What SEO For Publishers Looks Like In 2019

SEO for publishers is changing. It can be difficult to keep up with Google algorithm changes, but even more difficult when you start accounting for all the ways Google search engine results pages (SERPs) are changing alongside ranking factors. Publishers are particularly affected by changes that display content inside the SERP itself. So, how are top publishers coping with the ever-evolving world of SEO?

Google commonly rolls out a “broad core algorithm update” almost every 3-4 months now with the only advice provided to publishers being that the changes, “benefit pages that were previously under-rewarded.”

As a publisher, it can be helpful to know how other publishers are affected and view these algorithm updates and how it affects their organic traffic.

In a recent survey we distributed to a small sample size of diverse publishers, we collected their thoughts, questions, and concerns about SEO and organic traffic. Below, we’ll take a look at what publishers deem are the most important and most confusing aspects of SEO in 2019.

What Search Ranking Factors Are Most Important For Publishers?

As seen in the results below, publishers were torn between a few ranking factors.

The majority of publishers relayed that they believe visitors have a big impact on their Google Search ranking, both the quality and the length of their visit.

Search Ranking Factors For Publishers?

Nearly one-fourth of publishers believed direct website visits or keyword use in titles, meta descriptions, and content body were the most important Google Search ranking factors for their website. This was followed by nearly 14% of respondents believing time on site was most important for their site.

Concern for visitor experiences and an interest in overall traffic quality is not really a surprise, as the majority of publishers who participated in our 2019 Digital Publishing Trends survey answered that both the biggest challenge in 2018 and the highest priority for 2019 had something to do with their website traffic.

We recently discussed how publishers can drive more direct website traffic, select keywords that produce traffic quickly using the right organic keywords, and how to go about increasing time on site.

What Will Publishers Focus On To Improve Organic Traffic In 2019?

You’ve heard it before, Content is King. Many of the answers to questions we asked publishers in this survey had something to do with improving or producing new content.

Most publishers answered that improving organic website traffic is directly linked with their content creation strategy; which should really come as no surprise.

What Will Publishers Focus On To Improve Organic Traffic In 2019?

38% of publishers said they would focus on creating content around a niche or long-tail keywords to improve organic website traffic.

Owning a ‘corner of the internet’ is a simple example of supply and demand that more and more publishers seems to be embracing. If your content is focused on something relatively obscure, specific, or poorly represented, you will serve as one of the only places visitors can go to get that information.

Small to medium-sized publishers are always seeking ways to avoid stiff competition in search results, and long-tail terms or niche topics are a great way to approach this.

publisher seo strategy

small publishers and organic search

However, in a recent study we did, we found that a large number of large publishers were actually losing out to smaller publishers with less domain authority. many smaller publishers may want to rethink how much stock they put into domain authority before being scared away from higher volume keywords that they can write about as an authority.

In a recent blog post, I wrote about six content creators that are changing digital publishing in 2019. For 2019, ask yourself: what unique content can I produce to drive traffic and how will mine be better than the rest. Great content continues to beat high domain authority in a general sense.

The second-most popular answer about gaining website traffic was to improve existing content. This is another topic we have covered before, but we’ll say it again: don’t delete your old content, augment it!

Which SEO Tools Do Publishers Use?

Almost 88% of publishers who responded to the survey use Google Search Console and Google Analytics, both of which are free. 53% also said they used pagespeed insight tools, either Google’s or another service.

Which SEO Tools Do Publishers Use?

Outside of Google products, 72% of publishers reported they use Ezoic’s tools for their website. This includes our Big Data Analytics platform, which allows publishers to see data on visitors behavior, session value, SEO, hour-by-hour revenue tracking, content, and more (also free to sign-up and use for publishers).

What Do Publishers Want To Know About SEO in 2019?

Once again, content ranked as the most important item for publishers. 35% of surveyed publishers would like to better understand what new content is most likely to produce organic traffic over time and 22% want to know how changes to content affect ranking.

Publishers Want To Know About SEO

After content, publishers seemed split on which other information they would fin most helpful. This included questions about the effect of pagespeed and ads on their overall rankings in search engines.

Which Resources Do Publishers Trust Most For SEO News?

When looking for answers, publishers turn directly to Google for SEO news and information: of survey respondents, 43% of publishers trust Google’s official blogs, social media accounts, and announcements.

Resources Do Publishers Trust Most For SEO News

Following behind Google at 24% was SEO news outlets and rumor sites, like Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, or Search Engine Roundtable.

What Can Improve A Publisher’s SEO The Most In 2019?

While there wasn’t an answer that prominently stood out, once again, the majority of publishers in the survey believed that content is involved.

29% of digital publishers reported that creating content more strategically would improve their website, followed closely by 22% stating that just producing more content would help. 16% responded that augmenting or improving existing content can most improve their SEO and traffic this year.

Improve A Publisher's SEO The Most

If you’re struggling with where to start with content strategy, Betsy Fast from Hearst UK spoke about content strategy in 2019 at our Pubtelligence event in London. The video is embedded in this blog post about content strategy by Tyler Bishop, who also provides some actionable takeaways from her talk.

What Area Of SEO Is The Biggest Mystery To You?

The last two questions in the survey were an open-ended format, allowing publishers to speak more specifically about their experiences.

While answers varied, the majority of publishers regarded Google’s ranking changes as a mystery to them. Some answers were more specifically concerned with Google’s ranking algorithms and Google’s most important search ranking factors, while others expressed their frustration in ranking lower than larger sites despite creating what they felt was higher quality content.

SEO Is The Biggest Mystery

Other publishers find links and backlinking difficult to understand, such as…

“how to get backlinks from high domain authority sites without taking time away from creating and improving content.”

Keywords, specifically focus and importance, was also a popular response.

What Data Would Help You Make Better SEO And Website Decisions?

This was another open response question to the publishers in the survey.

Keywords were a prevalent topic. The majority of digital publishers believe that having more granular data on keywords would help them make better SEO and website decisions, especially information on long-tail keywords and which ones offered the most long-term value to write content for.

What Data Would Help You Make Better SEO And Website Decisions?

Publishers also reported that data on how to get backlinks and the direct effect of backlinks on ranking would be helpful as well.

What To Take Away From This SEO Survey…

If we can learn anything from these survey answers, it’s that SEO and search engine rankings are viewed as complex for all publishers. That said, there were a few themes that stood out amongst the responses.

Content is king: You know this, we know this, everyone knows this. But as we can see from these responses, figuring out your niche, content length, and overall content strategy is viewed as vitally important. Most of the publishers believed it to be one of the biggest factors for determining the success of their future organic website traffic.

Keywords are important but confusing: Most publishers indicated that they know keywords are important and want to know more about their keyword strategy, but what ultimately determined the success of some keyword targets vs. others remained a mystery.

While there wasn’t a clear-cut answer as to what keywords publishers felt would improve their search rankings, there are resources available to make it more strategic: watch this step-by-step video on how to find organic keywords that are likely to quickly increase traffic using Google Search Console and SEMrush, both of which are free tools.

Publishers are not alone: While it may not be helpful in increasing content rankings, or better understanding SEO, there are plenty of other publishers who feel the same way. Google certainly has a plethora of tools and resources available to learn more (Google Analytics, Google Search Console, blogs, social media, announcements), but you can learn a lot just by observing other publishers’ success and struggles, and then applying what you learn to your website.

Hopefully this information has helped you better understand where you’re on the right track and where you may need to focus more attention.

Thoughts or questions about our SEO survey for online publishers? Leave them below.