Some two-thirds (66.3%) of SEO professionals say they believe Google’s weighted ranking factors vary widely depending on the query. That’s according to a recent survey from SparkToro, which also found that only 7.4% of SEO pros feel that Google’s rankings are consistently weighted across all queries.
When the more than 1,500 SEO professionals surveyed by SparkToro were asked which trends they believe will have the biggest impact on SEO in the next 3 years (ranked between 0 = no impact and 4 = huge impact), respondents felt that Google entering verticals/competing versus publishers would have the biggest impact (average of 3.36). Advancements in machine learning/artificial intelligence (3.24) and zero-click searches on Google (3.10) are also expected to have a big impact on SEO in the next few years.
Along with changes to the quantity and presentation of Google Search Ads (2.99), other trends that are also expected to have an above-average impact include the loss of cookie, visit and web tracking data (2.56), voice-answered queries from Google Assistant, Alexa and Siri (2.56) and voice search as a query input (2.55).
As the use of voice assistants increases, fueled, in part, by the growing number of Smart Speaker owners, prior research has found that marketers are viewing voice search as one of the biggest opportunities they expect to see in the next year or so.
Conversely, respondents do not believe that the outcome of US Congress and DOJ investigations into Google will have as much impact (1.96) on SEO in the next 3 years.
Which Google Rankings Factors Carry the Most Weight?
On a scale of 0-10 (0 = not used, 5 = moderately weighted, 10 = very heavily weighted), respondents were asked to rank 26 Google ranking factors on how they perceive the amount of weight each factor receives in Google’s organic ranking system. Respondents believe that the relevance of the overall page content is the most heavily weighted factor, receiving an 8.52 score.
Furthermore, on-page content has ranked highly as an effective SEO tactic, historically, and has also been considered one of the least difficult tactics to undertake.
Other factors that respondents believe are weighted heavily are: quality of linking sites and pages (7.87); use of query-relevant words and phrases (7.50); domains’ perceived expertise, authority and trust (7.48); and mobile friendliness (7.12).
Factors that are perceived to be less than moderately weighted are the use of Google AMP (4.76), use of external links on the page (4.66) and keyword in the domain name (4.19).
Looking at the standard deviation in the responses as a way to see where there was the most and least consensus of opinions, SparkToro discovered that the greatest level of agreement related to the importance of the following factors: relevance of overall page content; use of query-relevant words and phrases; use of query-relevant entities in page content; quality of linking sites and pages; and the domain’s perceived expertise, authority and trust.
The most disagreement among SEO professionals related to keyword in the domain name, use of Google AMP, age of the website and keyword use in the URL.
What Do the Top 10% of SEO Pros Think?
When SparkToro broke down the opinions of how these factors were weighted on Google’s organic ranking system in the eyes of the self-proclaimed Top 10% of respondents – i.e. those 129 (8.1%) respondents who rated their level of SEO experience and expertise in the top 10% of the field – the relevance of overall page content was considered to be more heavily weighted than the mean of all respondents.
While there was little difference in how the Top 10% and the total respondents ranked the weighting of search factors, the biggest discrepancies can be found with keyword use in the URL and the age of the website, where all respondents perceived their weighting as greater than those in the Top 10%.
To read more, you can find the survey results here.
About the Data: Results are based on a survey of 1.584 SEO professionals in August 2019. Twitter, LinkedIn and email were the primary collection methodologies.