Matching terms report to see similar keywords, and then Questions to find related keywords in the form of, you guessed it, questions:

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Here, we’re looking at hip replacement.

With this process, we’ve already found 5,163 keywords relating to hip replacements, like how long does a hip replacement last and how long after hip replacement can i tie my shoes:

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You can click Clusters by Parent Topic to group these keywords together into clusters, groups of keywords that can likely be targeted by the same article. Now we’ve refined our list of potential articles from 5,000 down to 270:

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Backlinks are a core component of effective SEO—and that remains true in healthcare SEO.

If the idea of doing “shady” outreach for a healthcare company gives you shivers, don’t worry: healthcare companies have unique strengths that make it relatively easy to build great backlinks.

Many healthcare companies have strong relationships with government bodies, charitable organizations, and educational institutions, making it possible to earn links from high-DR .gov and .edu domains.

Despina shared the example of HammondCare, an Australian aged care provider. A quick look at their backlink profile reveals 33 referring .gov domains:

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They’ve also snagged 24 referring .edu domains:

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Looking at their backlink profile as a whole, we can identify several easy-to-replicate strategies suitable for all types of healthcare companies:

As Despina pointed out, most healthcare providers are already sitting on a small goldmine of interesting research and accomplishments. Link building can be as simple as asking: what have we already done that we can use to get links?

Many healthcare organizations are local businesses with bricks-and-mortar premises. The process of attracting interest in a specific area is known as local SEO (and we have a full guide here: Local SEO: The Complete Guide).

There are three local SEO strategies that are particularly crucial for healthcare companies: optimizing your Google My Business profile, building NAP citations in healthcare directories, and building local landing pages.

Optimize your Google My Business profile

Most local searches include a “map pack”, a collection of top local business listings in your area. To stand a chance of appearing in these results, you’ll need to claim and optimize your Google My Business (GMB) profile.

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Once you’ve claimed your profile (head to https://www.google.com/business/ and click “Manage now”), you’ll need to fill out as much relevant information as possible:

  • Business or practice name
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Website
  • Business type (the more specific, the better: orthopedic surgeon is better than surgeon or doctor)
  • Hours of operation
  • Medical services offered
  • Photos of your practice and team

Depending on the nature of your healthcare organization, there may be other types of information you can share. Here’s the GMB profile for The Royal London Hospital, complete with hospital-specific profile information, like number of beds and parent organization:

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For a detailed walkthrough of setting up your GMB profile, read our guide: How to Optimize Your Google My Business Listing in 30 Minutes.

Be careful when asking for reviews

Earning and responding to reviews is a key part of managing your Google My Business Profile… but there’s a catch for healthcare companies.

In many countries, there are strict rules and regulations dictating how healthcare providers can (or cannot) solicit reviews from patients.

So before you hand out a hundred feedback leaflets to your patients, read up on laws and regulations (like HIPPA) in your location.

Build NAP citations and submit your company to healthcare directories

NAP citations refer to mentions of your organization on relevant third-party websites (including your organization’s name, address, and phone number—hence NAP).

These citations create more ways for potential customers to find you, and they can help improve your site’s overall search performance.

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As a starting point, get your healthcare company listed with the main data aggregators (sites that provide business listings to popular directories), like Data Axle, Localeze, and Foursquare.

It’s also worth getting listed on other popular websites like Apple Maps, Yelp, Yellow Pages, Bing Places, and Facebook.

Geoff shared some of the UK-specific medical directories he sees most often in local healthcare search results (in many cases, these directories have international versions too):

You can learn more about building NAP citations in our guide: How to Build Local Citations (Complete Guide).

Tip

You can use the Link Intersect report in Ahrefs to quickly find relevant medical directories. Enter the homepages for similar healthcare organizations and hit “Show link opportunities.” You’ll see a list of websites that link to some—or all—of these competitors.

Here I’ve run the report using three private hospitals from my local area:

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Based on this result, I’d immediately try to secure a link from the CQC (the UK’s independent healthcare regulator) and Doctify (a review and feedback platform specifically for the healthcare industry).

Create locations and services pages

Despina recommends that most healthcare organizations create location landing pages: web pages that tell visitors (and Google) where your business operates.

Here’s an example from my local sports physiotherapy clinic. For each of the major locations they serve, they’ve created a dedicated website page.

Here’s one focused on the town of Aylesbury, helping them to rank for keywords like “physiotherapy aylesbury”:

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To create great location pages, Despina shares her advice:

  • Use a localized URL structure, like website.com/service/location.
  • Localize your page’s title tags and page header, like Aylesbury Sport Physiotherapy | Elite Sports Expertise.
  • Include sign-up buttons and contact forms near the start of the page (“above the fold”).
  • Showcase social proof, reviews and images.
  • Link between your location pages to help visitors find the best location for their needs (and improve your chances of ranking for location-specific keywords).
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Read Despina’s deep-dive into location landing pages: Location Landing Pages: 6 Crucial Elements Of Local Visibility.

Schema markup is a type of code that allows search engines to better understand the contents of your page. Schema markup can sometimes make your page eligible for rich results, which can help you earn more clicks from search.

Schema markup is particularly important for local businesses. After searching for family practice physician near me, the top spot in the search results is taken up by a local pack SERP feature:

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One of the top results is using Physician schema markup—a specific schema type designed to tell Google that the author is a doctor:

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Here’s the top result for private hospital near me using another type of medical schema markup, Hospital:

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Schema.org also lists a few other medical-specific schema types, like MedicalCondition (for information about specific medical conditions), Drug (for information about a medical drug), and MedicalWebPage (for webpages about specific medical topics).

Here’s the NHS using the MedicalWebPage schema on their #2 ranking article about hip replacement:

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(Although the #1 ranking article from Johns Hopkins doesn’t use any schema—so although it’s useful, using relevant medical schema is obviously not essential for good search performance.)

The healthcare industry has largely relied on self-regulation to prevent the spread of inaccurate content and misinformation, but this is changing.

We’ve already covered Google’s increasing emphasis on EEAT in search content. In a similar vein, Virginia shared that YouTube (also owned by Google) has started to verify content from medical professionals:

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Medical video content with a “From a licensed doctor in the UK” banner.

They promote this content more heavily through their “Health shelf” feature. Here’s the YouTube results page for asthma, prominently highlighting videos “From health sources”:

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As YouTube explains, to be eligible for these enriched search features (and likely earn more clicks and views), content needs to be from “credible health sources”. These sources are vetted in different ways:

“Vetting mechanisms include accreditation, academic journal indexing and government accountability rules.”

Virginia recommends healthcare companies apply for PIF TICK certification. Created by the Patient Information Forum, the PIF TICK is the only independently assessed standard for both print and digital healthcare content creators.

While it won’t guarantee improved rankings through either Google Search or YouTube search, it seems like a smart proactive move given Google’s increased emphasis on EEAT content in healthcare.

Final thoughts

Healthcare SEO is competitive and involves solving unique challenges, like medical review of content, competing with industry giants, and staying compliant with tons of regulations.

This guide should arm you with everything you need to connect with patients and clients and grow your healthcare business—while making the world a little smarter (and healthier) in the process.

Want to ask a question? Connect with me on LinkedIn or X.



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