We’re pretty huge Rand Fishkin fans at Digital 22. He was a guest on our podcast a couple of years ago and the guys that were on that episode still talk about it. So, we were more than happy to take part in SparkToro’s (Rand’s current venture) Google Ranking Factors survey.
The survey asked 1,584 SEO professionals to share their thoughts on Google’s ranking systems and the different factors that influence results. We’ve had a chance to look over the survey results and put together a few key takeaways. Here we go.
What we learned from the 2019 Google Ranking Factors survey
If you’re in a bit of a rush, then here’s a quick overview of what the survey told us.
Relevant content is more important than ever.
We’re not really sure how voice search is going to impact SEO but it’s definitely going to do so soon.
There wasn’t much the SEO experts agreed completely on.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence are going to have a big impact on SEO in the next few years.
The perceived importance of anchor text in links is dropping.
Ok, now let’s get into the meat of those results.
Each SEO expert was asked to rate factors on how much weight they receive in Google’s organic ranking systems on a 0-10 scale. The higher the number, the more weight they believe Google gives that particular factor.
1. Content is king
Top of the leaderboard? The relevance of overall page content.
It doesn’t matter how many bells and whistles a page has - if the content isn’t what the user’s looking for, then Google isn’t interested. Good content is SEO 101 but it’s worth reminding ourselves just how vital it is.
Content should be useful, informative and engaging. It should be valuable to the user and solve the problem they had when they arrived on that page. The same rules apply whether the content is written, video or any other form.
The SEO experts asked in the survey gave content relevancy an aggregate score of 8.52, well ahead of the rest, so it’s more important than ever that you take the time to ensure your content is right.
2. The mystery of voice search
“Hey Google, what kind of influence is voice search going to have on SEO in the next few years?”
That’s a great question and one the SEO experts weren’t really sure on. They were asked to rate possible SEO trends in the next three years from 0-4. The higher the number, the bigger the impact they think it’ll have.
When it came to voice search as a query input and voice-answered questions from virtual assistants the final score was around 2.5. This feels pretty non-committal from Team SEO who seem to be fairly hesitant.
Google reckons that currently 20% of all searches are voice. That’s a hefty chunk already. However, Comscore think that figure will rise to 50% by the end of 2020. That number has been floating around SEO blogs for a while now and it might have had you rolling your eyes. But even if 50% does feel a little unrealistic, it’s clear that voice search is here to stay and SEO teams need to think about how to optimise for it.
3. No one has all the answers
The results I found the most interesting were the ranking factors by relative disagreement. Basically, the clever guys at SparkToro used standard deviation to work out which factors the SEO experts disagreed on the most.
As you’d expect, content relevancy is at the bottom of this list. Towards the top of the list are things like the age of the website, keyword use in the URL and use of Google AMP.
What this tells me, at least, is that there’s no surefire SEO step-by-step guide. Even the most seasoned veterans of SEO can’t decide which factors Google weighs heavily and which they don’t.
4. The robots are coming
Landing in second place on the “which trends will have the biggest impact on SEO in the next three years” table is advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence.
AI used to feel like science fiction but we’re becoming more accustomed to it every day (think self-service checkouts and voice-to-text).
Just one example is Google’s RankBrain algorithm which has changed how results are delivered. It’s significantly improved how the search engine processes a user’s query, identifying which pages have that relevant information and delivering the actual result rather than a webpage.
The SEO experts know that this is the new normal and are taking steps to prepare. Keyword stuffing and other bad practices should have been abolished as a general rule. Now it’s crucial that your website features the answers that the AI is looking for.
5. Where are the anchor text links?
Rand carried out similar surveys to this one over at Moz and he noticed that anchor text links have fallen out of the top 10 ranking factors for the first time. They’ve been an SEO mainstay for a long while now and it’s certainly something we do in most of our content too.
However, it ranked only 15th on the list, signifying that perhaps they aren’t seen as valuable as they used to be. Google certainly used to hold them in high regard, but perhaps recent updates and algorithm changes have reduced their reliance on anchor text.
It’s still good practice to use anchor text in links but it’s clear the professionals think there’s bigger SEO fish to fry.
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