The Week in Search is a weekly column produced by the Studio team to keep marketing professionals and ecommerce merchants up to date on changes in the search industry, and provide valuable context on what it all means. If you have questions or think we missed something, email us directly.

2019 Ranking Factors Survey Report is In

Every year Rand Fishkin (formerly of Moz but now of SparkToro) publishes an annual poll of professionals across the SEO spectrum gauging what ranking factors they found had the most impact on their websites.

This year’s numbers are in and some of the takeaways are surprising. Here are the top 5 ranking factors, according to the survey:

  • Relevance of overall content
  • Quality of linking sites & pages
  • Use of query-relevant words and phrases
  • Domain’s perceived expertise, authority, and trust (E.A.T.)
  • Mobile-friendliness

There were some surprising ranking factors that were very low on the list, including:

  • Age of website
  • Use of Google AMP
  • Keyword in the domain name

You can read the whole report here.

Studio Takeaway: This is really great insight to have. Without Google and other search engines clearly laying out what they use to evaluate and rank a website, having detailed insight from those that are in the SEO fray every single day is the next best thing.

The responses reflect a lot of what we’ve been seeing in some of the big Google updates over the last year: a focus on quality content, expertise, authority, and query-relevant phrases and keywords. From this survey data, it looks like Google has been favorable towards websites that abide by E.A.T. guidelines.

It’s interesting to note how far down the list backlink quantity is on this list. For years, having a robust backlink profile has been one of the biggest ranking factors, but now that seems to be waning. 

More Ranking Turbulence, Speculations of a Bigger Update on the Way

SEO Roundtable is again reporting a lot of turbulence in rankings and attributing that to an algorithm update.

Data and feedback is being collected from various SEO forums and search tracking tools like Mozcast. As of right now, there’s no real consensus about what might be changing with this week’s update and Google hasn’t confirmed anything.

Some are reporting that pages with thin content are losing rankings, others are saying affiliate links are having an impact, and others are saying it’s a correction for sites that might have dropped a few weeks ago in previous updates.

In classic whistleblower fashion, Bill Lambert, who may or may not be a Google insider, issued this comment:

Studio Takeaway: We’re seeing some fluctuations in our own clients rankings and number of impressions in search, so there does seem to be a change afoot. Individual pages that have high-quality and informative content seem to be seeing an uptick – not necessarily in clicks though, just impressions and average rank (which should happen naturally if you have high quality content on a web page). At the moment, there aren’t hard conclusions to draw. The most reasonable assumption is that this looks to be a correction or fine tuning of some of the rankings that have changed over the last month.

The real interesting item of note in all of this is Bill’s comment that we’re seeing a “flash rollback” in advance of a major change. The “URL on top” SERP has been teased at before. You can already see it on mobile.

John Mueller of Google Discusses How They Honor Canonical URLs

For those of you who are newer to SEO, the term “canonical URL” might sound a little intimidating.

It really just means the “preferred” version of the URL you want Google to default to. In a recent #AskGoogleWebmasters video, John Mueller broke down exactly how Google goes about prioritizing the various ways Google can honor a canonical.

It’s a must-watch to learn or brush up on some SEO fundamentals.

Studio Takeaway: We mention “canonical URLs” to our clients quite a bit and will likely use this breakdown in the future of how we explain the concept to those who aren’t as well versed in the web.

Other Interesting Links

It was a relatively quiet week for SEO news and updates. Below, I’ve included a couple non-earth-shattering Google updates and several great links to resources for those who want to get some detailed insight into backlinking, Medic update, Google algorithm recovery, and more.