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Google search engine has come a long way since 1997 and now retains an eye-watering search engine market share of 91.86%.
So, when you type something into Google – how does it decide which results to display and in what order?
The answer is ranking systems and complex algorithms which sort through billions of results in seconds to provide users with the most relevant answer to their query.
By understanding what factors Google takes into account when ranking pages, website owners can create and develop websites in a way that gives them a better chance of ranking by answering these questions better than your competition.
In this article, we take a look at the factors that are believed to influence Google rankings, why they matter, and how you can optimise your pages in line with these factors to better serve users.
Save time and jump to section:
- What Is a Google Ranking Factor
- Google Ranking Factors
- Page Level Ranking Factors
- Site Level Factors
- Backlink Factors
- User Interaction Factors
- Special Rules
- Brand Signals
- Spam Factors
What Is a Google Ranking Factor?
With the amount of information that is available on the web, Google requires a system for sorting through results to offer up what it thinks is the most relevant.
To search through their index and find the most relevant pages, Google uses ranking systems that are made up of a series of algorithms that determine where results rank.
These algorithms use factors such as the meaning of the user’s query, the relevance of web pages, and the freshness of the page when sorting the results.
To ensure that Google provides a consistent google user experience, these algorithms are updated and tweaked regularly but are not always made public.
Google Ranking Factors
Here is a list of factors that experts think Google uses to rank web pages along with tips for optimizing your pages for these factors.
Domain Level Ranking Factors
The first set of ranking factors relates to the domain of your website.
- Domain Age – How old your domain is. Domains over a year old appear more credible as the usual lifespan of spammy domains is less than this.
- Country Top Level Domain Extension – If you have a country code top level domain such as .co.uk, it can help you rank better in that particular country.
- Keyword In Subdomain – If the keyword appears in the subdomain name.
- Domain History – How often your domain has changed owners.
- Exact Match Domains – If the domain is an exact match domain (EMD). The impact of this has been reduced somewhat by Google’s EMD update.
- Keyword In Domain – If the keyword appears in the top level domain.
- Keyword First Word In Domain – If the keyword appears as the first word in the top level domain.
- Domain Registration Length – How long the domain has been registered for and when it expires.
- Private Who Is – If your Who Is information is private, this can have a negative impact.
- Penalized Who Is Owner – If you are identified as a spammer, it can harm all websites you own.
Page Level Ranking Factors
The next set of ranking factors relates to the elements of your website pages.
- Keyword In H1 – If the keyword appears in the H1 tag.
- Keyword In H2 and H3 Tags – If the keyword appears in the H2 and H3 tags.
- Keyword In In Title Tag – If the keyword appears in the title tag.
- Keyword at Start of Title Tag – If the keyword appears at the start of the title tag.
- Keyword In Meta Description – If the keyword appears in the meta description.
- Keyword Frequency – How often important keywords are used on the page.
- HTML Page Loading Speed – How fast your page loads based on the code.
- Chrome Loading Speed – How fast your page loads based on Chrome user data.
- Core Web Vitals – Part of a new page experience ranking factor that will take full effect by August 2021.
- Content Length – The length of the page content, Google prefers longer content but it must, of course, still be quality content to rank highly.
- Table of Contents – If a linked table of contents is used to navigate the page.
- Keyword Density – The number of times the keyword appears compared to other words on the page. Be careful as overdoing this can have negative results
- Topic Depth – If the page covers the topic in depth.
- Entity Match – If the content of the page matches the entity that the user is searching for. More on this here.
- Number Of Outbound Links – Overusing outbound links can have a negative impact, especially if they are not relevant to the page content.
- URLs – Excessively long or poorly structured URLs can have a negative impact.
- URL Path – URLs closer to the homepage may get a slight boost vs. those that are buried deeper into the site.
- Keyword In URL – If the keyword features in the URL.
- Category – If the page or post is categorised.
- URL String – If the URL string appears in Google results pages.
- Use Of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) – If your website uses AMP. This isn’t a direct ranking factor but will be used for site quality in some cases.
- Hummingbird – A significant algorithm change that took place in 2013. The algorithm placed a greater emphasis on natural queries, considering the context of a user search over keywords alone. Hummingbird is the reason that overuse of keywords does not work.
- Duplicate Content – Identical or very similar content on your site or other sites can have a negative impact.
- Use of Canonical Tags – Proper use of canonical tags on similar content can prevent duplicate content issues from arising.
- Use of Media – If media such as imagery and video is being used throughout the page. Watch your loading times!
- Internal Links – Number of relevant internal links to the page.
- Broken Links – If there are broken links on the page, this could have a negative impact.
- Reading Level – Google used to give reading level stats for your web pages, so it’s likely they use this as a factor but article spinning will get flagged!
- Code – A poorly coded page can be a sign of a low-quality site.
- Domain Authority (DA) – A web page on a domain with a high DA should rank higher than a page on a domain with a lower DA if all other factors are equal.
- PageRank – Equally, a page with a high PageRank should outrank pages with a lower PageRank.
- Optimisation Of Images – An overlooked factor – properly optimising your image file names, alt text, description, and file size can have benefits.
- Content Freshness – Google’s Caffeine web indexing system that was released in 2010 gives prominence to content that has been recently published (or updated).
- Outbound Link Profile – Google may consider which pages your site links to in order to understand what your website or page is about.
- Spelling & Grammar – Whilst not used as a direct signal, Matt Cutts stated that “the reputable sites tend to spell better”. Either way, keeping your site typo-free is highly recommended.
- Mobile-Friendly – If your web page is optimised for use on mobile devices.
- Mobile Usability – If your website is easy to use for mobile visitors.
- Hidden Mobile Content – If you have content that is hidden on mobile devices that it may not be given as much precedence vs. content that is not hidden.
- Supplementary Content – If your pages have useful supplementary content. For example, related products or related videos.
- Hidden Tabbed Content – Whilst they can be an effective way to organise lots of content, hidden tabbed content may not be indexed or counted by Google.
- Sources – Citing references and sources to back up your content.
- Too Many Outbound Links – Using too many outbound links can have a negative impact.
- Page Structure – Using lists to break up your content and make it easier to read.
- Sitemap.xml – The priority of the page within the XML sitemap.
- UX Signals – User experience signals from pages ranking for the same keyword.
- Page Age – How old the page is can benefit its rankings, so long as it’s regularly updated.
- Layout – How user-friendly the page layout is.
- Parked Domains – Parked domains have reduced visibility.
- Useful Content – How useful the content of your page is – this can be different from the ‘quality’ of the content.
Site Level Factors
The next set of ranking factors relates to your website as a whole.
- Unique Content – If the content is unique.
- Contact Details – If contact information is visible and matches your WhoIs details.
- Sitemap – If your site is using a sitemap.
- Uptime – If your site has a low uptime, it can have a negative impact.
- Location of Server – Where the server your site is hosted on is located.
- HTTPS – If your site uses an SSL certificate.
- Legal Pages – If your site has privacy and T&C pages.
- TrustRank – A Google algorithm that scores pages based on link analysis and trust.
- YouTube – YouTube content may be given higher positioning in the search results pages.
- Site Usability – How easy it is to use your site.
- Google Products – Use of Google products such as Google Search Console has not been proved to increase rankings, but using them will give you useful insights either way.
- Site Architecture – If the site architecture is well organised.
- Site Updates – If your site is updated regularly.
- Meta Duplication – Duplication of meta data can have a negative impact.
- Navigation – If your navigation is well structured and user-friendly.
- Mobile-Friendly – If your website is optimised for use on mobile devices.
- Reviews – Reviews about your site from external sites.
This important set of ranking factors relates to your backlink profile.
- Domain Age – Age of the domain that is linking to your site.
- Link Age – The age of the backlink.
- Number Of Links – How many different domains link to your site.
- Links from Different IPs – How many links your site has from different IP addresses.
- Anchor Text – The anchor text that is used in the backlink. The same goes for internal links.
- User-Generated Content – If the links are user-generated (such as comments), they may not be given as much weight.
- Schema – If the website linking to yours uses schema.
- TrustRank – How trusted the site linking to yours is.
- Number Of Links – If the site linking to yours has lots of external links, there is less weight given to each.
- Forums – Forum links are usually devalued by Google due to historical abuse.
- Word Count – The word count of the site linking to yours.
- Quality – The quality of the content that links to your site.
- Sitewide Links – These are compressed to count as a single link (think footer credit links).
- Alt Text – The alt text that is used for image links.
- .edu or .gov Domains – if the linking TLD is .gov or .edu.
- Page Authority – The PageRank of the page linking to your site.
- Sponsored or UGC Links – These links have a lower impact than regular ‘follow’ links.
- Context – How much context the link has within the page content.
- Redirects – If a link is going through a 301 redirect, it may be less powerful.
- Country TLD – The country of the domain can help you rank better in that country.
- Location In Page – Links that are higher up the page may have a greater impact.
- Link Relevance – The relevancy of the link to your site.
- Page Relevance – The relevancy of the page to your page.
- Keyword – If the keyword is in the title of the page linking to yours.
- Velocity – The rate at which other sites link to your site – this can sometimes have a negative impact if it seems unnatural to Google.
- Hub Pages – If the page is a resource (hub) page.
- Wikipedia – If the link is from Wikipedia – the holy grail of backlinks.
- Co-Occurrences – The words that are used around the backlink.
- Site Authority – The authority of the domain linking to you.
- Links from Similar Sites – If the link is from a site that features in the same results pages as your own website.
- Links from Expected Websites – Some SEOs hypothesise that links from obvious sites in your industry are not given as much value.
- Links from Link Farms – Any links from link farms can have a negative impact.
- Guest Posts – Links from guest posts may not be as powerful as natural links.
- Ad Links – Any links from ads should be set to ‘no follow’.
- Homepage Links – If the link is to your homepage it could be more powerful.
- ‘No Follow’ Links – If a link is set to ‘no follow’, it could have a lower impact.
- Diversity of Links – How diverse your backlinks are.
- Legitimacy – The legitimacy of the site linking to yours.
- Natural Links – How natural your link profile is.
- Reciprocal Links – Link exchanging is discouraged by Google and so reciprocal links could have a negative impact.
User Interaction Factors
These factors relate to user interaction on your website, an aspect which Google has started to put more of a focus on with recent updates.
- RankBrain – Google’s AI algorithm that determines where sites rank based on user interaction.
- Direct Traffic – The amount of direct traffic your site receives.
- Repeat Traffic – The number of repeat users your site attracts.
- Keyword Click-Through Rate – How often users click your result in the search results pages for a specific keyword.
- Overall Click-Through Rate – The overall organic click-through rate for your site.
- Bounce Rate – The bounce rate of your site.
- “Pogosticking” – If a user clicks through multiple search results including yours before choosing another, it may have a negative impact.
- Blocked Sites – If your site is blocked by users, it may have a negative overall impact.
- Comments – An active comment section with quality conversation can give your rankings a boost.
- Dwell Time – How long users spend on your site.
In some cases, you can get a ranking boost from specific algorithm rules.
- Query Deserves Freshness (QDF) – QDF is a re-ranking function that comes into play when a specific topic suddenly rises in popularity.
- Diversity – For ambiguous keywords, Google may add diversity to a search results page. An example of this would be “Apple” which could refer to the company or the fruit.
- Location – The location of your server IP and country-specific domain.
- Safe Search – If a user has safe search turned on.
- “YMYL Keywords” – Your Money or Your Life keywords have stricter quality standards enforced on them. Health, Insurance, Finance etc
- DMCA Complaints – If your site has a DMCA complaint, this can have a negative impact.
- Domain Diversity – After an update, Google now shows more unique domains in the search results.
- Transactional Searches – If the user is searching to buy something, they may be displayed different results.
- Search History – A user’s browsing history will play a part in what sites they see at the top of search results pages.
- Featured Snippets – If your site appears in a featured snippet.
- Brand Preference – Google gives big brands higher weighting for certain keywords.
- Shopping – If shopping results are showing in the results pages.
- Images – If imagery is showing in the results pages.
- Local Searches – If the user is searching locally, local results will come up first.
- Top Stories – If the keyword triggers a stories box.
- Spam – Very spammy queries have been targeted by the Payday Loan algorithm update.
Almost there! This set of factors relates to your brand.
Anchor Text – If your brand name is used in a link’s anchor text.
Unlinked Brand Mentions – Even unlinked brand mentions can have a positive impact.
Brand & Keyword – If people search for your brand next to the keyword.
Social Media – If you have an established and legitimate social media presence.
Known Authorship – If you have a verified online presence.
Top Stories – Having your brand mentioned in top stories can give you a big boost.
Physical Location – If you have a ‘brick-and-mortar’ location.
This final set of factors concerns spammy practices that can get sites penalised. All of the following can have a negative impact on your site.
Panda Penalty – Google’s Panda update targets low-quality content and content farms.
Outbound Links – Linking out to low-quality websites.
Redirects – Sneaky redirects that deceive users
Ads – Intrusive ads that are above the fold.
Hiding Affiliate Links – Not making affiliate links clear and obvious.
Auto-Generated Content – Content that is auto-generated.
‘No Follow’ Use – Excessive use of ‘no follow’ links.
IP Flagged As Spam – If your IP address is flagged as spam.
Meta Spamming – Over optimising your meta tags.
Hacked Site – If your website gets hacked.
Unnatural Links – Receiving a large number of links at once.
Low-Quality Link % – Having a large percentage of low-quality links.
Unrelated Links – Links from unrelated websites.
Directory Links – Links from low-quality directories.
Widget Links – Links that are automatically generated from widgets.
Links From Same Server IP – Getting lots of links from websites on the same server IP as your own website can be a red flag to Google.
Press Releases – Links from press releases can be looked at suspiciously by Google as they are often abused.
Pop-ups – Full-screen pop-ups or distracting ads.
Over Optimisation – Going overboard with optimising your content.
“Gibberish” Content – Content that doesn’t make sense.
Doorway Pages – Using a redirect to take a user to a different page.
Penguin Penalty – Google’s Penguin update targets low-quality links.
Manual Action – If a manual action is enforced on your site.
Ready to Get Started?
We hope that this article has given you an insight into several of the hundreds of factors that Google uses to determine where websites rank
Deciphering Google recommendations and putting them into action can be hard, so it pays to have an expert on your side who can help.
If you are looking for an SEO expert to help improve your website in line with Google ranking factors, get in touch with us today to arrange your no-obligation consultation.