How to Rank Higher on Google: Top SEO Ranking Factors in 2019
Gone are the days where you can be an on-page SEO wiz, apply all the best practices, and get your site to rank #1. Just kidding – this still works for extremely niche industries where SEO has not yet been properly executed (on-page SEO refers to both the content and HTML source code of a page that can be optimized in order to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic in search engines).
However, for those of us specializing in the art SEO, ranking our sites (or our clients’ sites) has never been more challenging.
Here’s some good news though: changing your priorities can help you get your website ranking faster, in a higher position, and for longer periods of time.
Focusing less on on-page SEO (because you should be really good at that by now) and spending more time on behavioural metrics and internet popularity is where the bulk of your time and energy needs to go.
Albeit an older study by SEO standards (but still relevant today), in 2017, SEMrush analyzed the top 100 results for 600,000+ keywords to determine the importance of 17 rank factors. Here’s what they found:
What we can take away from this study is that keyword-related factors (on-page SEO) are now the lowest common denominator when it comes to ranking well. You need to do it and do it well, but it will only get your website considered for high rank. In order to actually rank well, you need to spend more time addressing your website’s user interface (UI) and user experience (UX), working on gaining relevant and authoritative backlinks, and building your brand’s popularity.
Right now you’re probably asking yourself: what can you do to improve each of these areas and how should you prioritize your time and effort? Let’s dive in.
The Bottom-Up Approach
Of course, you need to lay a solid foundation for your website with a properly executed on-page SEO strategy in order to rank well. This is the lowest common denominator, after all. However, as we move up the pyramid, your time and energy should increase:
Now that you know where your efforts should be focused, let’s take a look at what you can do to improve each of these three areas:
- On-page SEO (keyword strategy, internal linking, metadata, etc.)
- Behavioural metrics (how engaged users are with your website — UI/UX)
- Internet popularity (direct website visits and quality of backlink profile)
On-page SEO consists of your keyword strategy, internal linking philosophy, metadata, and header structure, among other things. Something that isn’t discussed enough, however, is content silos. Creating content silos for topics and subtopics on your website shows search engines subject matter expertise. It also helps bots find and index pages accordingly. These content silos form the foundation of your website copy, which should be focused around search intent. Hence, keyword research becomes imperative in order to influence your content.
Internal linking not only spreads your link equity (the backlink juice you’ve received from other websites) across your website, but it also helps your users find other relevant content. This can be done by building a roadmap around specific content topics; one that’s influenced by your keyword research and makes use of keyword rich anchor text.
Internal linking can also help prioritize the indexation of particular pages. Google’s bots seem to love anchor text, as made evident by the SEMrush study above. Ergo, having a solid internal linking strategy can help bolster your organic search rankings.
Search engines look at analytics metrics, such as time on site, as a signal to see how engaged a user is with your website. For example, if a user clicks the back button to return to the search results and finds what they are looking for on another website after visiting yours, that could be a ding against your website’s rankings for that search term.
There are many things you can do to keep a user on your site, fully engaged, and consumed by the relevant information they came so desperately seeking. Here’s a few of them:
User experience (UX) and user interface (UI) have a huge impact on organic search results. 38% of people will stop engaging with a website if the content or layout is unattractive. A solid foundation for organic success lies in developing a website architecture that helps users find what they are looking for.
Your website should be easy to use and your web pages, content, and navigation should be laid out as simply as possible. This will help users spend more time engaging with content that matters to them (time on site), allow them to find other related content (pages per session) and reduces the risk of frustration, which usually results in a higher bounce rate.
Because Google has introduced a mobile-first index, your desktop rankings will suffer if your mobile site isn’t up to snuff. This means that, for many sites, mobile experience is a low hanging fruit opportunity. At Arcane, one of our clients sees over 80% of their traffic and conversions come from desktop users. Despite this massive skew towards desktop users, creating a flawless mobile experience was imperative to maintaining strong SERP rankings for desktop searches.
If your website thrives off of mobile users and you’ve already spent time optimizing the mobile experience, use heatmaps, recordings, and any other tools to see how users are interacting with your website and see where they might be dropping off.
Long story short — make your site mobile friendly, folks! Google recommends a responsive site, though they don’t publicly favour responsive sites over other formats like dynamic or separate URLs.
Here’s a no brainer: create a secure website.
I hope you have a skilled developer on your team because speed is a pain in the behind, not only to deal with, but it’ll also kill your rankings if your industry or topic verticle is highly competitive and well optimized for SEO.
Faster loading pages lead to a better overall website experience. In a world where attention is a hot commodity, sites with a faster load time will have lower bounce rates, convert better, and be rewarded with better organic results. You can find performance recommendations using Google’s Lighthouse Audit.
This goes without saying — publishing high-quality content is the key to organic search success. Ultimately, these are pages that will increase time on site and lower your website’s bounce rates. Your pages need to provide users with helpful content and answer all and any questions they may have. Amazing content answers questions they may not have even thought to ask. This is where keyword research will guide your content flow and create value.
Here’s a rule of thumb for dominating SERPs:
Search the primary keyword that you’re writing or optimizing content for. Take a look at the content of pages that rank in the top 5 results. Aim to make your content 10x better than the content on those pages.
As you’ll see in the next section, internet popularity and high-quality content will not only help with topic relevancy for search engines and provide useful information to your users, but it will also generate you tons of backlinks.
Earning relevant and authoritative backlinks is easier said than done and is perhaps the most difficult challenge an SEO specialist faces. This is why it sits at the top of our pyramid and requires the most time and energy. Link building exercises like out-reach and guest blogging can be time-consuming and expensive. There are other, perhaps more practical, ways to increase your authority on the internet.
High-Quality Content – Again
The easiest ways to earn backlinks naturally goes back to producing high-quality content. Creating useful and engaging content that users will feel compelled to share is by far the quickest way to gain high-quality and relevant backlinks. One well-written blog article published at the right time that covers the right subject matter can become a huge source of supplementary traffic and backlinks for your website.
Direct Website Visits
Internet popularity, as a broad rank signal, doesn’t just stem from total backlinks and referring domains, however. Direct website visits topped SEMrush’s list of most important rank factors. This means that the more users visit your website directly (typing your website into the address bar and hitting enter), the faster your organic rankings will grow. This goes for all keywords covered by your website’s content.
Achieving brand affinity is no easy feat. However, one of the most effective ways to bolster organic search results is top-of-funnel, awareness advertising. If users know where to go for a particular product, service, or information piece, they’ll likely directly visit a website.
Once you’ve laid the ideal On-Page SEO foundation, created a simple, easy-to-use experience that’s secure, mobile-friendly, and contains valuable, high-quality content, you should be ready for (and have prepared a budget for) showing your target audience what your website has to offer.
Making your website, and ultimately your brand, synonymous with the subject matter it deals with is the single most effective (but also the most challenging) improvements you can make to have success in organic search — but it all starts with content.