14 ranking signals you need to optimize for in 2019
It’s a well-known fact that there are over 200 ranking signals used by Google. And every year it keeps on tweaking and refining its algorithm introducing new ranking signals and changing priorities.
I know that the idea of having to optimize for all of them will probably make you shiver with horror. The good news is there are not so many ranking signals optimizing for which is simply a must.
Please note: in the light of mobile-first indexing, according to which mobile websites are being indexed in the first place, it’s most important that mobile sites are optimized for the below listed ranking signals.
So, without further ado, here is the list of the most important ranking factors for you to dominate search in 2019.
I guess it’s more than obvious for any SEOs out there that Google is going nuts about getting into people’s heads and providing them with the most relevant search results. Now that we live in the age of semantic search, Google aims to figure out the meaning behind a certain search query to provide the most precise search results. Besides, Google also considers such factors as users’ search patterns, search history, location, and time.
Accordance to search intent
Of course, when searching for something, users have certain intents in mind. And Google’s ultimate task is trying to figure them out in order to supply users with the most relevant search results on the top positions. Ranking-wise, the more relevant your page is to a certain query, the higher position it gets in the SERPs. What’s more, satisfying search intent almost always results in high CTR.
If you want to understand what search intents hide behind your keywords, consider experimenting with various queries. After typing them in the search box, have a look at the first result pages and try to figure out their search intent. If you see that some of your pages don’t really match the designed search intent, it may signify that these are not the right pages to be optimized for such keywords. So, if that’s the case, consider finding corresponding pages and adding more relevant content to them or creating some new ones that would be relevant to the implied search intent.
CTR is one of the strongest relevance signals for Google. And there’s no doubt CTR has high correlation with rankings as an increase in CTR almost every time entails a significant ranking boost.
If you want to get an idea of what people tend to click on the SERPs to reach your site, you can use Google Search Console’s Search Analytics report. Pay your special attention to pages that rank high but have low CTR. It may be a flagger that your title tags or meta descriptions are not relevant enough and need to be worked on. To understand where you stand with your CTR, have a look at this summary of CTR data sorted by position in Google search.
If there’s anything I know for sure, rankings and content have always belonged together. Basically, your content is the very reason for people visiting your site. What’s more, Google has rolled out Panda and Fred updates aiming to make the web more helpful and beneficial content-wise. However, even well-written content pages are not always enough. With Google constantly raising its standards, your piece of content should also satisfy the below listed ranking factors.
Keywords on your page
In 2019 keywords in the title tag still remain a powerful ranking signal as this is one of the ways Google decides whether your page is relevant to a given query or not. What’s more, the closer your keywords are to the beginning of the title, the better. And of course, your most important keywords should be present in the page’s body, alt texts, and H1 tag. But please make sure that you’re not overusing them because you don’t want to be penalized for keyword stuffing, do you?
Of course, except from your main keywords, you need to be optimized for some related terms that would accompany them. Just in case you still haven’t collected such keywords, here are some advice on how to nail keyword research these days.
As I’ve mentioned before, Google is going nuts about improving the quality of search. With Hummingbird, Google now prioritizes pages that match the meaning of the query rather than separate keywords. That is why you need to aim not for just filling your piece of content with keywords but for making it as comprehensive as you can.
In order to optimize your content for comprehensiveness, consider using TF-IDF analysis, which can help to calculate how frequent certain keywords are used on your competitors’ pages. By doing this, you can get lots of relevant terms and concepts used by your top-ranking competitors. Luckily, there are now plenty of tools that have TF-IDF analysis in them. By the way, here is a nice guide for you on how to improve your content’s comprehensiveness with the help of TF-IDF.
Publishing mistake-free content is yet another signal to Google that content is of good quality. There’s not much to say there. Just make sure you proofread your piece of content before publishing it or use online grammar checkers like Grammarly.
By organizing your HTML markup in a clear way, you make it much easier for the search engines to understand what your content is actually about. Yes, search engines still rely on HTML structure and its semantic markup. So, no matter how cool your content is, if your page has messy HTML, peaky search engine spiders may think it’s of bad quality and down-rank it. Luckily, there is now a whole variety of plugins (including WordPress’ ones) that can help with cleaning and optimizing your HTML.
To make your HTML even more structured, consider implementing schema markup. Structured Data Markup Helper can offer you a helping hand with that. Doing this will help search engines to understand your content better, identify the most important information on your site, as well as make your snippets look more attractive. You can also preview your snippets with the help of Google’s Testing Tool to make sure everything is displayed correctly.
Just as much as Google appreciates uniqueness it also penalizes sites with duplicate content. So, in order to improve your rankings and get Panda off your site, make sure it has no duplication issues. By the way, here’s a nice guide on how to spot and deal with various types of duplicate content. What’s more, you should also watch out for external duplication. So, if you suspect some pages on your site may have it, go ahead and check them with Copyscape.
If you work for one of those industries that simply cannot publish unique content every time (like online stores with many product pages), try to make your product descriptions as diverse as you can. Another good way to solve the problem is by utilizing user-generated content.
I guess it’s of no surprise to you that backlinks have been ruling ranking for ages. The reality is they still remain the strongest indication of authority to Google. And it’s safe to say that it’s hardly going to change in 2019. That is why quality link building should be your primary concern if you want to make it to the top. By the way, here are some powerful link building strategies for you to get some inspiration from.
Of course, one of the coolest tactics is to spy on your competitors’ linking profiles. One of my favorite tools for this kind of activity is SEO SpyGlass. With its help you can compare your linking profile with the ones of your competitors as well as see where your links intersect. By doing so, you will get priceless insights of new link building strategies that you can arm yourself with.
Number of backlinks and linking domains
Although Google definitely appreciates quality more than quantity, the total number of backlinks still remains a powerful ranking signal. Please note that links coming from a single domain carry much less weight comparing to those that come from various domains. So, just have a look at the total number of backlinks and total linking domains parameters in whatever SEO tool you are using and see if your linking profile is in need of some improvement quantity-wise.
No matter how many links you have, they need to be of good quality. Otherwise, they’ll most probably get you in trouble (Penguin is watching you) rather than bring you good rankings. That is why in order to maintain quality of your links, you need to carry out regular backlink audits. Fortunately, there is a huge number of tools that help with identifying links’ harmfulness. So, if you’ve spotted some spammy links, make sure to contact the website owners who linked to you asking politely for removing them. If it didn’t work out, just disavow these reputation damagers and forget about it. What is more, if you spot some sudden spikes of links, make sure to check them as there is always a chance that your competitors could be pointing spammy links to you.
Link anchor text
Although nowadays link anchor text is a bit less important than the two above mentioned link parameters, keyword-rich anchor text still firmly stays an important relevance signal for Google.
To be on the safe side, your links’ anchor texts need to be semantically relevant to the topic of your content and also maintain diversity. On top of that, don’t over-optimize your anchor texts with keywords, especially with the ones that are somehow connected with monetization, as this will definitely get you under Google’s Penguin penalty.
With Google now being obsessed with user experience more than ever, the pressure on website owners and SEOs is really high. You are supposed to have super fast and uber convenient website to make your visitors stay and compete for high positions in the SERPs. So, here are three major user experience ranking signals for Google that I want to drive your attention to specifically.
Of course, the very first thing that comes to your mind when you think of user experience is page speed. And I’m sure you’re aware of Google’s Speed Update that has officially made page speed a ranking factor for mobile.
Another speed related change that took place recently has to do with the PageSpeed Insights tool which now evaluates websites according to two criteria: Speed and Optimization. The Speed parameter is now calculated based on real-user measurements: FCP (First Contentful Paint) and DCL (DOM Content Loaded) which are extracted from CrUX database. And Optimization score has to do with technical parameters like redirects, compression, minification, etc.
In the light of all these recent changes, our team has conducted a research aiming to figure out the correlation page speed has with rankings. Surprisingly enough, it turned out that Optimization score has huge influence on rankings these days.
So, in order to get yourself an idea of how your websites is performing speed-wise, go ahead and test it with PageSpeed Insights. Pay your special attention to the Optimization parameter and fix technical issues (if you have any). If you’re not sure how to do it, please consult this guide on Optimization score improvement.
In case your Optimization score is perfectly fine but the Speed parameter leaves much to be desired, the only thing you can do is to make it less “heavy” and sophisticated by minimizing the amount of images and scripts. You can also consider implementing AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) for your mobile pages as it will make them load almost instantly.
Dwell time and bounce rate
Another two ranking signals that are closely connected with user experience are dwell time and bounce rate. To be completely honest with you, both of these metrics depend massively on the type of query. When it comes to bounce rate, for instance, a user may receive an immediate answer by visiting only one page of your site. This will still be considered a bounce, although it doesn’t mean that your page is not good enough. But as a rule, researching something takes a user more than just one page to open.
Speaking of dwell time, the longer a certain user stays on your page, the more relevant it seems for Google. Just like with bounce rate, a user can spend only 5 seconds on your site and be fully satisfied with the answer at the same time.
So, although both of these parameters depend on what exactly users type in the search box, the combination of these two parameters allows Google to evaluate pages’ relevance pretty accurately.
So, to make your visitors stay for longer, try to engage them as much as you can. Think of providing your users with some additional content links so that they are sent to some related posts on your site, for instance. Another good idea is to implement so-called “breadcrumbs”. These are small text paths at the top of the page that improve website navigation and help users to understand where they are on you site. What’s more, you can add comment sections under your posts, that may win you another couple of minutes.
Page authority within your website
I guess it goes without saying that PageRank is one of the strongest authority signals for Google. The thing is, except for external PageRank, your page is also influenced by the internal one. So, if you want to improve rankings of some pages that are performing not so well, it’s better not to hide them deep in your site structure. The best practice is for every single page of your website to be not more than 3 clicks away from your homepage.
However, if you need to boost rankings of a page that is buried in your site structure, the best thing you can do is to point some internal links to it. But just before doing that, look at your site structure with the help of WebSite Auditor’s Visualization feature to see how internal link juice is distributed within your site and what pages need to be worked on in the first place.
Caring about user’s safety is yet another Google’s concern these days. Back in 2014, Google has made HTTPS a ranking signal. Since that having an HTTPS site is not a recommendation but a must as Chrome browser now marks sites as “not secure” in case they are not HTTPS. For you to be safe and provide your users with safe experience, learn how to migrate your site from HTTP to HTTPS.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, there is an enormous amount of ranking factors that directly or indirectly influence your position on SERPs. But in 2019 I would definitely suggest setting a course for creating great content, quality link building, and improving user experience. Besides this, it’s always nice to carry out competition research to see how your top competitors optimize for the following ranking signals to borrow their tactics and reinforce your weak spots (if there are any).
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