Google uses hundreds of ranking signals and tweak their algorithm around 500 to 600 times per year. And many of these ranking factors can’t even be looked at independently. It’s not to say that they’re unimportant. But an average person doing SEO for their site doesn’t need to worry about 200 plus ranking factors.
So today, I’m going to walk you through the most important Google ranking factors. So, you stay focused on the things that matter most Stay tuned.
Ranking Factor #1 Quality Backlinks
The first and arguably most important ranking factor are quality backlinks. backlinks form the basis of PageRank, which is the foundation of Google’s ranking algorithm. They mentioned it on their house search works page, they’ve tweeted about it. And independent studies confirmed the relationship between backlinks and organic traffic. But not all links are created equal. There are a lot of factors that contribute to a back end stability to push a page higher in the SERPs. And the two most important are relevance and authority.
Ranking Factor #2 Freshness
Freshness is a query dependent ranking factor, meaning it’s more important for some queries than others. For example, a query like Tesla news has super fresh results.
And that’s because people want information on current news, not something that happened four years ago. But freshness isn’t limited to just news topics.
If we look at the search for the query best headphones, you’ll see that all of the top ranking pages have the current year in the title. And that’s because people don’t want to know about the best headphones from 2014.
Technology is advancing and there are always new models and manufacturers coming out. But for a query like how to tie a tie, freshness isn’t as important since nothing has really changed. So, for queries that require freshness, keep your content up to date, we have a step by step tutorial on how to identify these queries, and republish content to get more search traffic.
Ranking Factor #3 Search Intent
The next ranking factor is search intent. While backlinks are arguably the most important ranking factor, search intent is likely the most overlooked. Search intent represents the reason behind a searchers query.
So, when someone searches for how to make chicken soup, they want to find a recipe.
When they search for best headphones. They want to see a list of code with a variety of different headphones.
And the way we determine search intent is by looking at the top ranking pages and identifying the three C’s of search intent.
- content type,
- blog posts,
- product pages
- category pages
- landing pages.
For best headphones, they’re clearly blog posts.
- content format,
- opinion editorials.
Again, for best headphones, they’re listicles, which is kind of obvious, since the word best implies that comparisons need to be made.
Content angle. This is the most dominant USP that the top ranking pages are using. For the query best headphones. It looks like they’re going with the freshness USP by including the current year and the titles of the three C’s content type and content format are absolutely critical to match.
Otherwise, you’ll be hard pressed to rank high for any meaningful query.
Ranking Factor #4 Topical Authority of the Website
Google wants to rank pages from authoritative sources. And this goes way beyond backlinks. For example,
If we look at the SERP for how to unclog a toilet, you’ll see that this Dr. 42 site is out ranking is much more powerful websites with significantly more referring domains. Well, this page comes from a website that’s just about plumbing. So, it’s likely more authoritative on that topic. Now, if we’re being honest, this is just an educated guess. But there are more clues to help us solidify our argument.
Number one, Google Search Quality rater guidelines mentioned something called E A T, which stands for expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. I don’t know about you, but in our opinion, we believe that it’s near impossible for a person or website to demonstrate all three qualities on every topic.
Alright, so the second point of support for topical authority is in Google’s SEO Starter Guide. They say cultivate a reputation for expertise and trustworthiness in a specific area. Number three pages on websites that are focused on one particular topic will have more internal links from pages about similar things.
And not only do internal links help increase authority, but they also help Google understand what the pages are about. Finally, there’s evidence to suggest that the perceived authoritativeness of a site is query dependent in this Google patent.
Ranking Factor #5 Content Depth
Depth is about hitting the talking points of a topic that searchers want Expect to see. For example, if we look at the search for best watch brands, you’ll see that search intent tells us that we need to create a listicle blog post, specifically about luxury watches.
But this doesn’t tell us what’s important from a content perspective, other than the fact that we should be talking about Breitling instead of Timex. In order to figure that out, you need to actually visit the top ranking pages and look for similarities between the content. And if you look at the top ranking pages, you’ll find that they all mentioned something about price. They all mentioned popular brands like Rolex, and they all talk about technical specifications.
So, if you want to rank for this query, you should probably talk about these things too. It’s not about limiting your creativity, or copying others. But since Google is ranking similar pages at the top, it’s telling us what they want to see. And since Google’s job is to deliver the most relevant results for any given query, it’s probably what the searcher wants to see.
Another way you can find talking points is to look at the people also ask box in the SERP, as well as the related searches at the bottom. Now, one other thing I highly recommend doing is to do a content gap analysis at the page level. This is a bit different, because it’ll show you common keyword rankings between the top ranking pages
Ranking Factor #6 Page Speed
Page Speed has been a known ranking factor since 2010. And while a lot of people obsess over improving their site speed by fractions of a second, from an SEO perspective, it doesn’t really matter much for most sites. In fact, Google said speed update will only affect pages that deliver the slowest experience to users, and will only affect a small percentage of quarries.
Bottom line, improve your page speed, so it’s not super slow. You don’t want people to bounce because your page wouldn’t load. What’s more important about Page Speed is that visitors won’t wait for your page to load, they won’t see your content, contact you or purchase anything from your site.
Ranking Factor #7 Using the HTTPS Protocol
Alright, next up is to ensure your site uses the HTTPS protocol. In 2014, Google announced HTTPS as a very lightweight signal affecting fewer than 1% of global courts. And while using HTTPS probably won’t make a huge impact on your site’s rankings, it’s a quick win that you can do in under five minutes.
So, if you’re still using the unsecure HTTP protocol, then it’s probably worth changing.
Ranking Factor #8 User Experience
Google wants to rank content that offers visitors a positive experience. Because if people are finding good results from their search engine, then they’ll keep using it. So, the absolute basics would be to try and keep visitors on your site for as long as possible without any kind of trickery.
- Create easy to read content,
- A well organised site responsive design,
- Go easy on the ads and pop ups.
Basically, you want to have a site that’s designed around the user’s needs first. Now, in terms of the way they measure user satisfaction is debatable. There is no definitive proof that Google uses things like dwell time or CTR in their ranking algorithm. But if we look at this patent from Google, they describe how click through rate and other behavioural signals can be used to influence search engine rankings.
And while Google remains adamant that these factors are too noisy and unreliable, SEOs have tried experiments and found CTR to be effective in higher rankings.
So the key takeaway instead of obsessing over metrics, like CTR and dwell time, focus on creating excellent content and an overall positive experience for visitors. Not was any of this advice new or exciting? Nope. But that’s kind of the point. ranking in Google is rarely about the latest tips, algorithm updates or buzzwords. It’s about putting in the work to create content that searchers are looking for providing a great user experience and proving to Google that it’s the best result for a court
Now, a topic like Google ranking factors can be pretty controversial. So, are there any other ranking signals that I missed that you think are critical to focus on? Let me know in the comments.