The ranking factors that search engines use are continually evolving. Every year new ranking parameters are introduced, older ones depreciate, and the emphasis on their aspects shift.
Although it is too early in the year to know exactly how much will change by the time 2019 is over – right now there are several key SEO ranking factors that you should be aiming to dominate.
1. Keyword Intent
By the end of last year, the one factor that seemed to influence SEO rankings heavily was keyword intent – and it is an excellent place to start in 2019.
Keywords have always been an important SEO ranking factor, but they have evolved steadily over the years. For this year it is essential to not only target keywords based on their popularity or competition – but also the intent that is behind them.
To put it simply, whenever someone searches using a keyword, there is a specific type of content that they want to find. That is the keyword intent, and Google uses various metrics to measure whether or not your content is relevant to it – such as the click-through rate.
For example, someone searching for ‘how to light a bonfire’ is probably looking for a series of steps on teaching them to light a bonfire. If your content doesn’t match that intent, it won’t be relevant – and will have difficulty ranking.
If you want to dominate this ranking factor, you need to make sure your content targets keywords with the right intent. A great way to start is to look at the top results for the keyword, and the intent behind them.
Aside from that, you should also optimize other factors that can affect the click-through rates – such as the metadata and thumbnail used in the results.
2. User Experience
One of the Google ranking factors that are likely to exert a profound impact throughout 2019 is user experience.
Essentially Google wants to promote websites that users seem to like to spend time on and that provide a good user experience. In particular, it looks at areas such as the:
- Page speed not only of the main website but individual pages that are to be listed.
- Dwell time and bounce rate that are the amount of time spent on your website as well as whether users visit any further pages, respectively.
- Site structure that is relatively flat and easy to navigate.
Admittedly there are other factors that will affect the user experience (and how search engines perceive it) such as the click-through rate, keyword intent, and content structure.
Overall any improvements that make visitors want to spend more time on your website is definitely worth looking into. Not only will it help you to rank better, but it will also allow you to attract and retain more visitors.
3. Domain Security (HTTPS)
Although not a new ranking factor, the use of HTTPS is extremely important to rank on search engines.
From a search engines point of view, HTTPS assures that the website is safe for users – and because of that they list and rank it more readily. In fact, if you haven’t already migrated your site to HTTPs, you should do so quickly, as it is likely already affecting your rankings.
To make sure this ranking factor doesn’t end up adversely affecting your position, you will need to secure it using an SSL certificate to make the switch to HTTPS.
4. Natural Long-Tail Keywords
According to Google, 1 in 5 of its searches now use voice search – which is a significant amount. More importantly, it elevates the potential of natural long-tail keywords.
The keywords used for voice search differ from the text. People searching via text tend to abbreviate their queries and exclude unnecessary words.
However in voice search, the opposite is true, and people tend to structure their queries as an actual natural-sounding question. For example, in voice search, someone is more likely to search for a phrase such as ‘how do I light a bonfire easily?’ rather than ‘lighting a bonfire’.
As voice search is expected to grow in popularity throughout 2019, long-tail keywords that sound natural are likely to grow in popularity and emerge as a crucial ranking factor.
The intent of such keywords is more apparent as well, making it easier to make sure that the keywords you target are relevant to your content.
Mobile-friendliness is a factor that was on every SEO ranking checklist 2018, and it is just as relevant in 2019.
Because the majority of users are using mobile devices on search engines, most have adopted a mobile-first indexing policy. That preference is reflected in their rankings as well, which is why it is essential that your website is optimized for mobile devices.
In addition to using a responsive design, you should take other steps to improve the mobile-friendliness of your website. That includes:
- Making sure text, buttons and other elements are appropriately sized for smaller screens.
- Using high-resolution graphics that are clear and well-defined.
- Avoiding Flash wherever possible.
- Taking advantage of the available width for important images or fields to increase usability.
- Not using dropdown menus or other elements that are difficult to interact with on mobile devices.
6. Quality Inbound Links
Inbound links (or backlinks) have been an important factor in SEO rankings for some time – and will be in 2019 as well. However, the emphasis has shifted over the years from the number of inbound links to their quality.
Over the years search engines have cracked down on link building that is abusive and ‘spammy’. In fact, your website will likely be hit by a hefty penalty if you buy, spam, or participate in link exchanges.
Avoiding penalties is important, but it is not enough if you want to benefit fully from inbound links. Instead, your focus should be on building relevant and contextual links.
Some of the methods that are used to build high-quality links include guest posting, influencer marketing, and blogger outreach. By adding the link naturally as part of the content, it will be far more valuable.
At the same time, high-quality content is a link-magnet in and of itself. Suffice to say if your content is good, it is more likely to attract links naturally – which should be your goal to dominate this ranking factor in the long term.
Although it is impossible to predict how (and when) Google and other search engines will update their algorithms, the ranking factors listed above are bound to remain relevant. By starting to work on them, your website should be better poised to scale the ranks in 2019.
At the same time, you should also try to avoid common SEO mistakes that could pull down your ranking. In particular, you should stay away from any mistakes related to the factors described above.
Ultimately you should try to focus on publishing high quality, unique, and relevant content. If you do that, all it will take is a bit of optimization in the right areas to send your website shooting up the ranks of search results.