For those of you that don’t know, ranking factors are essentially a set of guidelines put in place by Google that businesses and SEO professionals must religiously abide by in order to maintain and improve their position on the SERPs (search engine results pages). Every year we see new additions to Google’s ranking signals, and it’s important that these are given just as much attention as the usual crop. Google’s ever changing algorithm certainly keeps us all on our toes, but with a bit of research, time and care, it’s nothing that can’t be mastered.
While SEO in 2019 may require the odd tweak to your strategy, the fundamentals are generally still the same. User experience and relevance should be at the heart of everything you do, and Google’s stance on this is unlikely to change any time soon.
Anyway, without further ado, here’s our list of top SEO ranking factors in 2019.
1) Quality Content
Content is, and will probably always remain to be, king. Nowadays, however, Google are looking for much more than just words on a page; and in order for your pages to rank well, your content needs to be of high SEO quality. I.e:
Content that is optimised for keywords still holds huge SEO value. Whilst it’s important that you ensure your titles, H1 tags, alt texts are all relevant to your target search terms, your main focus should be on the body of the text. Google won’t be kind to those jamming in keywords though, so you’ll need to be smart with your keyword research and strike the balance between optimising for exact and related search terms - that way you’ll be able to cover a broader range of search queries, thus appearing more informative and useful to Google.
Check out our blog to learn how to do keyword research for SEO.
Match The User’s Search Query
Another key factor in achieving high quality content is meeting the user’s search intent. To do this, you of course need to identify what it actually is. A good way to do this would be to use tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console - these will both enable you to delve deep into the search patterns of your target audience, thus allowing you to create content that better fits their search intent.
In order for Google to notice your content, it has to have that extra little something to make it stand out from the crowd. There’s no use repeating a blog on a popular topic that’s been covered a hundred times already, because to Google, you’re not providing the world with any new information.
Whilst it may be a good idea to think completely outside the box when putting content ideas together, you don’t actually have to. Adding a unique spin or critical twist to existing topics can also be a good route to explore. Whatever it is, just be sure to make it your own.
The relationship between long-form content and SEO has certainly blossomed over the past couple of years, and as a result, we’ve seen it emerge as potentially the most important content-based ranking factors.
Numerous reports of content-rich websites experiencing ranking increases have attracted a lot of attention from SEO professionals. When you think about it, it makes complete sense - by creating lengthy, more detailed content, you’re essentially maximising your chances of meeting a user’s search query. What’s more, you’re potentially able to answer not just one, but multiple queries; something Google loves.
In Google’s eyes, user experience is key. You can have the most amazing content in the world, but if your website isn’t pleasant and easy to use, you’re not going to climb very high up the SERPs. In order to maximise your site’s UX, you’ll need to consider:
A responsive website is a must have for any business aspiring to improve their visibility and grow online in 2019. Following Google’s announcement to prioritise mobile content for indexing and ranking, it’s now absolutely vital that you ensure your website is setup to be mobile friendly, and that your desktop and mobile content is completely aligned. After all, the stats show that over half of Google searches are now made from a mobile device, so it makes sense to optimise your site accordingly.
Page speed is probably the most significant element of user experience. From a user’s perspective, there’s nothing more frustrating than waiting for a page to load. The chances are, if a page takes more than 3 seconds to load, the user is going to bounce straight off your site and find an alternative.
Page speed has been a well-known ranking signal for some time on desktop, but in Google’s “Speed Update”, they recently announced that it will also apply for mobile. This should encourage you, as a website owner or developer, to ensure your site runs quickly and smoothly throughout.
Another big UX criteria is the bounce rate and time spent on site. Generally speaking, Google rewards sites that keep users on page for a reasonable amount of time; as it indicates that the content is a) engaging and b) relevant to the user’s search query.
In order to reduce bounce rate and increase time on site, you need to capture your user’s attention as soon as they land on a page - first impressions really are everything! Smart layout, attractive visuals, and engaging copy will all help to engage your visitors.
Link building has long been a cornerstone of successful SEO, and in 2019 they are predicted to remain the strongest signal of authority to Google. If your backlink profile contains several links from strong referring domains, your rankings are almost certain to increase. Your focus should therefore be on building quality backlinks from authoritative and relevant sites. To do this, you’ll need to consider:
Domain authority is the search engine ranking score calculated by Moz that essentially rates the authority of a website, it’s trustworthiness and it’s overall ability to rank on the SERPs. On a scale that ranges from 0-100, the higher the score, the more likely it is to rank. Acquiring backlinks from sites with a high domain authority (i.e 30+) are generally considered to carry more value. It’s important to monitor/audit your links and prioritise quality over quantity - stay clear from sites that are seen as ‘spammy’ as these can seriously damage your rankings!
Whilst your link building strategies should be primarily driven by domain authority, it’s also worth considering the relevance of your links. Earning a link from an authoritative website may appear great, but if the page you are linking to is completely irrelevant to the domain/page you are linking from - or visa versa - Google is likely to award it with less of a ranking boost. The concept of link building is all about formulating a network of helpful and informative sources that successfully enhances/completes a user’s journey.
Anchor text plays an important part in helping you rank for specific key terms as it enables Google to better understand the relevance of the link network you are creating. As a general rule, it’s wise to include your keywords in the anchor text - but don’t over do it! Overloading your anchor texts with certain keywords (e.g. for a specific service) can get you penalised by Google. That’s why it’s a good idea to ensure you balance your backlink profile by using a variety of anchor texts - i.e related instead of exact terms. As long as they are still relevant to the content you are linking to, you’ll stay in Google’s good books.
4) On Page Optimisation
In addition to producing quality content, there are several other on page ranking factors that, if mastered, can make a big difference to your rankings. These include:
Metadata, which consists of title tags, page descriptions, alt tags etc., still serve as a significant on page signal. This is the information that is displayed on the SERPs, so it’s important to get it right - especially for the sake of the snippets. Optimising your metadata to include relevant keywords, location (if applicable), and any outstanding/unique value that your business has, will be key to earning the praise of the Google ranking gods.
Although they might not receive as much attention, internal links are just as important as external links. Google loves a good internal linking structure because it helps to create a more helpful and user-friendly website experience for your users. What’s more, you’ll benefit from a better flow of 'link juice' throughout your site. Ensuring that your web pages are well connected to each other, with the user perspective in mind, will certainly have a positive impact on your rankings.
Schema Markup essentially helps Google to pick out important pieces of information within your website content. This is considered to be an important ranking signal as it enables Google to inform the users about your content - it’s what usually helps form the rich snippets in the SERPs - and so without implementing a proper schema markup, you are potentially sacrificing visibility, click-through rates, and visits to your site.
5) Secure Websites (HTTPs)
In 2014, Google confirmed HTTPS to be a ranking signal. Whilst it has always been deemed important to have a secure website, it has now emerged as a necessity; especially as Google Chrome now flags up sites that do not use HTTPS as “not secure.” This has been shown to produce an increase in bounce rate for sites that are still using HTTP, which we already know is a ranking factor in itself.
What This All Means For 2019
We’ve seen several changes to the 2019 algorithm, and whilst there are plenty of factors, our key recommendations would be to focus on generating brilliant content, building quality links, keeping your site healthy, and engineering the best possible user experience. Essentially, doing the basics, but doing them well, should be your priority. Moreover, SEO is becoming more user-driven than ever before, so when devising your SEO strategy, it’s absolutely vital to make sure you keep the user in mind at every stage of the process.