How to Attract Online Traffic: Our Top Five On-Page SEO Ranking Factors for 2019
We all know that having a good SEO strategy and a well-optimized site can mean more traffic, which translates into more leads and sales over the long-term. By skimping on SEO, you’ll find that your web page keeps sinking to the bottom and right off the radar, meaning that all your other hard work will have been for nothing.
Building up a solid SEO strategy can often feel like bailing water out of a sinking boat. Just as you think you’ve got a handle on things, Google throws another wave of water into your boat. Google currently evaluates sites based on hundreds of different ranking factors, from mobile page speed to https websites to domain age. There is no possible way that you can optimize based on all of these factors, so you need to find out which ones are the most critical and hone in on them.
The reason Google keeps changing and updating all of these ranking factors is due to its emphasis on creating an exciting and useful user experience. Nobody wants to get irrelevant results when searching for something, and so far, Google’s algorithm has done a fantastic job of showing users topical and useful content.
So, if you want to move up in Google’s rankings, you need to create a site that is useful for users. By prioritizing a few ranking factors and optimizing your website according to these factors, you should see your site quickly climb the rankings. In this article, we’ll cover the SEO ranking factors we consider the most important in 2019 and provide tips on how to adapt your website to take advantage of these factors.
BACK TO BASICS
Before actually looking at various ranking factors, it’s essential to know how Google’s search rankings work. By understanding how Google ranks sites, you can take advantage of that knowledge when optimizing your own. There was a time when having several keywords and some meta descriptions were enough, but Google has moved onto also considering the quality of the page in question.
When Google bots crawl the web, they check for factors that indicate quality. Some of these factors include the expertise, reputation, and trustworthiness of the site and content creator, as well as the quality, purpose, and amount of content on the page.
These factors are then added to an algorithm that determines a website’s SEO ranking. Google will show the highest-ranked pages when users search for a particular topic. The more complex the algorithm, the higher the likelihood that the search will provide meaningful, high-quality results and enhance the users’ experience.
There is no better way to rise in Google’s search rankings than to produce high-quality, engaging content. However, this doesn’t mean that you can write anything and expect to get results. There are several factors to consider when crafting content to make sure that it is useful to your end goals. While the algorithm does use keywords as the foundation of its search, it does also check for duplicate content, which can be a significantly degrading SEO ranking factor.
Google ranking algorithms have now gotten to the point where they can understand user intent, and thus tailor search results based on that intent. Many of the most significant ranking shifts in 2018 were due to algorithm changes that introduced neural matching and embedding. These changes allow the algorithm to better understand the syntax and semantics of searches, which means more relevant results for users.
What this means for you is that you have to continually make sure that your content remains relevant for your search terms. Content that isn’t current or relevant is devalued in the new search rankings, so it’s vital to optimize your content for relevance regularly.
One of the main factors of writing relevant content is to understand your users’ search intent. Doing so boils down to understanding what users are looking for when they type in various search queries. In general, there are four main categories of intent:
- Navigational: the user is trying to find a particular website
- Investigational: the user is trying to get information about a product they’re interested in buying
- Informational: the user is trying to get information regarding a question
- Transactional: the user is looking to buy something
A well-optimized site will have content for every one of these search intents. You can also improve relevance by analyzing the search engine results pages (SERP) of your particular keywords. This process will show you what content is being ranked as relevant, and drawing inspiration for your site.
In general, you want to produce content that is high-quality, comprehensive, and that has a bit of length to it. The Google algorithm seems to prefer long-form, with posts over 2000 words consistently getting more top ten positions in search rankings. A recent study found that content that is around 2,500 words to be the sweet spot for generating organic traffic and optimizing your content.
Don’t go and pad all your existing posts to try and rank higher, though. You should still focus on writing high-quality rather than high-quantity content. This means having information that provides a fresh perspective on a topic, or addresses any questions users may have about the topic. By writing informational, useful posts, you’ll get a higher search engine ranking. You may also even become an industry thought-leader, which offers numerous benefits for your business.
While it’s easy to say that you should write informative content, it can be a lot more difficult to do so. One of the best ways of doing this is to gather any questions that users may have about a topic and write up informative content that answers all these questions. You can also find semantically related keywords and use them as suggestions for new posts, or as a way to flesh out existing content as sub-topics.
CORRECTLY ORGANIZED CONTENT
While the days of keyword stuffing are over, that doesn’t mean that tags and keywords have stopped playing a role in SEO optimization. By using titles and header tags wisely, you can make pages more exciting and easy to read while keeping users engaged.
The best way to do this is to use your main keyword in the title tags and page title while using related keywords in the subheadings. Don’t go overboard and add too many keywords, though, as this will hurt both your readability and your search engine rankings. You should also consider using schema markups (semantic vocabulary) to improve the way Google reads and represents your data in its results.
Google has two types of ranking index: a mobile index, and a desktop index. Currently, and probably for a very long time to come, Google’s mobile-first index is the primary ranking index, which means that it is updated before the desktop version. So, your takeaway here is that you have to make sure that your site is designed for mobile users.
MOBILE LOADS SPEEDS
The first aspect of a mobile-friendly design is to know how fast your web pages load on a mobile device. Users aren’t willing to wait for a site to load, and most people will move on from a website that takes more than five seconds to load. In other words, it is critical to know how long it takes for your content to appear on the screen, because the faster your site loads, the more engagement you’ll get. Google has a handy tool to help you rate your site and see if it needs improving or not.
The second aspect is how well the site displays on a mobile screen. Designing a website is more of an art than a science, but there are several aspects you should always keep in mind when designing your site for mobile users.
- Above all, your site should be easy to navigate. Include menus that are easy to tap and are large enough that people don’t keep accidentally tapping the wrong thing. It should also be obvious how to get from one page to another.
- Your site should be easy to read. Use large, clear fonts, an uncluttered background, and attractive images. Most users prefer long-scrolling to links that invite them to open up another page—which should be just as readable.
- Ease of use is critical. Many websites have a frustrating glitch where, if you leave the site and then return at a later stage, you can’t start from where you left off. Also, make it easy for new users to identify what they should do, and streamline that process to make it more enjoyable for both new and returning users.
Links are a great way to establish the reputation and authority of your site. There are three main types of links:
- Internal links
- Outbound links
- Inbound links, or backlinks
Internal links are those that join together various pages on your site. These helpful additions can simplify users’ experience while navigating your website and will make each page more valuable simply due to being linked. For instance, if you have an excellent piece of authoritative content on your site, and utilize internal linking to another page on your site, that page will get a boost in its rankings.
These are links that will take users away from your site to another webpage that provides further reading on related topics or information. There are two schools of thought regarding this practice. Many contend that outbound links add value and thus increase traffic. Others insist that, by sending users offsite, you risk losing them to other webpages entirely.
Inbound links are one of the most valuable things you can leverage in SEO. Simply put, an inbound link is one that comes from another site onto your page. If the linking site is considered authoritative, meaning both users and Google trust it, your site will get bumped up in the rankings as well. That’s why it’s essential to produce good quality content. Doing so will get you noticed by higher-ranked sites which will then link back to your content.
The converse is also true though, and low-quality backlinks can actually hurt your search engine ranking. By using a tool like SEMrush, you’ll be able to identify potential weak links. You can then either ask the site owner to take your link down, or use Google’s Disavow Links tool instead. It’s always better to ask politely first, as most websites will be happy to comply, unless they’re scammers. If that is the case, you have the recourse of Google’s tool.
There are many, many ways in which you can build up a good list of backlinks. Some include guest blogging, broken link building, reviews, and even just reaching out to site owners who have content that your link would fit in. These are methods that require communicating with other site owners, which may be intimidating to some, but the results are well worth it.
There are also some slightly shadier ways to build links, including link exchanges and buying or selling links, but these are highly discouraged by Google. Stick to ethical and reputable methods to build links that won’t harm your final SEO optimization.
BACKEND TECHNICAL STRUCTURE
Your website’s backend functionality can have a significant impact on both user engagement and search engine rankings. Even if you have the best content in the world, if your technical structure isn’t on point, your work may have ended up being for nothing.
If Google can’t find your site, it can’t be ranked. Search engine bots can only access links provided in your sitemap and on your homepage—which is why linking, especially interlinking and backlinking, is so important.
Even if Google can find your site, your website needs to be crawled to be indexed fully. Large sites need to be concerned about how many pages a search engine bot can crawl during a session, also known as their crawl budget. The more popular your site, the more bots will crawl your site, which is known as crawl demand.
To make sure that every page in your site is indexed, you may have to set up a crawl budget to prioritize certain pages. However, if you’ve got a smaller site, this is most likely an unnecessary step.
Focus on ensuring that your entire site is indexed as quickly as possible. Do this by creating a sitemap and submitting it directly to Google or Bing (which you should if you want to cover all your bases).
One of the most straightforward security measures you can put on your site is a secure sockets layer (SSL), which encrypts the data between your site and the user. It helps protect user accounts and keeps transactions secure. It’s also a soft ranking factor in Google’s algorithm.
One way to drag down your ranking signal is to have mixed HTTP and https pages. This situation frequently happens during an SSL migration and needs to be addressed as soon as possible. If you have set up redirects to https pages, be aware that these don’t always work. It’s a better idea to identify mixed content and fix it yourself. You can do this either by rewriting your .htaccess file or by contacting your hosting provider to address any existing SSL certification issues.
NO BROKEN LINKS
Broken links can affect the speed of your website as well as impair the ability of spider bots to crawl your site effectively. Broken links can happen for a number of reasons, possibly due to pages being discontinued or data loss during a site migration.
You can use a variety of programs to run a crawl of your website to identify any broken URLs (they’ll have a 4xx or 5xx status code). While it may be impossible to remove all broken links, you can take other steps to make them a less serious issue. For instance, you can use redirects on a broken page to direct users to another similar page. Or you can implement custom 404 messages to redirect traffic to more useful and relevant pages.
Google tries to focus much of its search engine algorithm to enhance users’ experiences with their platform. Google wants people to find pages that are engaging and useful in their search results, and it’s suspected that user engagement may be a ranking factor. So, it is in your best interest to make sure you have a website that is exciting, fresh, and doesn’t bore people within a couple of seconds. Luckily, there are several user signals that you can use to help you determine how engaged people are with your site.
A “bounce” is when a user enters your site on a page and then leaves without navigating or doing anything else. Having a low bounce rate would suggest that users are interested and engaged because they’re willing to stay and read your content.
However, the bounce rate can quickly get a lot more complicated than that. High bounce rates are the norm for certain types of pages, like a single-page site where users can find the information they want without having to navigate anywhere else.
The bounce rate can also vary dramatically depending on how users found your site. Search engine traffic usually produces a low bounce rate, while social media traffic has a higher bounce rate. This is because search engine traffic consists of people who were actively searching for what you’re selling and so you’re more likely to catch their attention. Social media traffic is more hit and miss since they’re not actively looking for the service or product you’re promoting.
So what does this mean for you? Ultimately, you have to be able to understand how bounce rate is calculated and how various channels can have an influence on that rate. Once you know the background, you can decide whether or not bounce rate is a meaningful metric for your particular website or whether you should focus on other measures of engagement.
If you decide that bounce rate is a meaningful metric, there are several ways you can improve it. These include:
- Improving page load times, if you know they’re slow
- Making sure that people end up on a landing page that’s relevant to their question
- Get rid of intrusive ads that may cause users to leave your site
- Get users engaged by writing compelling content
PAGES PER SESSION
As the name states, this metric measures how many pages a user viewed in a session. It’s a good measure of engagement as it can provide you with a good idea of how engaging your site is. For instance, if you have a blog with multiple articles, a user that’s reading many of them in one sitting is someone that’s interested in your content.
Pages per session is usually paired with session duration, another metric which represents the amount of time a user spends on your website during a single session. Obviously, the longer the duration, the better, as that means that users are engaged with the content you’re putting out.
If you think you could improve on user engagement, here are some aspects of your site you should consider:
- Make use of interlinks to link back to other content on your website. You can also provide related reading material at the end of each piece of content, or link within the body of the content.
- Check which pages have a high bounce rate and see what you can do to guide people to other parts of your site, or encourage longer session durations.
- Ensure that pages load quickly to prevent people from leaving out of frustration.
Page view is frequently considered one of the simplest metrics to measure user engagement, simply because it doesn’t really provide you with much information. Page views measure how often people visit a particular page on your website.
A high page view is often viewed as a positive thing, but there are many instances where that may not be the case. For example, it could mean that people are unsuccessfully trying to navigate your site without finding what they’re looking for. So, they might be “engaged” with your website, but chances are they’re not having a very pleasant experience. You should never take page view counts as a metric on their own.
They should always be viewed in the context of other information to get a fuller understanding of what they’re actually measuring.
There are many ways you can get more eyes on your site, and increasing page views does tend to be good SEO practice. The main way to increase page views is to promote your website on social media and industry forums. You should also create interesting and compelling content that people want to read so that they’ll want to return for more.
The click-through rate, or CTR, is simply a measure of how many people clicked on a hyperlink compared to the total number of people who visited that page. It’s a great way to measure how effective a call to action is, or how relevant your message is to users. For instance, if you have a low click-through rate, it may suggest that your content isn’t actually related to the user’s search. It may also mean that your calls to action aren’t very compelling.
TIME ON PAGE
There’s a lot of pressure to put out a lot of fresh, interesting content, but it’s often difficult to judge how much of an impact that content actually has. Time on page measures the time users spent on a particular page. It’s usually a good indicator of which content is the most appealing to people and which content isn’t.
Time on page can often be inflated by people opening up a tab in their browser to view later. This is called “website parking” and can have considerable impact on your time on page metric. Google does allow users to set a limit of how much inactivity can occur before it’s considered a session. By default, a session lasts until 30 minutes of inactivity, but if you want accurate data, you can set this to be five or ten minutes instead.
It’s difficult to compare time on page between different websites, so it’s a much better idea to check your own metrics to see if you’re making high-quality content that is consistently fresh and engaging. In general, it takes people up to two minutes to read 500 words, so if you’re always getting in that range, then, congratulations! You’re producing engaging content that’s valuable to your readers. If people spend less time on your page, then you should figure out why they leave before they’ve finished reading the content.