In late November of this year, Moz launched their Biennial SEO Ranking Factors Report which identified some of the most important ranking factors for both organic and local SEO. As Google continues to evolve as a search engine, the difference between local ranking factors and organic factors is likely to become less apparent. More people are using their mobile devices to search for local products and services than ever before, with the local results being served above the fold.
MOZ and SEO professionals continue to push links and citation listings as the most important ranking factors. In the 2018 Moz Ranking Factors Report, links and/or citations are among the top factors listed.
Top 50 Local Organic Factors:
- Quality/Authority of Inbound Links
- Domain Authority of Website (what’s the difference?)
- Diversity of Inbound Links
Top 30 Competitive Difference Makers:
- Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain
- Quantity of Reviews
- Domain Authority of Website (see above)
- Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to GMB Landing Page URL
10 Factors Experts Are Focusing on More in the Past Year:
- Quality/Authority of Inbound Links to Domain
I didn’t think it could be possible for SEO experts, in general, to focus on links even more than before. In the 2017 Moz Ranking Factors Report, links are listed as the second most important factor, behind Google My Business profile optimization. From the 2017 report: “Looking through the results and the comments, a clear theme emerges: Local SEOs are all about the links these days.”
I had to LOL at “these days”.
As someone who has been in the SEO industry since 2005, and who spent the first few years doing almost nothing but “in the trenches” link building before Panda or Penguin came along, links continue to be the elephant in the room when it comes to SEO.
From the 2015 Moz Ranking Factors Report, domain-level inbound links and page-level inbound links are listed as the two most important ranking factors.
In the 2013 Moz Ranking Factors Report, “Links are still believed to be the most important part of the algorithm (approximately 40%).”
“In the survey, SEOs also thought links were very important:” (noooo waayyyy)
I had a hard time finding the actual 2011 Moz Ranking Report, but you can bet the house that they had links down as one of the most important ranking factors.
What made me so sure? Well, they said it was “all about links” in 2018, 2017, 2015, 2013, and also in the 2009 ranking report in which link-related factors accounted for 4 of the top 5 ranking factors, as well as the majority of the negative factors and overall ranking algorithm, which is 66% link-related:
The SEO industry saying that they’re going to be paying more attention to links in 2019 would be like Greg Popovich saying in a press conference that he was going to start focusing more on coaching players how to play basketball. It would be like Doritos coming out and saying they’re going to focus on selling more chips. We get it. We’ve seen all the commercials and Spurs Championships over the years, we know what you guys do.
“We’re going to pay more attention to links in 2019”, cracks me up.
One of the more frustrating parts of SEO, especially when it comes to SEO content and studies, is that you almost never come away with ideas that you can implement.
“Links are key, go get more links!” (fast forward to 6 months later, when a website is struggling to obtain top rankings because they built hundreds of irrelevant spam links via Fiverr because everyone said it was all about links).
“Content is key, write more content!” (fast forward to 2 years later, when a website has 58 pages of duplicate content because the content writer was struggling to come up with fresh content topic ideas, but had to reach their monthly quota).
SEO in 2019, and in my opinion over the past few years, isn’t as much about links and content as the SEO industry would have you believe. Here are 5 SEO factors that you should focus on in 2019 in order to improve your website’s search engine rankings:
1) Link pruning > Link building
Link pruning is a term that was made popular in the SEO industry back in 2012, when Google launched their first major Penguin update. Webmasters and SEO’ers everywhere struggled to make changes and adjustments to recover rankings, after spending the 5-10 years prior building ridiculous numbers of links to their clients’ websites by previously-accepted methods such as forum signature anchor text link building, blog commenting, social bookmarking blasts, article syndication (sending out the same article to 50 different article syndication sites), press release syndication, automated directory listing blasts, buying sitewide and footer links on [email protected], guest posting, buying text links via a third-party “broker”, setting up 20 links pages on your website to setup a reciprocal linking network, developing microsites to improve the number of links to your main site, wiki links (setting up multiple wiki pages with informative content, only to gain a few links from new domains), and so on.
Continuing to focus on building large numbers of links to your website in 2019, after knowing what happened to thousands of websites following the launch of Google Penguin in 2012, would be like the mortgage industry suddenly re-introducing no income verification subprime mortgage loans, knowing what happened in the 2007 financial crisis.
Go through your website’s inbound link profile in a tool like AHREFS Site Explorer. Focus on links from websites with lower domain rating, sites in different countries, or sites that have nothing to do with your product or service. You also want to focus on domain which link to you more than a few times. If you have a link from a website, and that website links to you 2,758 times, that’s a big red flag in Google’s eyes.
Put together a list of the websites which link to your site which you’d like to remove, list each domain in a Google Disavow file and upload that file to Google Webmaster Console. Going through your existing inbound link profile, from my experience, will yield better results than spending time and money on link building.
2) Tackle duplicate content issues created by WordPress
WordPress continues to dominate the CMS market as the most popular content management system available, mainly because it’s free and easy to use. But for every WordPress website that launches, there is a high probability that there will be duplicate content issues because of the way their websites are structured.
Let’s say you have 20 blog posts on your website, written by 2 different authors. Let’s say that each blog post is categorized in 2 different categories, and then let’s say that the majority of the posts use the same 5 blog tags.
WordPress automatically generates a new page for every author, category, and post tag that exists. These pages list the posts under each, usually with a fairly long preview (the post’s content).
It’s very common for posts to be included on the same author, category, and tag pages, which commonly causes duplicate content issues that are likely making a negative impact on search rankings. One way to identify this as a potential issue is to run the website through a duplicate content check on a website called Siteliner, which will show you which pages have matching content, and at what percentage.
If you’re using the Yoast SEO plugin on your website, you probably want to disable the author archives and category pages from being indexed, in order to avoid these potential duplicate content issues. One more Yoast resource on duplicate content caused by WordPress can be found here.
3) Measure and boost your performance
In past years, Google Pagespeed Insights and tools like GTMetrix and Pingdom were seen as reliable ways to check your website’s load times, which is still a crucial factor as it relates to SEO. However, Google recently launched a new Web Dev Measure Tool which allows you to see what they think of your website’s performance, accessibility, SEO, and best practices as it relates to how your website is coded. General rule of thumb: if Google says that it should be improved, regardless of whether or not it falls under the SEO category, it should probably be improved. Moving forward in 2019, SEO should probably be viewed more as improving usability than traditional SEO, because a major (and commonly overlooked) factor when it comes to SEO is how user-friendly your website is. Does your website load quickly, or do users have to wait a few extra seconds because the images are resizing and your web server is slow? Make sure your website measures up in all 4 categories, and if it doesn’t, have your web developer make some improvements.
4) Start using Google Posts
Any business with a Google My Business profile has the ability to launch Google posts, which is Google’s way of allowing businesses to share updates that can be viewed by potential clients and/or customers. These posts stay live for 7 days at a time, so routine updates are necessary. Think of it as an integrated Twitter or Facebook, only you don’t have to be friends or followers to view the updates. These Google Posts also carry SEO weight, as they likely include keywords that are relevant to your business and what the search engine user is searching for.
For more information on Google Posts as they relate to SEO, check out the following resources:
How to Surge Ahead with Google Posts: A Complete Checklist via Search Engine Journal
Google My Business Showing Competitors Google Posts via Search Engine Roundtable
5) GMB: Do a little extra to stand out
One of the most common mistakes that local businesses make when they’re trying to improve their online search engine presence is skipping the obvious stuff that they assume doesn’t make a difference. This includes ignoring the option to upload photos and videos to their Google My Business page, not updating their hours, not including a business description, not specifying their products and services, etc. You’d also be shocked how many businesses (especially law firms) have the incorrect primary category specified on their GMB page, which happens to be one of THE most important ranking factors as it relates to local SEO. Complete as much information as you can on your GMB profile, and make sure everything is accurate and up-to-date.
For more information on optimizing your Google My Business profile, check out: