SEO 2018 Vs. SEO 2019 | Tips and Ranking Factors
It’s the right time of the year to evaluate your search engine optimization strategy and examine the best ways to improve it during 2019. This doesn’t have to be a complicated process, though.
Many SEO tactics just don’t work anymore. If you’re using outdated tactics, it’s time to rethink your approach to SEO. I have put together a detailed comparison of SEO 2018 Vs. SEO 2019. We are going to look over both years ranking factors and compare the difference head to toe to give you the full understanding of where you stand today.
As technology advances, search engines can refine their ranking algorithms to better determine relevance and return results that better align with searcher intent.
Because these ranking algorithms are constantly being improved and refined, search engine ranking factors are always evolving. Factors that might once have had a huge impact on search rankings may no longer matter all that much, and new ranking factors (such as mobile-friendliness or HTTPS) can emerge to reflect changing technologies and user behaviors.
So, what were the most important ranking factors in 2017? What was Important and What was Not,”sought to answer that question. This panel featured data from large-scale studies performed by SEMrush and Searchmetrics, as well as case studies and practical advice for adapting your SEO strategies to current realities.
Ranking Factors 2.0
The first panelist was Olga Andrienko from SEMrush, who shared the results of a large-scale study on ranking factors that examined the top 100 positions for 600,000 keywords. Keywords were grouped by search volume into the following categories:
- Very High: 10,001 monthly searches and up
- High: 1,001 to 10,000 monthly searches
- Medium: 101 to 1,000 monthly searches
- Low: 1 to 100 monthly searches
SEMrush looked at on-page factors, referring domains and traffic data, then compiled their findings to see which ranking factors appeared to be the most important. Here were some of their findings:
Website security (HTTPS)
SEMrush found that 65 percent of domains in the top three positions for Very High volume keywords are already secure. Although it’s not a huge ranking factor, Andrienko recommended switching to HTTPS to help with conversions and building trust.
SEMrush found that content length generally had a positive correlation with search rankings; content for pages in the top three positions is 45 percent longer, on average, than content in the 20th position.
Even so, Andrienko did not recommend simply writing a ton of content in order to rank better — the key is to write sufficiently long content that is relevant and matches user intent. Look at what your competitors are doing, and figure out how you can create content that provides more value to users.
SEMrush had some interesting findings with relation to keywords. They found that:
- 35 percent of domains ranking for high-volume keywords don’t have the keyword in the title. This suggests that Google’s algorithms are getting better at understanding context/synonyms, and/or that keywords in the page title are becoming a less important ranking factor.
- Very few links contain a keyword in the anchor text — in fact, even among Very High volume keywords, only 8 percent of link anchors included a keyword. This may suggest that keywords in anchor text are not a major ranking factor, but it also might be a reflection of SEOs adhering more strictly to link-building best practices that see anchor text links as spammy.
SEMrush exclusively studied website traffic’s impact on rankings. They found that the number of visits matters for high-volume keywords.
Interestingly, search traffic specifically did not appear have any impact on rankings; however, direct traffic does.
The SEMrush study also looked at various user signals, including:
- bounce rate. Overall, bounce rate is low for the top three positions but gets higher as you go down — this could suggest that top-ranking sites have more relevant content, better site speed, higher user trust and so forth.
- pages per session. Higher pages per session correlates with rankings, too.
Andrienko suggested that Google does not directly take user signals into account, but that if they’re low, that means users aren’t engaging with your site as they should be.
High-quality link building is still super-important, both in terms of referring domains and “followed” backlinks. Andrienko noted that backlinks matter, especially for sites targeting keywords with fewer than 10,000 monthly searches.
What factor is most important?
Interestingly, SEMrush found that user signals and (direct) website traffic were actually the highest predictors of top rankings. Andrienko theorized that this was because top-ranking sites (i.e., those on page 1) are all doing on-page optimization well, meaning that Google needs new criteria to differentiate among these sites.
1. Domain Age: In this video, Google’s Matt Cutts states that:
“The difference between a domain that’s six months old versus one year old is really not that big at all.”
In other words, they do use domain age…but it’s not very important.
2. Keyword Appears in Top Level Domain: This doesn’t give the boost that it used to. But having a keyword in your domain still acts as a relevancy signal.
3. Keyword As First Word in Domain: A domain that starts with their target keyword has an edge over sites that either don’t have that keyword in their domain (or have the keyword in the middle or end of their domain).
4. Domain registration length: A Google patent states:
“Valuable (legitimate) domains are often paid for several years in advance, while doorway (illegitimate) domains rarely are used for more than a year. Therefore, the date when a domain expires in the future can be used as a factor in predicting the legitimacy of a domain.”
5. Keyword in Subdomain: Moz’s expert panel agrees that a keyword appearing in the subdomain can boost rankings.
6. Domain History: A site with volatile ownership or several drops may tell Google to “reset” the site’s history, negating links pointing to the domain. Or, in certain cases, a penalized domain may carry the penalty over to the new owner.
7. Exact Match Domain: Exact Match Domains may still give you slight edge. But if your EMD happens to be a low-quality site, it’s vulnerable to the EMD update.
8. Public vs. Private WhoIs: Private WhoIs information may be a sign of “something to hide”. Googler Matt Cutts is quoted as stating:
“…When I checked the whois on them, they all had “whois privacy protection service” on them. That’s relatively unusual. …Having whois privacy turned on isn’t automatically bad, but once you get several of these factors all together, you’re often talking about a very different type of webmaster than the fellow who just has a single site or so.”
9. Penalized WhoIs Owner: If Google identifies a particular person as a spammer it makes sense that they would scrutinize other sites owned by that person.
10. Country TLD extension: Having a Country Code Top Level Domain (.cn, .pt, .ca) can help the site rank for that particular country… but it can limit the site’s ability to rank globally.
11. Keyword in Title Tag: Although not as critical as it once was, your title tag remains an important on-page SEO signal.
12. Title Tag Starts with Keyword: According to Moz , title tags that starts with a keyword tend to perform better than title tags with the keyword towards the end of the tag.
13. Keyword in Description Tag: Google doesn’t use the meta description tag as a direct ranking signal. However, your description tag can impact click-through-rate, which is a key ranking factor.
14. Keyword Appears in H1 Tag: H1 tags are a “second title tag”. Along with your title tag, Google uses your H1 tag as a secondary relevancy signal, according to results from this correlation study:
15. TF-IDF: A fancy way of saying: “How often does a certain word appear in a document?”. The more often that word appears on a page, the more likely it is that the page is about that word. Google likely uses a sophisticated version of TF-IDF.
16. Content Length: Content with more words can cover a wider breadth and are likely preferable in the algorithm compared to shorter, superficial articles. Indeed, one recent ranking factors industry study found that content length correlated with SERP position.
17. Table of Contents: Using a linked table of contents can help Google better understand your page’s content. It can also result in sitelinks:
18. Keyword Density: Although not as important as it once was, Google may use it to determine the topic of a webpage. But going overboard can hurt you.
19. Latent Semantic Indexing Keywords in Content (LSI): LSI keywords help search engines extract meaning from words that have more than one meaning (for example: Apple the computer company vs. Apple the fruit). The presence/absence of LSI probably also acts as a content quality signal.
20. LSI Keywords in Title and Description Tags: As with webpage content, LSI keywords in page meta tags probably help Google discern between words with multiple potential meanings. May also act as a relevancy signal.
21. Page Covers Topic In-Depth: There’s a known correlationbetween depth of topic coverage and Google rankings. Therefore, pages that cover every angle likely have an edge vs. pages that only cover a topic partially.
22. Page Loading Speed via HTML: Both Google and Bing use page loading speed as a ranking factor. Search engine spiders can estimate your site speed fairly accurately based on your page’s HTML code.
23. Page Loading Speed via Chrome: Google may also use Chrome user data to get a better handle on a page’s loading time. That way, they can measure how quickly a page actually loads to users.
24. Use of AMP: While not a direct Google ranking factor, AMP may be a requirement to rank in the mobile version of the Google News Carousel.
25. Entity Match: Does a page’s content match the “entity” that a user is searching for? If so, that page may get a rankings boost for that keyword.
26. Google Hummingbird: This “algorithm change” helped Google go beyond keywords. Thanks to Hummingbird, Google can now better understand the topic of a webpage.
27. Duplicate Content: Identical content on the same site (even slightly modified) can negatively influence a site’s search engine visibility.
28. Rel=Canonical: When used properly, use of this tag may prevent Google from penalizing your site for duplicate content.
29. Image Optimization: Images send search engines important relevancy signals through their file name, alt text, title, description and caption.
30. Content Recency: Google Caffeine update favors recently published or updated content, especially for time-sensitive searches. Highlighting this factor’s importance, Google shows the date of a page’s last update for certain pages:
Mobile-Friendly Update: Often referred to as “Mobilegeddon“, this update rewarded pages that were properly optimized for mobile devices.
Mobile Usability: Websites that mobile users can easily use may have an edge in Google’s “Mobile-first Index”.
Number of Outbound Links: Too many dofollow OBLs can “leak” PageRank, which can hurt that page’s rankings.
Multimedia: Images, videos and other multimedia elements may act as a content quality signal. For example, one industry study found a correlation between multimedia and rankings:
Number of Internal Links Pointing to Page: The number of internal links to a page indicates its importance relative to other pages on the site.
Quality of Internal Links Pointing to Page: Internal links from authoritative pages on domain have a stronger effect than pages with no or low PageRank.
URL Length: Excessively long URLs may hurt a page’s search engine visibility. In fact, several industry studies have found that short URLs tend to have a slight edge in Google’s search results.
URL Path: A page closer to the homepage may get a slight authority boost vs. pages buried deep down in a site’s architecture.
Page Category: The category the page appears on is a relevancy signal. A page that’s part of a closely related category may get a relevancy boost compared to a page that’s filed under an unrelated category.
WordPress Tags: Tags are WordPress-specific relevancy signal. According to Yoast.com:
“The only way it improves your SEO is by relating one piece of content to another, and more specifically a group of posts to each other.”
URL String: The categories in the URL string are read by Google and may provide a thematic signal to what a page is about:
Bullets and Numbered Lists: Bullets and numbered lists help break up your content for readers, making them more user friendly. Google likely agrees and may prefer content with bullets and numbers.
Too Many Outbound Links: Straight from the aforementioned Quality rater document:
“Some pages have way, way too many links, obscuring the page and distracting from the Main Content.”
User Friendly Layout: Citing the Google Quality Guidelines Document yet again:
“The page layout on highest quality pages makes the Main Content immediately visible.”
Parked Domains: A Google update in December of 2011 decreased search visibility of parked domains.
Site Architecture: A well put-together site architecture (for example, a silo structure) helps Google thematically organize your content. It can also helps Googlebot access and index all of your site’s pages.
SSL Certificate: Google has confirmed that use HTTPS as a ranking signal.
According to Google, however, HTTPS only acts as a “tiebreaker“.
Terms of Service and Privacy Pages: These two pages help tell Google that a site is a trustworthy member of the internet.
Duplicate Meta Information On-Site: Duplicate meta information across your site may bring down all of your page’s visibility. In fact, the Search Console warns you if you have too many of these.
Breadcrumb Navigation: This is a style of user-friendly site-architecture that helps users (and search engines) know where they are on a site:
Google states that: “Google Search uses breadcrumb markup in the body of a web page to categorize the information from the page in search results.”
Mobile Optimized: With more than half of all searches done from mobile devices, Google wants to see that your site is optimized for mobile users. In fact, Google now penalizes websites that aren’t mobile friendly.
There you are. Hope you haven’t wished you had a stop word during this rather long read. To tell you the truth, there are so many factors that are important either in a direct or indirect way that at some point, there is a strong inclination to embrace them all.
Also Read: MONTHLY SEO TASKS TO MANAGE PERFORMANCE