More than 3.5 billion searches are made every day on Google. 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide, holding 92% of the search engine market share of Google. Google is dominating searches performed, user acquisition and obviously revenue generated.
We have seen some uplift on other search engines like Bing +, Yahoo, duckduckgo and Baidu with their massive user growth and retention rate.
Anyways, Google does hold the majority of search shares in the International market. It’s popular among regular searchers who are trying to find something. As well as marketers who are looking to perform well to get more organic traffic.
Before getting down to my topic and punishing my keyboard for writing a few thousand words( 😉 I am kidding, or maybe I am not 😀 ), I would like to clear some confusion you might have. You don’t need to be just starting. Either you give guest lectures on how to improve your sites for search engines to bring more and more traffic to rank and bank. Or don’t have enough experience to call yourself an SEO Expert. Everyone has these confusions at one point in their career or others.
Google Ranking Factors
For everything to stay pure and unbiased, it must have a foundation. Some base rules or core pillars to which it must judge and ensure that nothing goes south. If somebody tries to hack their way into the inner circle to enjoy riches without following a proper protocol, those would be punished. The penalty depends on how delicate the matter is.
Following the same principle, google as a search engine does have many ranking factors or signals on which their algorithms are built. Sites are filtered according to those signals and give them an uplift in their ranking. Results in higher-ranking positions and brings more organic visitors to sites. Thus monetizing those users by any means possible.
What are Google’s 200 ranking factors?
According to Brian Dean of Backlinko, there are 200 ranking factors that Google uses to determine whether it should reward a site or punish it. They seem to be clear things that follow a more up to date approach. Thus, every other SEO guy out there agrees with Brian, including myself.
But Google didn’t publicly disclose their ranking signals, so to speak. So my take on this would be that I don’t care, nor should you, on what are google 200 signals are. It doesn’t matter if they are 200, 250 or 2500; they might be as well, just 19 to be taken care of.
It is just an expression, and by this, I mean one should focus on a better experience for their end-user. Don’t worry about choosing a few ranking factors and utilising every source to achieve your desired rankings. When you take care of your audience, Google will reward you. You might be wondering why a novice like me saying that we should please our user and their search intent instead of focusing on ranking signals?
The answer is much more simple. Recent updates in Google algorithms, you might have noticed that almost every algorithm/ updates are bending. To give a better user experience and pleasing their users according to their search intentions. So, refining the results and presenting the user with desired and laser targeted information.
Why does Google not disclose ranking factors?
First, let me ask you a question: What makes you think you deserve to know Google’s proprietary information? Do you insist on the formula for Coca-Cola? When you enjoy a cocktail, do you want to know the technique from a barista?
What are the most important Google ranking factors?
- Domain-level factors,
- Page-level factors,
- Off-page factors,
- Sitewide factors,
- User Interaction factors,
- Some Algorithm Rules,
- Brand Signals,
- and Webspam Factors
Many of these factors contribute to your website ranks on the Google result page(SERP) for various keywords in your niche or industry.
Before we Jump into factors that influence Google Ranking, I would like to list a few things that doesn’t:
- Server a site is using(Linux or Windows)
- How close the site’s office is to Google’s
- Number of fake Instagram followers a site has
- The number of people who have bookmarked the site in their browser
- The backend language a Website uses
- How much a website has spent on Paid Advertisement
- The size of a website’s email list
- The number of free ebooks a site gives away when you sign up
- The processing power of the computer being used to search
- The physical position of the site’s server on the server rack in the data centre
- Whether you are using Google Analytics, Google Drive and Gmail or not
Let’s discuss the ranking factors Google uses to rank pages and sites. This resource is by no means official, but it could be shared with those on your team handling your site’s day-to-day SEO activities.
Following are the domain level factors:
Domain Registration Length
A Google patent states: Valuable(legitimate) domains are often paid for several years in advance. While doorway(illegitimate) domains rarely are used for more than a year or so. Thus, the date when a domain expires in the future can be used as a factor in predicting the legitimacy of the domain.
According to Matt Cutts, there isn’t enough difference between a site that is 6 months old vs the one with 12 months old.
Domain age plays a role, but a small role, and it’s not a very strong ranking signal compared to others. Domain consistency or niche consistency does matter.
What do I mean by niche consistency? Let’s look at this in a way that a site is 10 years older, but it’s been registered and dumped for 2-3 times. Then used by different webmasters for different purposes hence changing the niche altogether. So if a website is older and stays in the same niche, it would be considered an authority in that niche.
Otherwise, a site with volatile ownership or several drops may tell Google to “reset” the site’s history. Thus, negating links and holding them back in the sandbox.
Keyword Appears in TLD Name
It doesn’t give that same boost that it used to, but having your keyword in the domain still acts as a relevancy signal. After all, they still bold keywords that appear in the domain name.
Exact Match Domain
If the exact match domain is of high quality, it may give you an edge; otherwise, it could be vulnerable.
Penalized Who is Owner
If Google identifies someone as a spammer, it makes sense that they would scrutinize other sites owned by that person.
Country TLD Extension
Having a country code top-level domain[.en/ .ae/ .ca] helps the site rank for that particular country but limits the site’s ability to rank globally.
Page-Level Factors/ On-Page Factors
On-page factors or Page level factors are mention below:
Keyword in Meta tags
Meta tags are an important piece of content for any site. Meta tags that matter:
- Title tag(starting with keyword),
- Description tags,
Keyword prominence in meta tags sends a stronger signal. According to Moz data, title tags that start with a keyword tend to perform better than title tags with the keywords at the end of the tag.
LSI Keywords in Title and Description Tags
As within page content, LSI keywords in page meta tags probably help Google discern between synonyms. It may also act as a relevancy signal.
Keyword in Heading Tags
Headings are strong on-page influencers when it comes to optimizing a webpage. Having your keyword appear in headings H1, H2 and subheadings in H3 to H6 as per your need may be another relevancy signal.
It doesn’t matter to include an exact match in headings; it could be a long-tail version of the seed keyword or an LSI keyword. All you have to make sure it stays relevant to the topic in question.
Content with more keywords cover a wider breadth and are likely to prefer shorter superficial articles. The considerable length of the content shows that the discussed product, service or problem. For example, it is much more accurately described in its qualities, advantages, disadvantages. Expert statements and comments than in short articles.
LSI Keywords in Content
LSI keywords help search engines extract meaning from words with more than one meaning (Apple computer vs Fruit). The presence/ absence of LSI probably also acts as a quality signal.
If you are writing a review on the Lavazza coffee machine, it’s better to use some LSI keywords in your content. Lavazza coffee machine review and Lavazza coffee machine compatible pods.
Although not as important as once, keyword density is still something Google uses to determine a web page topic. But going overboard could hurt you.
Identical content on the same site(even slightly modified) can negatively influence the site. It affects search engine visibility. Is the content on the page original? If it is scraped or copied from other external sources, it won’t rank and the original.
Keyword Prominence & Grammer/ Spelling Mistakes
Some experts agree that having a keyword in the first 100 words of content appears to send a strong relevancy signal. Proper use of grammar and spelling is also a good practice.
Helpful Supporting Content
Seed keywords covered with supporting keywords are an indicator of page quality. Examples include a currency converter, loan interest calculator, mortgage calculators, and interactive recipes.
Rel = Canonical
When used properly, the use of this tag may prevent google from considering duplicate pages. Consider your webpage has 4 version which contains with their respective URL’s:
- original version(https://example.com/products.html/)
- print version(https://example.com/products_print.html/)
- amp version(https://mobile.example.com/products.html/)
- pdf download version(https://example.com/products.pdf/)
If we don’t do anything, crawlers and search engines will consider these 4 pages a separate page and index and rank them accordingly. But instead, we can use Rel = Canonical tag to send a signal that these 4 pages are, in fact, different variations of a certain page.
After receiving this signal from our site, the search engine will treat our page as one single unit and thus preventing it from indexing its many variations in its database.
The size of Content Updates
Updating content regularly is also a freshness factor. Adding or removing the entire section is a more significant update than switching around the order of a few words.
Google caffeine update favours recently updated content, especially for time-sensitive searches. Highlighting this factor’s importance, Google shows the date of the page’s last update for certain pages.
Similarly, page updates are crucial too. How often has the page has been updated over time? Daily, weekly? Consistency in page updates also plays a role in freshness.
Modern User Experience Factors
- Several Internal Links: The number of Internal links to a page indicates its importance compared to other pages on the site.
- Broken Links: Having too many broken links on a page may be a sign of a neglected or abandoned site. The Google quality guidelines document uses broken links as one was to access a homepage’s quality.
- URL Length: Search Engine Journal notes that excessively long URLs may hurt visibility.
- URL Path: A page closer to the homepage may get a slight boost.
- Keyword in URL: Another important relevancy signal.
- Page Category: Pages tagged in their particular category is an upvote and get a category boost.
- Many Outbound Links: Too many do-follow outbound links may leak PageRank, which can hurt search visibility.
- Outbound Links Quality: Many SEO’s thinks that linking out to authority sites helps send trust signals to Google.
- Outbound Link Theme: According to MOZ, search engines use the content of the pages your link is pointing to as a relevancy signal. For example, if you have a page about cars that links to movie-related pages, this may tell Google that your page is about movie cars. Not the automobiles.
- Multimedia: The use of rich media, e.g. (Images, infographics, videos, and other multimedia elements) engage users better than longer paragraphs and may act as a content quality signal.
- Numbered and Bulleted Lists: Bullets and numbered lists break up your content, making it readable. Google may likely prefer content with bullets and numbers.
- User-Friendly Layout: According to google quality guide, “the page layout on highest quality pages makes the main content immediately visible”.
Important site-level factors to be considered are:
Must have pages: The aforementioned google quality document states that they prefer sites that have the following pages:
- About us,
- Contact us,
Site Usability: A site that is difficult to use or navigate can hurt ranking by reducing time on site, pages viewed and bounce rate. This may be an independent algorithm factor gleaned from massive amounts of user data.
Off-Page Factors/ Backlink Factors
Following are the off-page factors:
Backlink Anchor text
As noted in the description of Google’s original algorithm:
First, anchors often provide more accurate description of webpages than the pages themselves.
Anchor text is less important than before(and likely a spam signal). But still a strong relevancy signal in a small dose.
The constantly evolving link building landscape has made high-quality backlinks more important now. That is why it’s important to understand and perform the strategies that get the best out of your campaigns. Hence, I am dividing the remaining factors in:
- Factors with Positive Impact,
- Controversial Factors,
- Factors bad for your Site,
- Linking Domain Age: Links from aged domains may be more powerful than new ones.
- Many linking Root Domain: The number of referring domains is the most important factor in google’s algorithm.
- Many Linking Pages: The total number of linking pages on the same domain is a mere factor.
- Authority of Linking Domain: The referring domain’s authority plays an important role in a link profile. Also, it boosts the site authority as well. As it’s like a vote of confidence from an authority site that you are not a scam, so search engines consider this an influencing factor.
- Links from Edu and gov Domains: Matt Cutts has stated that TLD doesn’t factor into the site’s importance. Yet, that doesn’t stop SEO’s from thinking that there is a special place in the algorithm for .edu and .gov TLD’s.
- Social Share of Referring Page: The amount of page-level shares may influence the link value. The more the page has been shared, the more eyes have seen it, so the more exposure it has over any other post.
- Links from Homepage: Links to a referring page’s homepage may play special importance in evaluating a site. Hence transfer enough authority in link weight.
- Contextual Links: Links coming from inside the body of a blog post, a forum thread, or anywhere else on the internet possess a much higher weight.
- Internal Link anchor text: Internal link anchor text is another relevancy signal. Although probably weighed differently than outbound anchor text.
- Country TLD of Referring Domain: Getting a link from a specific country domain helps you rank better in that country.
- Link Location In Content: Links from the beginning of a piece of content carry slightly more weight than links placed at the end of the content.
- Link Location on Page: Where a link appears on the page is important. Generally, links embedded in a page’s content are more powerful than links that appear in sidebars and footer areas.
- Linking Domain Relevancy: A link from a site in a similar niche is significantly more powerful than a link from a completely different site.
- Linking Page Relevancy: A link from the page that’s closely related to your niche is considered more powerful, rather than with the one that has nothing to do with your content at all.
- Text around Anchor Sentiment: Google has probably figured out whether a link to your site is a recommendation or part of a negative review. With Google’s understanding of NLP(Natural Language Processing), it is getting better. Better at judging sentiments behind words used. Given that anchor texts with positive sentiments around them likely carry more weight.
- Keyword in Title: Google gives extra love to links on pages that contain your keywords in the title. e.g.(experts mentioning and linking to other industry experts).
- Link From Authority Site: A link from a site considered an “authority” likely passes more juice than a link from a small, microniche site.
- Linked to as Wiki Resource: Although the links are no-follow. Many think that getting a link from Wikipedia gives you a little added trust and authority in the eyes of search engines.
- Text around Anchor(Co-Occurrences): The keyword that appears around your backlinks helps tell Google what that page is about.
- Backlinks Age: According to google patent, older links have more ranking power than newly minted backlinks.
- Links from Real Sites: Due to the proliferation of blog networks, Google probably gives more weight to links. It prefers real sites over fake blogs.
- User-Generated Content Links: Google can identify links generated from UGC(User Generated Content) vs the actual site owner. For example, they know that a link from the official WordPress blog at en.blog.wordpress.com is very different from bestcoffeemugreviews.wordpress.com.
- Schema.org Formats: Pages that support microformats may rank above pages without it. This may be a direct boost because pages with micro formatting have s higher SERP CTR.
- Word Count of Linking Content: A link coming from a lengthy content(1000 – 2000) word post is more valuable than a link from a 250-word post.
Here are 11 Important On-Page SEO Factors you might want to read.
These are a few controversial factors that nobody is certain of:
- Guest Post: Links coming from the author bio of a guest submission might not look as valuable as contextual links. Link from the body of that guest post.
- No-Follow Links: One of the most controversial topics of SEOs. Google’s official word on the matter is “In general, we don’t follow them”. Which suggests that they do, at least in some fashion. Having a certain number of no-follow may also show a natural vs unnatural link profile.
- Diversity of Link Types: Having a large percentage of your links come from a single source(i.e. a single forum, blog comment) may also be a sign of webspam.
- Links from 301: Links from 301 redirects may lose a bit of juice compared to a direct link. Yet, Matt Cutts says that a 301 is related to a direct link.
Doing black hat or dodgy tactics to gain the system might hurt your site visibility. Hence, try to avoid the following at all:
- Links from Bad Guys: Links from “Bad Neighbourhood” might hurt your site.
- Reciprocal Links: Google’s Link Schemes page lists “Excessive Links exchanging” as a link scheme to avoid at all cost.
- Forum Profile Links: Google may significantly devalue links from forum profile because of the heavy spamming.
- The number of Outbound links on Page: A link coming from a page with hundreds of outbound links passes less PR value than a page with few outbound links.
- Quality of Linking Content: Links from poorly written or spun content doesn’t pass a value. A well-written, quality content, with social shares and comments or other engagement, is valuable.
User Interaction Factors
- Organic CTR for a Keyword: Pages that get clicked more in CTR may get a SERP boost for that particular keyword.
- Organic CTR for all Keywords: A page’s or site’s organic CTR for all keywords is ranking for may be a human-based, user interaction signal.
- Bounce Rate: Not everyone in SEO agrees that bounce rate matters. It may be a way for Google to use their users as quality testers(pages where people quickly bounce is probably not very good).
- Direct Traffic: Google uses data from Chrome to determine whether people visit a site(and how often). Sites with tons of direct traffic are likely higher quality than sites that get very little direct traffic.
- Repeat Traffic: Sites with repeat visitors may get a SERP boost.
Query freshness and Diversity: Google gives newer pages a boost for certain queries. Similarly, Google may add diversity to a SERP for ambiguous keywords such as “ted”, “WWE”, or “ICC”.
User Browsing History: Sites that you frequently visit while signed into Google get a SERP bump for your services.
User Search History: Search history matters, and it influences search results for later searches. If you search for “review”, you search for “coffee machines”. Google is more likely to show “coffee machine reviews” higher in the SERP’s.
Geo-Targeting: Google gives preference to sites with a local server IP and country-specific domain name extensions.
Local Searches: Google often places Google local results above the normal organic SERP.
DMCA Complaints: Google “down marks” pages with DMCA complaints.
Transactional Searches: Google sometimes displays different results for shopping-related keywords like hotel booking, flight searches.
Big Brand Preference: After the Vince Update, Google gives big brands a boost for certain short-tail searches.
Single site results for Brands: Domain or brand-oriented keywords bring up several results from the same site in SERP.
Social Signals: Like links, it is believed that Google uses factors like:
- Number of tweets,
- Facebook shares,
- Pinterest Pins,
- Reddit Votes,
to reward sites and may influence its rank in organic SERP. It probably uses relevancy information from the account sharing the content and text surrounding the link. It is also believed that site-wide social signals may increase a site’s authority. It will increase search visibility for all its pages.
Brand name Anchor: Branded anchor text is a simple but strong brand signal.
Branded Searches: It’s simple: people search for brands. If people search for your site in Google(Matthew Woodward Twitter, or Backlinko ranking factors). Google likely considers this when determining a brand.
Employee Listings at LinkedIn Company Page: Rand Fishkin thinks that having a LinkedIn profile that says they work for your company is a brand signal.
Brand mentions on new sites: Really big brands get mentioned on Google news sites, anytime, and BBC all the time.
Co-Citations: Brands get mentioned without getting linked to. Google likely looks at brand mentions that aren’t linked back to your site as a brand signal.
Google Business Listings: Real businesses have offices. Google may use location data to determine whether a site is a big brand.
Panda Penalty: Sites with low-quality content are vulnerable to getting hit with a panda penalty.
Redirects: Sneaky redirects are a big no. If caught by the system, it could affect your site by just a penalty or a de-indexation.
Popups or distracting Ads: The official Google Rater guidelines document says that popups and distracting ads are a sign of low-quality sites.
Site Over Optimization: Includes on-page factors like keyword stuffing, header tag stuffing, excessive keyword decoration that may cause damage to the site.
Ads above the fold: After Fred updates the “Page Layout Algorithm, ” it penalizes sites with insufficient content above the fold and practices with massive ad units.
Auto-Generated Content: Google isn’t a big fan of auto-generated content. If they suspect that your site is pumping computer-generated content, it could result in a penalty or even de-indexing.
Excessive Pagerank Sculpting: Going too far with Pagerank sculpting by no-following all outbound links or most internal links may be a sign of gaming the system.
Meta Tag Spamming: Keyword stuffing can also happen in meta tags. If Google thinks you’re adding keywords to your meta tags to game the algorithm, they may hit your site.
Link Profile with High % of Low-Quality Links: Many links from sources commonly used by black hat SEO’s (like blog commenting and forum profile links) may be a sign of gaming the system.
Poison Anchor Texts: Having poison anchor text (especially pharmacy keywords) pointed to your site may be a sign of spam or a hacked site. Either way, it can hurt your site’s ranking.
Evolution of Ranking Factors
Once these ranking factors were like checkboxes or like stairs, you need to tick or climb to gain higher rankings in search engines. It’s no longer the case.
John Mueller did say in a clue to pages ranking but not satisfying user queries.
the user wouldn’t be happy
It doesn’t mean we can just ignore these factors, but it gives us a clue to think from a user’s perspective and craft our message as per user needs. If I was to describe it in one line, it would be: try to write for users and not for search engines and bot, and everything else will fall in line.
How to use these factors to your advantage?
The number of ranking factors is huge! Also, not all are public, and the full list is a closely guarded Google secret.
Those that are known cannot be discussed in one entry. That is why we have tried to describe important areas that we think are worth paying attention to when positioning pages.
We also recommend following the news about what affects positioning from Google and the SEO industry. Moreover, taking care of the website taking into account all factors that will become a habit!