The lists that enumerate Google ranking factors are often too long and most contain many myths. We will take a different approach and talk about the ten factors that deserve the most attention. Most Google ranking lists are too long, enumerating all the factors rather than those that are actually important. Even worse, no one knows them all, and most contain many myths. Today, we will adopt a different approach. Rather than listing over 200 ranking criteria, we will talk about the 10 factors that, in our opinion, deserve the most attention.
Backlinks: Very important factor
Backlinks are arguably the most important ranking factor. Backlinks are the basis of Pagerank, which is the foundation of Google ranking algorithm.
Research confirms the relationship between backlinks and organic traffic, including Ahrefs’ study of over one billion web pages.
However, not all links are created equal. Many factors contribute to a backlink’s ability to boost your pages, and the two most important criteria are relevance and authority.
Imagine you are looking for the best Italian restaurant in your city. You ask two friends to recommend a restaurant. One is a chef, and the other is a veterinarian. Who do you trust to advise you?
Probably the chef, because he has experience with Italian cuisine.
If you’re looking for recommendations for dog food, the opposite would be true. This same idea applies on the web. Links to the most useful sites and pages represent the same type of recommendation as the chef and the veterinarian.
Backlinks from powerful websites are the ones that tend to have a positive impact on your website. You can gauge the relative strength of a domain and web page using many tools that offer this kind of domain and URL ranking, with the most well-known tools being Ahrefs and Semrush.
Novelty is a search-dependent ranking criterion, which means it is more important for some searches than for others. For example, the main world events always occupy the first places in the search. Google even displays a “Top Stories” function with results from the last few hours. This happens because Google knows that people want to see recent news.
For other searches, novelty still plays a role, but it’s less important. Take the search for “best office chair,” for example. Since companies only release new office chairs from time to time, a good recommendation from last month is still valid today. Google knows this, which is why it happily shows results from a few months ago.
For a search like “how to tie a tie,” novelty is not important because the process of tying a tie never changes. A ten-year-old guide can be just as good as one published yesterday. This explains why Google ranks both old and new pages equally in the top five search results.
WHAT TO DO:
1) Check the search results to evaluate the importance of novelty for your target keyword(s):
2) If novelty is important, either update the page frequently or regularly publish new articles on the topic to meet demand.
3) If novelty is important but not essential, update your page regularly and refresh it when rankings begin to drop.
4) If novelty is of little importance, concentrate all your efforts on creating the best guide on the subject.
Thematic authority: reliability of sources
Google wants to rank pages from reliable sources, and this goes beyond backlinks.How do we know?
Google’s guidelines for search quality mention an element called “E-A-T.” This stands for expertise, authority, and reliability. Call us crazy, but we’re convinced that no site can demonstrate these three things for every subject. That’s probably why Google’s SEO starter guide states: “Develop expertise and a trustworthy reputation in a specific area”.
E-A-T is not a direct ranking factor, but Google ranking algorithms are designed to rank pages from websites that respect E-A-T.
Pages on websites that are narrowly focused on a particular topic will have more internal links from pages on similar topics. Internal links to pages not only increase their authority, but also help Google understand what they are about.
WHAT’S IMPORTANT TO DO:
Don’t publish content on anything and everything. Focus on one area and build a reputation. You can always diversify later.
Visitor search intent
Google doesn’t rank every “type of content” the same for every search. For example, a person searching for “buy dresses online” is in shopping mode. They want to see products they can buy. That’s why Google displays e-commerce type pages.
On the other hand, a person searching for “how to tie a tie” is in learning mode. They want to know how to tie one, not buy one. That’s why Google displays blog articles.
The great way to understand the basics of optimizing for a query is analyzing the current top-ranked results for the “four indicator of search intent”:
“Content style” is the dominant indicator in the search results. It’s almost always web pages, but sometimes videos.
For example, take the search “iPhone 11 unboxing”. It would be almost impossible to rank a web page on the first page for this search. If you want to rank for this search, you need to create and optimize a video.
Content types are almost always divided into four categories: blog articles, products, categories, and home pages.
For example, top-level pages for “buying a smartphone” are all e-commerce site category pages.
Content format mainly applies to informational content. Manuals, texts, tutorials, news articles, and opinion articles are all common examples of formats.
For example, the results for “tips for saving money” are all lists. The results for “the future of bitcoin” are all opinion articles.
The content angle is the main selling point of the content, and there is usually a one dominant angle in search results.
For example, the top results for “how to play golf” are geared towards beginners.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO DO:
Make an effort to align your content with the search intent and you will get a lot more traffic.
Google wants to rank the most useful result for the query, so it is essential to cover everything that searchers want to know. However, it’s not about the length of the content. Longer content is not always better.
It’s about covering what is important for the searcher to get and what they expect to see.
For example, take a query like “best watch brands.” Analyzing search intent clearly shows that people want lists of the best watches and luxury brands. However, this doesn’t tell us what’s important in terms of content, so let’s look at the commonalities between the most important pages.
First, they all mention the price. That makes sense. Searchers are clearly looking for a new watch, and everyone has a budget.
Second, they all mention watches from popular brands like Rolex. This also makes sense. It’s hard to imagine a list of luxury watch brands that doesn’t mention Rolex.
Third, they all talk about technical specifications like diameter and thickness.
If you wanted to rank for this query, you should probably talk about these things too.
It’s not about copying others. It’s about looking at the commonalities between the top-ranked results to understand what’s important to searchers.
You can also take cues from the “People also ask” section to find out what’s important to searchers and the “Related searches” section at the bottom of the page.
Beyond that, there are specialized tools to help you find this information, which we use to help our clients advance their organic traffic.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO DO:
Take cues from top-ranked pages to create useful content. Research other questions that searchers want answers to and include them where it makes sense in your content.
Page loading speed
Page speed has been a ranking factor since 2010, affecting 1% of desktop search queries. This changed in 2018, when Google extended the ranking factor to mobile searches.
However, even today, the factor is mostly an issue for pages that “offer a slow experience to users”.
It’s an important point. Beating competitors by a few milliseconds is not the goal here. Rather, it’s about ensuring that your site is fast enough not to have a negative impact on users.
So how fast should a website be?
Google stated in 2018 that mobile pages should display content to users in under three seconds and that TTFB (Time to First Byte) should be less than 1.3 seconds. They also stated that the total size of a mobile web page should be less than 500 kb.
What is the actual impact of a website’s speed on Google ranking?
If page speed is a concern, check the speed report in Google Search Console or use Page Speed Insight. These reports indicates pages that load slowly on desktops and mobile phones and provide recommendations for their optimization.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO DO:
1) Ensure that your pages load fast enough for users of your website.
2) Get a score of 90 and above on Google PageSpeed Insights Mobile & Desktop.
3) Make your site fast on Google Page Speed.
HTTPS: Security first
HTTPS improves visitor security by encrypting data between the browser and server.
In 2014, Google announced that HTTPS is a very lightweight signal affecting less than 1% of global queries. Since then, Google has strengthened its commitment to HTTPS and now displays a “Not Secure” warning in Chrome when visiting an unencrypted page.
If you have insecure pages with input fields, you may also have received a warning email from Google Search Console.
The reason we mention it is that it’s a quick and easy win.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO DO:
Install an SSL certificate to make your site more secure. You can get one for free from LetsEncrypt.
Responsive: Easy to use on smartphones
Nearly two-thirds of searches are done on mobile, so it’s not surprising that Google made usability a ranking factor for mobile searches in 2015.
Later, in July 2019, when Google moved to mobile-first indexing, it made it a ranking criterion for desktop searches as well.
How do you know if your site is mobile-friendly?
Check the “Mobile Usability” report in Google Search Console.
This report tells you if any of your pages have compatibility issues with smartphones.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO DO:
Ensure that each page of your site is mobile-friendly.
UX and UI: User Experience
Google aims to rank content that offers visitors a positive experience. This is not only obvious but the actions of the search giant over the years prove it.
For example, in 2016, Google announced that pages with intrusive interstitial ads (i.e. pop-up windows) may not be as well-ranked as those offering a better experience to users.
Google’s SEO Starter Guide also says, “You should build a website for your users, and any optimization should be aimed at improving the user experience.”
What contributes to a good user experience? Here are some suggestions from Google:
1) Easy-to-read content;
2) Well-organized site;
3) Interesting and useful content;
4) Adapted design;
5) No intrusive ads;
6) Site designed to meet users’ needs.
There is a lot of debate in the SEO community about how Google could measure user satisfaction. Common theories include analyzing measures such as click-through rate (CTR), waiting time, time spent on the page, and bounce rate.
Google has filed numerous patents describing how click-through rates and other behavioral signals could be used to influence search engine rankings.
So, focus on creating an excellent overall experience for visitors, and Google will rank you among the best.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO DO:
Make your site user-friendly. Remove distractions, organize content logically, write for readability, and do your research. Do everything in your power to get the best result for your target keyword.
Google aims to rank accurate results for each search. Content accuracy is particularly important for YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) queries, which, according to Google, are those that can “potentially impact users’ future happiness, health, or wealth.”
An example could be “aspirin dose,” which gets 7,800 searches per month in the US. If Google were to rank inaccurate results for this query, it would not only be slightly embarrassing for users but also dangerous and potentially deadly.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO DO: Make sure your content is accurate. Check reliable knowledge bases such as Wikipedia and Google’s Knowledge Graph to verify items you’re unsure of.
Every year, Google improves search results, ranking factors of websites and creates the best possible search experience for its users by quickly serving them relevant and high-quality search results. It means that you need to have an appropriate SEO strategy guiding your organized and intentional SEO efforts, with each page targeting a different keyword that a prospect for your business would search for. If you have a blog, each article should be the best treatment of the topic from the perspective of your target audience. If you can do this, users will be engaged, links will accumulate organically, and you will climb up the Google search rankings.