Google probably uses dozens of parameters to rank your website on the search results page. There has been a lot of speculation about the Google Ranking factors that matter.
The Truth is that we outside Google actually don’t know.
Brian Dean listed about 200 odd factors that he claimed was the Complete list. The list is great and comprehensive. But if you actually go through the entire content and list them out, you will find these problems with his post.
- There is an insane amount of repetition in what he claims.
- Apart from the industry studies (Search Engine Journal, moz etc.) and a few Google patents that elaborate on the topic – there is very little evidence that the factors actually count.
- The ambiguity is dangerous. Because overdoing something may even penalize your site.
I will not say that the list is useless. But, I have a problem with posts that are made Long form only to reinforce itself. It is gaming the system. Exactly a point that Google actually penalizes.
Even then, he has done well. And actually the search results for the keyword ‘Google ranking factors keep backlinko safely at the number 1 spot. Of course, there is actually a more relevant optinmonster post that comes at spot 0.
Point is – it needs an update so that the more dubious points with little evidence is removed.
Let’s face it. Finding the actual factors is a painstakingly difficult job. Something that you cannot hope to accomplish in a couple of weeks. It is best to focus your energy on something that you are good at. Stuff that matters.
So here are the points that will reach the first page of Google search results.
How does Google rank pages?
Let’s go over this step by step.
First let’s see what Google tells us about ‘Google ranking factors’ on its first search results page without ads.
If you look at it closely, you will find backlinko comes at number 1 (optinmonster at 0). But multiple links actually quote the same backlinko post that I have quoted above.
What does that tell us about original content?
So how did they rank?
If you check the domains, you will come to know that these are all established players in the space. None of the domains listed here is new.
So yeah, is it safe to assume that original content is less important than domain authority? Probably. But it does appear so.
But that does not mean you have the license to go ahead and copy content off another site. Also notice that the backlinko inforgraphics used is actually properly attributed to the original creator. But the rest of the post is just a little more than a slight elaboration. If you go through the original post, the rest are redundant.
You should not want your post to be like that. You are a new player. You don’t have the luxury of relying on your domain authority. You have to build that up first.
So where to look?
In pursuit of Google Ranking Factors
Moz actually does a good job in giving scores to search ranking factors and sorting them for us. This was done on a survey of content marketers over opinions of 90+ parameters.
Sounds pretty solid.
Since Google does not elaborate the exact details, we will have to go by what others have deduced.
An even better and more transparent result is visible at NorthCutt. These guys have actually put Data Science in its elementary form. Which is great.
Proofs they have considered are
- Google’s own patent filings – this they consider as a likely candidate for being a ranking factor
- Official statements from Google – this they rank higher
- Factors that have proved to work – scientifically – this they consider to be the most authoritative. And I agree.
And what they have done is list 273 factors that are neatly classified as either myths or facts – with a variance. This is inevitable as we can never be fully sure, pending a full disclosure from any of the search engines of repute.
So, a more valid question to ask is this.
What should I focus on while trying to improve my search ranking?
This is what I would do.
The 9 Google Ranking Factors that matter the most
How did I come up with the Google ranking factors that actually can be prioritised when I myself accept that these are not clear?
It’s because I have collated the information from multiple independent sources and my own studies and experience.
Of course, even the Search Engine Journal has covered this in some detail.
But anyway, here is the list below.
Also, please note that these are not in any particular order of importance.
Keywords in Title tags, URL and Alt text as a Google ranking factor
This is obvious, right?
But it is fairly and often ignored.John Mueller covered this in a hangout some time back.
He does not say much about the placement of the keywords and how they can impact the results. But it makes more sense if the keywords come first. This is especially important if the title is large.
For example, let’s see the below title, the slug or the url structure and the keywords as how a good optimisation can be.
Original Title: 11 tips to being a professional web developer
Original url structure: 11-tips-professional-web-developer
Keyword: professional web developer
Recommended Title: 11 Tips to being a Professional Web Developer (yeah, it is the same)
Recommender url structure: /professional-web-developer-11-tips
Both are good and as per John’s recommendation both should do fine. But I will go with the latter because it prioritises the target audience better than the former.
The same is true for keywords you want to rank for in the url. This is pretty self explanatory. But even here, the location of the exact keyword is not clear. Since you should not use heavy slugs, keeping the keyword in the five or six words of your slug should make it prominent enough.
Another location for your keywords to positively be in are the alt tags for images. Not only does it help the page rank well, but even the Image search results will be relevant for you. Just don’t make them too long, it should actually also describe the image. So don’t overdo it.
Below is a decent example.
<img src="tree.png" alt="Golden oak tree in Kolkata Botanical Garden">
My keyword here is ‘Golden oak tree’. I have made it relevant as well.
Note: There are no Golden oaks in the aforementioned example. It was just to make my point.
Evidence for keyword in url: US8489560B1 (Patent)
Evidence for keyword in title: US20070022110A1 (Patent)
Evidence for keyword in alt tags: Matt Cutts
Evidence for keyword in domain name: EP1661018A2 (Patent)
Your site should be responsive or at least mobile friendly
Google has actually switched to mobile first indexing now. That means if you have sites that look unreadable in the default mobile view – your site ranking will suffer. This is a very strong Google ranking factor now.
Since July 1, Google is actually switching to mobile first indexing by default for all new websites that it indexes. They have taken this seriously and prepared a pretty detailed note on what you can do and what you should ideally avoid.
So if your website is not mobile responsive yet, you must get it done now. It requires very limited developer involvment for most websites out there.
Google has even included a list of what common mistakes you can avoid.
Once you are done with the same, test it out with page or code tests here.
Domain Authority as a Google Ranking Factor
Sure, this is what Moz uses to determine relevance.
Google has nothing to do with it.
However, let’s rename this to ‘something’ that values authoritative inbound links to a domain. This ‘something’ is actually valued and there is significant evidence to prove this beyond doubt.
You need to get more quality backlinks. And the links need to be stable.
Another interesting point is that your site’s crawl budget will depend on the domain authority it gets. That means a high DA or high ranking site will be crawled more often than another that already ranks low.
It is probably to make the most use of the available resources. But that is how they do it.
How you can get them safely is another topic altogether. As for the evidence, they are right here.
- Authoritative Inbound Links to page and domain – The Anatomy of a Search Engine
- Link stability is important – US8549014B2 (patent)
- Links from relevant sites help
- Context of the link is a factor – US8577893B1(patent)
Quality of Outbound Links as a Google Ranking factor
This is often ignored.
The sites that you link to is also important.
PageRank flows from one site to another if the former links to the latter. The problem is that if all rank just flowed from one site to another, eventually it would lead extend to infinity.
So PageRank actually decays as it flows from one site to another.
So when you wish to link to other sites, you may want to check their reputation. And if you are not sure about that, try giving it a
nofollow attribute. That way you won’t be allowing your PageRank to flow from your site to theirs.
Using HTTPS helps
HTTPs is a strong signal now that you are serious about your website. Even when there are no transactions to be done, HTTPs is necessary. Especially since this is now implemented on most of the major blogs and websites already. So you will be losing points for not getting this done.
I know what may hold you back.
A SSL certificate is not cheap.
Actually you are right. Most SSL certificates will cost you almost similar to your domain charges for a year. However, there is an option to get a free SSL certificate that you can trust.
You can try out this guide on actually installing the certificate on a live website.
Sure, the certificate expires in three months, so you will have to renew them every quarter. But it remains free of charge.
Evidence for HTTPs as a ranking factor – Googleblog
Words with noticeable formatting as a Google Ranking Factor
This may come as a surprise.
But the emphasis you put on the words in your post or page will have an impact on the search engine results. It’ s common sense, really. When you highlight, bold or italic a particular phrase you WANT the reader to pay special attention to it.
Apparently, Googlebots do the same too.
So if you are writing something about a particular topic and want a few keywords to rank well, appropriately highlighting them proves their relevance to the subject matter. And this has a bearing on the rank of the page for those keywords.
Evidence for Noticeable formatting: US8818982B1
Query Deserves Freshness as a ranking factor
Fresh content is a big postive ranking factor.
Have you checked how the big news pages come right on the top?
Even those news sites that are just even a few days old?
Pages that publish content frequently, are likely to be indexed faster and their results are henceforth likely to show earlier than otherwise.
However, these are relevant only for pages that have news related content. In those cases, the context becomes important.
Do remember one thing. Quality of your post trumps everything else. If the quality of your post suffers while churning out new posts every day – don’t do that.
None of the big bloggers do that. You are not a news agency with reporters and editors.
So what do you do?
DON’T report on news related search queries.
Sounds ridiculous? But no. Don’t write them immediately after you know about some interesting news or tidbit in your niche. Writing a content thin post on the topic will help you go nowhere. The news sites will take the cream and you will remain ignored.
Instead do this.
Take for example, Gitlab is being taken over by Google (hypothetical scenario)
- Research the topic – What is Gitlab?
- Learn what actually happened from multiple sources – What does Gitlab say about this? What is the press release of Google?
- Investigate how it impacts other players or competitors – How will other developers react to this? What are the implications on the Google stock and so on.
- What options do independent developers have when choosing a Gitlab alternative if they wish to make a switch. What are the pros and cons of staying or quiting Gitlab?
There are many questions that you can answer yourself.
These are all valid. Remember when Github was acquired by Microsoft? These were the queries doing the rounds on the Internet.
Focus on your strengths. Research the subject matter and give your valuable insights that is detailed and actually helps the reader learn somthing more than just ‘what happened’.
Evidence for Quality Deserves Freshness: QDF is real
Broken internal links, empty anchor links or doorway pages
This is a negative factor and a serious one.
But even a large number of broken internal links will eventually harm your website.
Think about it from a reader’s perspective.
I want to navigate to another internal link from your blog and I end up with a 404 page not found. What will be my reaction?
Yes, chances are that I will bounce right off your website and probably will never return.
404s hurt bad. If the same errors remain for a long time, Googlebot makes a note of it and considers the following possibility –
‘May be the site is no longer being maintained. Let me reduce the crawl rate and the rank of the page so that viewers are shown more relevant results’
Wham! Even if you are actually active on your site and keep publishing new content, older 404 errors or bad links will make it appear to the search engine that it is not maintained (at least properly).
Thankfully, it is easy to notice this using the Google Search Console. Look for crawl errors and you will know where and what to fix.
Page speed as a prominent Google Ranking factor
Designers will have a fight on this one with the developers.
Page speed is no longer just a matter of convenience. Actually, it is not even a minor factor anymore.
Ever since April, 2010 – page speed has remained crucial.
This is super important if you are launching a new webpage today. With all the competition out there, get this one done well.
There is a good reason that you will get a boost here. Because it is a low hanging fruit for two major reasons.
- Most websites actually are badly optimized even today. A simple Lighthouse Insights test will show you how your competition is doing.
So yeah, you don’t really need to go through the entire list of ‘200 Google Ranking Factors’ or so. Focus on what you can achieve instead.
When it comes down to actual on page seo optimisations, it comes down to common sense. And making sure you don’t do any of the black hat stuff. But common sense covers that anyway.
When I was starting out, keywords were considered important and they are. But there are host of fake factors that will only confuse you and eat your time.
Factors like these below DO NOT exist:
- Meta keywords
- XML sitemaps
- Using rel=author
- Using a dedicated IP address
- Dmoz listing or other directory listings
- Backlinks from Government or educational websites (these are no more useful than any other) – There is a catch on this one. Dot GOV and EDU sites usually have a much higher domain authority because many relevant sites link to them. It is not the other way around. You can’t just create a new EDU domain and get free domain authority.
- Low Alexa score
If you want me to draw a bottomline – the ONE SINGLE tip that should cover everything is that your website or pages need to get lots of quality backlinks from other web pages. Every other tip actually is a corollary to this one.
So don’t worry too much about getting on top of the results. Produce great content, take care that you are not doing anything that can penalize your listing and build links organically with other people in your niche.
I am sure that there are many questions on your mind.
Please feel free to drop a comment.
Which one will you start with first? What other options do you think are more important?