We’re just halfway through 2019 and Google has already implemented 2 confirmed and 2 unconfirmed updates to their algorithm. With every algorithm change, businesses tend to see their organic traffic drop or rise, but without any idea why.
With a business to run, it’s hard to find time to optimize your site for all the Google ranking factors you hear about. The truth is, these factors change all the time. But the fundamentals tend to remain the same. They fall into 4 categories:
- High-quality content
- Good user experience
- Appropriate page markup
- Quality backlinks
Within each of these categories are a slew of specific ranking factors you could use to optimize your site. Backlinko updates their complete list of Google ranking factors article every year which contains over 200 factors.
But we know you’re busy.
So let’s just talk about the most important ranking factor from each of those categories.
Here are the top 4 Google SEO ranking factors.
Stop spinning your wheels with every algorithm change. These are the things that will maximize your SEO efforts in 2019.
1. High Quality Content
The most important ranking factor for content isn’t length, keyword concentration, or number of posts. Google’s algorithm has become increasingly sophisticated in its ability to determine whether content is thorough, well-written, original and relevant to a query.
So if you’re targeting a specific keyword or phrase, don’t concern yourself with all the variations of the query that you can stuff into your page. That could actually hurt your SEO thanks to the Maccabees update a couple years ago.
Also, don’t feel compelled to write a 5,000-word guide to address a simple question. Rather, consider what information a user with that query hopes to find. That should determine the length of the article, along with any phrase variations necessary.
It may sound strange, but if your website sounds natural when read aloud, this could actually benefit your search engine ranking. Why? Attribute this to Google’s Hummingbird algorithm, where it optimized results for voice search.
The best advice for writing on your website:
- Be conversational. Write your website in the most natural, simple language you can.
- Mix it up. Use different language to talk about your keywords that seems natural. Note: This is not the case when it comes to writing for your online listings. Those need to be identical from site to site.
- Keep things short and sweet. Like, everything. Use short words, short sentences, and short paragraphs.
2. Good User Experience
The number one thing you can do to improve user experience on your site is to make it mobile friendly. Google has been pushing web developers to take a mobile-first approach when creating web pages by announcing its mobile-first agenda and rewarding mobile-optimized pages with higher rankings.
If you’re not sure whether your site is mobile-friendly, Google’s search console offers you a tool that will check your website’s mobile friendliness for free. So use it!
This tool will analyze your website for top factors affecting mobile friendliness and tell you where you’re missing the mark.
What affects the mobile friendliness of your website?
- Page and site load speed. Your site, and each page within, should load in 2 seconds or faster. While this may seem like a bit of an outrageous standard, Google isn’t just trying to make your life harder. Countless studies have shown the majority of mobile users abandon a page that takes longer than 3 seconds to load. More on how load time affects your SEO.
- Proximity of clickable elements. It may seem like a great idea to lump call-to-action buttons on the same area of the page. Just make sure they’re friendly for any size finger. If folks are accidentally clicking the wrong button and bouncing back to the initial page after the error, Google will pick up on that.
- The width of your content and images. Most websites are designed to be responsive to the screen they’re viewed on. That means they’ll automatically adjust. If your website isn’t new, you may not have this functionality built in. Try viewing your site on a mobile device, and see for yourself. If you have to do a lot of zooming and pinching, this is a cue your site may not be responsive or adaptive.
- Site navigation. Mobile device users don’t want to click through multiple pages to get where they’re going. So organize your top content so that it’s 3 clicks or fewer away at all times.
3. Appropriate Page Markup
Page markup usually includes more of the technical aspects of SEO, but this one is simple enough to handle on your own. The most important ranking factor for page markup involves image tags.
Image tags accompany the images you upload to your site. These tags are where Google expects you to clarify what’s contained within the image, so it can reference it appropriately. Not all images are uploaded with these tags filled in correctly, which contributes to poor SEO.
There is also an increased emphasis on image search optimization and a recent change to Google’s image search could result in traffic bump to your site if your images are optimized properly with tags.
What goes into image tags?
- Alt attributes and text – These describe what’s in the image and why it’s relevant to the page. Pro tip: Tags aren’t just for the beautiful photos and graphics on your site. They’re also relevant to elements like call-to-action buttons and navigation bar images.
- Title tags – These are shown when someone hovers over an image. Use this to tell someone what to do with the image, where it’ll take them if it’s clickable, and so on. While these aren’t as critical as alt attributes, they’re still worth including.
Google isn’t the only one that benefits from these tags. Blind and visually impaired individuals also rely on these tags to learn what types of images populate web pages, so this will contribute to a better user experience overall.
4. Quality Backlinks
While backlinks seem to have taken a backseat to sexier, more technical or creative aspects of SEO, they still remain a key ranking factor. And it makes sense. If other sites have noticed you and are willing to share your site with their readers, you must be worthy of a high Google ranking, right?
Unfortunately, too many SEO professionals with unscrupulous link practices have forced Google to get very picky about which kind of links will give your site a rankings boost. So when it comes to backlinks, focus on quality, not quantity.
What defines a high quality backlink?
- High domain authority (DA) – What constitutes high domain authority can be different depending on what niche or industry you’re in. Use a free website authority checker like SEO Review Tools to check the domain authority of some industry websites or blogs in your niche that you trust. This will give you a better idea of what the range for a high domain authority is for your industry.
- Relevancy – It’s better to get several links from lower DA sites that are relevant to your niche than to spend the time and effort it takes to land a link on a higher DA site that is not related. For example, if you offer landscaping services, it’s far easier to get a few links from gardening bloggers or local home services sites than it might be to get them from large universities or major news sites.
Backlinks may take some work to build, but don’t overlook the other benefits the work can bring you. Outreach to bloggers and other websites asking for links will also increase your brand awareness to people who matter in your industry. And if you do land a link, you’ll also see increased traffic to your site from people clicking on that link.
As we mentioned earlier, every Google algorithm update can spur a change in the importance of ranking factors. With that in mind, it’s interesting to take a look at the history of ranking factor importance over the past couple years.
Top Ranking Factors in 2018 from Moz:
- Secure website (HTTPS)
- User experience
- Page speed
- On-page Optimizations (metadata, schema, internal link structure)
Top Ranking Factors in 2017 from Search Engine Land:
- Website security (HTTPS)
- Content Length
- Contextual keywords
- Direct Website Traffic
- User signals (Bounce rate, pages per session)
Editors note: This article was originally published in November 2017 and is periodically updated for the most current and accurate ranking infromation.