Google uses well over 200 ranking signals in their algorithm. For the most part of it, these are ever changing elements that Google tests in the algorithm to see what effect they will have on searches. They are constantly updating the algorithm to continue to provide the best results for their searchers. As an SEO agency, it’s our job to stay on top of what Google is looking for and act accordingly.
Looking at this from a digital marketing perspective, optimizing your website for 200 ranking signals that are always changing doesn’t make sense – it requires too many resources and the payout on your effort would be minimal. The best plan of action is to focus on Google’s core ranking signals and optimize your website for them.
After Google’s 2018 algorithm updates, the ranking factors to pay the most attention to in 2019 are as follows:
For all searches, the dominant factor in ranking is the site relevance. This essentially refers to how relevant your website is to the searched keyword phrase. Google Semantic Search comes into play here, at it helps Google determine an overall website theme that it uses to gauge the website’s relevance to the search. In addition to that, Google also factors in user preferences, search patterns, and history to determine relevance.
Click Through Rate (CTR)
A website’s click through rate is also one of the strongest ranking factors in Google’s algorithm. They want to focus on websites that get more clicks and showcase them more for users. An increase in CTR almost always correlates with an increase in search engine ranking. To help with your click through rate, write relevant title tags and descriptions that will capture the user’s eye and prompt them to click on your website listing.
Onpage Content and Keywords
Content has always been king in the SEO world. In 2019, the meta title tag will continue to be the most dominant onsite ranking factor for a website, in terms of content. Your title tag must have the pages top keyword phrases in it, along with the brand. The most effective format for website title tags is:
This ensures that your website will read as highly relevant for those terms and associate your brand name with them. The keywords throughout your content will also remain important. The same keyword phrases used in your title tag should be placed throughout your text in relevant locations – but not too often. If Google deems the keywords are being spammed, they will penalize your website.
HTML Structure and Site Architecture
The HTML structure of a website has always been important to Google, as well as the site architecture. Website navigation needs to be well laid out, and an XML sitemap feed should present. The use of “href lang” tags will continue to play a large role into 2019 for Google. Structured data markups are useful for communicating with Google to let them know your website theme, and the importance of information.
In addition to the site architecture, page names will remain an important factor. The page name should reflect the content of the page, and even include the keyword phrase. It is important to use hyphens to separate keywords in the URL, and to not use underscores.
Backlinks, Quality & Quantity, and Anchor Text
Backlinks have always been one of the most important ranking factors for Google. A backlink is any link, be it from text, an image, or an ad, from another website that directs traffic to your website. Because of its predominance in Google’s search algorithm in the past, it would make sense for it to remain one of the most important factors.
Building backlinks is not easy – it takes time and effort to build up quality links from relevant sources. Most often these links come from themed directories and business listings, but they can also come from blogs, news releases, and more. One of the best strategies to build backlinks is to pay attention to competitor backlinks and go after the same sources as they have.
When it comes to backlinks, Google looks at both the quantity of linking domains, and the quality of the link. The quantity of linking domains just refers to the total amount of other websites that link to yours. There is a bit more effort that goes in discerning the link quality. To determine a link’s quality, Google looks at the link’s anchor text, or in the case of an image, the “alt” tag and use that to determine the keyword relevance of the link. After that, they look at the referring page’s content to see if it uses the same keywords as the recipient of the backlink. Even beyond that, Google looks into the referring domain’s backlinks. Over the years Google has poured a lot of resources into the backlink portion of their algorithm, so it won’t be going anywhere for a while.
Mobile Friendliness & Load Speed
Due to the overall use of mobile devices, Google has made page load speed one of the most important parts of their algorithm over the past couples of years. There logic here is that mobile users favour faster page load speeds, and smaller website file sizes as they use less bandwidth. This has led to page speed and file size to be an important rank factor, the faster the site loads, the higher it will rank.
Having a responsive website is essential now for all businesses. Google penalizes websites that aren’t mobile friendly, and also looks into usability on smartphones. If your website has button that are too close together or text that is too small to read, it will be penalized. This ranking factor will only increase in importance into 2019.
A website’s bounce rate and time on site have always been important ranking factors for Google. If a website has captivating content that engages the users and leads to a higher time on site and lower bounce rate, then Google will reward the website with higher positioning. These elements can be found in Google analytics. It is important to focus your marketing efforts on sources that provide the longest time on site, and the lowest bounce rate. Not only will this lead to a higher level of quality for traffic to your site, but also will lead to a higher position in Google’s ranks.
The protection of user data has become a huge talking point in internet usage over the past few years. Google wants to see websites using HTTPS encryption to help protect the user’s data from being compromised. Make sure your site has an SSL set up correctly, when it is setup Chrome browser will show a green “SECURE” beside your URL.
As mentioned earlier, Google uses so many ranking factors in their algorithm that it would be almost impossible to actually optimize a website for all of them, and by the time you had your site optimized for them, they would change. It makes much more sense to optimize your website for known ranking factors that are important – everything else is just salt on the steak.