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Google Ranking Factors 2019: SEOs have their say

When it comes to SEO, there are thousands of search experts the world over accustomed to sticking their finger in the air to see which way the Google algorithm wind will blow that week. With continual updates and some pretty monumental changes over the course of 2019, accumulating those thoughts to figure out exactly what search engines want from us is a tall order; but fortunately we don’t have to, because Rand Fishkin and the folks at SparkToro already did!

As changes to search loom over us on the daily, it’s important to sense check what we’re doing, and being able to access the opinions of 1,500 SEO professionals the world over is a treat we’re seldom awarded.

Fancy a quick summary of what everyone agrees and disagrees on? Read ahead, friends.

(Before we dive in, here’s a bonus photo of our Strategist, Josh, and Rand Fishkin at Brighton SEO – purely because we’re convinced we’ve never seen anyone look so chuffed) 

The top 5 agreed Google ranking factors were:

  • Relevance of overall page content
  • Quality of linking sites & pages
  • Use of query-relevant words and phrases in content
  • Domain’s perceived expertise, authority and trust (EAT)
  • Mobile friendliness

It’s unlikely that any of the above should come as a surprise to organic online marketers, but something to note is the shift in overall weighting towards factors focusing on the content and UX of a site vs factors around links and authority.

Google has made no qualms about it’s bots ability to understand brand sentiment, and it looks set to reinforce it in that content and UX of a website have been upweighted over quality of linking sites and pages.

Whilst the latter is still important, the change means that a newer, lower authority site is able to rank above more established but slower, clunkier and outdated websites, and focusing on UX/CRO along with solid content, can often deliver better results.

Ranking factors with the most disagreement were:

  • Keywords in the domain name
  • Use of Google AMP
  • Age of the website
  • Keyword use in URL
  • Content’s accuracy w/ accepted facts

Some more ‘old school’ factors were the least agreed upon which isn’t too surprising, but Google AMP and Content accuracy without accepted facts suggests these are factors that are ‘all or nothing’.

For example, if your SERPs contain AMP then it’s essential to optimise for these, but otherwise not that important, and if you’re a Your Money-Your-Life type site (lawyers, healthcare etc.), then accepted facts are much more important than say for a local wholefoods food website.

Essentially, every site, SERP and query uses different factors, and needs it’s own research, strategy and approach rather than a top-line one. 

The trends expected to have the biggest impact in the next 3 years are:

  • Google entering verticals/competing directly vs publishers and sites
  • Advancements in machine learning/AI (e.g. Google’s new discovery feed and moving from queries to journeys)
  • Zero-click searches on Google
Essentially the biggest trend is that Google is going to take more real estate from traditional SEO through various methods, resulting in fewer clicks, and less organic traffic, or so the suggestion goes.
Again it’s likely to impact certain sites or publishers more than others, but a few ways we can help combat this trend include:
  • Understanding how to appear in those position 0 and featured snippets etc. using optimised content, schema markup and other tricks to still gain visibility, and have a better chance of click-through. 
  • Looking for topics and terms that naturally have a higher CTR, and need more than can be answered by a featured snippet
  • Looking to those Google properties to see what optimisation can occur e.g. producing better video content to rank for topics on YT, optimising images to appear in image carousels etc

It takes a practised hand to know what you’re doing with the above – if you’re unsure what your business can do to optimise for online search, get in touch!