We’re halfway through the 1st quarter of 2020, and there couldn’t be a better time than now to explore the most important ranking factors which affect the ranking of websites on Google SERPs.
It is quite amusing to SEO professionals as well as search engine metrics analysts when people ask them why is it necessary to re-explore ranking factors for websites on Google’s SERPs, every now and then. The thing is, the average individual amongst the audience on the internet barely remembers anything about content they read on a web-page 2 weeks earlier.
So it’s quite natural that the average reader tends to forget that within SEO and search engine marketing practices, it is of prime importance to understand that Google always periodically updates, modifies and reconfigures the whole ensemble of algorithms and automated programs which actively work to help Google determine how ‘rank-worthy’ a website is. And this means that what may have been the most crucially decisive factor for ranking of websites maybe a few months earlier, may no longer be the most relevant or decisive factor for the ranking.
Consequently, to the bewilderment of average readers and the close anticipation of SEO enthusiasts, professionals or just geeks; it is quite plain and obvious, that after three months have passed in 2020, it’s the perfect time to reassess search engine analysis metrics and benchmark results, study current global and local SERP ranking trends for a various different niche product, service or consumer-needs-centric keywords and vice versa, to ultimately determine with certain conviction a list or order of the most decisive ranking factors currently responsible for how Google bots and algorithms rank websites on SERPs.
Android Ranking Factor
In recent years, Google has made huge decisions on how they want to show ads to people around the world, and this has been massively influenced by how successful their lightweight Linux-based Mobile operating system, Android OS has been in global smartphone markets. On the 4th of November in 2016, Google introduced the mobile-first indexing update, which gave priority to domains on the internet which made a mobile-optimized website before designing a desktop version. What is a mobile-optimize website? is well described in the following image.
Google reviews have become a trending subject of all time SEO practitioners. Customers need satisfaction, before purchasing goods or services they Google everything of your site and Google shows that things only you shown to the Google bot. If you have an excellent customer review at your site then it will help you client’s to choose your product or services by comparing the reviews. Google themselves said that it only made sense because, by the 4th quarter of 2016, the total number of smartphone users had crossed the number of desktop users globally. Although another aspect of Google’s tendency to ranking mobile-optimized domains higher naturally is reflective of how responsive a website is on the mobile version as well as how quickly it loads. These factors indirectly affect how well the website ranks with the mobile-first indexing algorithm.
The page or Site Loading Speed Factor
Speed is what we all need today and just don’t forget that peoples are moving to 5G and more and more in the future. So you should always take care of your page loading time it will help you to decrease the bounce rate and boost your visibility to the relevant customers when they search in Google and the viewers always avoid poor sites that took a long time downloading.
The page loading speed for websites on either mobile or desktop versions has become not only a vital ranking factor for domains but also a deciding factor for the ability of the domain to retain and engage unique traffic or visitors. Indeed, Maile Ohye, currently a senior product manager at LinkedIn, who was leading Google’s team of search engine analysts and experts during 2010 was quoted during a public event to have stated that – ‘Studies have been conducted by Akamai which found that two seconds is actually the threshold for e-commerce site acceptability. Which means that’s what users like to shop with. At Google, we choose to aim for under half a second.’ This was back in 2010 and it lays down fairly convincingly how seriously Google takes page speeds. A decade later it is fairly reasonable to say that this factor is of prime significance to the ranking of websites on any particular SERP.
Domain Security Factor
Hackers like coronavirus are everywhere in the world and always ready to hack new websites or blogs. Hacking a website is a Cybercrime and nobody knows the anonymous hackers of the world. Basically the web hackers hack a site to make money by distributing malware, web SEO spam and even set up e-mail spam servers and phishing blogs or sites. Money is the only motivation behind web hacks or site attacks.
Ensuring that visitors are always connected to a secured network when visiting a domain is a very efficient and trustworthy way of validating to Google that the domain is safe for average visitors and audiences on the internet to browse. Pre-encrypting a domain by default with HTTPS is a great way to ensure both domain security, as well as better rankings on SERPs.
Top 10 ways to prevent your website from hackers.
- Secure Web Hosting via a certified SSL service provider.
- Never ever use Weak Passwords. Always go for strong ones.
- Keep your C-Panel or Admin access details privet. Never share it on WhatsApp or any kind of messenger service.
- Avoid incorrect file permissions.
- Update your site or WordPress regularly.
- Update Plugins or Theme as and when required.
- Never Use Plain FTP. You should always go for SFTP/SSH
- If your site in WordPress then must change the default admin user to a new admin user.
- Secure your WordPress by configuring a proper wp-config.php File
- Avoid spam content influencer’s posts and comment on your site. Trash them away.
The overall user experience that visitors have while browsing through a website makes a really big impact on their overall domain popularity, ability to attract newer and more unique traffic to the page and validates to Google about the trust factor the page has with their visitors or audience. Global internet traffic engagement analysis has revealed way back in 2015 that websites with visual clutter or too much content on the page end up confusing visitors and ultimately driving them away from the website. A great, engaging, simple and easy-on-the-eye website design for both desktop and mobile versions translates to zero irrelevant content, smart use of clean-white backgrounds and a neatly minimalistic layout that can easily captivate and engage visitors for longer durations.
The EMD Update’s Effect on Page Ranking Behaviour
Before we learn which aspect of domain-related factors hold greater significance to ranking dynamics, it is necessary to remind ourselves of one significant Google search engine algorithm that used to hold the top spot for the most significantly important domain-related ranking factor for a few years since the September of 2012, called the EMD (Exact Match Domain) update. The EMD ensured that websites with domain names that included the exact keywords for a product, service, information or other resources that users search for, always ranked higher than competitor websites that did not directly have any matches for a keyword within their domain names.
Even Matt Cutts the former head of the Google webspam team has clearly described in this video that how keywords are important in the domain name. Video credit goes to the official Google Webmasters youtube channel.
This particular way to secure high rankings on SERPs by including a target keyword within the domain name has been adopted by all genres of websites to not only rank high on SERPs but to also drive organic traffic to their page using their top-spot-visibility in SERPs. In recent years, though, the significance of the EMD algorithm as a factor responsible for the domain-specific ranking of websites has fallen drastically; as soon after the update went live it became clear quickly that the update was not as accurate as it was expected to be and could not always return the most semantically accurate search results for user-defined keywords. This has forced Google in recent times to actively take steps to optimize many other algorithms and page-ranking factors as well as make changes to ensure that EMD is no longer a major factor for ranking.
Despite this, even in 2020, we can still find that the EMD algorithm comes into interplay to decide the top spot in SERPs for user-input keywords on various occasions. A very good example of this can be found if one goes to Google, then inputs the search keywords ‘booking hotels’ and runs a search; the first 3 organically ranked page listings from the SERP can be found to be that of ‘booking.com’, ahead of the three top online hotel booking services: trivago.com, expedia.com, & makemytrip.com
Trivago leads the race currently in terms of online consumer engagement, popularity and brand recognition, followed by Expedia, and then MakeMyTrip. The test search that we run to cross-check this was done twice:
- First by running the search using the current location setting which returned results for India, our current station.
- And then by running the search after changing the search location to the U.S. so that SERPs showed results for the U.S.
Both separate searches revealed a common first 3 organically ranked page for either case – that of booking.com.
This profoundly establishes how booking.com is able to rank organically on not just the top spot, but ALL 3 top spots for organic ranking for the key-phrase ‘booking hotels’ in two separate countries more than 7500 miles away from each other, showing how well-implemented Exact Match Domain naming can propel a brand to great success.
It is clear to SEO experts and analysts all over the world that domain authority has risen in importance as ranking factors and taken the spot for the most important factor for ranking of websites on SERPs since the 3rd quarter of 2019 and remained so through the 1st quarter of 2020, with 2 more weeks until the 2nd quarter of the year begins. It is also expected that domain-related factors shall continue to dominate the importance of ranking factors well until at least the end of October, or the end of the 3rd quarter of 2020. Within the spectrum of domain-related factors, there are several different sub-factors that affect the composition of a website’s domain optimization-specific properties, whether directly or indirectly so.
These sub-factors, arranged in descending order starting with the most significant, areas noted below:
- Age of Domain
- Target Keywords within Domain Name
- Length of Domain Validity
- Keywords within Subdomain Name
- Country-specific TLD (Top Level Domain) extensions
Age of Domain
The Domain Age or domain seniority factor ensures that a domain which went live a year or so before its direct competitor, ranks consistently above them, ranking for high-value keywords with ease, while their younger competitors struggle to rank in a similar league.
Target Keywords within Domain Name
As already discussed earlier in this blog, target keywords within a domain name allow the Exact Match Domain algorithm to locate and easily rank a website high on SERPs even in 2020.
Length of Domain Validity
According to reports from Google Patents the validity or legitimacy of a domain can be predetermined, in context to the length of validity for the domain. Thus it can be rationalized that the legitimacy of a domain can be identified in terms of the date of expiry for the validity of the domain. This becomes a vital ranking factor for websites on the internet and should, therefore, be carefully addressed.
Keywords within Subdomain Name
SEO and SEM analysis reports have shown that exactly similar or relevant LSI keywords within subdomain names further help a website to rank higher than before. It can be said with reasonable conviction that a perfect combination of targeted, exact keywords along with a couple of organically generated latent semantic indexing keywords within the subdomain name of a website is a wonderful trick that can be used to rank higher than most competitors in SERPs when implemented to perfection.
Country-specific TLD (Top Level Domain) extensions
Websites that have a country-specific top-level domain URL extension (like ‘.in’, ‘.uk’, ‘.ru’, ‘.de’, etc.) naturally rank higher for SERPs specific to that country or any region within it. Although this may actually decrease the global ranking of that website on SERPs, it is still a great way to rank for many websites in countries with high urban populations so that simply ranking in SERPs specific to a country brings enough internet visibility, online traffic engagement and page ranking to make that domain an overall authoritative domain on the internet.
Backlink Strength Factor
As one of the most consistently important and widely-encompassing factors to decide the overall domain authority and page relevance for a domain validated by other trusted or high-authority domains on the internet; backlinks are of incredible importance and significance to any website looking to become a top-ranking staple in SERPs, while also guaranteeing hosts of new unique visitors and traffic to the site from numerous backlinks to other domains, platforms, and portals. Under backlink optimization activities that can bring forth results to affect ranking factor, the following subfactors contribute to overall ranking dynamics of websites in context to their backlink status:
The total strength of backlinks
The total number of backlinks to a website affects the rate of unique visits to the website from other domains, and thus; the greater the number of total backlinks directing to a website is, the greater amount of daily unique visitors that website receives, with consistent results over a period of time ultimately raises the rankings of that website.
- Number of healthy & quality backlinks
- Number of backlinks from high-authority domains
Number of healthy & quality backlinks
This subfactor is actually more significant in deciding ranking dynamics than the previous one, simply because over time, Google has let the world know and learn that Google themselves always give priority to Quality over Quantity. And therefore, when a domain has a good number of backlinks from trustworthy domains on the internet which themselves rank really well on SERPs relevant to them, shows good traffic engagement statistics, visitor retention, page security, and page responsiveness; such backlinks are considered to be healthy and/or quality backlinks.
Number of backlinks from high-authority domains
High authority domains on the internet include specially listed internationally validated domains used by government bodies, agencies, private/public/non-for-profit/multinational/multi-governmental organizations, and universities, with URL extensions like .gov, .org, .edu, etc. Websites that have more than the average number of backlinks from high authority domains on the internet will always naturally rank high on SERPs.
Brian Dean the man behind Backlinko has shared this video on his official youtube channel which may help you to discover how to build high-quality backlinks for your site:
Looking Towards The Future
2020 will be a massively significant year, when Google may make some dramatic changes to algorithms which govern ranking dynamics of websites on SERPs. With that in mind, there could be newer developments which add some more ranking factors to existing ones, or there could be periodic updates and modifications on existing one to account for wider parameters or more refined ones in order to deliver more accurate search results to users than was possible before.