The Google Search ranking algorithm is constantly being updated, and it can be tough to keep up. In fact, there have been a number of highly significant updates and additions to Google Search’s quality guidelines in recent months, and it has never been more important to keep up-to-date with these changes.
This guide covers the most important ranking factors that can impact your organic search visibility in Google. But the truth is, no one knows the exact formula Google uses to rank pages and websites. In fact, Google is known to consider over 200 ranking factors in its search algorithm.
That being said, research into Google’s latest guidelines and analysis of the top ranking web pages suggests that the factors listed below are currently the strongest signals in the Google Search ranking algorithm in 2019.
Here’s a handy table of contents to help you jump directly to any specific topic:
- Is your site accessible?
- Is your website secure?
- How strong is your E-A-T Score?
- Is your content fresh and helpful?
- Does your website load within 3 seconds?
- Is your site mobile-friendly?
- Do you have links from trusted, authority websites?
- Do you have a quality blog?
- Do you have multimedia content on your site?
- Is your content optimized for the RankBrain algorithm?
- Is your content optimized for featured snippets?
- How optimized is your website for semantic search?
1. Is your site accessible?
Ranking at the top of search results all begins with ensuring that Google can index your web pages. Search engine bots need to be able to successfully crawl your URLs in order to understand what each page’s content is about. When a bot can’t properly open a page or move from one page to another, it’s unable to index the content.
2. Is your site secure?
Google has confirmed that security is a top priority, and having a secure website is one of the most important ranking factors in 2019. If you own any type of website, it is essential that you secure it with SSL. Now that Chrome is marking all HTTP pages as “Not Secure”, any site that doesn’t have an SSL certificate and doesn’t automatically redirect to an HTTPS URL will have no chance of ranking in Google Search.
Here’s what website secured with SSL looks like:
With the increase in sophistication of hackers and identity thieves, Google wants to ensure that it is only sending traffic to websites that take security very seriously.
You probably won’t see any significant impact on your search ranking by migrating to a secure HTTPS encryption. However, you won’t rank at all if you don’t have SSL enabled on your website.
3. How strong is your E-A-T Score?
E-A-T is a major ranking factor in the Google Search algorithm that stands for Expertise, Authority and Trust. E-A-T was first referenced by Google in their quality guidelines in 2015, and it received renewed emphasis in the 2018 and 2019 versions of the guidelines. Today, your E-A-T score will have more of an impact on your ability to rank high in Google Search than any other factor.
According to the guidelines, demonstrating a high level of expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness is one of the most important characteristics of a high-quality website. But for websites in the health, finance and legal niches, Google not only looks at the quality of the website’s content, but also the author’s credentials and background.
- Expertise: Does the author demonstrate a sufficient level of expertise on the subject-matter?
- Authority: Can the author or website be considered an authority on the subject-matter?
- Trust: How trust-worthy is the author?
No matter what type of site you are running, Google will grade you based on the reputation you have established on the web and what people are saying about your site. If you have a lot of reviews and half of them are negative but your competitors all have positive reviews, that is going to adversely affect your organic visibility for your target keywords.
4. Is your content fresh and helpful?
User experience is a top priority for Google, and the quality of a website’s content is the second most important factor in Google’s ranking algorithm. It is critical to a top organic search ranking.
The Google Freshness algorithm has had a powerful impact on the search results over the past couple of years. Outdated content can hurt your ranking. It’s only logical to assume that newer content about a topic is going to be more relevant and useful than outdated information, so all things being equal, Google will usually favour websites that include regular updates.
On the flip side, if the quality of a site’s content is considered to be low, it will never rank high in Google Search, no matter how many high quality links it gets. In fact, it is more likely to be penalized by the Panda algorithm and filtered from the search results.
5. Does your website load within 3 seconds?
Page speed has a massive impact on user experience, and it became a ranking factor back in 2010. Increasing your page speed is a ranking factor.
If your site is in the bottom 20% of slowest websites on the web, it may be considered below the threshold for satisfactory website performance, and this will adversely affect your organic search ranking.
6. Is your site mobile-friendly?
Mobile-friendliness is a major Google ranking factor. The mobile-first index rolled out in 2018 and was a major shift to the way Google ranks websites. This means Google now ranks websites based on the mobile version of content, even for search results that are shown to desktop users.
7. Do you have quality links from trusted authority sites?
Links and mentions on authoritative sites are the No 1 signal in the Google search ranking algorithm, and rankings work by virtue of trust and authority. Simply put, the more quality, editorial links you have from authoritative and trusted sites and blogs, the higher your PageRank, and the higher your site will rank in Google.
If you want to outrank a competitor’s web page in search, all things being equal, your page or website needs to have more quality links than the competitor you want to outrank. And the reality is that if you’re a new or relatively unknown blog, you’ll have to manually build backlinks to your site rather than wait for them to come naturally, no matter how exceptional your content is.
However, it is really important to realize that not all links from authoritative sites will move the needle. Google knows which types of links from top ranking websites can be bought, and those that occur naturally.
8. Do you have a quality blog?
The content that talks about your product will often have a much higher conversion rate than the sales page for those products. This is why a blog is essential for your business. It can be a powerful customer acquisition channel.
A business blog can also play a key role in establishing your brand authority, generating backlinks, increasing your online visibility and driving targeted traffic to your site.
9. Do you have multimedia content on your site?
With user experience a top priority for Google, the search engine wants to present its users with what they want to see. Google knows that most people prefer web pages that have text, images and video. Most of the time, people that land on pages that are 100% text, don’t remain on those pages for very long.
On the other hand, pages with rich multimedia content get more dwell time, time on site and less bounce rate, which are powerful user engagement signals. So, including multimedia content on your web pages can actually help your website rank higher in search results.
10. Is your content optimized for RankBrain?
RankBrain is Google’s machine learning artificial intelligence algorithm that is used to rank web pages based on intent of the searcher. RankBrain uses Google’s Knowledge Graph and a host of other factors to establish relevance to a search query. RankBrain also uses user engagement signals to establish relevance to a search query. This is based on user satisfaction using the following ranking signals:
- Bounce rate: bounce rate is not always a bad thing. If a user clicks through to your site from the search results and spends 5 minutes reading and then exits your site without visiting any other page, it is a bounce. However, this is a good quality signal because it means the page contained the answer that the user was seeking.
- Pogo sticking: This is always a bad signal that can affect your organic ranking for a particular keyword. It occurs when a user performs a search, clicks through to your page, but is not satisfied, and almost immediately returns to the search result page to conduct the same search.
- Clickthrough rate: over time, if a small percentage of searchers are clicking through to a web page that is ranking high in the SERP, this low click-through rate will have an adverse effect on that site’s organic search ranking.
- Dwell time: This is a measure of the amount of time a searcher spends on your page before returning to the search results.
With RankBrain, anything that can be done to increase the user engagement of your web page will have a positive impact on your search rankings. Click here for more information about RankBrain.
11. Is your content optimized for featured snippets?
Optimizing your website’s content for featured snippets provides a unique opportunity to increase brand awareness for your business, boost organic traffic and rank on the first page of Google in a position that is even more powerful and resourceful than ranking #1 for a given search query. Studies have shown that content highlighted in featured snippets are more likely to be clicked over the first position in the search results page.
Featured snippets also improve credibility, and over 40% of the content in featured snippets are used as voice search answers. This is incredibly valuable as voice search becomes even more popular going forward.
12. How optimized is your website for semantic search?
On-page SEO involves the process of optimizing indiviual web pages on a site to improve the website’s organic search ranking. A poorly optimized website or web page stands little chance of ranking in Google Search.
Here are on-page optimization fundamentals.
With CTR from the SERP playing a key role in Google’s RankBrain technology, your page title tag needs to be unique and compelling enough to encourage readers to click through to your site.
Meta Description Tag
The meta description tag can also influence clickthrough-rate from the SERP. You have 300 characters to play with.
Google puts duplicate content into the same category as low quality content. Duplicate content will affect your ability to rank high in the search results.
According to Google’s John Mueller in an interview in 2016, URLs are still a “very small ranking factor.” Your URL should be short, keyword-optimized, descriptive and SEO-friendly.
HTML Heading Tags
HTML heading tags are used to provide proper context to the content of each web page and can be very effective in helping to shape the search crawler’s perception of each page’s content. Search engines are known to give more weight to text that is inside a heading tag.
Schema markup is a form of coding embedded into HTML in ways that allows Google and other search engines to translate website content to a language that search engines can understand. You are confirming your business details to Google, and creating credibility through 3rd party confirmation.
When you include images on your website, it is important to optimize the images for SEO so that you get the ranking boost that comes with using images in your content. If you’re a local business, geotagging your images can increase your overall level of optimisation for local organic search.
A robots.txt file is a text file that contains commands that tell search engine robots what directories and files they are allowed and disallowed from accessing on a particular website. It is the first thing a search crawler looks for when it arrives at your site.
A site map is essentially a map of your site that lists all of the web pages that exist on your site. It is conceptually similar to a table of contents.
Without external links to authoritative sources that are relevant and useful to your website’s topics, your content will not be well regarded by the search engines.
An internal linking structure links different pages of a website together. It refers to links from one page on a domain that links to another page on the same domain. You can get a slight ranking boost by optimizing the links within your own site. You can also use exact match anchor text within your internal link structure without fear of penalties from Google
The age of your domain name is a major ranking factor. If your domain name is new, it will have a hard time outranking competitors with older domains, because Google will see them as being more trusted than you.
LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) keywords are simply the words and phrases that must appear in an article about a specific topic in order for that article to be considered relevant to the topic. In essense, they are the keywords and phrases that are found naturally in that topic.
LSI keywords increase the credibility of your content and help to increase Google’s understanding of the given topic. This is why it is critically important to optimize your content with LSI keywords.
For example, a web page about accountancy would be expected to have keywords that are related to accountancy, such as:
- VAT accounting
- Tax returns
Optimizing for LSI keywords is critical to a top Google ranking. There’s a tipping point that you must get over in order to get ranked for a certain topic. Without using enough latent semantic keywords in your content, you will not be covering that topic in detail, and Google is unlikely find your content relevant to the given topic.