It’s not easy to locate relevant and useful responses to online searchers’ queries in a fraction of a second. To accomplish this, Google’s search algorithms take many factors into account. Known as ranking factors, these characteristics of a website may help – or harm – your website’s ability to rank highly. Since Google won’t reveal all of the ranking factors its algorithms take into account, or how those ranking factors are weighed, experts must continually predict which ranking factors are most important at any given time. Thankfully, SparkToro has made it easy for us to explore Google ranking factors in 2019 by compiling the predictions of 1,584 SEO experts. Let’s explore the results . . .
Google Ranking Factors in 2019
Are ranking factors fixed or do they vary by query?
Google states that “The weight applied to each factor varies depending on the nature of your query – for example, the freshness of the content plays a bigger role in answering queries about current news topics than it does about dictionary definitions,” and the experts surveyed by SparkToro agree with this. The majority (66.3 percent) believe the weight of ranking factors varies widely depending on the query. Only 7.36 percent believe that ranking factors are consistently weighted across all queries.
This variance makes it very difficult to analyze ranking systems. After all, despite largely believing that the order of ranking factors varies by query, the experts were asked to rate each of the 26 ranking factors using the following scale: 0 (not used) to 5 (moderately weighted) to 10 (very heavily weighted). To analyze the results, the organizers took the mean values of participants’ rankings.
Which ranking factors are highly important?
The survey revealed that experts believe the following ranking factors are highly important:
- Relevance of overall page content (valued at 8.52)
- Quality of linking sites and pages (valued at 7.87)
- Use of query-relevant words and phrases (valued at 7.5)
- Domain’s perceived expertise, authority, and trust (valued at 7.48)
- Mobile friendliness (valued at 7.26)
- Exact match keyword use (valued at 7.12)
- Quality and diversity of linking websites (valued at 7.04)
- Content’s accuracy with accepted facts (valued at 6.97)
- Link authority of host domain (valued at 6.9)
- Page’s perceived expertise, authority, and trust (valued at 6.87)
- Use of query-relevant entities in page content (valued at 6.78)
- Load speed (valued at 6.77)
- Usage data, e.g. pogo-sticking, engagement, etc. (valued at 6.62)
- Freshness of publication (valued at 6.37)
- Anchor text of links pointing to the page (valued at 6.33)
We know what you’re thinking: That’s a lot of ranking factors! And it is. While the top-voted factor (relevance of overall page content) was significantly higher than the rest of the pack, over a dozen factors managed to rank above a 6.0.
Which ranking factors are moderately important?
Below that giant pack of dominant ranking factors, there were another 11 factors. While these don’t rank quite as highly (all fall below 6.0), they’re still considered valuable to your SEO.
- Location, frequency, and distance of related words (valued at 5.75)
- Total amount of on-page content (valued at 5.69)
- Use of unique, relevant images (valued at 5.63)
- Site accessibility factors (valued at 5.58)
- Anchor text of links to other pages on the domain (valued at 5.29)
- Keyword use in the URL (5.22)
- “Unlinked mentions” of the site/brand (valued at 5.16)
- Age of the website (valued at 5.0)
Which ranking factors are less than moderately important?
Only three ranking factors failed to meet the “moderately important” threshold:
- Use of Google AMP (valued at 4.76)
- Use of external links on the page (valued at 4.66)
- Keyword in the domain name (valued at 4.19)
Was there a lot of disagreement on these ranking factors’ values?
Because of the way the results were compiled, it was important to also look at whether the experts generally agreed on factors’ values or whether some ranked them highly and some ranked them poorly. For example, if a ranking factor was rated a five, was that because all the experts believed it was moderately important or was it because half of experts believed it was highly important and half believed it was worthless?
SparkToro studied this using a standard deviation. Overall, the experts tended to agree that the top ranking factors were important. For example, few disputed the significance of “relevant overall page content.”
As we move down the list, however, the difference of opinion widens a bit. This starts with the factor ranked fifth-highest in importance: mobile-friendliness. It had a standard deviation of 2.07, conveying that even in 2019, SEO experts can’t agree on how important it is to create a mobile-friendly website. The most disputed factor was using a keyword in the URL. Is it highly important or useless – who can say? Another hotly contested ranking factor was Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). Some experts believe Google’s algorithm weighs it highly because it creates an ultra-optimized mobile experience; others feel you’re better off ignoring it.
In addition, remember that the experts likely weighed some factors differently – like “use of Google AMP” and “content accuracy with accepted facts” – because they believe these factors vary in significance based on the situation.
What trends will have the biggest impact on SEO in the years to come?
One of the most interesting features of this survey wasn’t even about Google ranking factors 2019. The participants were also asked to rate a list of trends expected to impact the field of SEO in the next three years, estimating how big of an impact these trends will have. When the average rankings were assessed, the study revealed that the experts think all 11 trends will have a moderate impact on SEO.
Overall, they made clear that Google’s choices and operations will likely have a greater impact on SEO than outside influences (like “outcome of U.S. Congress and DOJ investigations into Google” and “new EU/US laws or regulations in the tech and web landscape”). The following are the four top trends expected to impact the field of SEO:
- Google entering verticals/competing directly against publishers
- Advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence
- Zero-click searches on Google
- Changes to the quantity and presentation of Google Search Ads.
However, it’s important to note the 3-year time frame SparkToro used for this question. Participants may have ranked the Congress/DOJ investigation low because they understand that the legal process may be quite extensive and take several years to resolve.
How have the perceived values of ranking factors changed over the years?
One of the great things about this survey of Google Ranking Factors in 2019 is that it lets us look back and compare today’s valued ranking factors to those of years past.
- Content is finally king. For years, keywords and then links were consistently voted the most important ranking factors. Finally, in 2019, content relevance and quality has taken the top position – and with quite a wide margin too. This makes complete sense, as relevant, high-quality content is most likely to satisfy searchers. However, this is certainly a case of quality over quantity, as the experts weren’t convinced by the value of content quantity (which ranked #14).
- Anchor text has lost its edge, but links are still valued. Anchor text enjoyed a prime spot on this list for years, but in 2019, it didn’t even manage to secure a spot in the top 10. Although optimized anchor text is still valuable, its worth has diminished over the years. Links, however, have maintained their high ranking. The quality of sites/pages linking to a page and the diversity of linking websites were ranked highly in importance, at #2 and #7 on the list.
- Keywords have their place. A stalwart of SEO, the keyword is still considered a crucial component of content, titles, and metadata. In fact, it ranked sixth in overall importance. However, keywords aren’t appreciated everywhere. Some think of using a keyword in the domain name as a relic of the keyword-stuffing days of yore, which brought down this factor’s overall ranking (but keep in mind that this was also a factor the experts didn’t fully agree on).
Google rarely goes on the record to state which ranking factors its algorithms take into account and how those factors are weighed. To be fair to Google, this is likely partially because the answer is very complex. When the weight of ranking factors varies from query to query, how is Google supposed to provide an accurate, sequential list of them?
With the value of ranking factors a mystery and Google unlikely to lose its powerful position in the world of online search, marketers will continue to theorize and debate the existence and significance of various ranking factors. Although there isn’t a definitive list of ranking factors and their values, SparkToro’s survey of Google Ranking Factors in 2019 does an excellent job at providing an overview of the industry’s perspective.
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