Can you name all the Google ranking factors?
It’s no secret that SEO is a complex and ever-changing field.
What works today may not work tomorrow, and what is important today, can change at any time.
However, there are some things that Google confirmed to be ranking factors.
Do you want to know them?
Let’s dive in!
- What Are Google Ranking Factors?
- Confirmed Google Ranking Factors
What Are Google Ranking Factors?
No wonder, if you run a search for those keywords, this is what comes up:
If you click on it, it brings you to this Google page, where you can read about how results are automatically generated:
With so much information available, it would be impossible to find what you need without help. That’s where Google comes in: our ranking systems are designed to sort through hundreds of billions of webpages and other pieces of content in our Search index so that the most relevant and useful results show up in a fraction of a second.
If you dig a little deeper, you can read about the key factors in search results:
The algorithms that govern Search take into account many elements to give you the most useful information, including the keywords of your query, the relevance and usability of pages found, the expertise of sources, and your location and settings. The relative importance placed on each factor varies depending on the nature of your question. For example, how recent content is published weighs more heavily in answering queries about current news topics than it does in questions seeking dictionary definitions.
And if you scroll down even further, you can learn more about the five key factors that help choose which results will be shown for your search:
Let’s see each point in detail.
Meaning of the Query
Google needs to first identify what you are looking for (your search intent) before it can show you the most relevant results.
It does this by building language models that analyze how the words you enter into the search box are related to the content available.
Google takes different measures to make its search efficient, including correcting spelling mistakes and utilizing a synonym system. This allows finding relevant documents even if the terms you enter are different from those in the document.
For example, if you searched for “modify monitor light” but the manufacturer has written about “change screen brightness,” Google’s systems would recognize that these words have a similar meaning and connect you with the right content.
Relevance of Content
Google looks at how relevant the content is to your query by analyzing the words used on the page and comparing them to what you are searching for.
The search engine also takes into account other signals such as related keywords, which can help identify pages that are related to what you are looking for. It will prioritize results that contain those terms.
But wait, that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Google doesn’t just look at keywords when it is trying to determine if something is relevant to a query.
It also analyzes the content itself and compares it against other data points (using its complex and advanced AI – RankBrain). This helps get a better understanding of what people are actually looking for, and whether or not the results are satisfying those needs.
For example, let’s say you search for “cats“. It’s probably safe to assume that you’re not just looking for a page full of the word “cats” over and over again. You might be interested in seeing pictures of cats, videos about them, or even a list of breeds – all things that our algorithm takes into account when determining relevance.
Quality of Content
Google is constantly improving its algorithms in order to provide the best search experience for users. As a result, Google ranks high-quality content better than low-quality content.
But how is the quality level established?
High-quality content typically includes relevant and accurate information that is written in a clear and concise manner. It should also be well structured, updating regularly with new information when applicable.
In other words, to find useful content, Google works to prioritize the information that will be most helpful. To do this, its system looks for signals that show which content is written by experts, is authoritative, and can be trusted (in other words, E.A.T.).
But wait — there’s more.
Google doesn’t just rely on one method to determine how authoritative a website is.
For example, it looks at whether other prominent websites link or refer to the content (known as external links). This has repeatedly been shown as a good way to tell if information can be trusted.
In addition, it uses feedback from its Search quality evaluation process to further improve how its systems identify high-quality content.
Usability of Webpages
Google also looks at the usability of content in order to determine if it is worth displaying in search results.
The search engine examines a range of elements, including page loading speed, core web vitals, and mobile friendliness. It prefers pages that load quickly since this helps create a better user experience (and keeps people from leaving the website early).
Google also takes into account if a page works well on different devices and platforms, such as desktops and mobile phones. This ensures that users will have the same experience regardless of what device they’re using.
Context and Settings
Google also uses its algorithm to look at the context of a search query.
It looks at the user’s location, search history, and other settings in order to get a better understanding of what they are looking for.
For example, Google will prioritize local results if you’re searching from within that area. This allows users to quickly and easily find what they’re looking for, whether it be a restaurant nearby or the nearest gas station.
Confirmed Google Ranking Factors
What you have read so far is a synthesis of Google’s official statements on its page.
For some people, it may look crystal clear, while for others it may be confusing.
Whether you are in the first or second group, you can find interesting the recap below.
I’m going to cover practical information that you can use to build a website with content that ranks.
All of these ranking factors have been confirmed by Google and they are basically related to the points mentioned before (Meaning, Relevance, Quality, Usability, and Context).
Do I have your attention?
- Helpful Content
- External Links
- On-page Optimization
- Page Experience
- Page Speed
- Internal Links
Google rewards content that is helpful and relevant to users (in fact, in August 2022, there was an algorithm update called “Helpful Content“).
This means that it prioritizes content that answers questions, solves problems, or provides valuable information (in fact, there’s a handful of information about it in the new Google Search Essentials).
Generally speaking, the most successful websites have content that is interesting, informative, and easy to read.
Pages with high-quality content are designed to keep users on the page for longer periods of time, decrease the bounce rate, and be generally useful to them.
Quality blog pages like this are exactly what search engines and users look for.
In fact, the article has been rewarded with a featured snippet:
However, if you want your content to rank higher in search engines, it’s not enough to simply make sure it is well-written and long-form.
You must also take the following into account.
It is crucial to consider users’ search intent to produce pages that bring organic traffic. That’s where RankBrain comes into play.
RankBrain is an artificial intelligence system that helps Google process and understands search queries better.
It uses machine learning to analyze search terms and determine what users are looking for. It then uses this data to find relevant results faster.
RankBrain looks at the quality of content, the relevance of words used in a query, the context of a query, and user experience signals such as bounce rate, page loading speed, etc.
The goal of RankBrain is to provide more accurate search results for each user.
In short, content that satisfies the users’ search intent will rank better in Google’s SERPs.
This is important because, as John Mueller has pointed out, intent can change over time.
As I see it, these inferred intents change over time, and it's a bit out of a site-owners control (sometimes user expectations vary, sometimes algorithms, or other things). By covering both possible intents, you're hedging against those changes.
— John Mueller (official) — #StaplerLife · #DownWith (@JohnMu) August 12, 2021
In order to figure out what your target searcher wants, you need to open Google Analytics and find out what users are looking for.
You can also check the Performance Report in Google Search Console to see what people are clicking on from the search results to get to your site.
In addition to understanding search intent, SEO also involves targeting the right keywords.
Your content should include the main term you are targeting and related words that have similar meanings.
Using these terms helps Google understand the context of your page and determine if it is a suitable result for each query.
However, it’s important not to overuse keywords as they can have a negative impact on SEO.
Google advises against keyword stuffing, which is when you use too many of them in an effort to optimize your page.
But wait, it gets better.
You can uncover keyword gems that have average search volume but are highly relevant to your audience by conducting competitor research and data mining.
Like I did for this post.
Google likes fresh content so you should aim to publish new content regularly.
This helps Google understand that your site is actively maintained and not abandoned, which can be beneficial for SEO.
Also, it’s important to update existing content regularly as the information may become outdated over time.
You can make sure your website is up-to-date by going through it from time to time and adding new information.
When updating your old content, there are four phases you need to take into consideration:
This will help Google understand that the content is fresh and relevant, which can help you rank higher in search engine results.
External links are links from other websites pointing to content on your website.
Google’s Andrey Lipattsev stated in 2016 that content and links are two of Google’s strongest ranking factors.
But not every backlink is worth having. Some are much better than others.
OK, I know what you’re thinking:
what links move the SEO needle?
Google’s John Mueller stated:
“A good link… so I mean the traditional good link is someone who comes across your website and thinks it’s a fantastic website and recommends it to other people with a link.”
While SEO without link-building may be possible (especially for particular niches), there’s no reason why you should not follow effective link-building strategies.
However, in a November 2022 interview, Mueller said that links might not be as important to the Google Search ranking algorithm as they are today and that they might not be counted as heavily.
So, the bottom line is this:
although links may not be as valuable in a few decades, right now, they are still an important Google ranking signal.
Finally, remember that search engines look at the quality of the referring sites.
With this in mind, here are a few link-building strategies that work:
For years, on-page SEO has been impacting any website’s SERP position and visibility for target keywords.
Here are some of the ways to take benefit from on-page optimization.
Metadata is the information that describes your content, such as titles and descriptions.
Google looks at page title tags, meta descriptions, and URL slugs to understand what a page is all about.
And when it believes the content on a webpage better suits the user’s query, it will pull that information and insert it as the description in SERPs.
It may look like this, for example:
Writing attractive title tags and meta descriptions can make a difference in your site’s organic CTR.
Follow these practical tips to create compelling descriptions for your content:
- Keep them under 155 characters
- Avoid keyword stuffing
- Use bucket brigade words
- Make them interesting and informative
- Write sentence case
- Focus on search intent
- Create unique descriptions
Schema is a type of structured data markup used to make web pages easier for search engines to understand.
It can help you optimize your SEO efforts by giving Google more information about your content.
For example, if you add the price of a product or service to the page using schema markup, Google may display the price on SERPs instead of the regular meta description.
Something that you don’t want to miss is the chance to get your content displayed as rich snippets. To do this, follow the instructions included in this guide.
You can find more information about schema markup in Google’s official documentation and on sites like Schema.org.
Search results pages have been seeing more and more “Position Zero” over the years.
These are snippets of content that Google has deemed to be relevant to a user’s query and displays prominently in SERPs.
Getting your content featured on these boxes can give you a visibility boost as well as an increase in click-through rate.
To do this, you need to first identify which type of featured snippet your content can qualify for and then optimize it accordingly.
This guide explains how to get featured in Google’s position zero.
Google Discover is a feed of content that Google categorizes as interesting and relevant to the user, based on their past browsing behavior.
If your content appears in the Discover feed, you can expect more people to visit your site.
To make sure your content qualifies for it, follow these recommendations:
- Improve Your E-A-T (now updated to E-E-A-T)
- Write Great Titles (Not Clickbait)
- Include Compelling Images
- Optimize for Mobile
- Strengthen Your Content Quality
- Focus on Evergreen and Trendy Content
- Follow SEO Best Practices
- Create Exciting Videos
- Research your competitors
Also, you may want to read Lily Ray’s article on the characteristics of top-performing content on Google Discover.
Mobile-first indexing is now the default setting for all new websites as of July 1, 2019.
If you have an existing website, Google will still monitor and evaluate your pages based on the best practices detailed in this guide:
Also, you may want to check in your Search Console if your pages have mobile issues by visiting the “Mobile Usability” report.
If you are using WordPress, you can make sure your content is displayed nicely on both desktop and mobile by installing a responsive theme.
Page experience is a combination of different factors that contribute to how users perceive the quality of a web page.
This is taken from Google Search Central:
Mobile-friendly factor has been covered in the previous section, let’s see the other one in detail.
Core Web Vitals
Core web vitals are a set of metrics that measure how users experience the loading performance, interactivity, and visual stability of content.
There are three core web vitals:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – How long it takes for the main content of a page to load.
- First Input Delay (FID) – The time it takes for a user’s first interaction with the page, such as clicking or tapping on an element.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – How much visual instability is present on the page, such as unexpected shifts in content due to images or ads loading.
To improve your core web vitals, follow these tips:
- Optimize your images
- Use a content delivery network (CDN)
- Improve your server response time
To test your page, you can use Google PageSpeed Insights or other tools like GTMetrix.
HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) is the secure version of HTTP, the protocol over which data is sent between your browser and the website that you are connected to.
Having a site with an SSL certificate is a sign that you take security seriously and is also crucial for SEO (and for users).
Google has been actively pushing websites toward HTTPS since 2014, so it’s important to implement it.
You can do this by getting an SSL certificate and installing it on your website (most of the web hosting providers now include them free in their packages).
No Intrusive Interstitials
Google doesn’t want users to be hindered by intrusive interstitials when trying to access the content.
An example of an intrusive interstitial is a full-screen pop-up that appears before, during, or after a user visits a page.
Google’s SEO guidelines explicitly state that this type of design element should be avoided.
Google announced that page speed is being used as a ranking factor in mobile searches since July 2018.
It was the first time that speed was taken into account for ranking pages on mobile, although it has been used as a desktop search ranking signal since 2010.
Your site should load fast not just for better rankings, but most of all for your users.
In fact, according to Google’s PageSpeed industry benchmarks, as page load time goes up, the probability of visitors leaving your website increases dramatically.
Here are some of the most effective methods to improve your page speed:
- Optimizing images
- Enabling compression
- Reducing redirects
- Leveraging browser caching
- Upgrade hosting
Internal links help search engine bots to find, index, and crawl your pages more efficiently, providing a better user experience for your readers.
It’s also important to link related pages within your website, as it helps visitors navigate through the content easily.
To make the most of SEO and keep your users engaged, make sure to use descriptive anchor text that accurately describes the linked content.
So it all adds up to this:
your primary focus should be on the user’s journey when linking to different pages of your website.
You can then worry about driving traffic to your primary content.
And remember, Google has said there is no such thing as an internal linking over-optimization penalty, meaning you can go overboard with it if you’d like!
Make Good Use of These Google Ranking Factors
These Google Ranking Factors have been confirmed and should be taken into consideration when optimizing your content for SEO.
Your goal should always be to provide the best user experience possible, so make sure that your pages are fast-loading, secure, and easy to navigate.
Don’t forget about core web vitals, HTTPS, intrusive interstitials, page speed and internal linking as these will all help you get better SEO results in the long run.
And please, share the content if you liked it and leave a comment.
Vishwajeet Kumar says
There are 200+ Ranking factors for search engines. We need to follow some basic terms like creating user-friendly content and creating quality backlinks. You have shared everything in detail. Thanks for sharing this helpful post.
Erik Emanuelli says
Only Google knows!
Anthony Gaenzle says
This is a really solid round up. Google can be a bit vague when letting the public in on what factors truly have an impact, etc. It’s important to know where to focus as a blogger or website owner, and you put together a solid guide to follow.
Erik Emanuelli says
Thanks for the awesome feedback, Anthony.
Glad you visited.
Randall Magwood says
I’ve heard that Domain Authority and Domain Rating by Moz and Ahrefs are ranking factors. Is this true?
Erik Emanuelli says
No, they are not a ranking factor.
They are all ways to seize the authority of a website, based on tons of different metrics, including the number of outgoing links.
Just to confirm this, Randall, visit this page at Moz:
They clearly state:
“Domain Authority is not a Google ranking factor and has no effect on the SERPs.”
Gangadhar Kulkarni says
Thanks Erik for the useful blog post about Google ranking factors. In the digital marketing field, these confirmed criteria set by Google are the key elements for search ranking.
Your post explores all the Google ranking factors in a detailed manner…Great stuff!!!
Erik Emanuelli says
Glad you liked the post, Gangadhar.
Knowing and applying the basics mentioned in this post will help a lot with your SEO!
Ryan K Biddulph says
Good job as always Erik. I like how you began with helpful content. Ultimately, this is it. This is the most important step on the Google traffic journey. The algorithm wants detailed, helpful content that solves Google user problems and inspires people to keep Googling keywords and key phrases. Publish these posts, add the SEO deets above and you will slowly but surely rank your blog on Google.
Erik Emanuelli says
I agree with you, Ryan.
It’s all about helpful content.
Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.
Ryan Biddulph says
Always my pleasure Erik. Thanks so much for all of your support over the years
Paul Lamont says
There are so many good points in this article, Erik. With SEO, no matter how much I seem to learn there is always another detail to consider. Thanks!
Erik Emanuelli says
Learning SEO is an ever-ending process.
As algorithms and search engine processes evolve over time, so must your knowledge.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Paul.
No matter how compelling the content is, if it is not relevant to the search intent, it might not rank. That’s an excellent factor Google considers when rewarding content.
Balancing topical authority, relevant content, on-page optimization, and backlinks are crucial to pleasing search engines.
Thanks for writing this excellent guide for us, Erik – there’s so much I learned with this today!
Erik Emanuelli says
Glad to read your positive comment, Mudassir.
There are tons of factors to consider to rank on Google, right? 🙂
Lisa Sicard says
Hi Erik, glad to read that you can’t go overboard with internal linking. I’ve been worrying about that as I do more and more with the blog. It seems the more we learn about SEO, the more it changes and the more we need to learn.
Thanks for the all great tips here.
Erik Emanuelli says
Hi Lisa, exactly.
Learning SEO is like studying Japanese, for me. There’s much more than saying “konnichiwa”, “arigatou” or “itadakimasu”. The more I dig into it, the more I feel like I know nothing about it. Which is a good thing because it makes me always want to know more.