New Moz-Builtwith Study Examines Big Website Tech and Google Rankings

Posted by Cyrus-Shepard

BuiltWith knows about your website.

Go ahead. Try it out.

BuiltWith also knows about your competitors’ websites. They’ve cataloged over 5,000 different website technologies on over 190 million sites. Want to know how many sites use your competitor’s analytics software? Or who accepts Bitcoin? Or how many sites run WordPress?

Like BuiltWith, Moz also has a lot of data. Every two years, we run a Search Engine Ranking Factors study where we examine over 180,000 websites in order to better understand how they rank in Google’s search results.

We thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun to combine the two data sets?

That’s exactly what our data science team, led by Dr. Matt Peters, did. We wanted to find out what technologies websites were using, and also see if those technologies correlated with Google rankings.

How we conducted the study

BuiltWith supplied Moz with tech info on 180,000 domains that were previously analyzed for the Search Engine Ranking Factors study. Dr. Peters then calculated the correlations for over 50 website technologies.

The ranking data for the domains was gathered last summer—you can read more about it here—and the BuiltWith data is updated once per quarter. We made the assumption that basic web technology, like hosting platforms and web servers, don’t change often.

It’s very important to note that the website technologies we studied are not believed to be actual ranking factors in Google’s algorithm. There are huge causation/correlation issues at hand. Google likely doesn’t care too much what framework or content management system you use, but because SEOs often believe one technology superior to the other, we thought it best to take a look..

Web hosting platforms performance

One of the cool things about BuiltWith is not only can you see what technology a website uses, but you can view trends across the entire Internet.

One of the most important questions a webmaster has to answer is who to use as a hosting provider. Here’s BuiltWith’s breakdown of the hosting providers for the top 1,000,000 websites:

Holy GoDaddy! That’s a testament to the power of marketing.

Webmasters often credit good hosting as a key to their success. We wanted to find out if certain web hosts were correlated with higher Google rankings.

Interestingly, the data showed very little correlation between web hosting providers and higher rankings. The results, in fact, were close enough to zero to be considered null.

Web Hosting Correlation
Rackspace 0.024958629
Amazon 0.043836395
Softlayer -0.02036524
GoDaddy -0.045295217
Liquid Web -0.000872457
CloudFlare Hosting -0.036254475

Statistically, Dr. Peters assures me, these correlations are so small they don’t carry much weight.

The lesson here is that web hosting, at least for the major providers, does not appear to be correlated with higher rankings or lower rankings one way or another. To put this another way, simply hosting your site on GoDaddy should neither help or hurt you in the large, SEO scheme of things.

That said, there are a lot of bad hosts out there as well. Uptime, cost, customer service and other factors are all important considerations.

CMS battle – WordPress vs. Joomla vs. Drupal

Looking at the most popular content management systems for the top million websites, it’s easy to spot the absolute dominance of WordPress.

Nearly a quarter of the top million sites run WordPress.

You may be surprised to see that Tumblr only ranks 6,400 sites in the top million. If you expand the data to look at all known sites in BuiltWith’s index, the number grows to over 900,000. That’s still a fraction of the 158 million blogs Tumblr claims, compared to the only 73 million claimed by WordPress.

This seems to be a matter of quality over quantity. Tumblr has many more blogs, but it appears fewer of them gain significant traffic or visibility.

Does any of this correlate to Google rankings? We sampled five of the most popular CMS’s and again found very little correlation.

CMS Correlation
WordPress -0.009457206
Drupal 0.019447922
Joomla! 0.032998891
vBulletin -0.024481161
ExpressionEngine 0.027008018

Again, these numbers are statistically insignificant. It would appear that the content management system you use is not nearly important as how you use it.

While configuring these systems for SEO varies in difficulty, plugins and best practices can be applied to all.

Popular social widgets – Twitter vs. Facebook

To be honest, the following chart surprised me. I’m a huge advocate of Google+, but never did I think more websites would display the Google Plus One button over Twitter’s Tweet button.

That’s not to say people actually hit the Google+ button as much. With folks tweeting over 58 million tweets per day, it’s fair to guess that far more people are hitting relatively few Twitter buttons, although Google+ may be catching up.

Sadly, our correlation data on social widgets is highly suspect. That’s because the BuiltWith data is aggregated at the domain level, and social widgets are a page-level feature.

Even though we found a very slight positive correlation between social share widgets and higher rankings, we can’t conclusively say there is a relationship.

More important is to realize the significant correlations that exist between Google rankings and actual social shares. While we don’t know how or even if Google uses social metrics in its algorithm (Matt Cutts specifically says they don’t use +1s) we do know that social shares are significantly associated with higher rankings.

Again, causation is not correlation, but it makes sense that adding social share widgets to your best content can encourage sharing, which in turn helps with increased visibility, mentions, and links, all of which can lead to higher search engine rankings.

Ecommerce technology – show us the platform

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the biggest ecommerce platform of them all?

Magento wins this one, but the distribution is more even than other technologies we’ve looked at.

When we looked at the correlation data, again we found very little relationship between the ecommerce platform a website used and how it performed in Google search results.

Here’s how each ecommerce platform performed in our study.

Ecommerce Correlation
Magento -0.005569493
Yahoo Store -0.008279856
Volusion -0.016793737
Miva Merchant -0.027214854
osCommerce -0.012115017
WooCommerce -0.033716129
BigCommerce SSL -0.044259375
Magento Enterprise 0.001235127
VirtueMart -0.049429445
Demandware 0.021544097

Although huge differences exist in different ecommerce platforms, and some are easier to configure for SEO than others, it would appear that the platform you choose is not a huge factor in your eventual search performance.

Content delivery networks – fast, fast, faster

One of the major pushes marketers have made in the past 12 months has been to improve page speed and loading times. The benefits touted include improved customer satisfaction, conversions and possible SEO benefits.

The race to improve page speed has led to huge adoption of content delivery networks.

In our Ranking Factors Survey, the response time of a web page showed a -0.10 correlation with rankings. While this can’t be considered a significant correlation, it offered a hint that faster pages may perform better in search results—a result we’ve heard anecdotally, at least on the outliers of webpage speed performance.

We might expect websites using CDNs to gain the upper hand in ranking, but the evidence doesn’t yet support this theory. Again, these values are basically null.

CDN Correlation
AJAX Libraries API 0.031412968
Akamai 0.046785574
GStatic Google Static Content 0.017903898
Facebook CDN 0.0005199
CloudFront 0.046000385
CloudFlare -0.036867599

While using a CDN is an important step in speeding up your site, it is only one of many optimizations you should make when improving webpage performance.

SSL certificates, web servers, and framework: Do they stack up?

We ran rankings correlations on several more data points that BuiltWith supplied us. We wanted to find out if things like your website framework (PHP, ASP.NET), your web server (Apache, IIS) or whether or not your website used an SSL certificate was correlated with higher or lower rankings.

While we found a few outliers around Varnish software and Symanted VeriSign SSL certificates, overall the data suggests no strong relationships between these technologies and Google rankings.

Framework Correlation
PHP 0.032731241
ASP.NET 0.042271235
Shockwave Flash Embed 0.046545556
Adobe Dreamweaver 0.007224319
Frontpage Extensions -0.02056009
SSL Certificates
GoDaddy SSL 0.006470096
GeoTrust SSL -0.007319401
Comodo SSL -0.003843119
RapidSSL -0.00941283
Symantec VeriSign 0.089825587
Web Servers
Apache 0.029671122
IIS 0.040990108
nginx 0.069745949
Varnish 0.085090249

What we can learn

We had high hopes for finding “silver bullets” among website technologies that could launch us all to higher rankings.

The reality turns out to be much more complex.

While technologies like great hosting, CDNs, and social widgets can help set up an environment for improving SEO, they don’t do the work for us. Even our own Moz Analytics, with all its SEO-specific software, can’t help improve your website visibility unless you actually put the work in.

Are there any website technologies you’d like us to study next time around? Let us know in the comments below!

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December 5, 2013  Tags: , , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing

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TechNetSource » New Moz-Builtwith Study Examines Big Website Tech and Google Rankings